WATERTOWN — This clearly wasn’t the way the Wolves wanted to open their Federal Hockey League season and commence their new head coach Paul MacLean’s time in Watertown in a 3-1 loss to Mentor on Friday night.
After the Wolves scored early, the Ice Breakers responded with three unanswered goals, including Jon Buttitta’s shorthanded goal in the second period, to prevail before an opening-night crowd of 812 at Watertown Municipal Arena.
“We knew Mentor was going to come in here and work hard,” Watertown winger and player/assistant coach Tyler Gjurich said. “And I thought we matched their intensity, but they just worked a little harder than us.”
“Absolutely it’s disappointing that we dropped our season opener, especially at home,” Watertown veteran defenseman Kyle Powell said. “But it’s a long season and we’ll just pick it up tomorrow.”
Three different players scored for Mentor, but the game ultimately came down to a duel between rookie goalies, who both made their pro debuts.
Austyn Roudebush stopped 35 of 36 shots faced for the Ice Breakers, and Wolves’ counterpart Jeremy Pominville finished with 40 saves.
“I thought he played well,” Mentor coach Iain Duncan said of Pominville. “I thought we played a pretty good road game. It doesn’t have to be exciting to play a very good road game, you’ve just got to do your job, and I think we did that. Everybody on the team chipped in, and we took care of business against a tough team.”
On opening night in the 10-team FHL, Mentor won against Watertown in its second season in the league after coming aboard in 2018-19.
“This is a tough building to come into and especially the first game of the season,” Duncan said.
Roudebush made 25 of his saves over the last two periods, including 18 in the decisive third.
“Austyn is great, he’s a hell of a goalie,” Duncan said of Roudebush, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds.
The Wolves struck first as Powell scored a rebound goal, knocking in a drive by Deric Boudreau five minutes and 16 seconds into the game.
Mentor drew even at 1-1 at with 2:40 left in the opening period as Declan Conway finished off a give-and-go with Buttitta.
It was the second goal that proved to be decisive as Buttitta provided the Ice Breakers with a 2-1 edge 4:06 into the second period with a shorthanded goal as he capitalized on a Wolves’ turnover and skated in alone for the tally.
“Those are always tough, you can’t give up odd-man rushes on your power play. but we’ll correct that and be better,” Gjurich said.
“That’s a nice play there by Jon Buttitta,” Duncan said. “We’ve got team speed and when we can utilize some our team speed and get some of these guys loose, we’re going to score more times than not.”
The only scrap of the game came six minutes into the second period that led to a three-minute power play for Watertown, which was later shortened when the Wolves were given a tripping penalty.
The Wolves, who also had 1:52 of power-play time entering the third period, but couldn’t convert. They finished 0-for-5 on the power play.
“We have a great team,” Gjurich said. “You can just tell we have a great group of guys here and we just have to put it together.”
Parker Moskal added a goal with 1:14 remaining in the game, with Brody Duncan assisting, for a 3-1 lead.
Afterward, MacLean called timeout, but didn’t pull Watertown’s goalie for an extra attacker.
MacLean was hired by the Wolves after he served as Danville’s coach for 17 games to start last season before he was let go. He later joined Elmira’s coaching staff as an assistant for the rest of the season. MacLean was unavailable for comment after Friday’s game.
The Wolves and Ice Breakers will square off again tonight at 7:30 at the Fairgrounds.
n NOTES: Watertown’s starting lineup included returning forwards Tyler Gjurich, Lane King and Boudreau, as well as Powell and rookie defender Bryce Litke on defense.
... The Wolves wore their traditional home red Friday night jerseys.