Two Gordie Howe hat tricks in Devils' 6-4 win over Springfield
Gordie Howe hat tricks are rare enough, but a small crowd at the Albany Devils game on Wednesday was treated to a pair of them in a 6-4 win over the Northeast Division-leading Springfield Falcons.
There hadn't been much going on before a fight between Albany's Chris McKelvie and Springfield's Michael Chaput at 4:37 in the first period, but that started a great night for both players.
McKelvie handed out the primary assist on Rod Pelley's goal at 12:24 to give Albany a 2-1 lead, kicking the puck out to Albany's captain from the right corner.
After Albany took a 3-1 lead at 8:14 of the second period on Stefan Matteau's redirection of a Dan Kelly point shot, Springfield came to life and reeled off three straight goals. The tying goal, Ryan Craig's second tally of the night, was set up by Chaput at 11:51. Chaput completed the three-goal run by finishing his own rebound after being fed from behind the net by Spencer Machacek. It also completed the goal-assist-fight Gordie Howe hat trick and gave his team a 4-3 lead at 19:15 of the second.
Artem Demkov scored his first career AHL goal in his first career AHL game, tapping in a rebound of a Joe Whitney shot at 1:00 of the third period. Then Mike Hoeffel sent a breakout pass into space for the swift McKelvie, who took it in and got the puck to trickle through goalie Jeremy Smith's five-hole for a 5-4 lead. Mike Sislo later added an empty-netter to round out the scoring.
“I've never had one of those, so that's kind of cool, I guess,” McKelvie said. “I'm just glad the team won. That's a really good hockey team we played. You could tell, in the second period, they started taking it to us a little bit, but we responded well in the third. It's a good team win.”
“We were just in our zone there, were kind of getting into some trouble toward the end of our shift, I had a little bit of time,” Hoeffel said of the breakout pass. “I just wanted to get out of danger and throw it to an area I knew he could skate into it. He did a great job of using his speed and getting in there and burying a nice goal.”
“I kind of cut across, I saw five hole, and then originally I thought went through, then I didn't see it in. Then I saw the ref pointing and realized it did somehow go in,” McKelvie said. “So I think it might have trickled through five hole and kicked in off his back skate or something.”
The Devils skated every healthy body they had, which meant 11 forwards and seven defensemen and lines that changed on occasion. Albany coach Rick Kowalsky made good use of McKelvie and used him at all three forward positions.
"We talked about, we're going with 11 forwards, Boychuk's only played a handful of games, Demkov hasn't been here all year, seven D," Kowalsky said. "We knew it was going to be a challenge, and we knew we were going to have to get contributions from different guys, and our big guys were going to have to be good. I thought Hoeffel had a solid game, I thought McKelvie was just rock solid. I played him every position but D and goal tonight, and the more I played him, the better he got. That's what you need in situations like this when your depth is tested, and I thought we rose to the occasion against a tough opponent."
Defenseman Raman Hrabarenka got Albany on the board, tying the game at 1-1 at 12:10 of the first period. He snuck in to clean up a loose puck in front of the crease. Just 14 seconds later, Pelley gave the Devils the lead.
Albany looked to have gone up, 3-1, at 6:27 of the second when Harry Young's point shot found the net. The referees, though, determined Hoeffel had interfered with Smith in the crease. Replays didn't seem to back that up, and Hoeffel was unsure what the refs saw.
“If anything, maybe it was our jerseys barely hitting each other,” Hoeffel said. “I don't think there was any contact, at all, but that's just my opinion. The play happened so fast, but apparently the ref thought I made contact with him. It's kind of a bummer, because it would have been really great to see Younger get a goal there. I'm going to have to take him out to dinner.”
Then after Matteau's goal, the wheels fell off for a while as Springfield went on a tear.
“It's disappointing, for sure,” McKelvie said. “We've had some letdowns like that in some other losses we've had. But we took care of some things in intermission. The coaches came in and told us to clean up some things, and the guys did a good job of that in the third.”
Demkov, who attended training camp in Albany but couldn't make the squad, was signed to a professional tryout contract earlier in the day. His goal had to pass an officials' review because they thought Whitney's shot may have found the net and bounced out to Demkov, but the review confirmed his first in the league.
Though this was Demkov's first AHL game, he has 23 goals and 17 assists in 39 games with the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL this season. He played 67 games with Elmira last season.
"I liked him in camp," Kowalsky said. "Pretty smart, good hands. Even though he's a skill guy, he does the little things like goes to the front of the net, stops and buries the rebound."
The Falcons remain two points ahead of Albany in the division and hold two games in hand. Springfield coach Brad Larsen was disappointed with his team's play, with the exception of a stretch in the second period.
"We were awful," he said. "That was ugly. Real, real ugly. That's not the way we play. Just way too sloppy. Sloppy everywhere, got outskated. Other than about 16 minutes in the second period, we were nowhere close to the level we need to play."
After the strong end to the second period, he was caught off guard by their letdown in the third.
"A little bit [surprised]," he said. "I thought we'd built some momentum there and would see it carry over. It starts from the turnover, sloppy turnover. We were so sloppy with the puck tonight, it was gross."
Albany next plays Friday night at Binghamton.