Home Rampage Central Feature Let the Road Trip begin

Let the Road Trip begin

Photo: Darren Abate/AHL

Story by Tony Uminski

Say goodbye to your San Antonio Rampage for the foreseeable future. It’s that time of year where the AT&T Center changeover crew gets to take a break from setting up and breaking down floorboards and dasher boards nightly as the Stock Show and Rodeo settles in for its annual three-week run.  Once the dirt has settled after the pink ice turned into squalid lemonade going down the drains, the night owl transition team only has to restock the good brown stuff and remove the, well, other brown stuff. Maybe putting up the dashers and plexiglass has its benefits.

In any event, this season’s 10-game sojourn at least keeps the boys in the same time zone. Last season’s trip took the team through each time zone from the Eastern’s Grand Rapids to the Mountain’s Colorado to the Pacific’s California, along with the usual characters in the Central Division. The 2-6-3 mark was almost considered a success, especially after the 0-8-0-1 slate from the painful Joe Whitney club of 2016-17, which, you may recall, included a roster of 18 defensemen and five different goalies that dotted Eric Vellieux’s lineup cards throughout the season.

However, since this year’s trip is focused on the Central Division, every game is doubly important and needless to say, this is a make or break time for any Rampage playoff hopes. These are all four-point nights, folks!  If the Rampage win, they are two points closer to the team’s ahead of the them — a loss, and two-points further behind — hence the four-point designation.

Fortunately, the Rampage’s only trip into SA’s personal (and for the league this season) Death Valley, Milwaukee (33-8-4-2 and scoring 26 goals in the last four games) is Feb. 26, at the trip’s end. In between Wednesday’s first venture into Des Moines to play the talented Wild and that Admirals date with possible playoff standings death in Milwaukee, the Rampage have two games against the Stars, with whom they are 5-0-0-1 against this year, three with Rockford, another matchup with the Wild and two games in Grand Rapids, where for whatever reason, the Rampage enjoy playing the Griffins.

The way the IceHogs are playing right now, the Rampage couldn’t have picked a better time to find solace in Rockford, Illinois. The Hogs have dropped below San Antonio to seventh place in the Central, tied with 43 points, but the Rampage have two games in hand. Rockford may snap its 0-5-0-1 skid against the Stars Tuesday night, but Mark Bernard’s club is staggering at 2-7-0-1 in its last 10 games. A twin bill in central Illinois may prove rewarding  after the Iowa stop.

Back in Des Moines following the weekend set, the Rampage meet up again with the Wild on Tuesday the 11th, but Iowa’s playing that crazy hot Stockton Heat team that enters play this week playing .683 hockey at 25-10-3-3! That may be an opportunity for San Antonio to skate past a well worn Wild team, which, by the way, the Rampage are 21-9-5-3 against overall – one of the few series where the Rampage have an impressive resume against.

After a Valentine’s Day weekend in Cedar Park, the Rampage then go to Rockford for another game, and then the two in Grand Rapids before the final stop at the Milwaukee chamber of horrors.

So let’s do the math.  Considering last season’s road nightmare is over for the most part (8-26-4-0) since the team is an improved 6-10-3-0 this season away from San Antonio, this trip has the potential to keep them in the race.  A 6-3-1-0 mark is not out of the question.  However, some key elements have to start to inject an additional spark to the team that is 3-1-2 over its last six games.

Nathan Walker has to return to his pre-callup goal-scoring hysteria. He’s been snake-bit since his return from St. Louis, with only six of his 18 goals in the last 19 games. He is a streaky scorer, with four of those six markers coming in four straight games the end of December. So if Walker can light the lamp on the trip, that increases the Rampage chances of staying in the hunt.

Mike Vecchione is also in need of a major offensive shake down. The Lehigh Valley import delighted with 14 goals in the first 22 games when the Rampage still had firm dreams of post-season play. The past 23 games haven’t been as kind to the Boston-area sniper, with just four goals, all the while getting chances, including one nine-shot night against the Griffins in January. Vecchione has to score.

Alexey Toropchenko has two games to score points this trip since he only scores against the Texas Stars. In five games against the Stars this season, the young Russian rookie has three goals and two assists. In 38 other games, he has 0-0-0!!!  First question — what the heck’s up with that?????  Second question — with dates with the Dallas affiliate coming up, will it be Torop Time?  The Rampage need any help they can get.

Nolan Stevens came up big against the Stars, Friday night with a goal and assist, but the marker was Stevens’ first in eight games. The Rampage need more from #18.

Austin Poganski has to find a way to finish. He had two really great chances Friday night, only to be denied at the crease by Landon Bow. Pogo has been more active on the scoresheet with four goals and four assists in his last nine games. Keep it coming, Austin by finishing at the net.

Nick Lappin is MIA. Lappin is the latest Eastern Conference goal scoring import to see his production dry up like a San Antonio pond in the summer. The former 50-goal scorer in two seasons with Binghampton in the Devils organization has four goals and none since Oct. 26th in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He leads the league in hitting the post, but if Lappin can suddenly find the magic, the Rampage could return to their 6-2-2-1 heyday of pre-Halloween.

In net, Ville Husso seems to be re-gaining his lost confidence that saw him go 1-9-4-0 over his last 14 games prior to posting a two-game winning streak. Let’s hope so. Husso is much better than his 11-12-8 mark suggests. Should Ville keep his groove on, the Rampage could be in good shape these next three weeks.

It all comes down to playing the games, of course. The Rampage can’t sleepwalk through the first period on the road, or score early and go into prevent mode like Friday night, where they went up 2-0 quickly, then barely tested Bow until late in the third period.  They have to keep the pressure on, as they did in Colorado to get their first win over the Eagles in six tries last weekend.

Yep – 6-3-1 is in the cards!  But then again, since the team has won only five games (5-19-7-1) over the past three years on this journey – it could be a disaster. However, the 2019-2020 version has less travel and more capable players than in the past three seasons. Sit back and enjoy Brian McCormack’s calls and hope for the best.
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Stephen Michael 26, is a journalist, social media coordinator, host, and entertainment reporter. Michael graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts and earned a Master's Degree in Digital Media in 2020 from the University of the Incarnate Word. He has worked covering the San Antonio Rampage, Stars, and San Antonio Futbol Club. He was the host of the Project Spurs Roundtable on NBC affiliate News 4 San Antonio from 2015-17.


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