Without two of their top scorers and facing one of the top goaltenders in the ECHL, the Idaho Steelheads looked to a rookie to help fill the void.
William Rapuzzi answered the call.
A rookie from Colorado College, Rapuzzi scored a season-high two goals and had a season-best three points as the Steelheads topped Bakersfield 6-3 at CenturyLink Arena on Saturday night.
"We've challenged him recently to up his game. I thought the last two nights, he's responded very well," Steelheads coach Brad Ralph said. "He's a player we're going to look to down the stretch to keep performing at his best."
Rapuzzi has scored a point in eight of the Steelheads' last nine games. He had an assist in Friday night's victory. On Saturday, he showed he could score.
With Idaho leading 2-1 in the second period, Rapuzzi scored back-to-back goals in 45 seconds to chase Bakersfield goalie Laurent Brossoit, who entered the game with the league's top goals- against average.
The first goal came on a deflection. Rapuzzi camped in front of the net and redirected Patrick Cullity's blast. The second came when Anthony Nigro carried the puck behind the Bakersfield goal and found a charging Rapuzzi alone.
The burst gave Idaho a commanding 4-1 lead, even without top scorers Tommy Grant and Brett Robinson. Grant (16 goals) missed his third consecutive game. Robinson (11 goals, including seven in his last seven games) served the first game of a two-game suspension from the ECHL.
"We talked about it before the game. We lost a lot of our goal scoring. We needed a lot of guys to contribute, a lot of guys to step up," said Rapuzzi, who entered the game with eight goals in 36 games.
His last goal came on Jan. 20. Rapuzzi missed 11 games in December with a left knee injury. It has taken him some time to get fully healthy.
"I lost a little step. It took me a bit to get it back," said the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Rapuzzi. "Hopefully, it's coming back. Hopefully, I can build off this weekend."
The Steelheads hope they can, too. After scoring just eight goals in their first six games against Bakersfield this season (and going 1-5), the Steelheads scored 10 goals in the weekend games, winning both.
"Our goal is to make sure (Brossoit) knows it's difficult to play in our arena come playoffs," Ralph said.
GAME NOTES: Pat Nagle returned to goal for the Steelheads (26-17-5) and stopped 34-of-37 shots. Nagle left Wednesday's game with an injury in the second period and did not play Friday night. It was his fifth consecutive victory. Charlie Dodero, Rob Linsmayer, Anthony Nigro and David de Kastrozza (empty-netter) scored Idaho's other goals.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444