There’s something about the Chicago Steel that brings out the best in the Green Bay Gamblers.
Since Derek Lalonde took over as head coach of the 2012-13 USHL runners-up prior to the 2011 season, the Gamblers have posted a win percentage of 83 percent versus the Steel. Against everyone else, they’ve won 64 percent of their games.
That trend of dominance continued Oct. 5 against their foes from the Windy City. Kevin Irwin scored his third and fourth goals of the season, Ryan Lough tallied two assists and Sebastian Weberg added another goal for good measure in the game’s final period to give Green Bay the 3-1 victory over Chicago.
The win elevated Green Bay to a 3-1-2 record through its first six games of the season and increased its 2013 season points mark to eight – enough for third-best in the league’s Eastern Conference.
“I would say it’s more coincidence and bounces of pucks,” Lalonde said of Green Bay’s head-to-head dominance versus Chicago. “There’s not too many games that have been easy wins against Chicago. I didn’t even know that stat. Every time we play them, we know it’s going to be a war.”
Chicago brought its heavy artillery early.
Twenty-three seconds into the game, the Steel notched its first goal of the evening off a breakaway slap-shot goal from forward Danny Fetzer, who was assisted by defenseman Alec Vanko. The goal put Lalonde’s crew in a quick hole a day after they’d failed to score a goal in a 0-4 loss to Dubuque.
“We talked about the importance of never getting too high and never getting too low,” Lalonde said. “Last night, we played a good road game. The puck didn’t bounce our way. Don’t get too low after a frustrating loss. We would’ve liked a better start.”
But the Gamblers recovered.
At the 17:32 mark in the first period, Irwin knotted things up for Green Bay with a slap-shot goal of his own–a product of what he deemed an escape play. Lough administered the pass that put Irwin in position for the game-tying score.
“We got a two on one with the defense,” Irwin said, “and a nice pass in the slot gave me a quick release to put it in the back of the net.”
As the first period came to a close, so too did the peace between both clubs. Neither Green Bay nor Chicago was able to break through and score the game’s go-ahead goal at the beginning of the second period–and tensions arose in consequence.
At the 6:03 mark in the second period, Weberg and Mitch Snyder each spent time in the penalty box for fighting, while Fetzer was ejected from the game.
Once tempers simmered, however, the Gamblers refocused. Again assisted by Lough, Irwin gave Green Bay its first lead of the game with a wrap-around goal against Chicago goalie Chris Nell.
“Kevin (Irwin) made another great play,” Lough said, “I just kind of threw it down low to him and Evan (Tironese) left that one for him, and he walked around and made a great play to score.”
Both teams went a whole period’s worth of play without scoring after Irwin’s go-ahead goal in the second period, but at the 11:09 juncture in the final half, Weberg added to Green Bay’s lead with his second goal of the season.
The Gamblers then led 3-1 following Weberg’s goal–a lead they would not relinquish.
Though the win gives Green Bay sole ownership of the conference’s third-best record, there’s room for improvement.
“From the day we entered here, we’ve gotten better every day,” Lalonde said. “Our first two weekends of the year, we got a lot better, but we kind of plateaued out this week and it showed in these two games this weekend. We still have a long ways to go, and it starts Tuesday in practice.”
The Gamblers’ hopeful improvements in practice will be on full display when they play host to Muskegan Oct. 12 at the Resch Center.