Gemel Smith’s hat trick powers Texas Stars past Grand Rapids Griffins

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Grand Rapids has won their last six at H-E-B Center. In the third period, and up by two goals, they were on their way toward making it seven.

Then Gemel Smith struck. Smith put on his cape, cowl, and utility belt to score two shorthanded goals to tie the game in the third with only five minutes remaining in regulation to help punctuate one of the most dramatic comebacks in Texas’ 5-4 victory over Grand Rapids.

Texas had a good start despite the necessary late game heroics. Jason Dickinson, and Mark McNeil played a beautiful tic-tac-toe sequence that gave Travis Morin the yawning net to bury the biscuit past Eddie Pasquale for the 1-0 lead.

The teams struggled to establish a proper rhythm. Even the meager shot totals (8 to 5 in favor of Grand Rapids) belied the flaccid flow. Neither team could find the slot, or anything resembling high danger area ice.

Grand Rapids got on the scoreboard early in the middle frame. Evgeny Svechnikov had a wide open net, misfired like his stick had loaded blanks in it, but lucky for him the ensuing scramble allowed Kris Criscuolo to pick up the bobbling puck in the low slot to beat Justin Peters.

On just their third shot of goal in the second, the Griffins threatened from behind the net, and Matthew Ford would find himself wide open and uncontested in the slot to beat Peters for the one goal lead.

Sustained pressure from the Griffins would nearly pad the lead when Grand Rapids hit the post. The sequence led to a big but legal hit on Nick Ebert, triggering Austin Fyten to drop the gloves on Colin Campbell in a fight that ended up looking like freestyle wrestling without gravity.

Denis Gurianov found himself momentarily on Gemel Smith’s line for a shift that immediately turned fortuitous. A patient pass allowed him to snap the puck on a cross ice feed to Smith who had the wide open net to tie the game.

Grand Rapids responded right away thanks to a Julius Honka turnover that allowed the Griffins to pressure in Texas’ zone. Ben Street was wide open near the slot, and took advantage short side for the 3-2 lead.

An Ethen Werek penalty would compound Texas’ struggles. Grand Rapids has had success against Texas penalty kill (3 for 6 in two games against Texas) like most AHL teams, to be fair. Ben Street then scored his second of the night from Martin Frk’s point shot.

The third period wasn’t played with the kind of urgency you’d expect. Texas struggled to pressure or do anything of note. In fact, Texas only had 3 shots through the first fifteen minutes of the final frame.

That’s when the pinada exploded.

Matthew Ford almost immediately allowed the Griffins to sit back on a two goal lead when he sliced past the Stars blueline on an inexplicable breakaway. Ford shanked it wide but Julius Honka took a penatly to give the Griffins the breather.

However, Smith and Dowling managed to combine for a prime chance on the penalty kill. Smith found his own rebound and put it home to cut the lead to within one.

With Grand Rapids still (!) on the power play, Smith was just getting started. He and Dickinson hit a two on one and Smith buried the puck past Pasquale for his second shorthanded goal on the same penalty kill, and a brilliant capper to his hat trick.

Fifty seconds later, Mark McNeil found Brandon DeFazio all alone on Pasquale’s doorstep to take the improbable lead after being down by two in the third period. It was Texas’ third goal in just one minute and thirty seconds.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a comeback of any kind, but to see the comeback happen in the blink of an eye, and on the man advantage no less was just spellbinding.

Texas returns to the ice to get pigs to fly once more this Friday against the Wild at 7:30.

Texas Stars Line Up

Jason Dickinson – Travis Morin – Mark McNeil

Brandon DeFazio – Justin Dowling – Matej Stransky

Cole Ully – Gemel Smith – Ethan Werek

Denis Gurianov – Austin Fyten – Matt Mangene

Dillon Heatherington – Julius Honka

Andrew Bodnarchuk – Nick Ebert

Dustin Stevenson – Justin Hache

Justin Peters

Scratches: Dietz, McMurtry, Bystrom, Herbert

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