LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana IceGators faced a long road when RiverKings reinforcements rolled into the Cajundome on Thursday night.
Devin Mantha and Leo Thomas, who both returned to the Mississippi RiverKings recently from ECHL squads, scored back-to-back goals in a 5-2 Mississippi win that eliminated the Gators from the Southern Professional Hockey League playoffs.
“We had battled all year long with Mississippi through one-goal games and shootouts,” IceGators coach Drew Omicioli said. “For them to have Mantha, Thomas and (goalie Peter) Di Salvo back was big. Mantha is one of the best players in the league. If he had been here all year, he is probably the league’s leading scorer.”
The Gators faced a 1-0 deficit at the end of a period before Mississippi made its move over the next 14 minutes. Reid Campbell went top shelf on Gators goalie Brad Barone in a 4-on-4 situation with 15:04 left to make it 2-0. An IceGators turnover five minutes later went directly to Mantha in the slot. He blasted the puck into the net to account for a 3-0 Mississippi cushion.
“We took a penalty on a power play and then we had a turnover up the middle right on a guy’s stick,” Omicioli said. “You have to execute your opportunities to win championships, and they did it better than us.”
Omicioli went to Adam Courchaine in the net to try and spark the Gators, but Thomas scored the first of his two goals later in the period to make it 4-0.
Johnny Daniels got the Gators on the board with 5:22 left in the second period when he scored shorthanded on a backhand. Anton Lennartson brought the Gators a bit closer with 8:35 on the clock in the final period, but it wasn’t enough.
Thomas converted an empty net chance with 15 seconds left to send the RiverKings to the semifinals and close out Louisiana’s season.
“We lost veteran guys like Mitch Stretch, Eric Tallent and Travis Armstrong (to injury),” Omicioli said. “We lost toughness. I’m proud of the young guys. They gave us an opportunity to get in the playoffs. They held the fort down. We had a lot of rookie mistakes, but those happen.
“They worked their (butts) off. Unfortunately, we had too many mistakes against a veteran team.”