The Rebels goaltending tandem of Darion Hanson and Trevor Micucci has been steady and solid throughout the season. Last night Hanson took it to a higher level with a spectacular performance between the pipes allowing the Rebels to split this weekend’s games with the NAHL’s top team, Fairbanks Ice Dogs, with a 5-2 victory at the IceWorks Skating Complex.
After a dreary performance on Saturday night, last night’s game started on an ominous note. In a rarely called penalty, the Rebels started the game on the penalty kill because the referee had stated that Rebels forward Mike Merulla had crossed the center ice line in warm ups, resulting in a minor. It was the first of many trips to the box for the home team but Hanson was there to hold down the fort.
After the Ice Dogs had opened the first period with their fifth shot on goal, the Rebels broke out of their zone with assistant captain Chris Deprez leading the way. He found Evgeny Yakovlev who then passed onto recently returned forward Andrew Zerban who made a nice shot to beat Fairbanks goalie Gavin Nieto at the 5:51 mark of the first period. It was only a few times in the opening period that the Rebels were at full strength. The team was called for four penalties while Hanson had to make several key saves to the Rebels up by one since Fairbanks had 23 shots in the period alone.
With a little less than three minutes into the second period, Fairbanks Ryan Kero took a slashing penalty. It was Zerban again hitting the back of the net with a nice feed from defensemen Ryan Solomon and Kristofers Bindulis. It was Zerban’s sixth goal on the season.
With the Rebels up 2-0, the Ice Dogs cut the lead in half when Mitchell Baumann scored with 7:55 left in the second by beating Hanson. Yet the Rebels didn’t wilt. Defenseman Mason Van Tuyl brought the puck out of the zone and found Mike Merulla who passed it onto speedy forward Ryan Cusin. Cusin took a nice shot that beat Nieto putting the Rebels up by two.
As the second period was winding down, the Rebels started to chase the puck and it cost them. In a weird string of events, Fairbanks Ryner Gorowsky was credited with a goal with 20 second left in the period. It had appeared that Growsky’s shot was going to be saved by Hanson but a Rebels defenseman inadvertently redirectly the shot putting the Ice Dogs down by one heading into the third. Hanson had faced 44 shots after two periods.
As the third period started, it seemed as if there was a whistle blown every other moment for a penalty. Each team was sending players to the box. Then with slightly under 10 minutes left in the final period, Merulla and Cusin set up it and passed it back to defenseman Michael Underwood who took a shot beating Nieto on a weak goal. But it put the Rebels up 4-2. Hanson faced more rubber and kept the home team in the lead. Then, with time winding down and Fairbanks pulling their goalie, Van Tuyl and Merulla again fed Cusin who scored on the empty net giving the Rebels a 5-2 victory. It was Cusin’s seventh goal on the season.
While Zerban and Cusin had a pair of goals, Merulla and Van Tuyl both had two points. Hanson finished with 56 saves. The win puts the Rebels record at 20-12 and in a first place tie with the New Jersey Titans, with whom the Rebels have a home-and-home series next weekend. Click here for the box score.