WATERTOWN — When the Watertown Wolves renew their rivalry with the Elmira Enforcers tonight in the Federal Prospects Hockey League, there will be a little extra in the air after this week’s blockbuster trade between the two teams.
On Monday, the Wolves dealt winger Tyler Gjurich, the league’s leading scorer, to the Enforcers for five players, including forward Gavin Yates, who got his start in the league with Watertown two seasons ago.
The Wolves also acquired forwards Tanner Hildebrandt, Dustin Skinner, Eli Kinsman and goaltender Michael Stiliadis.
Watertown, which stands in second place in the Federal Prospects Hockey League’s Eastern Division, will host Elmira at 7:30 p.m. today at Watertown Municipal Arena.
The Wolves have struggled lately with a shorthanded lineup, something they hope they addressed in the trade.
In Yates’ rookie season of 2017-18, he totaled 35 points, including 23 goals, in 29 regular-season game.
Yates then generated 10 points, including six goals, to help lead Watertown to its second FHL championship and he was selected as the FHL playoff MVP.
Last season, Yates compiled 41 points, including 20 goals, in 28 games before he was traded to Elmira.
Yates appeared in only seven games this season with the Enforcers in which he scored two goals and assisted on three others.
Gjurich, who was also on that Wolves championship team, currently leads the league in scoring with 54 points in 29 games. He scored 13 of his team-high 25 goals with the Wolves (15-14 overall) on the power play.
Hildebrandt, a native of St. Catharines, Ontario, comes to the Wolves after posting 12 points in 12 FPHL games.
Skinner, a native of Andover, Minn., has tallied 16 points in 25 games this season (262 total FPHL career points).
Kinsman, a native of Cocoa Beach, Fla., has totaled nine points in 12 games this season. Michael Stiliadis, a native of Woodbridge, Ontario, comes to the Wolves after posting a 3.13 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage.
Along with the trade, Watertown received further reinforcements as forward Joe Deveny and defenseman Nikolas Kalpouzos were reassigned from Birmingham and Roanoke of the SPHL, respectively.
Watertown enters tonight having lost five of its previous six games, including two home losses last weekend to expansion Columbus.
The Wolves will hit the midway point of their 60-game regular season with tonight’s game.
Elmira (15-14) has closed to within three points of Watertown (15-14) in the standings, 65-62, as well as drawing closer in points percentage (.529 to .517).
Tonight’s game is also the first of nine remaining games in the regular season for the Wolves against the Enforcers.
Elmira has the edge in the season series thus far, winning three of five games.
The Wolves won the last meeting, 3-2 in overtime on Jan. 11, with Gjurich scoring the game winner.
Despite an encouraging start, the game quickly went south once again for the Wolves against expansion Columbus as they were dealt the worst home loss of their season on Saturday night.
Former Wolves goalie Cody Karpinski made 41 saves to post the shutout and the River Dragons broke open a close game early in the second period en route to recording a 7-0 rout of Watertown in front of a crowd of 750 at Watertown Municipal Arena.
“It’s good for our team to get these two wins,” said Karpinski, who played for Watertown for parts of the last two seasons. “Especially on the road, road games are always tougher and to be able to sneak on out of here with these wins, that’s huge in the standings for us.”
Despite nearly dominating play for most of the opening period, Watertown was unable to break through offensively against Columbus and Karpinski.
“It’s funny, because I said we had to come out and win the first period,” Watertown coach Paul MacLean said. “I thought we outplayed them in the first period and they got that late goal. When things aren’t going right and you can’t score, that makes it even tougher.”
Columbus (13-16) swept the two-game set in Watertown, winning the night before, 7-3.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow, in the two games we gave up 14 goals at home,” Watertown assistant captain and defenseman Kyle Powell said. “We lost both and it’s not looking good right now, but we’ve just got to turn it around. There’s always ups and downs, but we’ve got to figure this out soon.”
Despite outshooting Columbus, 22-15 in the first period, Watertown trailed 1-0 on former Wolves’ forward Cameron Dimmitt’s goal with 16.6 seconds remaining in the frame.
“We came out strong, but we didn’t finish things the way we wanted, clearly,” Powell said. “But all you can do on this is take out the small positive things. We’ve just got to regroup, it’s a short turnaround and we play here Wednesday night at home.”
“We pretty much did what we wanted to do in the first period, but then the wheels just kind of fell off,” MacLean said.
Also in the opening period, the Wolves went scoreless on a pair of power plays, including 57 seconds of a 5-on-3 man advantage.
“It’s just like (Friday) night, actually it’s the same thing,” then Watertown team captain Tyler Gjurich said. “The first 10 minutes of each first period the last two nights we came out strong and I honestly don’t know what happened. We had the 5-on-3, we didn’t score and basically gave them momentum.”
Dimmitt, who was traded to the River Dragons earlier this season, fired in a pass from the right from former Wolves’ forward CJ Hayes on a partial breakaway for a 1-0 lead.
This would ultimately be the only goal needed for Karpinski, who improved to 2-0 with Columbus, with both wins coming against Watertown.
The River Dragons then cashed in on Watertown’s third power play of the night as MJ Graham beat goalie Jeremy Pominville from the right faceoff circle 8:40 into the second period for a 2-0 lead, with former Wolves player Yianni Liarakos assisting.
Yet another former Watertown player, Tim Santopoalo, provided Columbus with a 3-0 advantage on his goal with 8:13 left in the period.
The onslaught continued as Chase Fallis finished off a give-and-go with Graham with 4:34 left in the period for a 4-0 lead.
Karpinski went on to stop all five shots he faced in the second period and 14 more in the third.
“I feel pretty good, a little tired, I guess,” said Karpinski, who recorded his first win of the season for Columbus in a 5-4 overtime victory over Watertown on Jan. 4 in Georgia. “I think overall we played much better as a team than the first time I faced them (the Wolves) this season. Especially winning here, I’m going to be close to some of the guys that I played with here, and especially the fans here.”
Hayes and Graham each added a goal in the third period as the River Dragons built a 6-0 advantage and Parker Moskal scored to complete the rout.
“It’s tough when you’re not playing with all your guys,” MacLean said. “But we still have enough guys in the lineup where we should be able to compete as a team.”
Pominville was chased by Columbus for the second straight night, this time yielding seven goals on 39 shots faced.
Columbus has won five of its past six games, including three against the Wolves.
“The last two weeks, we’ve been kind of trending in the right direction,” Karpinski said. “We’ve been making a little push here and there, but now things are really starting to come together and guys are all believing in each other.”
Nearing the midway mark of their 60-game regular season, the Wolves still occupy second place in the Eastern Division.
“I’m not a screamer or a yeller, but you really have to get past this,” MacLean said. “It’s kind of like a psyche or a mental thing that you have to overcome and move forward.”
Second place Watertown will host third-place and division rival Elmira at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Fairgrounds Arena.
“We’re about halfway right now,” Powell said. “This is the turning point of the season, we’ve got the playoffs ahead of us, but if we don’t start winning games we’re not going to be in the playoffs.”