Gamblers fall in home opener

Gamblers forward Nick Schmaltz
Gamblers forward Nick Schmaltz

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Fresh off their season-opening 5-1 thrashing of the Chicago Steel in the Windy City, the Green Bay Gamblers made a quick turnaround to the Resch Center Sept. 21 to open their 2013 home schedule and 20th season as a United States Hockey League franchise.

The Gamblers quickly found themselves behind to the Muskegan Lumberjacks in front of a crowd of 3,177, and the early deficit was one that Green Bay would not be able to overcome despite a late rally.

“I’m really happy with the fight back,” Gamblers head coach Derek Lalonde said after the game. “We obviously had a disastrous start. We were too hyped up. We didn’t handle the emotions well.”

At the 17:23 mark in the first period, Muskegan took the lead on a breakaway slap shot goal scored by forward Scott Pooley with numbers advantage down the ice, putting the Gamblers behind just 2:37 into the game.

Minutes later, the Lumberjacks capitalized off a power play that was made possible by a cross-checking penalty on Gamblers forward Ryan Lough.

It extended their lead to 2-0 thanks to a goal from forward Trevor Morbeck, who was assisted by defenseman Sean Lang in a scrum in front of the net.

Just 6:20 into the first period, Lalonde’s bunch found itself down 2-0, knowing full-well that a comeback victory Saturday evening would be the product of an up-hill battle in which mistakes were minimized.

“It was a sloppy start for us,” Lalonde said. “We realized we needed to clean it up if we wanted a chance to win the game.”

The Gamblers neutralized Muskegan’s second goal with one of their own with 11:40 remaining in the first period. A slap shot by forward Matt Weis, his first of the season, whistled past Lumberjack goalie Jordan Uhelski to the back of the net. The goal put Green Bay behind 1-2.

Yet the goals simply continued for the visiting Lumberjacks.

One minute after Green Bay was able to get on the board with their first goal, Muskegan answered with their third of the night thanks to a crowd-silencing slap-shot goal from forward Matt Mendelson, who was assisted on the play by Pooley and forward Cooper Marody.

Trailing 3-1 at the 10:40 mark, Lalonde’s crew would not allow a goal for the rest of the period, and would quickly find momentum on their side as the game progressed.

Just 2:04 into the second period, Green Bay forward Evan Tironese dished to Lough, who promptly found the back of the net with his first goal of the season. The Gamblers were then down 2-3 following the goal.

Green Bay then took advantage of Muskegan’s weakened defense with a power-play goal from Kevin Irwin, knotting the game at 3-3 at the end of the second period.

But the Lumberjacks took the lead again with their fourth goal of the game with 15:59 remaining in the final period. Assisted by Buffalo Sabres second-round 2013 draft pick Connor Hurley, Muskegan forward Frederick Tiffels put his team up 4-3. The puck seemed to have been kicked in the net off Tiffels’ skate.

“It’s very frustrating that we dominate play and they get a goal going off the skate and in,” Lalonde said. “But that’s the way it goes.”

Regulation scoring finally came to a close when Green Bay forward Nick Schmaltz rocketed a slap shot to the back of Muskegan’s net, which tied the game at 4-4 and sent things to overtime.

Neither team scored in the game’s abbreviated extra period, meaning the game would be decided on a best-of-three shootout. The Gamblers were outmatched by the Lumberjacks 2-1 in overtime shootout goals, giving them the loss on opening night.

“We’re still not executing great structurally, which is understandable this time of year,” Lalonde said. “But we’re showing good fight, good character.”

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