Rampage In the Driver’s Seat; Look to Close Season Strong

Connor Brickley

Photo by Darren Abate.

I must be dreaming!

The calendar reads March, but looking in the paper’s agate section, under AHL Standings, there are the Rampage holding down first place in the Western Conference.

First place? Rarified air for this moribund franchise, which has seen only three other teams make the playoffs in 13 years, especially this deep into the season. The last time the Rampage led the West Division, other than for a day at the beginning of a season, was 1 Jan, 2011 and that was just for a moment as well.

With 10 games left, the Rampage are in the drivers seat, and what better way to gain the top of the pile than a three-goal rally to win a shootout in the BMO Harris Bradley Center, an arena where Rampage teams have gone to lose.

The win, after being down 3-0 early in the second period, snapped a seven-game losing streak there. Overall, the Rampage have won only four of the last 17 games in Milwaukee. Last week, speaking with some folks at the AT&T Center and trying to predict the outcome of this short trek to Wisconsin and Iowa, the typical response was, “after the loss in Milwaukee, we should be able to pick up 3 or 4 points in Iowa.”

The Milwaukee game was in the automatic loss column. Thank goodness Rocco Grimaldi and Sam Brittain didn’t get that memo.

Grimaldi scored the first Rampage goal. Like a similar situation earlier this season when he scored his lone NHL goal with Florida trailing 2-0 late in a game against the, ironically Milwaukee’s NHL club, Nashville Predators. The Panthers tied the game in the last minute, but it was Grimaldi’s marker that lit the comeback flame.

Wednesday night, with the San Antonio five-game winning streak fading like a Robin Yount screamer into the bleachers, Grimaldi’s lamplighter was followed by Dany Heatley’s fifth goal with the Rampage in 10 games. Blake Parlett, who went 25 games without a goal, then scored his fourth in five games to tie it. Just 8:02 had ticked off the clock. The AHL’s most talented offensive team got it going, ouotshooting the Admirals 30-13 over the last 29 minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, Brittain came off the bench when Michael Houser finally ran out of gas. Houser has been nothing short of incredible during this run to the top, going 8-1-0-1 in 10 games with a 2.14 goals against. Brittain’s netplay, which began by stopping two rapid fire shots on a 2-on-1 Admirals breakout, got Houser off the hook. Brittain, in the process, picked up his first AHL win blanking the Admirals for the remainder of the second period, the entire third period, and the overtime as well, including a spectacular glove save that had announcer Dan Weiss’ right lung come through my computer speaker.

Grimaldi and Logan Shaw added shootout goals while Brittain was busy skunking Admiral skaters and the Rampage had scaled the summit.

The good thing about this Rampage team? Well, pretty much everything. The goaltending has been the biggest question mark, but this 9-1-0 run with Houser and now Brittain, has answered many questions there. It’s not that Houser and Brittain are Fleury-esque, but let’s face it, they aren’t Dan Ellis, even as they play that way during the regular season. Ellis will have a chance to continue to rescue his career during the Calder Cup playoff run, but Tom Rowe has to feel great knowing he can turn to his younger netminders in time of need.

The offense is three-lines deep as far as scoring goes. In fact, the Rampage healthy scratches can usually outscore 3-4 teams in the league.

There are 10 games left. This is a team that simply can’t afford to stub their toes in Des Moines this weekend. Adirondack(2), the Grand Rapids Griffins(2) and the Texas Stars(3)–who have returned from whatever alternate dimension they fell into earlier this season–await the Rampage after this short trip. Those last five will determine just how good this team is.

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