BY AARON PATTERSON
When the Danville Dashers signed forward Justin Levac just before the start of the season, head coach and general manager Rob Schweyer knew what he was getting. Last season with the 1000 Islands Privateers, Levac scored 25 goals and had 28 assists in 32 games.
But in his first 15 with the Dashers, Levac had managed only one goal. He knew his time was coming, though, and on Saturday, recorded two goals and added his 12th assist of the season against the Williamsport Outlaws.
“It was only a matter of time,” Schweyer said. “All of the sudden, he felt like he had a hot stick. He turned around, fired the puck, it was top shelf. That’s the type of player that he is and the type of player that he’s going to be. It was just a matter of time until he broke out. Hopefully, the monkey’s off his back so-to-speak.”
Jonathan Juliano scored his seventh of the season on Saturday, and Darick Ste Marie netted his team-leading 12th. The heartbreak, however, came in that the production was in a losing effort as the Dashers dropped their third game in a row, 7-4 to the Outlaws.
“It feels good,” Levac said of his offensive production. “Obviously, you probably want to produce during a win. We are struggling as a team right now, and I’ve been struggling myself lately, but after we had that hard road stint at the start of the season, we’re back at home. I feel like we can slowly pick it up here.”
The Dashers have played 10 of their first 16 games of the season on the road, including a six game road trip in which they went 1-5. Ironically, the lone win came against the same defending champion Outlaws.
Despite trailing the entire contest, Danville was, at times, inches away from stealing all the momentum and possibly a win from the streaking Outlaws who entered the night on a four-game winning streak.
Williamsport went up 4-1 three minutes, 50 seconds into the second period, but Danville scored two unanswered goals by Ste Marie (assisted by Mark Vida and Ryan Stern) and Levac (Juliano, Shawn McNulty).
Levac’s first goal of the night came 34 seconds before the second intermission. Pulling the Dashers to within 4-3 appeared to have given them an edge entering the final period. But less than two minutes into the third, Brett Needham put Williamsport back up by two goals. Less than one minute later, Levac netted his second goal of the night, but small lapses in focus kept the Dashers from ever getting that elusive game-tying goal.
“That’s the thing about hockey,” Levac said. “It’s an emotional rollercoaster. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. When the game is (almost) tied up at that point in the game, we’ve got to keep battling, keep working hard. It seems like sometimes we just lose our focus a bit and that’s what it takes to get down a few goals. Hopefully we can battle back the next few home games.”
Unfortunately, occasional mental breaks are what Schweyer said has plagued the Dashers all season. Despite having a talented roster determined to add marks in the win column, lack of consistency has resulted in a handful of losses that were just out of reach.
“It’s about focus,” Schweyer said. “I just have to find a way to get these guys to play 60 minutes of hockey. We’re making minor hockey mistakes, and in the pro ranks, they’re capitalizing on every mistake that we make. That’s big. We don’t just make the small mistake, we make the huge mistake and leave them for like a 2-on-0, a 3-on-0, a backdoor pass. But the rest of the game, we kill them. We outplay them. We outwork them because that’s what we do. We work. It’s just that when we do make a mistake, it’s a bad one.”
If consistency is what the Dashers need to get their season back on track, the upcoming schedule might remedy the losing trend.
After spending much of the early season on the road — and even away from the practice ice as result of other programs held at the David S. Palmer Arena — the Dashers are finally back at home for a lengthy stint. Friday’s game against Williamsport marked the beginning of a nine-game home stand.
Danville’s next three contests are scheduled against Federal Hockey League bottom-feeders Cape Cod before hosting Dayton and Danbury (5-2-2-5). Simply getting back on their home ice is a welcomed sign of a hopeful upswing.
“Everybody else in the league, they’re two-and-a-half weeks ahead of us in practice schedule,” Schweyer said. “We lost two-and-a-half weeks of ice time. It’s hard to do that to a team at the start of the year and really get to know the systems because you can only learn it in games, and that’s tough to learn when you can’t practice each and everyday. I’m hoping that we make our biggest strides in the next two-and-a-half weeks.”
Thursday’s home game against Cape Cod is scheduled to begin at 7:05 p.m.