BY AARON PATTERSON
When Todd McIlrath got the official word that he would be returning to Danville, he couldn’t have been more excited.
The Livonia, Mich. native’s first trip to Danville came during the 2003-2004 hockey season when he played for the Danville Wings of the United States Hockey League. It was his senior year of high school, and a time that he recalls experiencing some of the best moments of his life.
“I was fortunate to go to Schlarman High School,” McIlrath said. “I met a lot of great people there. It’s a tight-knit community over there and they gave me an opportunity to develop intimate relationships with a lot of people in Danville. So, I was excited to come back.
“I wanted to cruise up Vermilion, check out the school. I wanted to come to DSP (David S. Palmer) again. It was exciting to come back when I found out I had the opportunity.”
McIlrath had been coaching a junior A team in Rochester, Minn. when he began getting the itch to once again suit up. He began talking to the Dashers, and officially signed with the team in time to make his first appearance back at Palmer Arena on Thursday.
He didn’t waste much time getting his name called, either. During his stint with the Wings, McIlrath racked up 62 penalty minutes in 33 games. And six minutes, 33 seconds into Thursday’s game, he picked up his first penalty, a two-minute minor.
Unfortunately, his first experience back on the ice in Danville was in a losing effort as the Dashers extended their losing streak to four games with a 5-4 loss to Federal Hockey League frontrunners, the Dayton Demonz.
The Dashers were originally scheduled to face last place Cape Cod, but a last-minute schedule change brought the Demonz to town.
“Honestly, I would rather play against them,” Dashers forward Darick Ste Marie said. “The games are better. I like it when there’s a challenge. I know we can beat them, we’ve just got to play harder for three periods.”
And failure to play a full 60 minutes ultimately was the downfall of the Dashers. The Demonz attempted only four shots on goal in the first 9:55 of the game, but found the back of the net on three.
Danville found itself down 3-0 before fans even got comfortable in their seats. But Ste Marie put the Dashers on the board with 7:49 remaining in the first period on assists from Ryan Stern and Dustin Skinner. After surrendering a fourth goal in the second period, the same line connected on a goal to pull Danville to within 4-2, this time on a power play goal by Stern.
Ste Marie added his second goal of the game in the third with 4:12 remaining, just after Jonathan Juliano netted his ninth goal of the season on an assist from Chris Affinati.
With multiple opportunities, the Dashers were moments away from possibly sending the game to overtime. But just when their intensity started to increase, time ran out.
Danville outscored Dayton 3-1 in the final 12 minutes of the contest, but admittedly lacked intensity in the opening moments of the game.
“We wait for things to happen rather than making them happen for ourselves,” It’s sort of a fear, or we give them too much respect, so we come out flat because they’re the first place team, and we’re not. We somehow have to learn to be ourselves. We are one of the best teams in the league, we just haven’t had things fall our way.”
Ste Marie, however, has had things fall his was as of late. His goal and two assists against the Demonz brought his point total to 15 in the last eight games.
“Everything he touches is hot,” Schweyer said. “The guys are getting him the puck. The problem is, you can’t put it all on one guy because he’s going to get frustrated. There’s a lot of times when we make him carry the team, and really, it’s still a team, right? It can’t just be one guy that we look to each and every night. We need to look to others produce.”
Six of Ste Marie’s team-leading 20 points have come against Dayton, while Stern has recorded eight this season against the Demonz. But regardless of their individual production, they realize playing with intensity early in the game is crucial in the final outcome.
“My biggest thing is that we have to have faith in our teammates,” Schweyer said. “Right now, we lack. We try to help out when it’s not needed. We’ve got to believe that each man is going to win his one-on-one battles, and right now, it’s a lack of confidence. As soon as we get that confidence and get rolling, this train is going to go in the right direction.”
Danville hosts Dayton again tonight at 7:05 p.m.