Joel L’Esperance was par excellance with four goals that guided Tri-City past the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, 6-3, before 1,951 fans at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
His name sounds French-Canadian, but the center actually is from Michigan. He scored on the power play 1:09 into the third period to break a 3-3 tie, then added his fourth and final goal (his 13th this season) four minutes later to end his club’s five-game losing streak.
Tri-City came in with the worst record (5-15-2) and tied for lowest standings point total (12) in the USHL, but outplayed the RoughRiders (13-7-1, 27 points) and definitely earned the two points.
“We just didn’t bring it tonight,” said RoughRiders captain Dylan Gareau, who had his first two goals of the season. “That’s not going to cut it in this league. Every team is good. They deserved to win.”
Tri-City speed skated to a 3-0 lead early in the second period on a pair of goals from L’Esperance and one from Christian Horn. The RoughRiders had little spark and not much continuity offensively.
That finally changed on an innocuous shot from Gareau eight minutes into the second period that Tri-City goaltender Jacob Johansson whiffed on. The soft goal got Cedar Rapids on the scoreboard and finally jumping.
Another fluky (and disputed) goal from Corey Petrash just 12 seconds later brought the Riders within 3-2. Carlos Fornaris threw a puck from the corner across the crease with a crashing Petrash apparently getting part of it and sending it into the net a split-second before it came off its moorings.
The referee and one of his linesman discussed the play for a lengthy period of time before allowing the goal to stand.
Gareau tied it just 1:15 later with his second goal of the game and season. This one was more legit, if you will, a power move on right wing past a Tri-City defenseman and a shot past Johansson.
“I just think you need to work the entire game,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson.
The game seemed to turn at the end of the second period when Petrash was ejected and assessed a five-minute penalty for elbowing. That came on the tail end of a failed power play and set up Tri-City for a power play of its own it took advantage of.
The Storm took a minor penalty that finished off the final two minutes of Petrash’s major, but the damage had been done. Ryan McMurphy, who spent two years on the Riders’ affiliate list, got an empty netter in the final minute for the final margin.
Chris Birdsall took the loss in net.
“We need to be more consistent, need to work harder,” Carlson said. “We need to play tougher, we need to play harder. It’s a pretty simple game.”
The RoughRiders host Chicago on Friday night and Indiana next Saturday.
Here is the official gamesheet: