Dashers visit Danbury in vital weekend tilt - Series Preview (3/6 & 7)

by Casey Bryant

The Danville Dashers are coming to Danbury in a crucial weekend for the playoff picture. With the Elmira Enforcers hot on the Hat Tricks' heels, Danbury needs to finish the year with a flurry of wins to keep the top spot in the Eastern Division. Meanwhile, the Dashers are still within striking distance of home ice advantage in the first round as they play catch-up with the Port Huron Prowlers out West.

Friday night is Police Appreciation Night, in which all officers receive a complimentary ticket and beverage at the Rabbit Hole bar in Danbury Arena. Register by clicking here. Saturday night is Danbury Hockey Alumni Night, which will feature several prominent former Trashers, Mad Hatters, Whalers and Titans. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here

Live game streaming will be featured on the Hat Tricks' Youtube channel.

Let's take a look at what fans can expect on the ice.

new faces on d

The Hat Tricks' will be auditioning some new players on the blueline this weekend. With Martin Tuma recovering from a lower-body injury and Thomas Freeman taking a leave of absence, playing time has opened up for newcomers Ethan Busch-Anderson and Zak Sheikh.

Busch-Anderson, acquired earlier this week via trade with the Battle Creek Rumble Bees, has four goals on the season, two on the powerplay. He's a big presence, standing at 6'4" and 200 lbs. With Battle Creek, Busch-Anderson chewed up significant ice time. Now, he'll have more of an opportunity to get involved with the offense and keep his legs fresh.

Sheikh is making his professional debut this weekend after graduating from Lebanon Valley College. Sheikh played in a stay-at-home role for the Dutchmen, something that head coach Billy McCreary appreciated about his game. His simplicity makes him a viable, safe option for defensive zone time. With Aaron Atwell back in the fold and Vlad Gavrik continuing to rack up points, Sheikh doesn't need to be an offensive quarterback. He'll be put in positions to succeed, all he'll need to do is execute.

impactful returns

Speaking of Aaron Atwell, he picked up right where he left off in his return to the lineup after a five-week absence. He collected a goal and two assists in three games down in Georgia, regaining his sea legs with each passing game.

Casper Dyrssen also burst back onto the scene after missing three weeks' worth of games, tallying a goal and three assists in two games last weekend. McCreary and company were careful not to rush Dyrssen back into the lineup, and it appears that conservative approach paid off. Dyrssen looked his usual self, which is a major boost to the Danbury offense.

goaltending duel

When it comes to goaltending, it doesn't get much better in the FPHL than Jesse Gordichuk. Danville's rookie netminder leads all active goalies in wins (18), goals-against average (2.92) and save percentage (.923). He's won four of his last five appearances with a .927 save percentage over that stretch.

Gordichuk will have his work cut out for him, going up against the top offense in the FPHL. Danbury leads the league with 205 goals as a team, and they've been especially potent at home. But Gordichuk has performed against the best before- he has just a 3.00 goals-against average in three starts against the high-octane Thunderbirds (2nd best offense) and 3.40 against the Port Huron Prowlers (3rd best). 

Gordichuk knows how to limit the damage. This could very well turn into a duel between the pipes. Dillon Kelley will get the nod for Danbury Friday night, while reigning FPHL Goaltender of the Month Tom McGuckin will start Saturday.

final thoughts

After a disappointing road trip to Georgia last weekend, the Hat Tricks would love to start a new winning streak on home ice. They finish up their season with nine of their last 12 played at Danbury Arena. They need to keep racking up points to stay top dog in the East, with Elmira closing their season on a torrid hot streak with a relatively friendly schedule ahead of them.

With big crowds anticipated, expect the Hat Tricks to play with purpose this weekend.