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Kuffner Hat Trick Fuels Iowa Comeback

CORALVILLE, Iowa – The Iowa Heartlanders had few answers for Kalamazoo Wings netminder Trevor Gorsuch on Friday evening, scoring one goal through the first two periods. However, Ryan Kuffner solved the Kalamazoo netminder, scoring a natural hat trick in the third period to lead the Heartlanders to a 4-2 victory. Trevin Kozlowski looked like he would be a tough-luck loser in his first start for the team in nearly two months, but he earned the victory, thanks to Kuffner, stopping 26 shots. The victory snapped a six-game winless streak for Iowa (0-5-1).

The Wings took a 2-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the contest. At the 5:16 mark, Kyle Blaney fed the puck to Justin Taylor near the right faceoff circle. He moved across the slot, lifting a backhander past Kozlowski for his 23rd goal of the season.

At the 9:54 mark, Tyler Rockwell extended the lead to two. Taylor passed the puck to Rockwell, who moved up the half boards before curling in and lifting a shot that beat Kozlowski to the blocker side.

Kalamazoo had a two-goal lead, but Iowa had the better of the play early on. They were simply being held off the board by Gorsuch. However, that changed at 11:37 when Luke Nogard pulled the Heartlanders within one. Zach White set up the play with a tremendous between-the-legs pass to Nogard, who fired a shot through two Wings defenders and past Gorsuch for his seventh goal of the year.

Iowa outshot Kalamazoo 26-18 through the first two periods but were trailing by a goal. The Heartlanders continued to put pressure on in the second period, but they could not solve Gorsuch. Kozlowski was sharp as well. After surrendering the two early goals, he was on his game.

The Heartlanders looked like they would suffer a tough loss, ending their playoff hopes, but Kuffner rallied the team in the third, scoring the second natural hat trick in team history. The first goal came at 7:18. Kris Bennett dished the puck through the slot to Kuffner at the opposite faceoff dot, who fired a laser past Gorsuch for his 15th goal of the year.

Less than two minutes later, Kuffner gave his team the lead. Gorsuch deflected Kuffner’s initial shot into the corner, where Riese Zmolek outraced a Kalamazoo defenseman to gain control. Zmolek passed the puck in front to Kuffner, who blasted it into the net to make it 3-2.

The Wings pulled Gorsuch with a little over a minute left in the game, but Kuffner sealed the victory and recorded the team’s third hat trick with an empty-net goal with 57 seconds left to make it 4-2. That would be the final. Bennett earned his second assist of the game on the play.

Kozlowski had not started for Iowa since February 19, but he was sharp, stopping 26 shots, including 19 over the final two frames. The victory moved the netminder to 9-10-2.

The victory moved Iowa to 28-31-9, tying them with the Indy Fuel with a .478 point percentage. The Heartlanders welcome Indy to town on Saturday, looking to jump over them in the standings. The puck drops at 7:00.

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    Robert Pannier covers the Iowa Wild for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHWild.

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