By Tony Uminski
SAN ANTONIO – Nolan Stevens’ second goal of the game and three assists by defenseman Mitch Reinke spurred the Rampage over the Grand Rapids Griffins, 5-4 before 3,894 fans at the AT&T Center Sunday.
Stevens now has five goals in his last seven games. On the game-winner, the former Blues fifth-round pick in 2016 found the puck in the Griffins zone and ripped a shot off former Rampage goaltender, Calvin Pickard, who got most of the puck, but it managed to have enough on it to crawl over the goal line with 3:55 left in regulation. Pickard may have be distracted by Rampage defenseman Joey LaLeggia coming down his right-wing.
“I was thinking to pass most of the time, and the D shading (LaLeggia’s) side, so I shot it last second and it squeaked in,” said Stevens, who now has seven goals on the season.
Stevens’ first goal early in the second period, tied the game after the Griffins went ahead, 2-1 when he cleaned up a shot by defenseman Niko Mikkola that Pickard stopped, but the rebound was right there in the crease.
“That was a nice little gift,” said the former Northeastern Huskie, who scored 24 goals in his senior season before turning pro. “For me, scoring goals is going to have be from the dirty areas in front of the net, so it’s something I think about going into the game is get into those spots, being really competitive in those areas. Sometimes you get lucky like I did tonight.”
Rampage coach Drew Bannister made note of Stevens’ improved offensive presence the past few weeks. “If you go to the net usually you get rewarded,” said the Rampage coach after the win.
Meanwhile, Reinke also picked up assists on Dakota Joshua’s first AHL goal in the first period, and Klim Kostin’s momentary game-leader in the third period.
“I don’t think we’re worried about the point production from Mitch,” said Bannister, even though Reinke had scored only five points in his 17 game since returning from an injury. “We just want to see him clean up his game defensively, move pucks efficiently. I think the offense is gonna come. He’s a smart hockey player.”
Joshua scored his first AHL goal on a breakaway, between the Pickards pads after a great tape-to-tape pass across the neutral zone by Niko Mikkola at 6:12 of the first period. Joshua jumped off the bench and snagged the pass on the Griffins blueline and went in alone. The former Buckeye scored 100 points in 128 college games at The Ohio State University and had 11 points in Tulsa of the ECHL before rejoining the Rampage December.
The Rampage, however, surrendered the lead just over six minutes later on a poor cross-their-own-zone pass by Kostin that was intercepted by Grand Rapids’ Dominic Turgeon below the left circle who then fed Matt Puempel on the dot. The former Ottawa third round pick wasted little time wristing a shot over a surprised Ville Husso’s right shoulder into the top corner of the net at 12:13 to make it 1-1.
The Griffins struck again just 51 seconds into the second period when Eric Tangradi snuck in a tip at Husso’s left post for a 2-1 lead on the power play with Andreas Borgman off for boarding.
But Stevens answered at 4:18 and while his goal was being announced to the crowd, Borgman scored his second goal in three games with a wrist shot from between the circles at 5:01, set up nicely by a pass from Tanner Kaspick just 42-seconds later for a 3-2 San Antonio advantage. Joshua added an assist on the play after Joshua stole the puck in the Griffins end.
However, before anyone could relax, the Griffins responded just a minute later as Puempel skated around defenseman Josh Wesley, who lost his stick at center ice, and scored on the short breakaway at 6:01 to make it 3-3 going into the third period.
San Antonio’s Ryan Olsen was roughed up by Dominik Shine and then Olsen set up Kostin with a zip pass from the right wing to the Blues first round pick waiting in the opposite circle on the power play. Kostin one-timed it from below the dot at 12:39 for a 4-3 Rampage lead.
But hold the phone! That advantage remained for all of 18 seconds.
Puempel, who scored three goals in a game against Arizona in the NHL three years ago, finished off his AHL hat trick by scoring off the break to knot the score at 3-3, and then Puempel almost made it four for night off the ensuing faceoff, only to be denied by Rampage goaltender, Ville Husso, who had to make a sprawling save on the Griffins break.
Enter the Stevens deception act, scoring with under four minutes left, to help the Rampage improve to 13-14-9 on the year, while the division-rival Griffins, who beat San Antonio Friday but lost to Texas last night in Cedar City, 4-0, fell to 14-19-4.
Notes and More – The Rampage are 6-5-1-1 over the last 13, but you may recall began the season, 6-2-2-1 after their 8-2 win over Texas on November 2. Since then, the Rampage have gone 7-12-3-3…in other words, they’ve won only seven of their last 25 games…the Rampage have six more games on this homestand, with two games each against Chicago, Wilkes Barre/Scranton and Toronto before a trip to Colorado to play the Eagles, and one more at home vs. Texas on Jan. 31 for Pink In The Rink Night and then the annual February odyssey for the Rodeo…this season, it’s a 10-game road swing through the Midwest…Nick Lappin hasn’t scored since Oct. 26 in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – a stretch of 25 games. Lappin scored 50 goals in Binghampton the last two seasons so he knows where the net is…the Rampage improved to 2-9-2 when tied after two periods…the Rampage outshot Grand Rapids, 20-10 in the third period, and 44-28 for the game…with 43 third period goals, the Rampage are fourth in the league in that stat behind Utica (48), Tucson (46) and Stockton (44)…besides the Kostin goal, there was another rare, one-timer sighted at 11:45 of the third period by Josh Wesley. That quick shot, once widely utilized in professional hockey, has been on the endangered shot list this season in San Antonio.