By Miles Regan / USPHLPremier.com
Fort Wayne Spacemen
Seed: Midwest East #1
All games at Utica University Nexus Center, Utica, N.Y.
Day 1: Thursday, March 23, vs. Wilkes-Barre Scranton Knights, 12:30 p.m. EST
Day 2: Friday, March 24, vs. Richmond Generals, 7 p.m. EST
Remainder of team schedule TBD pending seeding round results
“We got the monkey off our back,” says Fort Wayne Spacemen head coach Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, speaking after his team’s Game 3 victory over the Chicago Cougars in the Midwest East division finals.
Prior to this season, the fourth year franchise Spacemen were 0-3 in winner-take-all games with Nationals on the line, making Sunday’s 9-2 decision a big one.
“As a coach, it was awesome to see how happy our guys were. With all the work they put in, seeing how excited they were was fun as a coach. We’ve had that heartbreak. You feel so bad when your kids lose, so it was great to see them happy.”
When the 2022-23 Midwest East champion Spacemen went down 1-0 after a Game 1 overtime loss, it seemed like a movie they’d seen before. This time, however, things were different.
Fort Wayne took Game 2 4-1 thanks to a huge performance from winger Corbin Schiebel. The ‘03 Fort Wayne native scored a hat trick in Game 2 before adding another pair of goals and an assist in Game 3. Schiebel was one of the biggest difference makers in a series that looked like it could’ve gone either way.
“Good series – first two games very tight. They had a good game plan against our power play, especially,” says Schrock. “Sunday, we were just disciplined. There was a big hit early on and the game became physical quickly. Our guys did a good job taking whacks and not retaliating. That ended up being the difference and we were on the power play quite a few times. If they get the first goal it could’ve been different.”
Fort Wayne’s first Nationals appearance comes in their fourth season, and fourth-year Spacemen Cam Perry (‘02/Waterville, Me.) and Logan Robins (‘02/Fort Wayne, Ind.) did their part last weekend. The duo combined for eight points during the series and Robins scored the Game 3 clincher.
Another big name to know on Fort Wayne’s roster is Noah Maine. Maine, an ‘02 out of Knoxville, Tenn., led the Midwest East with 76 (30-46–76) points during the regular season and added a point in each of the Spacemen’s first three playoff games.
The Quebec blueline duo of ‘04 Thomas Turgeon and ‘02 Sam Tetreault also demands a good amount of attention. Tetreault amassed 55 (13-42–55) points in the regular season while Turgeon averaged an even 3.00 points per game in the division finals. The pair are especially potent on Fort Wayne’s power play, which converted at a Midwest East-best 25.9 percent clip during the regular season.
Special teams are one of the Spacemen’s strong suits, so it’s no surprise that coach Schrock wants to spend much of this week working on them.
“[One key at Nationals] is making sure that we’re smart and can keep teams off the rush. We want to make them go 200 feet to beat us and not turn it over in the offensive or neutral zones. We’ll have to play hard and physically because they’re not gonna give you anything easy. This week will be about working on special teams and keeping teams off the rush,” he added.
Schrock’s point is only furthered by the special teams prowess of their seeding round opponents: Wilkes-Barre and Richmond. WBS finished the season with the second-best penalty kill unit in all of Premier while Richmond’s unit finished fifth. Here’s what Schrock and Co. think of these matchups and the overall skill level they expect at Nationals:
“Wilkes-Barre and Richmond [are] two tough teams. It’ll be physical and fast and skilled. You’re not going to surprise anyone at Nationals, and you’ll get everyone’s best game. We want to play with a chip on our shoulder and rep the division well.”
The Spacemen did not face either team during the regular season but looked good in matchups against fellow Nationals participants MJDP, Metro Jets, Toledo, Hudson, Florida Eels and the Minnesota Moose.
“We had success against [other Nationals teams], because they controlled the pace but we didn’t allow odd man rushes and our special teams are good. We’ll have a chance in any tight game if we hold them to one or two goals.”
Oh, and did you hear about how Fort Wayne plans to get to Nationals? They’re taking the train, which has earned the hashtag #SpaceTrain!
An Amtrak station a half hour’s drive from their home rink will serve as their shipping point early Wednesday morning. Coach Schrock says the decision to travel by rail was part logistics-based and part experience-based.
“We’re taking the old school route which will be fun for our players, giving them a new experience in a fun environment will be awesome. Our team loves spending time with each other and we’re a unique group of individuals. It’s only fitting that we’re taking one of the more unique routes.”