After Friday night's disappointing shootout loss to Elmira, I fully expected the Motor City Rockers to bounce back with a better effort. And the team did just that, jumping out to an early lead and never looking back in a 4-1 victory over the River Sharks before an announced crowd of 1,179 at First Arena.
As I mentioned, it didn't take long for the Rockers to strike as Scott Coash sent an outlet pass ahead to Declan Conway whose backhanded pass to Rocco DiCostanzo was then deposited past Elmira goaltender Spencer Kozlowski for DiCostanzo's second goal of the season just 1:14 into the game. Rocco is one of those new players to Motor City that I mentioned in the preseason will be relied on for secondary scoring and to make up for the loss of the likes of Tommy Cardinal and Connor Inger, so it's nice to see him get a couple early on. In my opinion, the game turned permanently in Motor City's favor at the 14:41 mark. Both Jamie Milam and Nick Magill-Diaz were sent to the box at 13:31 for cross-checking penalties, giving Elmira a full two minute, two-man advantage. But River Sharks defenseman Kona Jackson fell down at the blueline, giving Mike Wynn a clear cut breakaway and he buried it behind Kozlowksi for a 2-0 Motor City lead. That's a huge error to recover from and Jackson looked flustered, later fanning on a one-time attempt to the groans of the Elmira faithful. A huge momentum swing and the Rockers took the 2-0 lead to the locker room.
Of note, this was the first game this season that Trevor Babin did not start in net for Motor City and rookie Ricardo Gonzalez took advantage of the opportunity with stellar play in net, stopping all fourteen first period Elmira shots. The first period also featured the first fight of the season involving a Motor City player. I know it's hard to believe any team played five fight-less games in a row in The Fed, but that is the case. And this really didn't qualify as much of a fight, DiCostanzo tussled with Elmira's Steven Ford who pulled Rocco down, but I didn't see any punches thrown in the skirmish. Still, each player was given five for fighting, with Ford picking up the extra two for instigating.
In the second, the Rockers scored two back breaking goals that did the River Sharks in for good. Right after killing off a penalty, Declan Conway took a pass from Pavel Svintsov, dumped it ahead to Mike Winn, then charged towards the net. Winn's pass to the slot deflected right to Conway whose beautiful backhand shot eluded Kozlowski for the 3-0 lead at 14:01. Winn and Scott Coash drew the assists on Conway's first of the season. This had to have been a huge relief for Conway who a couple times earlier in the game looked towards the ceiling in frustration after having good scoring opportunities snuffed out. It was just a matter of time for last season's second leading goal scorer on the team to get one, he's too good of an offensive talent. Expect Conway to light the red lamp more often going forward. Elmira ruined any chance for Gonzalez to come out of his first start with a shutout at 15:38 when Austin Pickford was credited with the goal on a rebound off the initial save. I say credited because I've watched that replay numerous times and still am not convinced the puck ever crossed the goal line, I certainly didn't see it go in on video. Nick Gullo and Stavros Soilis drew the assists on Pickford's first of the season. But the Rockers again had a momentum killing answer, and again right after killing off a penalty. Danny Vanderwiel picked the puck up in his own end and sent Coash away on a two-on-one with Jamie Milam. Coash took it to the net, made a beautiful deke and flipped it past Kozlowski for his third of the season at 17:48. Nick Magill-Diaz drew the other assist along with Vanderwiel. The second period ended with Motor City in complete control, up 4-1.
The third period was rather uneventful, a few penalties and some rising tempers, but nothing came out of any of it and the Rockers shut the door on the 4-1 victory. To me, the big story of the night was the play of Gonzalez in net. I know some fans were surprised he beat out Blake Scott to take the backup goalie position this year, but his play Saturday night proved he earned it. He stopped 31 of 32 shots and I am still not yet convinced he wasn't ripped off of his first professional shutout. I know it's just one game, but his play against Elmira should help alleviate the fears of what happens if Babin is recalled to a higher league at some point this season. Gonzalez gave every indication he is up to the task of being a solid goaltender at this level. With the win, the Rockers now stand at 4-0-2 with thirteen points and in first place in the Continental Division. They have still taken at least a point in all of their games so far this season. Motor City is back at it this coming weekend with a two game set against their Michigan rivals from Port Huron. The Prowlers will be at Big Boy Arena for the first time this season Friday, before the teams travel to McMorran Place for the Saturday rematch.