While Gamblers head coach Derek Lalonde remains occupied coaching the United States Junior Select team in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, his squad back in Green Bay hasn’t missed a beat under assistant head coach Pat Mikesch.
Defeating Des Moines by a comfortable 3-0 margin Friday night at the Resch Center thanks to another two-goal performance from Kevin Irwin, the Gamblers returned to action Saturday evening for an encore performance against the Buccaneers and the result was nearly identical — a 3-1 score favoring the Gamblers.
The victory improved Green Bay’s record to 7-2-3 (.708) and elevated the club’s point total to 17, enough to leapfrog Dubuque for second place in the Eastern Conference.
“There’s not a lot of changes to what we like to do,” Mikesch said after the game. “Obviously Derek and I like the game to be played the same way and our guys really bought in this weekend. It was probably the fastest we’ve played and we had a lot of fun with it.”
And get off to a fast start the Gamblers did.
Recording three swift shots against Des Moines goalie Billy Chirstopolous in the first minutes of the contest, Irwin gave the Gamblers their first lead of the game just 2:30 into the first period with a frozen-rope slap shot 13 feet from the net. Evan Tironese recorded his team-leading seventh assist of the season on the play, while the goal heightened Irwin’s season points total to 13.
“It was a great pass from Evan Tironese,” Irwin said. “We were set up on the power play, I believe, and he found the seam and I just ripped it away.”
Though Irwin and the Gamblers would not find the back of the net for the remainder of the first period, they continued to push the envelope offensively with aggressive passing. And by the end of the opening third, Green Bay held a commanding 12-6 shots advantage over Des Moines.
The game’s final two periods would be much the same as the first.
After penalties were handed to each squad for fights occurring at the outset of the second period, Drew Best extended the Gamblers’ lead to 2-0 with a goal of his own off a breakaway with numbers advantage in Des Moines territory. Dawson Cook tallied his fourth assist on the play.
Less than three minutes later, Sebastian Weberg found Brent Gates in stride near the Buccaneers’ net, where Gates proceeded to flip the puck over Chirstopolous for his third goal of the season.
Des Moines held Green Bay scoreless for the remainder of the tiff and recorded its lone goal of the game against Gamblers goalie Jared Rutledge with three minutes and change left in the second period. The score was the first against Rutledge in a span of six full periods dating back to Oct. 26 against Chicago.
“He’s an experienced goalie playing very well right now,” Mikesch said. “Especially with Cam Hackett hurt, he knows we need him to be good and he did a great job. He’s as mature kid.”
With the victory keeps the Gamblers’ near-perfect 5-0-1 home record in tact, Irwin knows that success will need to spread beyond the Resch Center if a Clark Cup trophy is in their future this spring.
“Absolutely we want to keep it going,” Irwin said. “The boys come together well at home. We have to carry that also on the road and start putting winning streaks together.”
Irwin and company will be affored that opportunity Nov. 8 when they travel to Chicago to take on the Steel. The Gamblers will return home to the Resch Center Nov. 9 against Waterloo.