Game Preview: Gamblers Seek Third-Straight Win Entering Holiday Break Against Dubuque

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GREEN BAY — After a weekend in which head coach and general manager Pat Mikesch witnessed his club manufacture consecutive comeback victories for the first time in nearly two years, the Green Bay Gamblers (10-12-2) will shoot to enter the United States Hockey League’s holiday break with a third straight win this Friday at the Resch Center against Dubuque (17-7-1) — a game slated to start at 7:05 p.m. CT.

This weekend’s lone contest will mark the second meeting between both clubs to this point in the regular season, with the Fighting Saints having defeated Green Bay in opener by a 4-2 score Nov. 7. Though both clubs are currently separated by 7 PTS in the Eastern Conference standings, this weekend’s matchup could prove crucial long-term for the Gamblers, who are only 4 PTS out of fifth place in the conference.

“Our division is a tough division, and every point counts,” said first-year Gamblers forward and Michigan Tech recruit Jake Kauppila, who scored the game winner over Des Moines in overtime last Friday at the Resch. “Getting these four points (last weekend) was huge; we were kind of in a slump and we need to start climbing the ladder.”

To get a sense for how things might shake out, let’s take an in-depth statistical look at and comprehensive preview of this weekend’s matchup. For continual notes, updates and statistics throughout Friday evening’s contest, make sure to follow myself @AlecDopp and us on Twitter at @GamblersHockey and show your support using the #GoGamblers hashtag.

Team Season Stats
Green Bay: 10-12-2 record | .458 WPCT | 22 PTS (seventh in Eastern Conference)
Dubuque: 14-7-1 record | .659 WPCT | 29 PTS (third in Eastern Conference)

Categorical Leaders
Points: GB Chris Brown (21) | DUB Seamus Malone (22)
Goals: GB Chris Brown (10) | DUB Brett Boeing (11)
Assists: GB Brent Gates Jr. (13) | DUB Seamus Malone (16)
+/-: GB Grant Frederic (+2) | DUB Brett Boeing (+15)

Goaltender Comparison
*Kevin Reich (GB): 6-2-1 | 2.16 GAA | .933 save% | 29.1 SV/G
Jason Pawloski (GB): 2-9-1 | 3.92 GAA | .894 save% | 30.1 SV/G
Jacob Nehama (DUB): 12-3-1 | 2.13 GAA | .910 save% | 20.8 SV/G
Gavin Nieto (DUB): 2-1-0 | 4.50 GAA | .840 save% | 19.8 SV/G

Special Teams Comparison
Green Bay: .124 power play% | .809 penalty kill%
Dubuque: .143 power play% | .810 penalty kill%

What’s most contributed to Green Bay’s improved play of late isn’t much of a secret: Special teams. Though the Gamblers are still slightly below league average in terms of converting power plays into goals and holding teams accountable on penalty kills, their PP% this month has risen sharply to .188 (up from .051 in Sept/Oct, .163 in Nov.), and Green Bay’s defensive lines have held opponents 1-for-their-last-17 on power plays.

“Cody (Chupp) has done a great job with the penalty kill,” Mikesch said of his assistant head coach. “It was just new players in all those situations, and I think guys needed to gain experience. It was a worst-case scenario when we started because we weren’t doing anything well on special teams. The power play is still not where we’d like it to be; I think the last month has been a better percentage, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

“I think it’s a combination of things — you can’t get out-worked on the power play, and there’s been nights where we’ve been out-worked. We have to find a way to put traffic in front of the other team’s net and score on the second-chance opportunities. It seems like most of our power play goals have come on the first shot right now, and your percentage really goes up when you’re able to score on your rebound opportunities.”

With the World Junior A Classic starting up soon, the Gamblers will be without goaltender Kevin Reich and recently acquired forward Marc Michaelis for Friday’s game and the five to follow. Minnesota State commit Jason Pawloski will in turn receive full playing time in net for Green Bay until the weekend of Jan. 9-10 in Youngstown, while Mikesch and his staff will need to tweak their front forward line to compensate for Michaelis’ absence.

“We’re going to have to tinker with some stuff with Marc (Michaelis) leaving,” Mikesch said. “Probably a good chance we’ll get Sam (Kauppila) back with (Chris ) Brown if he’s feeling well. But other than that, not too many changes. We like to keep playing four lines, which I think was very beneficial to us this weekend.”

Given the nature of Green Bay’s two most recent victories, is Mikesch more concerned or encouraged with his young roster heading into the final weekend prior to the holiday break?

“Our third periods haven’t been as strong for us this year, so it’s encouraging and great to see that we don’t quit and that we keep playing,” Mikesch said. “But at the same time, the lead on Saturday (in Chicago) was an early lead, so it was something where we took over the game in the second period and I was happy with how we managed that third period.”

Anthony Walsh update: Green Bay’s top defenseman was not present at practice today after suffering a gruesome injury Saturday night in Chicago. The Yale commit underwent surgery today and is doing well, and is scheduled to undergo another surgery later this week. “He’s taking it as a badge of honor,” Mikesch said.

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