With their head coach overseas and top points leaders not on the roster, the Green Bay Gamblers rode a two-goal effort from Ryan Lough and 50-save performance from goaltender Jared Rutledge to a 4-3 victory over the Waterloo Blackhawks Saturday evening at the Brown County Arena.
The win pushed Green Bay’s record to 8-3-3 through its first 14 games this season and added a point to its season total of 19, enough for a second-place tie with Muskegan in the United States Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.
Interim head coach Pat Mikesch believes getting his team back into its winning ways was crucial following a 6-3 loss to the Steel in Chicago Friday night — a venue in which they had not lost in regulation since Jan. 28, 2011.
“I thought we played a good, solid game,” Mikesch said after the game. “Obviously Jared (Rutledge) was very good in the net for us again, but we had a lot of key guys out. So it’s good for our guys to go through where they have to play in those positions. It was a little bit of bending, but we managed not to break at the end.”
Mikesch’s bunch didn’t get off to the start it had hoped for, however.
Against one of the USHL’s more successful franchises in recent memory, the Gamblers allowed Waterloo to dictate game’s pace from the outset. The Blackhawks registered the game’s first two shots of the game and broke through with their first goal at the 12:28 mark in the opening period — a laser off the stick of forward Tyler Sheehy past the sure-handed glove of Jared Rutledge.
At that point, the Gamblers knew they’d have to do something they’d only done twice previously this season: Win in come-from-behind fashion.
So they went to work.
Two minutes into the second period, Ryan Lough knotted the game up 1-1 with a slap shot score 15 feet from the net, past the glove of Blackhawks goaltender Mathias Israelsson. The goal was Lough’s first since his team’s Sept. 21 home opener against Muskegan, and first point since Nov. 1 against Des Moines.
Waterloo quickly answered with a go-ahead goal of its own, this time a slap-shot dart from forward Tim Lappin that sailed past Rutledge to the top of the net.
Down 2-1 with 13:26 remaining in the second period, Green Bay decided it was time to make its run.
Following four consecutive shots on Rutledge, Brent Gates Jr. pulled the Gamblers even with the Blackhawks with his fourth score of the season. Fredrik Olofsson followed suit with a lengthy slap-shot score whereabouts of 35 feet from the net, which gave Mikesch and company their first lead of the evening and one they would not relinquish.
With the second-period clock winding down, Lough connected with his second goal of the contest with a minute left in the period — a self-created score placed in the upper portion of the net and out of Israelsson’s reach.
“It feels pretty good, and it feels even better to get the win,” Lough said. “It’s always nice when you can contribute.”
The Blackhawk defense stymied Green Bay’s momentum in the third period, however, bringing themselves to within one score of the Gamblers after pulling Israelsson with 2:04 remaining in the game. But Rutledge would not allow Waterloo to knot things up in the game’s waning moments, eventually finishing with a career-high 50 saves.
“Our transition game was terrible,” Mikesch said he told his team after the first period. “We weren’t moving the puck north and we found a way to start to do that in that second period by just making quicker decisions. I just thought we were holding on to pucks way too long in that first period and making things a lot tougher than they needed to be.”
With a road trip to Ann Arbor, Mich. to face Team USA scheduled for Nov. 15-16, Mikesch knows the return of Kevin Irwin (suspension) and Nick Schmaltz (with junior select team) will be beneficial for his squad moving forward.
“Our key is we need to play our offense attacking,” Mikesch said. “When we sit back and we don’t play at full speed, we’re not effective. We’re getting some guys back from Canada and hopefully we can play a little more of our style.”