Story by Tony Uminski
SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Rampage rebounded from a sluggish start, scoring the last five goals of the game as they beat the visiting Tucson Roadrunners, 5-2, in front of 4,301 at the AT&T Center Sunday.
Former Red Wings second-round pick, Zach Nastasiuk, potted two goals, including the game-winner, while Nathan Walker and Mike Vecchione scored in their second straight game. Defenseman Niko Mikkola added the other marker, and Tanner Kaspick added two assists. Goaltender Ville Husso stopped 31 shots, including 17 in the third period.
After spotting the Runners a 2-0 lead, Vecchione scored his second goal in as many games, once again using an opponent’s body part to light the lamp. Friday night, his centering pass went off a Manitoba Moose skate. Sunday, the puck found its way over Tucson goaltender Adin Hill at 4:20 of the second period, as it bounced up around waist high off a defender, where Vecchione got wood on it and put it into the cage.
“We were obviously sleeping in the first period,” said Rampage coach Drew Bannister after Tucson outshot the slumbering San Antonio skaters, 11-4 through much of the first period. “They come out, Tucson scores an early goal in the second there, kinda on a bad bounce, but I liked our response. I thought from there we started to compete, get ourselves more involved in the game. Our PK, there was a couple there that really got us going. One of them we got some really good life out it and obviously the power play got a couple of big goals.”
Walker’s power play goal knotted the score as he tallied on a juicy rebound on the right side of the goal, beating Hill with a backhand shot while falling to the ice at 12:47. Derrick Pouliot and Jake Walman assisted.
“We were able to keep that momentum throughout the second and third,” added Bannister.
Nastasiuk, hot off his Calder Cup winning tour of duty with the Charlotte Checkers last season, found the mark after a faceoff win by Kaspick for the eventual game-winner at 2:01 of the third, tucking the puck under Hill just as the Runners goaltender moved his stick to expose the gap between his pads.
Mikkola used another faceoff success, this time by Walker, for a stunning slapshot that caught Hill napping, stickside at 8:56.
“I saw the line so I tried to put it on the net,” said the 6-4 defender from Finland. “This time it went in.”
Mikkola scored twice last season in 70 games for the Rampage, but usually is content to focus on the defensive side of the game.
“He has a great ability to skate and close in on guys real quickly, and his stick is outstanding. It’s long. He makes it real difficult for forwards to play,” said Bannister. “He uses his skating ability to get up in the play and I think with a year under his belt, now he’s feeling more comfortable in this league, he’s trying to add layers to his game a lot more.”
Nastasiuk finished the scoring with a confusing goal, as the puck dangled in mid-air over Hill before sneaking over the line off a being-in-the-rght-place-at-the-right-time winger.
“I was just standing in front of the net when Kaspick made another good play. He tried to get it over to me, (the puck) hit a stick or something and it bounced off me and in,” said Nastasiuk, who scored 14 goals in 71 games last season with the Checkers and the Florida Everblades of the ECHL.
Besides the two goals, the Barrie, Ontario native did yeoman’s work on the penalty killing unit. “(Nastasiuk)’s overall game was real good,” added Bannister. “He’s been real good the last two games here. That one shift where he was down in the corner and killed a lot of time and that brought a lot of energy to the bench.”
Rampage penalty killers have stopped all seven power plays against them in the first two games, while the power play has clicked on three of 11 chances.
Husso was challenged all night, keeping the Rampage in the contest in the first period especially. A great sequence occurred midway through the period, when a Tucson forward took a quick wrist shot on the right side of the crease, got the rebound while moving left and was denied again by the sliding Husso who used his right pad for the save.
“Ville had to make a number of difficult save there in the first. We gave up 17 in the third but it didn’t feel like that. I thought Ville saw everything coming at him from the outside shots.”
The Rampage take on the Chicago Wolves Friday and Saturday nights, with the Saturday night game dedicated to the parent St. Louis Blues winning the Stanley Cup. Fans can see the Cup on display on the concourse and highlights of the Blues championship season will take place throughout the game. Former Rampage stars, goaltender Jordan Binnington, Sammy Blais and Zach Sanford were instrumental in the title run. Three San Antonio players, Jordan Nolan, Husso and Mitch Reinke – members of the Black Aces, will get their Stanley Cup rings presented to them before the game. The Black Aces were players brought up to practice with playoff teams and be in reserve in case of injuries.
Hockey post-script — one of the best nicknames of any team — Florida Everblades, the team Nastasiuk played for near Ft. Myers.