CEDAR PARK – Hockey can be a funny game.
The Texas Stars had one of their best efforts of the season on Friday and lost by four goals to the San Antonio Rampage. On Saturday, they weren’t nearly as cohesive, but still powered their way to a 4-2 victory against the Charlotte Checkers, partially thanks to a couple lucky breaks.
“It’s funny. I just addressed the group, and I said I thought we played a better overall 60 minutes last night (in a 7-3 loss to San Antonio),” Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. “Tonight I thought we were a little bit less energetic and looked a little bit tired, if anything.”
While the Stars may have looked tired, that didn’t stop Brett Ritchie from picking up his second career hat trick, albeit with a little bit of help from Checkers goalie John Muse.
“I was pretty lucky to convert on a few of them,” Ritchie said. “But I’ve been having a bunch of chances the last three or four games, so I knew eventually they were going to go in.”
There wasn’t any luck on Ritchie’s first goal, which gave Texas a 2-0 lead six minutes, 50 seconds into the game.
Ritchie, Brendan Ranford, and Matt Mangene sliced through the Checkers defense on a 3-on-1 break before Ritchie slammed home a one-timer off the crossbar and past Muse.
Ritchie’s second and third goals had a lower degree of difficulty.
Later in the first period he helped Texas restore a two-goal lead when Muse whiffed on the puck behind the net, leaving it for Ritchie to slide home into the empty net at a sharp angle.
Ritchie eventually completed the hat trick with 35 seconds remaining when he scored into the empty net. Radek Faksa won a key battle behind the net on the play to clinch the victory.
“I was yelling at him and I knew he was going to win that battle,” Ritchie said. “It was a little bit of risk, but I knew if he could get it there it would end the game.”
Greg Rallo scored Texas other goal, even though he wasn’t the player to shoot it into the net.
Rallo drove hard around the boards and centered a pass that Checker’s forward A.J. Jenks mistakenly shot into his own net in the first period. The goal came almost 24 hours after Rallo was victim of arguably the AHL save of the year by Rampage goalie Dan Ellis.
“That usually only happens to you once a year where you have a complete empty net and the goalie finds a way to make an unbelievable save,” Rallo said. “Then tonight their guy tips it in, so I’ll take those.”
Jussi Rynnas made 28 saves on 30 shots, bouncing back from a horrendous start in which he allowed three goals on five shots Friday.