LAFAYETTE — Stephen Buco ignited a jubilant celebration when he sank the puck in the back of the net with 1:03 remaining in the second overtime to give the IceGators a 3-2 win in the first game of a three-game playoff series with the Peoria Rivermen.
“We fought for what seemed like an eternity, but this was a great, great, resilient effort by our guys and a huge win,” said IceGators coach Drew Omicioli.
Scott Diebold had a phenomenal game in the net for the IceGators, keeping the IceGators in it with 36 saves against a Peoria club that was constantly applying pressure.
It was just the fifth IceGators appearance of the season for Diebold, who just three weeks ago was playing for his Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute college team in Troy, New York.
“That kid’s a gamer,” Omicioli said. “Every once in a while you get that feel good story of a guy coming right out of college, and we basically threw him right in the ring. He’s been excellent … and that was a huge, huge win.
“He’s so square to the puck and sound in everything he does. He has a bright future ahead of him.”
Diebold was at his best late, turning away 16 shots on goal in the third period and two overtimes, many of which came on good looks for the Rivermen.
“It’s just been unreal to first of all be in my first pro playoff game and to have a game like that going into double overtime,” Diebold said. “I’m really happy to get the win.”
The two teams played to a scoreless first period, attempting only 12 shots between them, but things started picking up in the second period.
The Rivermen kicked the scoring off when defenseman Ben Oskroba ripped a shot past Diebold four minutes into the second period, but the IceGators needed just 42 seconds to answer when Jordan Ciccarello caught Peoria goalie Kyle Rank out of position off a cross-net pass.
Jake Hauswirth added a goal 10 minutes later, when he scored out of a scrum in front of the net.
The way Diebold was going, it looked like it was going to be enough, but Peoria’s Garrett Vermeersch stole the puck deep in the IceGators’ zone on a careless pass and wristed it past Diebold to tie it up.
The IceGators only attempted three shots on goal in the third period and one through the first half of the first overtime before they started finding opportunities again.
Those opportunities looked golden at times, but the IceGators couldn’t find a way to cash them in until Buco’s game-winner found the back of the net.
“You’re happy that we’re getting the opportunities, but at the same time I’ve seen it all too often where you have five great opportunities and they come down and score a fluke goal,” Omicioli said. “It was definitely nerve wracking. I’m going to have to take some time to sit down and cool off, because my blood pressure is through the roof right now.”
Play was stopped for nearly 15 minutes at the end of the second period when Rivermen right-winger Ryan Raven was checked head first into the boards near the IceGators net.
A medical team wheeled him off on a stretcher and he was taken to Lafayette General, where he was undergoing tests after the game.
There was no official word on his status after the game, but IceGators General Manager Louis Dumont said Raven had no feeling in his toes when the medical staff checked on him.
“Unfortunately they had a terrible accident with one of their players, which you never want to see in this work,” Omicioli said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”
The two teams resume the series Friday in Peoria, and both boarded Northbound buses for a 14-hour trip shortly after the game was completed.
The length of the trip combined with the nature of the win had Omicioli feeling confident after the game.
“I know it’s a demoralizing loss for them to get back on the bus for 14 hours to head home,” Omicioli said. “We’ll take it to them on Friday night.”