Hat Tricks visit Georgia to battle River Dragons - Series Preview (2/28-3/1)

by Casey Bryant

The Danbury Hat Tricks head down to Columbus, GA this weekend for a three-game set with the Columbus River Dragons. The two teams split a pair of games last weekend, with the River Dragons besting the Hat Tricks in overtime Friday night and Danbury exacting revenge with a 6-3 win the following evening.

Live game streaming will be hosted on Columbus' Youtube channel. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:35pm Friday night, 6:05pm Saturday night and 4:05 Sunday afternoon.

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

Danbury lineup changes

As the injury list changes for the Hat Tricks, so too does the lineup card. Last weekend saw a couple of old faces re-enter the fold, as Martin Tuma and Thomas Freeman joined the blueline after an extended absence. Gordy Bonnel also saw ice time as he was eased back from an upper-body injury, tallying a goal in Saturday's victory.

Freeman will not be traveling with the Hat Tricks down to Georgia. Aaron Atwell, who has not played since January 18th, will make the trip and is eyeing a return this weekend, likely taking Freeman's spot on the blueline. Atwell was a key player in the defensive core, chewing up key late-game minutes and racking up 17 points in 21 games as a Hat Trick.

Casper Dyrssen will also be with the team after missing five games to a lower-body injury, and will likely return at some point this weekend. It remains to be seen which game(s) Dyrssen will skate in.

Nevertheless, it's highly encouraging that Billy McCreary's roster is getting back to full strength in time for the final push to the playoffs. With their spot in the postseason already secured, all that's left is locking up the top seed.

dragons never say die

Columbus' tenacity on the attack was highly evident last weekend in Danbury, even without leading scorer Parker Moskal in the lineup (minor injury). Down 3-2 with less than 2:30 remaining in regulation time on Friday night, captain Chase Fallis sent the game into extra time with a clutch third period goal. CJ Hayes would complete the comeback, beating goaltender Dillon Kelley with a lethal wrist shot.

Then on Saturday, trailing by three goals, Columbus finished the third period with 12 unanswered shots on goal. 

The River Dragons have a balanced, speedy attack. Anton Lennartsson was a standout from last weekend, striking twice on a pair of rush opportunities against Danbury. Hayes also made his mark up and down the ice with blistering speed and impressive hands.

Should Moskal make his way back into the lineup, the River Dragons will only be that much more potent. Columbus will likely also be looking for a bounceback weekend from Jay Croop, who saw a six-game point streak come to an end as he posted back-to-back scoreless outings.

"oh please, jonny ruiz!"

The Hat Tricks' top line of Jonny Ruiz, Phil Bronner and Nicola Levesque erupted on Saturday. After being stymied Friday, the trio hit their stride by combining for eight points in a 6-3 win. Ruiz netted his first professional hat trick, while Phil Bronner buried a backhander off a toe-drag, making a case for Goal of the Year.

Ruiz has eight goals in seven games in the month of February. Levesque has nine points in as many games, while Bronner has six. It's been a big month for this trio, and the Hat Tricks will need them to be on their game in a key three-game swing with Columbus.

final thoughts

The Elmira Enforcers are coming in hot, bearing down on the Hat Tricks as they hunt for the top spot in the division. Danbury's division lead is just seven points. Even though the postseason has been clinched, there is no room for error and no opportunity for rest. Home ice advantage is crucial, and the difference between an opening-round matchup with Watertown and with Mentor is significant.

This is a big weekend for Danbury, period.