Story by Tony Uminski
SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Rampage improved to 3-0 in the young season as Ville Husso and Nathan Walker led San Antonio to a score that mirrored their record with their victory over the Chicago Wolves Friday night in front of 5,831 at the AT&T Center.
Walker netted two goals and Husso stopped all 26 Wolves shots en route to his seventh career AHL whitewash in the win over the defending Western Conference champs. Walker, who joined the Rampage from the Washington Capitals organization this summer, now has a league-leading four goals in three games this season. His first of the night found daylight between the pads of Chicago goaltender, Garret Sparks at 10:42 of the first period.
“Klim and I just kinda hung back and the “D” and (Jake) Dotchin made a great play getting the puck up,” said Walker, who scored 17 goals in 58 games last year in Hershey. “(Kostin) made a really good play there in the middle.”
Kostin added another helper on the second Rampage goal as well.
Walker picked up an empty netter late in the third period after defenseman Derrick Pouliot scored the second Rampage goal, also on the power play early in the second period. Pouliot found the puck high in the zone among a gathering of players, skated with the puck between the circles and connected top-shelf over Spark’s stick hand for his first of the season at 3:25 of the middle session.
“With (Walker) and his linemates, he’s starting to feel more comfortable and starting to jell a little bit more,” noted Rampage head coach Drew Bannister on the 5’ 8” speed merchant. “High compete level is one of the reasons we put the letters on his jersey. He’s not very big but he plays a big game.” The Rampage went 2-6 with the extra man and killed all six Chicago power-play chances to run their perfect record of 13 kills in three games this season.
Two critical kills, including two extended two-men-in-the-box situations, also fueled the win, the first coming just over four minutes into the contest that could have dictated a different result early in the game.
“I thought our PK was outstanding tonight,” added Bannister. “Guys were getting in front of shots, blocking shots. Against a team like that that can move the puck pretty well, they have some very talented hockey players over there, and our guys competed hard in those situations. Your goaltending has to be good, which it was, outstanding, guys on faceoffs did a real good job.”
Speaking of goaltending, Friday’s win marked another solid performance for Ville Husso, as his AHL “Redemption Tour” continues as he tries to move forward from a disastrous season a year ago.
“He’s looked comfortable in all three games he’s played in,” Bannister remarked on the friendly Finn, who’s goals against is a sparkling 1.00. “He’s seeing the puck well. He’s moving well. He’s getting out to move pucks. But he’s certainly playing with more confidence. I just think it’s a better mindset. When you are (in that mindset), the game comes to you a lot easier and he seems to be doing well right now. He had a tough year last year with his injuries and his start, but he’s overcome that and he’s in a better place right now.”
Husso has stopped 79 of 82 shots for an impressive league-high .963 save percentage for goalies with more than one game this season. His performance has been arguably better than Ontario’s Cal Petersen, who was named the first AHL Player of the Week last week.
“I think we played a good hockey game, 60 minutes. I think we were the better team tonight,” deflected Husso on his contributions to the win. “Good power play. Good penalty kill. Those are the big things tonight. Good kills two times on the five-on-threes. That gave us more energy for the game. We defended well and that’s a big key for the hockey game. I need to give credit for the defense and the forwards – they blocked shots also – they have been playing really well right now.”
The Rampage will try and match their best start at the beginning of a season, 4-0-0, which occurred in 2003-04 when they play again against the Wolves Saturday night. The Stanley Cup will be on display for fans to see and have a picture taken with the iconic trophy won for the first time in franchise history last season by the Rampage’s parent NHL team, the St. Louis Blues. Rampage players who had a significant contribution to the Cup win will also receive their championship rings.
Sidebars: Of the Rampage’s 10 goals this year, only defenseman Niko Mikkola’s red-light special has come from a San Antonio player from last season…the Rampage are tied with Iowa as the only AHL teams with perfect 3-0 records to start the season…Pouliot, a former Penguins first-round pick (8th overall) in 2012, has 200 NHL games under his belt and you could tell from his wrist shot that found the net at the junction of the left post and crossbar he has some skills there. The Estevan, Saskatchewan native suited up for 133 games the past two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. Walker has scored 30 goals with 35 assists in his last 100 AHL games with the Hershey Bears and now the Rampage.