When 23 white-jerseyed Jamestown Ironmen stream out onto the ice at the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena to warm up prior to each period, it's sometimes hard to differentiate between one player and another.
Nico Sierra, however, stands out.
Whether he's the first one out of the tunnel or the last, fans can spot the left winger with ease; sure, part of the reason is that, at 5-foot-8, he's a bit smaller than the rest, but mainly it's because the moment he steps out onto the ice he always, without fail, drops to one knee and points to the heavens.
Jamestown’s Nico Sierra takes a shot on net during Game 2 of Saturday’s North American Hockey League playoff game against Kalamazoo. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J?photo by Scott Reagle
"I'm just thanking Christ for everything," he said of the ritual. "Not everybody gets to be here and do what I do, so I just want to thank him every day."
So when Ironmen head coach Dan Daikawa entered the locker room for one last pep talk during second intermission of the squad's North American Hockey League playoff battle with the visiting Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings on Saturday evening, and began to talk about the need for perseverance and belief and even having a little faith as necessary ingredients to winning the then-tied contest, it was almost as though he was speaking to Sierra directly.
Well, the 20-year-old native of Warren, Mich., got the message.
"We'd been working really hard the last 10 minutes of the second period," Sierra said, "our line was doing good and the team was starting to pick it up. Coach came in and just said, 'Listen, keep doing what you're doing. Let's finish these last 20 minutes hard and we'll do this.
"'We can do this.'"
With Sierra leading the way, they did.
The winger, who joined the Ironmen on Nov. 20 after being traded by the Port Huron Fighting Falcons, continued his white-hot play in the playoffs, dishing to teammate Ryan Doucet six minutes into the third period for the go-ahead goal and then showcasing his breakneck speed nearly 10 minutes later when he threaded the needle between a pair of K-Wing defenders and buried goal on the breakaway to give the Ironmen a two-score lead, 3-1, and, eventually, a two-game lead in the best-of-five series.
Sierra now has a team-leading five points (one goal and four assists) in two playoff games for the Ironmen. That's more than he had tallied in his previous 11 playoff contests combined.
"I think it's just because I've got an extra year of experience, and it's also because of the guys I'm playing with," Sierra said of his recent production. "Definitely those two things complement each other. I'm more of a playmaker, and when you put goal scorers around me, I'm going to make sure to make a play."
Sierra, who compiled 16 points in 37 regular-season games with the Ironmen, made his best play late in the final period.
Winning the faceoff in front of goaltender Joe Ballmer, Sierra quickly raced up the ice as his teammates were passing the puck out of their zone. With two defenders obstructing his path, the speedy Sierra snuck between them, received a well-timed pass from Daniel Cesarz just before crossing the blueline and then laced a wrister past K-Wings' netminder Marcus Due-Boje for the score.
Sierra, of course, pointed skyward in celebration.
"His speed is just a difference maker," Daikawa said of the tally, "and it's just hard to compete with. He's a little bit smaller in stature, but man, he can skate like nobody in the league. He was a huge difference maker for us tonight, and being able to blow by defensemen like that and score a breakaway goal, that's not easy to do. It was a huge lift for us."
The goal gave Jamestown a 3-1 advantage and all but ended the contest with 5:58 to go.
"(Ryan) Urso made the first play and he tapped it past (the first K-Wings' player)," Sierra recalled. "Then Danny cut to the middle, waited until he handcuffed (the defender) and fed me perfect. I made a little quick move and scored the goal. All I was thinking was, just fly down the ice, I know he's going to get the puck to me."
Given the roll he's been on of late, he can expect a lot more pucks to come his way in the weeks ahead.