by Andrew Hoyle
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: somebody, somewhere, knows of a junior hockey player that’s just phenomenal. He’s got the moves, the speed, the puck-handling ability, and the brains that are sure to make him an NHL-great someday, but nobody is looking at him. As a coach, scout, or recruiter, can’t you just please go take a look at this guy, see for yourself? Begrudgingly, knowing full well this person wouldn’t steer you wrong, you take time out of your busy schedule to give this guy a look-see. Boy, are you disappointed. This guy’s about four inches shorter, and 25 pounds lighter, than what he’s listed at. He couldn’t make it all the way down the ice with Gretzky and Lemieux pushing from behind. He needs duct tape and velcro to hold onto his stick. He couldn’t put the puck in an empty net if he was standing right in front of it. There’s a note taped to his locker that says, “First pants, then shoes.” His stick is right next to it; the blade says, “This end down.” Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. But let me assure all of you out there reading this of one thing: John Togiai is the Real Deal.
Togiai is 6 feet tall. He’s 185 pounds, if not a little more, mostly due to the enormous amount of hair sticking out the side of his helmet. And he’s got an attitude, one that is almost infectious. From the moment he walks out of the locker room, he knows it’s time to work, and that his work is serious business. It’s not a business just about winning; it’s more about leadership and setting the example. Sure, he gives 110% when he’s on the ice, going full bore from start to finish on every shift, hitting hard and making every play he possibly can; those types of demonstrative leadership and work ethics are easy to see. But it’s the intangibles, like his work on the bench, and his working the crowd, that really set him apart. He motivates his teammates every chance he gets, passing along words of encouragement to anybody who will listen. He gets the fans going, too, knowing exactly when it’s time for a good, hard check to the boards. Not to mention what a well-timed fight will do for the morale of teammates and fans alike. It’s things like this that probably got him selected as an assistant team captain, something that doesn’t happen to many first-year Lancers.
Having played major-juniors, Togiai is unable to play Division I hockey. But it doesn’t really bother John; he’d be happy to play Division II or III, or even semi-pro for anyone interested in him. So come on by, check this guy out; he’s the Real Deal. Don’t take my word for it, though..
Togiai’s stats: 40 GP, 8 G, 6 A, 14 PTS, +/- -5, 64 PIM, 0 PPG, 0 SHG, 62 SOG, .129% shooting, 4th on team.
Stonewalled: January 17th versus Sioux Falls. The Lancers began another three-game home stand still focused on catching division leader Lincoln. But Stampede goaltender Kellen Briggs was focused on his own ideas and made them a reality in steering aside 47 shots on goal, and pitching the shutout, in a 3-0 Sioux Falls win. Despite holding a huge advantage in shots (47-16) and power play opportunities (8-4), River City couldn’t squeeze anything past Briggs this night. Sioux Falls clung to a 1-0 lead until the last two minutes of the game, when two empty-net goals were added to the final tally. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try it again…
One Step Forward: January 18th versus Chicago. River City got back to its winning ways the next night with a 5-1 win over the visiting Steel. Janne Jokila (1 goal, 2 assists), Nate Raduns (2 goals), and Drew Miller (1 goal, 1 assist) gave outstanding performances, as did Mike Howe (2 assists) and Matt Carle (2 assists). The Lancers’ anemic power play unit got a shot in the arm also, going 2 of 6, with goals by Jokila and Miller. Even Lancer newcomer Nathan Gerbe, a 5’5″, 145 pound forward from Oxford, Michigan, and late of Honeybaked, got in on the action, adding an assist on a Ryan Coakley goal in the third period.
Two Steps Back: January 21st versus Tri-City. Another power play goal by Miller, this one at the 15:47 mark of the first period, had the Lancers feeling pretty good about their chances in this one, especially against a Tri-City team caught in its own storm right now. But the Storm came back to tie it less than two minutes later, and went ahead for good in the second period as the Lancers lost 2-1 in a game where both sides played it close to the vest. Especially after River City coach Mike Hastings was ejected at the end of the first period for disputing a no-call near the end. A nearly 2-to-1 advantage in shots on goal (29-15) once again didn’t equate to a win for the Lancers.
Another Step Back: January 24th at Chicago. In a complete reversal of fortune from just the week before, the Steel turn the tables on River City and hand the Lancers a 5-0 loss at the Edge Ice Arena. Lancer goaltender Dominic Vicari received little help from an injury-depleted defensive corps, and the Steel were able to dictate a physical kind of play (12 penalties for 27 minutes) that stymied the Lancer attack throughout the game. River City went 0 for 5 on the power play, and coach Hastings called for his team to make an “attitude adjustment” quickly after this one.
Gamble Pays Off: January 25th at Green Bay. River City next visited the Green Bay Gamblers, and were able to come away with a 3-0 win. Phil Todd and the quickly rising Coakley both scored in the second period, less than three minutes apart. Raduns assisted on both goals, and Yale Lewis added an empty-net goal late in the third period to round out the scoring.
Shots Galore: January 29th at Sioux City. Still dealing with a limited amount of healthy defensemen, Vicari faced more shots on goal (38) from the high-powered Musketeer offense than he had in any game since returning from knee injury several weeks earlier. Vicari was able to stop 36 of the 38 shots, and Howe scored the only Lancer goal on a power play, but it wasn’t enough as the Lancers fell 3-1 to the Musketeers. Jason Dest was solely responsible for one quarter (10 of 40) of the shots on goal, but unable to get anything past Sioux City goaltender Jimmy Spratt.
Eager for the Rematch: January 31st versus Waterloo. The Lancers were looking forward to a rematch with the East Division leading Black Hawks on this night, having lost the three previous meetings. But the result would be the same, only by the slimmest of margins, 2-1 in overtime. Jokila got the only Lancer goal on a power play in the second period.
A Win: February 1st versus Cedar Rapids. On a night when few people were thinking of hockey, Charlie Kronschnabel had a breakout game, scoring the first two goals, as River City downed the Roughriders 4-1 at the MAC. John Togiai turned in another impressive performance, having a goal and an assist of his own, and Miller was the straw that broke Roughrider goaltender Wes Russell’s back, with a fourth goal in less than 27 minutes of game time.
All Stars: River City had five selections to the USHL All-Star game held in Green Bay. Defensemen Tim Cook and Carle, Miller, and Vicari represented Team USHL, while Jokila was a member of Team World. Vicari was solid between the pipes during his time, stopping all twelve shots he faced. For his efforts, Jokila was named Team World Player of the Game.