An outstanding performance by your goaltender can steal victory from the jaws of defeat, and that’s exactly what happened last Saturday night at the Mentor (Ohio) Civic Ice Arena. Delaware goalie Aaron Taylor lifted his entire team onto his shoulder pads and carried his teammates to a 3-2 victory over the host Ice Breakers. The expansion Thunder snapped a five-game losing streak and recorded the franchise’s first-ever road victory despite being outshot 53-27.
Taylor held the swarming Ice Breakers at bay during the game’s final 13-and-a-half minutes that included three power plays, making 17 of his 51 saves in period three.
The 6-foot-2, 190-lb. puck stopper rebounded smartly from a dubious performance the previous evening when he was pulled at the 5:04 mark of the second period after yielding four goals in Mentor’s 5-2 win at Delaware.
The split of the home-and-home two-game series moved Delaware to within two points of fourth place Danbury in the Federal Prospects Hockey League’s five-team Eastern Division.
On Saturday, Delaware (2-6-0) took the lead for good with a second period power play goal by defenseman Daniel DiCristofaro to make it 2-1. Leading scorer Ryan Marker’s third period power play goal on a wraparound, set up by forwards Evgenii Demin and Brandon Contratto, gave the Thunder a 3-1 margin. Taylor was beaten a minute after Marker’s tally, but was impenetrable thereafter.
“Aaron was a brick wall for us, especially down the stretch,” said Thunder Head Coach Charlie Pens, Sr. “And we played better as a team. We buttoned down and committed to our systems. We went hard on the forecheck, stuck to a solid defensive zone coverage, and played as a team within ourselves. And we were without two of our best players (defenseman Charlie Pens, Jr. and forward Taylor Cutting).”
Delaware never trailed in the game, grabbing a 1-0 lead just a minute after the opening faceoff when Demin converted passes from defenseman Egor Kostyukov and forward Brennan Young. Kostyukov and forward Anton Kalinin joined the team late in the week after being acquired from Watertown for financial considerations.
Mentor (6-2-0), which tied the score 1-1 with a power play goal in the second period, finished the weekend with 18 points in second place in the FPHL’s Eastern Division, three points behind Watertown (NY).
On Friday night at the Thunderdome in Harrington, Delaware, backup goalie Morgan Hudson relieved Taylor and made 19 saves while allowing a goal in nearly 35 minutes of goaltending. Delaware cut Mentor’s lead to 4-1 on Marker’s first of two goals midway through the second session thanks to solid legwork by defenseman Alex Basey and Kalinin. Marker’s second goal of the night was on a power play after passes from Demin and Contratto just :16 before the final buzzer.
Marker is tied for the lead in the FPHL for points (18), tied for third with 9 goals, and is fourth with 9 assists. Contratto is tied for second place in both points (17) and assists (11), and is tied for fourth with six goals.
Thunder defenseman Alex Basey engaged in the only fisticuffs of the weekend when he battled Mentor forward Mark Essery just :13 into the middle period on Friday.
Coach Pens indicated that the Thunder will continue to add players this week “that will show our commitment to improving our organization as we prepare for Elmira.”
The Enforcers, an Eastern Division rival, visit the Thunder for two games in Harrington this weekend. Elmira swept two home games against Delaware, 5-4 and 7-3 on Nov. 8-9, respectively. The opening puck drop is slated for 7:05 p.m. (EST) both nights. Tickets are available at www.delawarethunder.com/tickets, or by calling (302) 398-PUCK.