Return of Pearce, Hobson give Toledo edge over EvansvilleWritten by Vincent D. Scebbi | | firstname.lastname@example.org
After playing two games in the American Hockey League, forward Adam Hobson said it felt like he never left Toledo.
“We got a really solid group in there and I came back and it was like I never left,” Hobson said. “Everyone’s just right at home and that’s credit to the coaches and to the team in there and the leaders in there.”
Hobson made his return known in the first period, scoring 9:37 into the game to give the Toledo Walleye (23-17-4) an early lead they never let go of against the Evansville IceMen (16-25-4) on Jan. 27.
The return of Hobson as well as Jordan Pearce made the difference in the 4-1 victory as Hobson’s first period goal was the only one scored until late in the third period.
Pearce, who was in Grand Rapids for six days, was just 40 seconds away from recording his third shutout of the season. He finished the night with 30 saves.
“I’ve been here for a while and I got to go up to Grand Rapids with the injury up in Detroit and I think it helped out a lot, practicing at that level, seeing the pucks come at us a little fast and be able to step in and play. It was nice to play at this level,” Pearce said.
In addition to Pearce’s defensive effort, the Walleye penalty kill stopped all four of the IceMen’s power plays. Toledo has now killed 14 consecutive penalties.
The penalty killing unit stepped up and killed a crucial penalty when forward Doug Clarkson was called for tripping with 11:46 left in the third period. Evansville, only down a goal at the time, put pressure on the defense and fired three shots on Pearce during the power play.
“The penalty kill, especially with those penalties late, did a tremendous job of cleaning it up,” said Walleye head coach Nick Vitucci. “Your best penalty killer has to be your goaltender and Jordan certainly was doing that.”
Vitucci said while the addition of Hobson and Pearce strengthened his roster, he had to change up his lines after a night he said was “as strong of a performance this team has had throughout the entire roster all season.”
“I just looked at it last night where the [Joey] Martin, [Andrej] Nestrasil, [Trevor] Parkes line was so good we didn’t want to touch that,” he said. “Willie [Coetzee], [Kyle Rogers] and Nino [Musitelli] didn’t contribute offensively last night and we’re thinking, we got Hobson, we’ll put him in the middle and move Rogers down with the grinders. It worked out well.”
Hobson scored the game’s first goal with 10:23 left in the opening period after taking a puck poked away by Evansville goalie Paul Karpowich and smacked the puck to the twine. Defenseman Joey Ryan and Musitelli helped set up the goal.
“The puck just bounced right to me and I took a little baseball swing and went in,” Hobson said.
Coetzee scored his 17th goal of the season when he fired a wrist shot over goalie Paul Karpowich’s glove to make the score 2-0 with 4:39 left in regulation. Musitelli also assisted the play.
“I think that one got a little bit of their D-man’s stick and changed direction just enough to get by him,” Vitucci said.
Coetzee added an empty netter with a minute left in the game to make it 3-0. Nestrasil and Cody Lampl picked up assists on the goal.
Evansville scored 20 seconds later when Kevin Baker got his shot past Pearce with assists coming from Jim McKenzie and Josh Beaulieu.
The Walleye lit the lamp one last time with 15 seconds left in the game to make the final score 4-1. Stephon Thorne picked up a rebound and beat Karpowich with the second-chance shot. Captain Kyle Rogers assisted the goal.
The win caps off a four-point weekend for the Walleye, who dropped their first game against the Kalamazoo Wings 3-1 on Jan. 25.
Toledo bounced back the next night against the Bakersfield Condors, scoring five unanswered goals to win 5-1.
The two wins this weekend came against two teams who are both in the cellars of their respective ECHL conferences. At 30 points, Bakersfield is the last place team in the Western Conference and Evansville is the bottom-dweller in the Eastern Conference with 36 points.
“Our league is one that there are no guarantee nights by any means,” Vitucci said. “We focus and prepare for this game like we were playing Cincinnati or Reading or one of the top teams as well.”
The Walleye travel to Cincinnati on Jan. 31 to face off with their division rival, who have a seven-point advantage over the Walleye in the standings, before heading home on Feb. 1 to host the Elmira Jackals.
The puck is scheduled to drop in Cincinnati at 7:35 p.m.