Lots of shots? Not at first for Austin Lotz.
The Jacksonville Icemen goaltender had little work to do for the early minutes of Friday’s ECHL game against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.
But when that changed, he was ready.
“I wasn’t getting too much action… but once Greenville came out hot in the third, I had to really be alert,” he said.
Lotz saved 30 shots and turned in a goaltending exhibition in the third period to seal Jacksonville’s 2-1 victory at Veterans Memorial Arena.
Garet Hunt struck early for the Icemen (14-23-3-2), Tanner Eberle scored midway through and Lotz came through late for Jacksonville’s second consecutive victory on a seven-game home stand.
With each game, the 22-year-old Lotz looks more like stabilizing the once-turbulent situation in the net - if the Icemen can keep him in the ECHL a little longer.
His team-record shutout streak ended at 115 minutes and 21 seconds after Brenden Kotyk’s third-period goal, but Lotz preserved the win with a string of stops that included a full-length dive to deny Evan Jasper with six minutes left.
“When you make those key saves at key times, it definitely helps your club, and he’s been doing that,” Icemen coach Jason Christie said.
For a while, Jacksonville got little trouble from the Swamp Rabbits (18-21-3-1), who came out sloppy and had leading scorer Caleb Herbert ejected for throwing equipment.
Captain Hunt started the scoring at 12:26 of the first period, poking the loose puck past Greenville goaltender Ty Rimmer after a scramble around the crease.
Eberle, meanwhile, did a little bit of everything, threatening around the net and drawing three penalties from frustrated Swamp Rabbits.
The hard-working forward, starting alongside Bobby MacIntyre and Brendan Collier on a revamped first line, got his reward by finishing a point-blank rebound in the second period after Dajon Mingo’s shot had bounced off the backboard.
Greenville peppered Lotz’s net in the third period, but couldn’t find the equalizer.
“We’re playing such simple hockey right now, and we’re so consistent that we can win those games 1-0 or 2-1,” Eberle said.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Icemen saw a milestone when former goaltender Jamie Phillips was called up to the Winnipeg Jets, becoming the first player to make the jump from the Icemen to the NHL. Phillips had previously played 16 games with Jacksonville, including the club’s debut game on Oct. 14.
Following the game, former American Idol contender Colton Dixon performed a center-ice concert as part of the club’s Faith and Family Weekend.
The win over the South Division’s fifth-place team was crucial for Jacksonville’s efforts to claw back into the race for the Kelly Cup playoffs, in which only the top four teams in each division qualify.
The Icemen entered the weekend in last place in the South Division, but could climb to within five points of the all-important fourth spot should they sweep Greenville during the three-game series.
“The bounces are starting to go our way,” Lotz said. “If we keep working hard, hopefully we’ll start stringing together a couple more wins.”