Rookie Ryan Nolan Leads Rivermen to Tuesday Triumph

November 14, 2023 - 01:35 pm

EVANSVILLE, IN – Last season Evansville made the Ford Center a neigh un-winnable place to play. They were 20-8 overall at home and perfect against the Rivermen last season. It had been nearly two years since the Rivermen could boast of a win in the Hoosier state, until Tuesday.
Rookie Ryan Nolan’s three goals led the way for the Rivermen as they defeated the Evansville Thunderbolts 6-3 on Tuesday morning at the Ford Center.

After a back-and-forth start, the Rivermen were able to get on the board first as Cayden Cahill received a pass from Vadim Vasjonkin from just inside the offensive blue line. With room on the near side, Cahill flipped the puck into the top shelf to record his second goal of the season. Cahill’s tally proved to be the only one of the first period as the Rivermen defense held firm despite a furious Evansville push near the end of the first.

Peoria though did not rest on their laurels in the second period as they extended their lead less than a minute into the second period. Joseph Widmar skated the puck into the top of the slot and sent a wrist shot toward the net as he was taken down. Widmar’s goal extended the Rivermen lead to 2-0 but resulted in a penalty for Peoria after a scrum after the goal. That did not dissuade the Rivermen though as Andrew Durham caught up to a loose puck at center ice while short-handed. Seeing the defenseman drift to him, he saucered a pass into the middle that sprung Ryan Nolan on a short-handed breakaway. All alone, Nolan fired a wrist shot into the back of the net to put Peoria up 3-0. It marked the second straight game the Rivermen had scored a short-handed goal.

“He’s a warrior,” said Rivermen Assistant Coach Eric Levine on Nolan. “His line was going right from the start. He and Wids [Joseph Widmar] and Gelatt [Mike Gelatt]  together have been really good. They’ve been pretty much our most consistent line and those guys do the right things.”

Nolan added another goal a few minutes later that resulted in a goaltender change for the Thunderbolts. That change did spark Evansville as they were able to get one goal back on the power play late in the second period to trim the Rivermen lead to 4-1.

Evansville made a late push in the third period but whenever the Thunderbolts pushed, the Rivermen answered, first with a goal by Gelatt on a turn-around shot from the left-wing circle, and the second by Nolan on an empty-net goal in the final minute to secure the win and his first professional hat-trick. It marked the first Rivermen hat trick since January 15 2023 when Jordan Ernst netted three against the Knoxville Ice Bears.

“Guys stepped up,” Levine said. “When you put guys in situations, good players are going to find a way to produce and that’s what we did here tonight.”

The Rivermen will have a short turnaround before a big test on Friday and Saturday as they host the defending President’s Cup Champion Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs on November 17 and 18 at Carver Arena. The face-off for both games will be at 7:15 pm at the Peoria Civic Center.

“It’s going to be a good barometer of where our 200-foot game and for the guys who are here, this is the team that knocked us out of the playoffs and a team we’ve had some really good battles with,” Levine said. “I expect it to be a President’s Cup-like series.”