BY AARON PATTERSON
When the Danville Dashers skated onto the ice Saturday at Palmer Arena, the same upbeat music fans are accustomed to hearing was pumped through the speakers. But it might have been just as fitting for the “Welcome Back, Kotter” theme song to be played.
The Dashers hadn’t taken the ice for a home game since January 5, and they were more than eager to give their fans a taste of what they had been missing during the seven-game road trip.
“It felt great to be back home,” Danville’s Joe Pace said. “It was definitely a long road trip. It was nice winning on the road, but it’s nice to be back home, just to be able to sleep in your own bed the night before the game, relax, and eat a good meal. But nothing’s better than our crowds, and we had a good one tonight.”
A crowd of nearly 900 welcomed the Dashers back with open arms, and the home team didn’t disappoint, posting a 7-1 win over the second-place Pennsylvania Outlaws.
Danville scored a total of 37 goals during the trip, and that was even without leading goal scorer Darick Ste Marie, who has since been claimed by the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL, as well as forward Shawn McNulty who was out for the final four games of the trip.
As if losing Ste Marie and McNulty wasn’t enough of a hit, top points producer Ryan Stern was suspended for three games following a frustration penalty after losing to Danbury in overtime. The Dashers refused to make excuses, though, and found production from unlikely sources.
“I think we have a couple of the top guys out, but we’re a pretty diverse team so I think a couple other guys can probably fit in and put some points up,” Danville’s Michael Jordan said.
Though listed as a defenseman, Jordan took advantage of the opportunity to step up scoring one goal and assisting on three others. Simply having the opportunity to contribute was a welcomed sign that perhaps things might begin to look up for the Pittsburgh native.
Jordan entered the game having played a total of only 15 games. He’s actually spent more time on the injured reserve list than on the active roster. After injuring his shoulder four games into the season, Jordan was ready to return, but sat out another week with the flu. And upon his return, he was once again plagued with another shoulder injury.
Jordan had recorded four points in his 15 games, but doubled his total on Saturday. David Lun, Chris Affinati, Lee McClure, Jonathan Juliano, Kevin McCready, and Justin Levac also scored goals for the Dashers.
Dashers coach Rob Schweyer hopes Jordan’s production — as well as that of the other unlikely sources — wasn’t a fluke, and instead a flash of what can be expected through the remainder of the season.
Despite winning 13 of their last 20, the Dashers haven’t been at full strength. So, as a source of motivation, Schweyer has resorted to showing his team NHL documentaries, specifically one of the Detroit Red Wings’ 2008 Stanley Cup run.
“You go back to the last cup that the Detroit Red Wings won, it was a lot of their role players, the third and fourth liners that came through to get them into the playoff hunt,” Schweyer said. “That’s what we’re in right now. The team is strong, so why not rely on our third-liners, per se, and have them step up and give them a bigger role, give them more confidence so that when we get our top liners back and our injured players back, all of the sudden, you’re just a bigger, better, stronger unit. It’s a blessing in disguise, really.”
The Dashers are currently one point behind fourth-place 1000 Islands in a battle for the last playoff spot, and only four points behind third-place Danbury. With 17 games left, Danville couldn’t ask to be in a better position after starting the season 4-16.
“The main thing is to try to not be in fourth,” Pace said. “You want to jump up to two or three. If you’re going to see Dayton, you might as well see them in the finals instead of the first round.”
Dayton currently sits in first place with a commanding lead, and the Dashers can help their own cause by continuing their hot streak through the next couple of weeks.
After taking on Pennsylvania again today, Danville hosts Dayton the following three contests before getting a visit from third place Danbury.
Today’s game at Palmer Arena is scheduled to begin at 2:35 p.m.