Hat Tricks pay first visit to Mentor to battle Ice Breakers - Game preview (12/26)

by Casey Bryant

The Danbury Hat Tricks look to extend their historic winning streak tonight in Mentor, Ohio as they take on the Ice Breakers for the first time this season. The Ice Breakers are within striking distance of first, sitting only seven points behind the Hat Tricks in the standings despite ranking fourth in the Eastern Division.

Puck drop is scheduled for 7:35pm EST from the Mentor Civic Ice Arena. Live game streaming will be hosted on the Ice Breakers' Youtube channel.

With a big divisional test coming up, let's take a look at what fans should expect on the ice tonight.

road warriors

Five of the Hat Tricks' 11 wins during this stretch have come on the road- three in Elmira, two in Watertown. This is the furthest they have had to travel over the course of this streak, having to knock out the majority of the trip on Christmas Day no less. It will be a test for the Hat Tricks to see how they respond to the extended travel against a team they have yet to face this season.

The Mentor Ice Breakers are just .500 at home, posting a 4-4 record with some nice wins against the likes of Danville and Port Huron but some frustrating losses to Delaware and two to the Carolina Thunderbirds. Excluding two easy wins over the Battle Creek Rumble Bees, they have lost six of their last seven games. 

This will be just as big a test for the Ice Breakers to stop this skid they're on as it is for the Hat Tricks to keep their mojo.

shutting down buttitta

Jon Buttitta and Declan Conway are the league's two top scorers. Buttitta sits atop the league leaderboard with 38 points, while Conway boasts 37 including 20 goals, the league's top mark. They are a dynamic duo largely responsible for the Ice Breakers' offensive output. 

Beyond them? No one on the Ice Breakers has 20 points or even more than five goals. For reference, five different Hat Tricks have 20 points or more and six have at least six goals. In a battle of scoring depth, Danbury holds the upper-hand.

That said, Buttitta and Conway are game-breakers. Who needs depth when you've got the two best forwards in the league on your side? Keep an eye on these two tonight and how they try to break through a Hat Tricks defense that is facing a bit of personnel crisis at the moment.

Speaking of...

next man up

The "Next Man Up" mentality has been tested for the Danbury Hat Tricks this season, and to this point, they have answered the call admirably. But with Martin Tuma still nursing a lower-body injury and his status questionable for this weekend, Kruz Listmayer currently undergoing a review for a five-game suspension, Lenny Caglianone lost to the SPHL and a slew of new faces joining the roster in Dallas Ingram and Kenny Garrett...

It's an interesting time for the Danbury blueline.

So interesting that even head coach Billy McCreary signed a PTO before last Saturday's game in Watertown. While he did not suit up, it's notable that McCreary is his own emergency backup plan.

Expect to see a bit of a rotation on the blueline tonight after the top pairing of Steve Brown and Aaron Atwell- a lot of Thomas Freeman, some Vlad Gavrik mixed in, perhaps even ice time for Brett Menton.

Final thoughts

This is the start of a rough three-day stretch for the Hat Tricks. After their game tonight, they strike out towards Elmira for the first leg of a home-and-home with the Enforcers, to be completed on Saturday. On top of that, they will have to move forward without leading scorer Jonny Ruiz, who received a call-up to the SPHL's Knoxville Ice Bears, and Cory Anderson, who did not travel with the team but is expected to play Saturday.

But the Hat Tricks cannot look too far ahead. To stay at the top of the standings, they must take each game as it comes and worry about the rest tomorrow.