116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CORALVILLE — They’re coin flips, really.
Any hockey game that goes to a 3-on-3 overtime or a shootout literally is a 50-50 kind of deal.
Heads, you win. Tails, you lose.
It went heads twice in a span of about 16 hours this weekend for the Iowa Heartlanders, and it feels like it has rejuvenated their season.
Defenseman Matt Murphy stole a puck along the boards around center ice, skated in on a breakaway and scored 3 1/2 minutes into OT Sunday afternoon to give the Heartlanders a 4-3 win over the Cincinnati Cyclones at Xtream Arena. Make that another 4-3 overtime win over Cincinnati at Xtream Arena, after Brendan Robbins’ goal about five minutes into extra time Saturday night sent the home fans home happy.
“Obviously it wasn’t the start we wanted, the first six games of the year,” said Iowa Coach Derek Damon. “But the next seven games, we’ve been playing really good hockey. It’s just that we haven’t been able to get over the hump.”
Consider that hump gotten over. Finally.
The Heartlanders (3-8-2-1, 9 standings points) played three consecutive games in which the coin flip came up tails. They lost two weeks ago in overtime to Wichita, last week in a shootout to Kalamazoo and Wednesday night in OT to Kalamazoo.
They were able to gather five standings points this week in a brutal four-games-in-five-days stretch in which they lost in regulation Friday nigh at Indianapolis. Yeah, they’re still in last place in the ECHL’s Central Division, but they’re playing improved hockey.
“What I’m so impressed with these guys is their willingness to compete and their never-give-up attitude,” Damon said. “For us to fight back and get third-period goals the last two nights against the best team in the league just shows that these guys have big, big hearts.”
A Cole Stallard goal with 5:56 left in regulation Saturday night tied things at 3 after Cincinnati (10-1-2-1, 23) had scored a third-period goal to go ahead. Sunday afternoon, Cincinnati scored a go-ahead goal early in the third period, but Iowa tied it on a goal from newcomer Griff Jeszka.
The Heartlanders host Kansas City on Wednesday night, then hit the road for five straight in Canada (at Trois-Rivieres and Newfoundland).
“We’re consistently in games,” Damon said. “The way we play, our structure, we set this up so we can compete every night. Where even if we don’t have our best game, we can fall back on our system, and it will give us a chance to win every night.
“We’ve got guys that can skate, and we need to defend hard. Our structure in our D-zone, the way we play in our D-zone, we want to defend hard and then we want to get the puck and go north, put the puck in areas where we can (go get it). There are some teams that are really skilled, and they can rely on individual players. We rely on a collective group night in and night out.”
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