By Eddie Graveline, Glovedropper.com
Christmas break and a long road trip to Texas combined to keep the Fresno Monsters away from home for over a month. Fiending for some hockey, Monster fans came out in numbers to see the team's homecoming on Friday. The Monsters faced a tough divisional opponent in the Wenatchee Wild and were really hoping to kick 2011 off in a good way at home.
The first period was probably the best one they've played at home all season. The Monsters came out with energy and purpose and it showed. They kept the puck in the Wenatchee end for most of the opening 20 minutes and forced a few penalties with hard work. Thomas Freeman opened the scoring 8:35 into the game on a scrum in front of the net on a power play. D.J. Carnley and Garrett Orhn assisted. With 27 seconds left in the period, T.J. Powers made it 2-0 Monsters with yet another power play goal. Willie Hess and Walker Hyland picked up assists on that one, which also came off of a rebound in front of the net. The Monsters outshot Wenatchee 14-9 in the first and putting in the kind of work that's required to win games in the NAHL.
Somehow, the ice got tilted the other direction during the intermission, because the Monsters came out flatter in the second period. They paid for it in penalties and on the score board. Wenatchee scored 11:21 into the period, just as a power play ended, then tied the game with a power play goal at 14:27. The Monsters had some good chances after that, but when they headed into the second intermission, Wenatchee had taken the advantage in shots on goal by the tune of 25-21. Still, the Monsters had the strong play of Tom Conlin in net to be encouraged by and it came down to whoever wanted it worse in the third period.
The way the third period started, it didn't look good. Wenatchee scored 31 seconds in to take the lead. To their credit, though, the Monsters hung in there and kept working. T.J. Powers got his second goal of the game at 10:25 on a play set up by Walker Hyland and Derek Sutliffe. Just over two minutes later, Powers made another great play on a power play (say that three times fast). He worked really hard to keep the puck inside the Wenatchee blue line, then ripped a cross-ice pass to Walker Hyland, who was wide open in the left face-off circle and buried it. That put the Monsters in the lead and they held onto it, despite taking a late penalty to end the game.
Tom Conlin had his best home performance this season, by far. Consistency in net is something the Monsters have been looking for this season and if he can put a few more games like that together, this team will be a lot better for it.
After the game, Head Coach Eric Ballard was understandably excited with the team's performance. "It was really nice to see the guys persevere," he said. "We've made some adjustments and this team started to come together on our last road trip. We just need to keep this kind of intensity through the weekend and into next week's games."
WSHL drops Bombers
The WSHL Monsters played a 3:30 game at Selland prior to the NAHL game. They beat the Long Beach Bombers 4-3 in a game that wasn't as close as the score would lead one to believe. The Monsters outshot Long Beach 38-21 and were led by Nick McKee's goal and two assists. Don Coyle had a goal and assist as well, while Marcus Harbison got the job done in net.
Both Monster teams are back on the Selland Arena ice on Saturday. The WSHL squad will face Long Beach at 3:35 PM, while the NAHL boys have another shot at Wenatchee at 7:35 PM. A $3 ticket gets fans into both games, so don't miss the action.