ALEC DOPP — ‘Off nights’ against the Steel have been few and far between for the Gamblers under current head coach Derek Lalonde, who maintained a 10-0-0 record against Chicago at the Resch Center coming into his team’s Tuesday-night matchup with his rivals from the Windy City.
But as luck would have it, Tuesday night turned out to be one of those nights.
After watching Jordan Gross tally the game’s opening goal midway through the opening period and Jared Rutledge pitch a scoreless first frame, Lalonde stood by as the Steel overwhelmed his squad soon after.
Scoring three unanswered goals to open the second period, Chicago added two more at the end of regulation and held on to a 6-3 goals advantage at the game’s final buzzer. With the loss, Green Bay fell to 12-7-4 over its first 23 games of the regular season and the Steel improved to 9-15-1.
“We had no energy from the get-go, and we probably didn’t deserve being up 1-0 after the first period,” Lalonde said. “And we probably didn’t deserve to be tied 3-3, but Jared (Rutledge) kept up in there. We got exactly what we deserved. So hopefully it’s a good learning lesson moving forward.”
Lalonde didn’t hesitate before acknowledging his team’s problem Tuesday night: Penalties.
In all, the Gamblers spent 29 minutes in the penalty box, five of which came off one penalty and subsequent game ejection for illegal head contact on Evan Tironese. And compared to the 22 penalty minutes Green Bay averaged at home this season prior to the matchup, that was simply too much.
“Never in my life have I been in a game where a team has scored four five-on-three goals,” Lalonde said. “We have no one to blame but ourselves. Instead of battling through some adversity, we went the wrong way handled advsersity poorly. It’s very frustrating, but we have to come back and try to rectify it tomorrow.”
Coming into the game, the Gamblers had been one of the better teams in the USHL at killing penalties, maintaining a penalty-kill rate of 86.4 percent that ranked second-best in the league’s Eastern Conference. But subjecting Jared Rutledge to 38 shots — compared to the 25 they forced offensively — was a tall order, even for an otherwise sure-handed goaltender.
“You give up four five-on-threes in a year, let alone in a 25-minute span,” Lalonde said. “And they were all second and third chances at the net, so Jared was actually really good tonight.”
With a weekend road trip to Des Moines (8-12-2) upcoming and another away-from-home game against the conference’s top team in Dubuque (16-5-1) looming next Tuesday, Lalonde knows several things that must improve in practice this week.
“We’re so bad through the middle of the ice,” Lalonde said. “Teams that are taking away the middle of the ice are having success against us. We just have to be harder through the middle of the ice, harder through those certain areas, manage the puck better and be disciplined. Very disappointed in the effort tonight.”