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Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 4/18/2013

Home ice not exactly what it used to be

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

The Walleye took their ECHL playoff series to a sixth game despite zero wins on home ice. That had to change to get their Kelly Cup pursuit to a seventh game.

It did not.

Toledo couldn’t hold two leads, the last of which went poof with just five seconds left in regulation, and couldn’t keep goalie Jordan Pearce clean when he most needed help, the last example of which came just three minutes into overtime.

Cincinnati’s Mathieu Aubin stuffed the puck in from the side and that was it. His team won 4-3 Tuesday to end the series.

So, home ice is vastly overrated, eh?

The Cyclones won all three games played at Huntington Center. Toledo’s two wins came at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati.

It doesn’t make much sense until you consider hockey has, to some extent, become a generic game. Even on the minor league level, most arenas are fairly modern, all look alike, all have similar player amenities, the ice surfaces are the same dimensions.

“The old Sports Arena is as good an example as any,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “We had a distinct home ice advantage with the small surface, the weird bounces, all of that. But not now. Nobody has a home edge anymore.”

Playing on the road isn’t all that big of a deal. In fact, said Vitucci, it can negate some distractions a team might face at home.

“It can be comfortable; there’s a routine,” Vitucci said. “But sometimes when you get away and you’re all together, there’s a comfort level that produces solid play.”

All a team has to do is tune out the hostile crowd.

“It’s great to have 4,000-plus supporting us,” Vitucci said, “but it’s pretty obvious Cincinnati hasn’t been intimidated.”

Amen. The Cyclones, as mentioned, all but put this series on ice by taking a 2-0 series lead sweeping the early pair on Toledo ice, and they certainly didn’t seem intimidated Tuesday on a couple of occasions that they might well have been down and out.

The Fish took a 2-1 lead on a power-play goal less than three minutes into the third period. Andrej Nestrasil unleashed a wicked left-handed shot from the top of the right circle and beat Cincinnati’s Michael Houser low and left.

The 4,333 in the arena went nuts, but the lead stood for just 22 seconds when the Walleye turned it over in their own zone. David Pacan of Cincy had stayed back and took a pass alone to Pearce’s right. With no defense back to help, Pearce risked going down, and Pacan patiently took a stride and popped the puck into the top of the net.

The Walleye, however, got another power play and, after failing to convert rebounds all night, Joey Martin finally buried one just past the midway mark of the period.

Toledo’s defense was top shelf from that point, and it didn’t appear the Walleye were going to surrender this lead.

But they did, amazingly, with five seconds left in the regulation when Cincinnati, with its goalie off and a delayed penalty coming Toledo’s way, surrounded and suffocated Pearce, who went from back to belly to knees.

Somehow, Cyclone Garrett Wilson slapped a shot from behind the net that caromed off a Toledo defender and it was 3-all.

Predictably, momentum was with the Cyclones. Overtime didn’t last long. Home ice didn’t last at all.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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