WATERTOWN — The Watertown Wolves and Elmira Enforcers developed a rivalry through the course of last season, culminating in a contentious clash in the Federal Hockey League playoffs.
The latest meeting, in an exhibition game on Saturday, the two teams were all business with potential jobs for both teams on the line.
Newcomers Jamie Lukas and Bryce Litke scored a goal each and veteran defenseman Kyle Powell scored two goals to propel the Wolves past the Enforcers, 4-1, before a turnout of 555 at Watertown Municipal Arena.
Watertown goalies Jeremy Pominville and Joe Young combined to stop 45 of 46 shots faced to turn back Elmira.
“It’s a good test for us to see where we stand going into the season,” Powell said. “Even though it’s just an exhibition game, you can see the guys that work hard and limit their mistakes.”
All in all, it was a promising weekend of preseason play for Watertown, which also defeated expansion Delaware, 6-1, on Friday night.
“I think what’s really good about tonight is it gives us more of an indication of where we’re at,” new Watertown head coach Paul McLean said. “We only played four defenseman tonight, so guys had to step up, and I think the guys played really well in that situation.”
The game, the first and only exhibition of the season for Elmira, provided a chance for both coaches to evaluate players in game action.
“You’ve got some youngsters that have potential and veterans are also trying to make it,” MacLean said.
For Watertown, only a handful of skaters from last year’s team played, including Powell, as well as forwards Anton Kalinin and Deric Boudreau and defender Egor Kostyukov, who each played their first seasons in the league in 2018-19.
The Wolves will open their regular season when they host Mentor at 7:30 p.m. next Friday and Saturday.
Lukas and Litke — who are a pair of players hoping to make the team, both also scored a goal in Watertown’s preseason opener Friday night – each generated a goal early in the first period against Elmira, both assisted by Powell.
“Litke is a defenseman and he’s played real well,” MacLean said. “And Lukas is a real good defensive forward who has a little bit of offensive upside, too. It’s really about number crunching right now and we’ll have to make some decisions. Sometimes you don’t want to part with anybody, really.”
After Lukas scored just 46 seconds into game, with Kalinin assisting, Litke followed with a power-play goal, set up by Yaroslav Blokhin 3:01 into the period.
“We’ve got good players and we’ve got good talent this year, but it’s not the same in training camp, because it’s preseason, we don’t have a team yet, we still have to make cuts,” Kalinin said. “Those new kids scored and played well. Everybody’s trying to make the team.”
Yianni Skropolis, who was in the penalty box for Watertown’s second goal, drew Elmira within 2-1 on his unassisted tally 3:52 into the game.
“It was a quick start for us, it’s always nice to get up 2-0 at home,” Powell said. “The key thing is they came back a few minutes later, but we didn’t let up and just kept going.”
The only fight of the night early in the second period resulted in a five-minute power play and led to Powell’s goal, as he scored at 7:38 of the period, with Kalinin assisting.
Pominville, who played Friday night, stopped 11 of first 12 shots to open the game in the first period.
Young, who came over from Elmira’s training camp to Watertown’s earlier in the day when the Enforcers arrived in town, took over to start the second period and stopped all 31 shots he faced.
“I think they both played well,” MacLean said of the two goalies. “But we still have some decisions to make this week.”
The Wolves also killed off three penalties in the third period, including a portion of one to end the game, with Young making several saves on Elmira high-scoring forward Sean Reynolds while shorthanded.
“We were actually practicing our penalty kill out there because the two Desjarlais brothers (Dallas and Michael) are good penalty killers and we had Liam Little, who I have coached for many years,” said MacLean. “So I know what they can do on the PK, too.”
MacLean, who started last season as Danville’s head coach before he was fired 17 games into the season, went on to serve as an assistant coach for Elmira under former Wolves coach Brent Clarke.
The expansion Enforcers went on to sweep the Wolves in two games in a FHL semifinal series.
On Saturday, Wolves player/assistant coach Tyler Gjurich was behind the bench for the game.
“Moving forward, we can heal up from some bumps and bruises before Friday,” MacLean added. “We’ve got a day off (today) and a well-deserved day off and get ready for the week.”