BLOOMINGTON — One victory through six Southern Professional Hockey League games was not the beginning envisioned by the Bloomington Thunder.
“We thought we were going to come in and put up wins from the get-go; we felt we had the team to do that,” said Thunder defenseman Paul D’Agostino. “Adversity comes with the sport and it’s something you have to work through.”
The challenge of flipping that adversity around resumes Friday when the Thunder welcome the first-place Louisiana IceGators for the first of two consecutive 7:05 p.m. contests at U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
Bloomington enters the weekend looking to bounce back from Saturday’s 5-0 blanking by Columbus after a hard-fought 5-4 defeat the previous night.
“It was frustrating Friday night because I really felt like we outplayed them, but we gave up six quality scoring chances and … four of them go into the net,” said Bloomington coach Brian Gratz. “In this league and in every level of hockey, if you give up an opportunity the other team’s going to cash in on it.
“Hockey is a game of mistakes and whichever team capitalizes on the other team’s mistakes more wins the game.”
The rough start has D’Agostino and his teammates battling to avoid discouragement and remain upbeat.
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“I guess that’s a part of life. Any type of job you have, you’ll have negatives and positives,” he said. “Part of being considered a professional is being able to battle though those things mentally.”
Bloomington will be without two of the players who have appeared in each game. Forward Ron Cramer will serve a one-game suspension, while defenseman William Lacasse was called up to Fort Wayne of the ECHL earlier in the week.
“We’ve got five guys back there that are all capable of playing the position,” D’Agostino said of his blue line group. “We’re all happy for (Lacasse), but it’s tough for us knowing we lose a player of his caliber. Everyone’s looking forward to the challenge; it means more ice time and opportunities for other guys. It’s a chance to show what we can do.”
Burke Gallimore, a 22-year-old forward signed to a three-game tryout before Saturday’s game, will help absorb the voids. Gratz believes Gallimore made a strong debut and expects his role to grow.
Louisiana right wing Chris Wilson ranks second in the SPHL with 13 points (six goals, seven assists), while defenseman Jason Cohen and forwards Matt Roberson and Jake Trask give the IceGators (6-2-0) four of the league’s top 10 scorers.
“Louisiana is a group that just executes. They aren’t reinventing the wheel by any means; there’s nobody in hockey that’s going to come up with a new rocket science system that’s going to get it done,” said Gratz. “They’re a team that capitalizes on chances and executes what they want to do very well.”
Around the league: Peoria has not won since taking two from Bloomington in the first weekend, getting outscored 22-8 in four defeats and an overtime loss. The Rivermen placed Tyler Amburgey and Dean Yakura on injured reserve this week. … Scoring leader Joe Caveney of Pensacola did not record a point while earning a minus-4 rating in a 5-2 loss Sunday at Huntsville. … Havoc defenseman Rob Florentino was named the SPHL player of the week with two goals, four assists and a plus-4 in two games.
Junior update: Steven Smoltz of the Junior Blaze was named the Midwest Junior Hockey League’s Defenseman of the Week after collecting seven goals and three assists in three games against the Soo Firehawks. The Blaze (3-9-0) play the first of three weekend home games against the Michigan Ice Dogs (4-9-1) at 1 p.m. today.