As the 2006-07 Springfield Falcons season continues to progress and develop, so does the growth on the ice as the Falcons started the month of December on a three-game winning streak, their longest winning streak of the season.
The Birds recent success really started in mid-November facing a tough challenge on the road against the Atlantic Division leading Portland Pirates on November 12. Springfield had lost back-to-back home games the previous two nights, including a loss against the Pirates at the MassMutual Center to begin the weekend. The Falcons needed a big-time effort to build some early season momentum and accomplished their mission beating Portland on the road on November 12, a win that began a nice stretch of wins for Springfield.
"That was a big win for us in Portland," said Falcons head coach Steve Stirling. "That win gave us some confidence as a group and showed us that if we stick to our game plan and receive contributions from everyone on the roster, we can have success."
Following their win at Portland, Springfield went on to post the American Hockey League's best record over the next 10 games recording an impressive mark of 8-2 in that span. The end result; the Falcons moved from sixth place in the very tight Atlantic Division, to third place by the end of their impressive stretch. Springfield ended their successful string of games with a three-game winning streak, in which they were a perfect 3-0 on a three-game in three-day weekend from December 1-3. It was the Falcons first sweep of a three-game weekend since the 1999-00 campaign.
"We won a lot of close games in that 10-game span," said Stirling. "We play the majority of our games against divisional rivals and you never want to fall too far behind. It's going to be a dog-fight all year, but we have seen some nice progress as a team."
One of the main reasons for Springfield's rise in the Atlantic Division was the play of rookie goaltender Karri Ramo. Ramo won three consecutive starts beginning on November 12 and led Springfield to a 7-5 record in November. Ramo finished the month of November with a record of 6-1-0 in nine games played with a 2.53 goals against average and .924 save percentage. From November 15-24, a span of five games, Ramo was voted the game's first star twice and second star once. He was also a finalist for the AHL's Goaltender of the Month and Rookie of the Month Award in November.
"He has a fire in him that makes him rise to the occasion," said Stirling, who was thrilled to see Ramo make his NHL debut on December 2 as a member of the Lightning. "He deserved the chance to go up and made the most of the opportunity, he has been very good for us at times this year."
Another first-year pro who had an impact on the lineup during the second month of the season was forward Justin Keller. The Summerland, British Columbia native led Springfield in scoring during November with five goals and four assists for nine points in 12 games, including earning the game's first star on November 12 with two goals and one assist. Along with Ramo, Keller is another young prospect continuing his adjustment to life as a professional.
"Justin (Keller) had some good games for us and he is learning everyday," said Stirling. "He has earned some power play time and has shown a touch around the net. He will continue to be a young player that we will use in many different situations."
As the Falcons head into holidays and a new calendar year, the team is always looking to set attainable goals.
"One of our goals was to get back to the .500 mark and we accomplished that," said Stirling, who had guided the Falcons to a 13-12 record on December 9. "Now we want to stay over the .500 mark and continue to climb in the standings. We have done a good job as of late, but there is plenty of work to be done."