Green Bay — Completing their first two-game sweep of the young 2014-15 regular season last weekend in Sioux Falls, S.D., the Green Bay Gamblers now trace their steps back to the Resch Center this weekend for a two-game home stand against stiff Eastern Conference competition.
Pat Mikesch and company will welcome the Bloomington Thunder to town Friday evening and round out the weekend Saturday night against in-state rival Madison, with both games scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m. CT. Friday’s bout will mark the third of six total matchups with Bloomington this season, and Saturday’s tiff with Madison will officially be the fifth of seven.
Let’s take an in-depth statistical look at and comprehensive preview of this weekend’s matchups at the Resch Center. For continual notes and updates throughout each contest, make sure to follow us on Twitter at @GamblersHockey and show your support using the #GoGamblers hashtag.
Team Season Stats
GB: 8-9-2 record | .474 WPCT | 18 PTS (eighth in Eastern Conference)
BLM: 8-10-3 record | .452 WPCT | 19 PTS (seventh in East)
MAD: 8-6-4 record | .556 WPCT | 20 PTS (sixth in East)
Points: GB Chris Brown (18) | BLM Vince Pedrie (14) | MAD Will Johnson (22)
Goals: GB Chris Brown (8) | BLM Ryan Galt (5) | MAD Ryan Lohin (7)
Assists: GB Chris Brown (10) | BLM Vince Pedrie (10) | MAD Will Johnson (16)
+/-: GB Chris Brown (+2) | BLM Alec Mehr (+2) | MAD Freddy Gerard (+9)
Kevin Reich (GB): 4-1-1 record | 2.16 GAA | .934 save% | 28.1 SV/G
Jason Pawloski (GB): 2-7-1 record | 3.77 GAA | .904 save% | 31.9 SV/G
David Jacobson (BLM): 5-5-2 record | 2.93 GAA | .896 save% | 21.9 SV/G
Logan Halladay (BLM): 3-5-1 record | 4.01 GAA | .864 save% | 20.9 SV/G
Garrett Metcalf (MAD): 4-3-1 record | 2.46 GAA | .929 save% | 26.1 SV/G
Darren Smith (MAD): 4-3-3 record | 3.45 GAA | .908 save% | 28.9 SV/G
As of Wednesday evening, the Gamblers rank ninth in the United States Hockey League’s eastern conference with 18 points and 8-9-2 overall record. Green Bay has found its stride of late, though, going 2-1-2 (6 PTS) over its five most recent games, due in no small part to a goals-scored-to-goals-allowed differential of +1 in those contests. Previously, Green Bay had gone 6-8-0 with a -15 differential.
“It was good to play 60 minutes against a good team in a tough environment that’s not easy to play in, so I was happy the team was able to play for six periods in Sioux Falls,” Mikesch said. It’s been a combination of things – special teams has played better, we’re getting some scoring from our third and fourth lines and just playing a more sound defensive game. We’re scoring more goals, but a lot of that comes from playing better defense that leads to offense.”
One of the primary contributors to the Gamblers’ late success has been first-year forward Chris Brown, who brings three consecutive games with a goal (tying last season’s team-high mark) and five games with a goal or assist into this weekend. The fourth-round Buffalo Sabres draft pick from last summer leads the club in both categories (eight goals, 10 assists) to this juncture of the season.
“I can tell he’s getting more and more comfortable with the league,” Mikesch said. “Obviously, coming in here as an NHL draft pick, there were expectations that he was going to be a good player, so we’re not surprised by that. But it took that first 10 to 15 games to get comfortable in how this league is played. It’s a big step up from high school hockey where he was at.”
Speaking of NHL draft picks, one player who figures to gain more traction from pro and amateur scouts as the season progresses is second-year forward Brent Gates Jr., who this past week committed to attending the University of Minnesota. The Grand Rapids, Mich., native made the news official via his Twitter account after discussing with family, friends, and Green Bay’s coaching staff.
“We were part of the process, but he had to do what he felt was best for him,” Mikesch said. “Obviously Notre Dame (his previous commitment) is a great institution as well, so he was fortunate enough to have a lot of options. But that’s what happens with young commitments sometimes; years later they might realize it might not be the right fit for them.”
While starting goaltenders for this weekend are yet to be determined, it has become increasingly difficult for Mikesch not to place Kevin Reich in the lineup. The former Dubuque Fighting Saint net-minder started both games in Sioux Falls last weekend and ceded just four goals through on 56 shots on goal against him, which increased his season save rate with Green Bay to .934 in seven games.
“Kevin matched up well with Sioux Falls and did a very nice job limiting second-chance opportunities last weekend,” Mikesch said. “I was really happy with the way he played. Jason (Pawloski) had a very good game also against Madison on Wednesday, but we didn’t give him the support that he needed. I’m very comfortable starting either of those two this weekend.”
Given that Madison, Bloomington and Green Bay are separated by only two points in the current standings, the importance of this weekend’s home stand becomes obvious for a Gamblers club seeking to sustain its momentum into the month of December. The key to accomplishing that, Mikesch says, will be playing from start to finish.
“I think it’s bringing that same mentality of a complete 60 minutes. We’ve had some home games that we haven’t finished and home games where we haven’t started well. So it’s going to need to be a 60-minute effort and we need to make sure we’re prepared for that. We showed we can do it on the road last weekend, and now it’s transferring that to our home crown that should be a great environment.”