When the 2011-2012 version of the Green Bay Gamblers won the Anderson Cup in Derek Lalonde’s first season as head coach, he knew they were the clear-cut best team in the United States Hockey League. But this season, he knows full-well the parody that exists in North America’s most competitive junior hockey league.
His team’s Friday night victory over Sioux City proved it.
In front of 3,501 fans at the Resch Center, the Gamblers defeated the Musketeers by a 5-2 mark to improve Green Bay to 16-9-5 through its first 30 games of the 2013-2014 regular season. Against a talented Sioux City squad that boasted the Western Conference’s third-best team points mark (44) prior to the contest, such a victory is nothing to scoff at.
“This year, with the parody in this league, I really think there’s eight teams — and I’m not just saying that. Anyone that makes the playoffs this year has a chance. That’s how tight the league is.”
Scoring three first-period goals against Kyle Hayton — arguably the best goaltender in the league — the Gamblers got the start they were looking for against a formidable Sioux City defense. Jake Linhart, Sebastian Weberg and Matthew Weis contributed the goals for Green Bay, giving the Gamblers a 3-1 advantage heading into the second period.
“We executed on things we talked about,” Lalonde said after the game. “Getting the puck north, playing quick, playing fast in transition, being better in our defensive zone and executing on the special teams. We did all that in the first period and we were rewarded with a 3-1 lead.”
The influx of goals continued from that point forward, starting with Drew Best’s score five minutes into the second period. After Sioux City answered back with a lead-trimming goal of their own, Best followed suit with his second score of the evening to give Green Bay a 5-2 lead. It was the second time the Plymouth, Mich., native tallied multiple goals in a game this season.
“Drew’s good when he competes,” Lalonde said. “He’s going to make plays, he sees the ice well, he makes his line-mates better. But when he’s winning puck battles and competing, he ends up finding himself on the score sheet and that was the case tonight.”
Best and his teammates will look to cap off an undefeated weekend at the Mystique Ice Arena against the Dubuque Fighting Saints Saturday night.