LEWISTON — The Rochester Jr. Americans are inching closer to the Maine Nordiques for second place in the North American Hockey League’s East Division.
Behind Michael Sandruck’s hat trick, the Americans defeated the Nordiques 7-2 at The Colisee on Saturday night.
“As badly you want to be upset with the team, you want to yell, you want to tell the kids they aren’t playing well, they know they aren’t playing well,” Nordiques coach Nick Skerlick said. “We know they aren’t playing well, the fans know they aren’t playing well.”
Rochester is now 28-14-5 (61 points) and four points back of the Nordiques (20-12-5, 65 points). The top two seeds are important in the East Division, as they receive a first-round bye, while the third seed plays the sixth seed in a three-game series. The fourth and fifth seeds also play a three-game series.
The Americans took control early, scoring twice in a 40-second span when Massimo Gentile’s shot beat Nordiques goalie Thomas Heaney at the 2:57 mark and Sandruck stretched Rochester’s lead to 2-0 in the first period.
“I thought our first two shifts were really good,” Skerlick said. “It’s an uncharacteristic mistake one of our players made and an uncharacteristic mistake by another player trying to fix that issue. Okay, early start, not looking good, and the pinball after the next shift and they took it to us in the first period.”
Maine had chances throughout the first period, with four power plays. Gabe Randel took three of them for Rochester, including a double-minor. The Nordiques couldn’t convert on any of the four chances.
Both teams traded chances early in the second period. The Americans thought they scored early in the period and after a review, the officials ruled a no-goal.
The Nordiques continued to pressure Rochester goalie Florian Wade in the middle of the stanza but couldn’t get anything past him.
While the teams were playing 4-on-4, Nick Bernardo’s shot got redirected right at the front of the net by Nils Forelius and beat Wade to cut the deficit to 2-1 late in the period.
“Beautiful tip,” Skerlick said. “It’s good to see Nils getting on the score sheet, and we are going to need him to start scoring some goals here as Charles Tardif is starting to see the top line from the other team every single night. We tried to disguise that tonight with different line combinations tonight.”
Zion Green also picked up an assist.
Rochester started to pull away early in the third when Sandruck recorded his second goal for a 3-1 lead just past the four-minute mark.
Matteo Disipio jammed home the puck past Heaney to make it 4-1 on the power play. Sandruck had one of the assists.
Frustration boiled over midway through the third period when a penalty got called on the Nordiques and a mini brawl broke out, with three fights occurring.
Joseph Gasperko (game misconduct), Liam Chapman (game misconduct), and Gabriel Cull (game misconduct) all got fight majors for Rochester. Cole Hipkin (game misconduct), Nick Ramm (game misconduct), and Luke Chappelle (game misconduct) also received fighting majors.
“Our team isn’t a fighting team,” Skerlick said. “We don’t encourage fighting; we stick up for each other when needed. We had nine fights prior to tonight. We don’t encourage it, but it’s the first time where we’ve been in any situation where we had multiple fights in a game.”
David Helledy got called for the original interference penalty. Ramm also got two minutes for an equipment violation as his jersey came off during the fight. Disipio got called for roughing.
The Nordiques ended up getting a power play after the dust settled.
Maine pulled the goalie with the man advantage, but Luca Leighton fired the puck into the open net for a 5-1 lead.
Skerlick looked into NHL analytics and the data is supported in the pro leagues to pull your goalie with 9:04 remaining when down by three goals. The Americans scored at 9:03 remaining.
“We wanted to go for it in that situation,” Skerlick said. “We took our chances, but a bad bounce over a stick and they score. … I said, ‘Know what, we just had a line brawl, and there’s a buzz in the building, if we score on this power play, it’s a different ball game.’”
Forselius also scored Maine’s second goal.
There was another skirmish later in the third, but the officials didn’t let it get out of hand. Maine’s David Grosek received a five-minute major for leaving the bench during an altercation.
Thomas Rockey and Sandruck each scored on the five-minute major for a 7-2 advantage.
The Nordiques return to action on Friday and Saturday when they travel to Attleboro, Massachusetts, to take on the Northeast Generals.