GREEN BAY, Wis. — Two things have become increasingly evident for the Green Bay Gamblers in their first seven games of the 2013-2014 season: Head coach Derek Lalonde and company embrace overtime shootouts, and when Kevin Irwin scores, he tends to score in bunches.
Both storylines emerged for the Gamblers Oct. 12 at the Resch Center against the Muskegan Lumberjacks.
In its fourth overtime game of the season, lasting 2 hours and 36 minutes in duration, Green Bay outlasted its Eastern Conference foes by a 4-3 mark thanks to a walk-off shootout goal from forward Nick Schmaltz.
The victory catapulted the Gamblers over the Lumberjacks and into the No. 2 slot in the conference’s standings with 10 team points, meanwhile improving their season mark to 4-1-2.
Irwin tallied his fifth and sixth goals of the season in the contest, giving him the team lead with eight total points with the fourth weekend of the United States Hockey League season coming to a close.
“It’s his time, and he’s embracing it,” Lalonde said of Irwin after the game. “I think he’s looking to take that next step. He’s always been a goal-scorer. I just think his sense of will and urgency of being that veteran go-to guy is translating into offense.”
Filling in for injured goalie Cam Hackett for the second consecutive game, Jared Rutledge went over a period and a half without letting a Muskegan shot touch the back of the net. The University of Michigan commit saved 26 shots total on the night and didn’t allow a goal in the teams’ overtime shootout.
“He has a presence in net where he’s going to give us a chance to win,” Lalonde said of Rutledge. “Even in the shootout, he was very solid. When a goalie is playing that well, and he installs a confidence around the team, it means success. And that shows with his record this year.”
Irwin put the Gamblers up early.
With 12:05 remaining in the first period, the Hinckley, Ohio native scored the first of his two goals of the night. Forward Ryan Lough set Irwin up with a pass in front of the net, which he promptly put past Lumberjack goalie Jordan Uhelski to but Green Bay up 1-0.
“The first goal was a nice pass from Evan Tironese,” Irwin said. “He got the puck down low from Lough and spun around, backhand pass into the open area and I was backdoor to put it in.”
Six minutes later, Gamblers forward Ryan Siroki connected with his second goal of the season, side-stepping Lumberjack forward Conno Hurley in front of the net en route to a slap-shot score. Fredrick Olofsson recorded assisted Siroki on the play, his first of the season.
Muskegan didn’t leave without a fight, however.
At the 6:34 mark in the second period, Hurley connected with his third goal of the season. A scrum for possession of the puck deep in Greey Bay’s territory led to a fake-out goal on Rutledge.
Still leading 2-1 after the goal from Hurley, the Gamblers relinquished their lead with six minutes remaining in the half thanks to a breakaway goal from Lumberjack forward Matt Iacopelli.
Irwin followed suit, notching his second goal of the evening with 11:22 remaining in the final period.
“There was a turnover where we were going the other way,” Irwin said, “and Aaron O’Neill sent it across and with a quick shot, I put it in the back of the net.”
After a game-tying goal from Muskegan defenseman Tommy Panico with 2:24 remaining in regulation, both teams failed to score in the five-minute sudden-death overtime period.
The first nine shots from either squad in the shootout period failed to reach the net, but Schmaltz ended things with a game-deciding goal of his own.
“There’s no doubt there have been some ups and downs,” Lalonde said of his squad’s season thus far, “but to have one loss in your first seven, eight games, that’s hard to do in this league. You see how much parody is in this league, every game is going to be tight; and that’s a credit to our guys.”