When the dust had settled Sunday afternoon, both the Generals and Knights headed off the ice with a better idea of where the depth lay in their respective rosters. Due to a cocktail of adverse circumstances, both teams found themselves shorthanded this weekend. On Saturday night each team dressed just 18 skaters. On Sunday, just 19.
Game one saw each team enter having lost at least their prior contest, with the Generals having dropped each of their past four. As such, they were quick to initiate the pressure Saturday night and the speed of their forecheck pushed the Knights to the backcheck early and often.
Despite this, the Knights tallied the game’s first goal at 7:57 into the second period following a highly active, yet scoreless opening frame. On a set up from fellow Middletown-natives Mike Gelatt and Matt Kidney, Tim Gelatt was able to weave a shot through traffic and past big-bodied goalie David Fessenden. That lead would prove to be short-lived.
The speed of the Northeast forecheck, particularly on the rush, continued to give the Knights issues and at 9:30 in the second the dam finally broke. Defenseman Cullen McCabe, on a feed from Hunter Canestra and Bret Parker, ripped a shot from the right point past the glove of Valentine to tie the game at one.
The score would remain deadlocked well into the third with Northeast carrying play on the back of owning a few more quality chances. Fessenden continued to bail his defense out when they stumbled, and at 15 minutes into the 3rd, he was rewarded by his offense. After Luke Perunovich found Christian Thomas streaking up ice, Thomas threaded a perfect lead pass to Alex Cohen in the low slot who in turn drove the puck by Valentine for the go-ahead goal.
With the net empty for the Knights at 18:52, Colin Bilek drove home the game’s final goal (Sato, Perunovich) to put a stop to any hope of a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton comeback. Anchored by Fessenden’s stellar play (28 saves on 29 shots), the Knights inconsistent forecheck and the speed of their own, the Generals skated away with their third win of the season, their second at the Knights expense.
Sunday brought about a new vigor from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as they looked to avoid being the Generals first-ever sweep. Though dressing just four defensemen for a second-straight contest, the Knights struck out from the opening puck drop to right their shortcomings from the night before.
Rookie Northeast netminder Parker Swanson would face a heavy dose of scoring chances early and and often in his first-ever NAHL start. In a period in which the Knights would mount 16 shots on goal, Swanson represented himself well, but at 6:39, the Generals penalty would make a costly mistake.
Matt Kidney, the leading scorer for both teams in their nine games played head-to-head, found himself all alone with the puck just 20 seconds into the game’s first power play. Kidney did what he was drafted to do and ripped the puck past the near post to give his team the early lead. Defenseman Zach Gielarowski, who made his third straight appearance after being called up from the Knights tier-III appearance, notched his first NAHL point on the pass to Joey Verkerke who then set up Kidney on the goal. Despite the Knights growing opportunities, Swanson would not buckle, and finished the period without allowing another tally.
Picking up right where they left off in the first, the Knights continued to pepper their guests with chances in the middle frame. Reed Robinson, after being denied by Swanson on one breakaway, scored on another at 7:31. The opportunity was set up by a perfectly feathered lead pass from Jim Elser who had been launched by solid passing on the part of Paul Maust.
True to their Saturday form, the Generals would not allow the goal to go unanswered for long. Just 94 seconds later, Hunter Canestra fought through Paul Cimilluca’s shattered stick to the net and slipped the puck past Valentine for the General’s first goal (Perry, Anosau). Despite dictating much of the first 40 minutes of play, somehow the Knights would head to the second intermission with just a single-goal lead.
Entering the third, still working off the momentum of their mid-second period score, the Generals began to mount a growing counter attack. Northeast received a further boost when Knights captain Tim Gelatt had to leave the ice for several shifts to have a facial wound treated. Down to three defensemen, the Knights had to rely on long shifts in their own zone to stay afloat at 2-1.
Shortly after Gelatt’s return to the ice, that gritty defense was rewarded when, off a Mike Gelatt and Matt Kidney passing sequence, Curtis Carlson powered a shot over the shoulder of Swanson to build a 3-1 lead. Ever-quick to respond, Northeast came back with a goal just under three minutes later. Following a deflection off a linesman, Bret Parker found Hunter Canestra over the Knights blue line, where Canestra centered a puck neatly to Arty Anosau parked in front, where he then ripped a puck past Valentine, cutting the WBS lead back to one.
With insurance sorely needed, Tim Gelatt answered the bell once again, notching his third goal of the year and his second in as many games just two minutes later, set up by assists from Jim Elser and Reed Robinson.
With each team trading a pair of penalties in the game’s final 7 minutes, neither was able to solve the other’s penalty kill and as the clock wound down to zero, the Knights were able to take solace in a series-salvaging split with a quickly-improving Northeast squad.
Though neither team was able to feature its healthiest lineup, both teams can take solace in the play of their netminders-both teams had matching save percentages of .929-and positive early returns from players making the NAHL debuts and/or registering their first few appearances. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was boosted by the continued development of the aforementioned defenseman Zach Gielarowski and tier-III teammate Jake Fuss at forward.
The Generals will had Parker Swanson make his NAHL debut in net as well as forward Aiden Boehm stepping into his first tier-II action today as well. Cullen McCabe contributed in a big way with a goal in Saturday’s game after being acquired from the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
Next up, Northeast will return home to host the Aston Rebels on February 17th and 18th. The Knights will have a quick turnaround with a Valentine’s Day home game against the New Jersey Titans up next on the docket.