Story by Tony Uminski
SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Rampage gave the AHL brass a good look at what happens when a team plays three hockey games in less than three nights. San Antonio skaters pretty much ran out of gas against the Toronto Marlies in a 6-1 beat down in front of 4,821 fans at the AT&T Center Sunday.
The Marlies were scheduled to also play 3-in-3 as well, but their assistant coach, Rob Davison suffered a grand mal seizure in the locker room prior to Friday night’s game in Cedar Park, and Toronto players and management decided to forfeit the game. Texas won Saturday night, 5-3. Davison is recuperating back in Ontario.
Meanwhile, the Rampage must have shared the NFL Chiefs’ sentiments early in the first half of their conference championship game against Houston, dropping behind 4-0, at home just 22 minutes into the game. Unfortunately for the Rampage, there was no ‘Pat Mahomes-type’ gunslinger skating through the door, as they dropped their third straight over the weekend and fourth in their last five games.
“We turned the puck over, which led to penalties, which led to the first two goals scored against and from there on we’re chasing the game a little,” said Rampage head coach Drew Bannister. “We had our opportunities. Their goalie made some good saves which made a big difference. But overall you could tell it was our third game in less than three nights. Our legs weren’t there.”
Then again, maybe its Canadian-based teams that give the Rampage migraines. When the Rampage played in Winnipeg last month, San Antonio fell behind 4-0 in the first period but managed to get back in the game with four of their own in the third, only to lose 6-4. Different outcome Sunday as the Rampage never recovered, trailing by five entering the final frame.
“They are a really good hockey team,” said Bannister. “They skate well. They’re highly skilled and I think we got caught up in that a little bit and we’re not a team that can play the same hockey as they do. We have to play more direct and play heavier and physical and get on the forecheck, and I think we did that early.”
Perhaps, but in this one, it seemed every errant pass, every rebound and missed assignment resulted in disaster. With the score mounting on the visitor side of the scoreboard, fan resentment grew as the AT&T Center crowd drew silent, and any rare, positive action by the Rampage – either a save from goaltender Ville Husso or a better than average attempt on goal drew, sarcastic cheers. Make no mistake. The Marlies are good – they won the Calder Cup two years ago — but the worn-out Rampage made it look like those leaves on their jerseys were the Maple kind.
The third Marlies goal was a prime example of the energy drain. Toronto’s Nic Petan stood untouched to the left of Husso on the power play when a soft shot that was more of a pass came in from Kenny Agostino. With no Rampage defender in sight, Petan had enough time to corral the puck, miss his shot to the side of the cage, gather the puck again with still no resistance staring down Husso three feet away. By then, Marlie’s shooter got his angle and lifted the puck between Husso’s arm and the post. Even after the shot went in, the most bodily contact on Petan came from excited teammates celebrating his seventh goal of the season.
The biggest groans came when Marlies’ right-wing Pontus Aberg swept down the left-wing, stopped behind the net and banked his shot in off of Husso’s leg for a 4-0 Toronto edge just 62 seconds into the second period. It was the second straight game an opponent scored on Husso from behind the goal line.
Rampage alum, Garrett Wilson, who is eighth on the Rampage all-time games-played list at 179, scored his seventh of the season through a screen toward the end of the middle session to make it 5-0 to send hopes of a miraculous comeback out the window.
The highly-touted Husso has struggled in 2020, allowing 19 goals in his last four games since New Year’s Day – a 5.94 goals-against average and a .830 save percentage. The former fourth-round Blues pick in 2014 did finish the second period Sunday, but Adam Wilcox played the final 20 minutes. It was Husso’s second straight pull and after allowing 10 goals in his last four-plus periods in the net.
When down five with another period to go, there are few options.
“We just tried to come out in the third period, do a couple of things, gain some positives since we play them on Thursday,” said lone Rampage goal scorer Mike Vecchione. “Just create a little bit of momentum. Not too many positives to take out of that one. We have a couple of days to figure it out.”
As the Rampage struggled to get the red light off Husso’s neck, Toronto’s Joseph Woll, he with the 3.50 goals-against average and sub-500 winning percentage entering the contest, was doing his best Jordan Binnington impression, keeping his cage uncontaminated by rubber even as the Rampage had outshot Toronto, 25-23 through the game’s first 40 minutes.
“Me, Walks (Nathan Walker) and Pogie (Austin Poganski) have had our chances, but (the puck) hasn’t been going in for us,” said Vecchione, who scored his 17th of the season at 9:59 of the third, but there was little enjoyment evident after the play. “When that happens you start holding your stick a little tighter. Things don’t start bouncing your way, so it was good to break the shutout. It’s tough to be happy when it’s 6-1.”
IN BETWEEN THE LINES: The Rampage are 3-10-0-2 last 15 games, including four losses in their last five…Wilcox took over in the Rampage net to open the third period and was treated rudely by Toronto’s Scott Pooley at 8:13 to make it 6-0…Wilcox made 10 stops in the third as San Antonio outshot Toronto, 41-34…defenseman Derrick Pouliot added his 20th power-play point to lead all AHL blueliners in that category on Vecchione’s goal—the goal was only his second in 10 games and may help him get his rhythm back…Vecchione was 10 of 11 on faceoffs – the rest of the team was 22 of 41…telling stat of the night – the Rampage had only three hits in the game – none in the first period.