Falcons Hottest Club in the North
For a while this season, Mike Gershon's words were sounding like false hope.
As December and January slogged on, the Falcons coach continued to insist his team was capable of being dangerous if it could just make the playoffs, all while his team was 6-11-2 in those months, including a seven-game losing streak.
At that point, making the playoffs was a question mark, as the Falcons had fallen dangerously close to the teams below them in sixth and seventh. They were in desperate need of a turnaround.
So as Gershon continued to preach that things were close to moving in the right direction, and he had a team capable of beating anyone, it seemed at times as if he was saying it to convince himself.
Turns out, he was right, and if you're not now convinced the Falcons are a serious threat to win the North American Hockey League North Division playoffs for the second year in a row, you're not paying attention.
The Falcons have won five straight games, and are 10-2-1 since the beginning of February. That stretch includes a weekend sweep of North Division regular-season champs the Soo Eagles, a 2-0 record in road games against Jamestown and Kalamazoo, who are in second and third, respectively, and a 4-1 record against the team that most desperately needed to beat the Falcons, Janesville.
And, frankly, the run could have been better.
The Falcons had the Soo on the ropes in the middle of February, coming away with a 0-1-1 record despite out-shooting the Eagles 98-73 in two games. Back then, those appeared to be moral victories, and possibly showed the Falcons could put a scare into the Soo if they ran into each other in the playoffs.
Now, it appears as if the Falcons can do a lot more than scare the Soo. On their current trajectory, they're more likely to beat the Eagles.
So why the turnaround?
There are several factors, really, but it starts with team chemistry and leadership.
Rick DeRosa has been the team's leading scorer for much of the season, but he's turned things up. He has recorded at least one point in nine of the last 13 games, totaling 11 points (five goals) in that span.
Nobody, however, has found his groove more than Easton Powers, who also has at least one point in nine of the past 13 games. He has 16 points (five goals) in that span and five multi-point games. He has doubled his point output from the first 44 games of the season.
New players haven't hurt, either. Tyler Spezia has been one of the league's most dangerous players since joining the Falcons in early February. He had 15 points (nine goals) in 11 games and is on an eight-game point streak. David Parrottino, who is playing on a line with Powers and Spezia, has 14 points (four goals) in 14 games with the team, all of them coming since Feb. 1.
Gershon was right, the Falcons were always dangerous because they had two of the league's better goaltenders in Max Milosek and Alex Blankenburg, and it's no secret a hot goaltender can take a team through the playoffs.
But now everyone is catching fire for the Falcons, and they've become just as dangerous offensively as they already were in goal.
It's hard to call the Falcons the favorite to win the North Division playoffs, because the Soo's body of work throughout the season has rightfully earned it the No. 1 seed. But the Falcons are clearly the biggest threat to the Eagles, and the possibility of a long playoff run is suddenly a lot more than coachspeak.
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