(San Antonio) – The Rampage kept their fading playoff hopes alive Friday night, escaping with a 4-3 shootout win over the Iowa Wild.
Alex Belzile’s two goals in regulation and the game-winner in the shootout helped San Antonio snap a five-game winless streak (0-3-2) and re-gain valuable standings points with 19 games left in the season.
“It was a great team effort. We needed to get back to the winning track,” said the pivotman who led the Colorado Eagles in scoring on their way to the Kelly Cup last season.
After a scoreless first period, Belzile found a loose puck in front of the net at 2:41, and less than four minutes later scored from 20 feet in the for a rare two-goal Rampage lead. San Antonio had scored just seven goals in the last seven games.
“On the second one, I had more time than I expected. I just let it go on the right side, and tried not to be too picky. If I let it go quickly, good things are going to happen,” recounted Belzile, who now has 10 goals on the season, the fourth Rampage skater in double digits in that department.
Iowa scored before the end of the middle session, but defenseman Mason Geertsen found Andrew Agozzino behind the Wild’s defenders and Agozzino finished the breakaway at 4:34 of the third for a 3-1 edge.
“Their ‘D’ took a weak shot toward the net and I figured one of our defensemen would front it and knock it down,” explained the team’s leading goal scorer with 14. “I just took a chance and started to make my way out into the neutral zone. Gertzy made a nice play knocking it down like I thought and was able to find me for a breakaway.”
Agozzino has been plagued by bad luck lately, hitting posts, having goaltenders make miraculous stops or just missing the net, but he made no mistake this time going in alone from the blueline.
“Sometimes you get a breakaway and take too long running through too many options. My mindset was see a spot and try and make a shot.”
The Wild responded with two goals in the last 10 minutes of regulation, but the Rampage dominated the overtime, outshooting Iowa 3-0, but Wild goaltender Niklas Svedberg made some big saves to force the shootout. Brendan Ranford equaled Iowa’s Sam Anas’ scoring effort, but Belzile made his favorite move to beat Svedberg for the Rampage’s first win on the four-game homestand.
“That was big one and hopefully we can build on that momentum going into Ontario and have a big game there.”
San Antonio improved to 28-24-9-0, and 3-0 in the shootout, where goaltender Spencer Martin, in his first Rampage action since Feb. 18, has stopped 11 of 13 attempts this season.
The Avalanche affiliate has struggled recently, going 7-11-7-0 since a Jan. 5 win in Stockton put them seven games over .500. In their last 10, the Rampage have depressed their post-season chances with a 3-4-3 slate and they’ve dropped from seventh to 12th in the Western Conference standings.
As the AHL season morphed from 2017 to 2018, the Rampage were playing some of the best hockey in the league and there was talk of this club being only the fifth in 16 seasons to make the playoffs. The team was scoring 3.40 goals per game, which ranked them in the Top-10, while allowing 2.20 goals per game…another highly touted stat.
But a three-game skid after their impressive 2-1 shootout win in Stockton January 5th, in retrospect, appears to be putting the successful season in jeopardy and shows how a minor slump can negatively affect a team in a conference full of each team playing above .500 hockey.
“It’s tough to put your finger on (slump). We have guys going up to both NHL clubs. Losing Warsofsky (Col) and Butler (StL) at different times of the year doesn’t help,” said Agozzino. “Guys like Blais, Thompson (from StL), but at the end of the day, we have guys that night in the locker room who have to find a way to win. It’s tough to pinpoint why we’ve slowed down our pace. Our offense hasn’t been where we want it to be. We’ve still found ways to hang around games. We’ve been in a lot of tight games. We feel down the stretch we’re gonna know that we can stay in those games and we can win them,” said Agozzino.
Although the dual affiliation has been a blessing sometimes, in this case cited by Agozzino, having two NHL clubs making roster decisions can seriously affect the AHL team, since both Butler and Warsofsky run the power play, which has struggled in the slump as well. Dominic Toninato has stayed in Denver the second half of the season, and longtime defensive standard bearer, Duncan Siemans, is enjoying a remarkable and enjoyable coming of age moment on the big club, has definitely contributed to the lack of wins (7 in the last 25 games). The Blues have also kept defenseman and AHL All Star Jordan Schmaltz and Tage Thompson upstairs, while replacing them with only ECHL-level Connor Bleackley and an injured Samuel Blais, who has been terrific when he’s on the ice.
This upcoming California trip, where the Rampage have travelled in the past to see their win-loss record take a hit, is definitely a challenge, where they went 0-1-1 at the end of February in the same cities, and only a remarkable comeback in Ontario with two goals after going down 2-0, to force the game into overtime.
This Sunday’s game will be a true test for the club, as the Reign has a league-high eight-game winning streak (6-0-1-1) and are 8-1-1-0 at home in their last 10. Then, the Rampage play in San Deigo against a team they’ve beaten only once in 13 tries over the past three seasons before coming home to face the best team in the conference, the Manitoba Moose sandwiched around a home contest with Cleveland.
“We cannot have a night off right now,” added Belzile. “We need to play as a team. If we can play as a team, we can play with any team in the league right now.”