Nick Abruzzese scored two goals and three assists to lead the Chicago Steel to a 6-3 win over the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders on Saturday at Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in the USHL’s Clark Cup playoffs.
Abruzzese, who led the USHL in scoring with 80 points during the regular season, recorded just the 11th five-point game in Steel history.
Matteo Pietroniro had a goal and two assists and Robert Mastrosimone had two assists for Chicago, who hosts Game 2 of the best-of-five series Sunday. Justin Robbins made 23 saves in net.
Jerry Harding tallied two goals, including one shorthanded goal, for Cedar Rapids, who was without its leading scorer in Jets prospect Nathan Smith due to an illness. Blake Pietila stopped 22 of 28 shots in the loss.
Jimmy Dowd sent a feed across the blue line to Pietroniro, who fired a wrist shot past a screened Pietila to give the Steel a 1-0 lead at 5:37.
Harding tied it 1-1 at 11:19 when he got behind the Steel defense and lifted a shot over Robbins’ left shoulder. Harding added his second of the game, this time shorthanded. He grabbed the puck at the blue line and fired a wrist shot past Robbins’ glove for a 2-1 Cedar Rapids’ lead at 4:46 in the second period.
John Spetz leveled the score 2-2 for the Steel at 7:06, when he rocketed a one-timer from the point off a Abruzzese feed.
The Steel seemed poised to regain the lead at 8:30 of the second when Mathieu De St. Phalle found Adam Robbins open at the left faceoff dot, but the shot went off the knob of Pietila’s stick.
Chicago then scored two goals within 37 seconds from Christian Sarlo and Abruzzese to take a 4-2 lead at 10:56 of the second. Sarlo buried a shot in front off a feed from Travis Treloar from below the goal line and Mastrosimone sent a cross-ice pass to Abruzzese at the right faceoff dot.
Never leave the Bullshark in open water— USHL (@USHL) April 21, 2019
Mastrosimone finds Abruzzese lurking @ChicagoSteel #WhosNext pic.twitter.com/IGCLl1QYFj
Sasson’s power-play goal with 36 seconds remaining in the second cut the deficit to 4-3.
Neil Shea ended any possible momentum from Sasson’s late-period tally with a goal just 31 seconds into the third. Mastrosimone dropped a pass back to Abruzzese, who found Shea in front to backhand a shot into the net.
THIS LINE— USHL (@USHL) April 21, 2019
THIS GOAL @chicagoSteel #WhosNext pic.twitter.com/e5MPPP0qxN
Pietroniro sent a long pass to spring Abruzzese on a breakaway and the league’s leading scorer split two Cedar Rapids defenders then faked to his left before lifting a backhander into the net at 11:11.
Pietroniro goes up the middle ➡️ Abruzzese fakes & goes hole— USHL (@USHL) April 21, 2019
for his 5️⃣th point tonight @chicagosteel #WhosNext pic.twitter.com/B6ybknoZnn
Muskegon 4, Dubuque 0
Blackhawks prospect Mikael Hakkarinen scored a goal in the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ 4-0 home win over the Dubuque Fighting Saints in Game 1 of the other Eastern Conference semifinal at L.C. Walker Arena. It was Hakkarinen’s first game back since March 29.
That was an athletic play— USHL (@USHL) April 21, 2019
Lynch finds Hakkarainen for the perfectly timed tip! @MuskegonJacks #WhosNext pic.twitter.com/2bKrT51G4F
Bobby Lynch tallied three assists for Muskegon.
Lumberjacks forward Egor Afanasyev, who is projected to be a first-round draft pick this year, left the game in the first period after a knee-to-knee collision but returned in the second period.
Chicago and Muskegon both hosts Game 2 in their respective series Sunday. Muskegon’s puck drop is 4:15 p.m. Central time and Chicago is set to start at 5:05 p.m.