Maybe every Jacksonville Icemen game should start a few ticks after the crack of dawn.
Is left wing Emerson Clark a morning person? The proof is in the results.
“I must be,” he said. “Went to bed really early last night, woke up early, had a good breakfast and I was ready to go.”
Two goals and an assist later, 10:30 a.m. turned out to be the right time for the Icemen associate captain.
The Icemen’s earliest home game drew its youngest crowd and its best result, a 5-2 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays Tuesday morning to capture the team’s first ECHL win when playing at the Veterans Memorial Arena.
After three one-goal losses at the arena, the Icemen (2-6-1-0) finally notched a spot in the win column on home ice.
“We definitely needed that today,” head coach Jason Christie said. “The guys have been working so darn hard, and we keep getting in those one-goal games and kept losing them.”
Besides Clark’s big game, Jimmy Lodge had a goal and two assists, and goaltender Jamie Phillips saved 29 of 31 shots to slam the door shut on a Stingrays comeback. The Icemen’s only other victory also came in a school-morning game, in Ontario against the Brampton Beast on Oct. 8.
It didn’t look like Jacksonville would be celebrating this one, after Dylan Margonari scored for South Carolina (7-2-2-0) just 105 seconds into the game.
But the Icemen fired back with five unanswered goals. Captain Garet Hunt put away a rebound off a Lodge shot, Lodge himself gave Jacksonville the lead with 33 seconds left in the first and the puck kept flying into the net of South Carolina’s Jeff Jakaitis.
Jacksonville’s first line of Clark, Alexandre Goulet and Elgin Pearce continued to mesh, playing a part in three goals.
“I’ve been with Goulet since day one, so we’ve started building connections,” said Clark, who has tallied either a goal or an assist in seven consecutive games. “It takes time. But we’re starting to find each other out there and we work good together.”
“They’re consistent and they’re finding ways to make those points,” Christie said. “It’s fun to watch.”
Thousands of students from more than a dozen Northeast Florida schools formed much of the crowd, announced at 7,464.
The young fans screamed for each Jacksonville goal, bounced along with music from “Frozen” during the intermissions and even chanted “Fight! Fight!” in unison when Stingrays enforcer Trevor Gillies tried to take on several home players in the third period.
“The kids were awesome with how loud they were,” Christie said. “A lot of energy in the stands for sure today.”
For the Icemen, it’s also a welcome boost of confidence against a South Carolina team that had beaten them twice already. They’ll meet the Stingrays seven more times in the unbalanced ECHL schedule, although the next matchup won’t come until Jan. 14 .
Next up for Jacksonville is a Friday tilt against the Florida Everblades, currently on top of not only the South Division, but the entire ECHL. No morning advantage for that game, but Clark believes if the Icemen can repeat the hard work they showed this time, they’ll fare well against the foes from the Fort Myers area.
Without having to set the alarm.
“We kept our cool and we all played hard,” Clark said. “We all fought for the puck, we all fought in the corners and we played a solid game.”