GREEN BAY — Backhand, forehand.
That was the plan of second-year Green Bay Gamblers forward Mitch Snyder as he skated down the ice at the climax of his club’s Friday-night bout against Dubuque. A simple plan, no doubt, considering the pressures inherent to a sudden-death overtime shootout period.
Problem was, the plan didn’t go exactly to script. Snyder executed the backhand to perfection in front of Fighting Saints goaltender Jacob Nehama, but whiffed on the forehand. Normally, such a gaffe would prove detrimental to Green Bay’s hopes of victory. But this time, it didn’t.
Against arguably the best road goaltender in the United States Hockey League — Nehama entered with a 1.38 goals against average away from the Mystique Ice Center — the lackadaisically mishit puck scooted through Nehama’s leg pads, which secured Green Bay’s 3-2 overtime victory.
“I had a move I usually do — backhand, forehand,” Snyder said, “but I missed the come back to the forehand and put it right through the five hole right off the post and in.”
Did the Gamblers catch a break? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, they’ll take it.
Pat Mikesch’s bunch has now won three straight games for the first time this season, of which include come-from-behind victories last weekend. The two crucial points gained in triumph increased Green Bay’s season points total to 24, which ties Chicago for seventh in a jam-packed Eastern Conference.
Everything — offense, defense, goal-tending — seemed to be clicking Friday evening. Matt Dawson and Michael Houle registered their third goals of the season, and Mikesch’s forwards asserted their presence, finishing with a shots advantage of 36 to 30, which was the third time in the last four games Green Bay out-shot its opponent.
Anthony Walsh and Vili Saarijarvi yet again performed admirably as Green Bay’s top defensive pairing, laying out to block shots in several key moments of the affair. As a unit, the Gamblers killed all three Duqubue power plays, which helped to extend its current penalty-killing streak to 15 over its last four contests.
Perhaps the most crucial of those penalty kills came during the heart of the second period, when the Gamblers found themselves in a 3-on-5 disadvantage after conceding Dubuque’s game-tying goal several minutes earlier. Back in October, such a situation would have yielded less-than-ideal results. My, how things have changed.
“It was just good execution — we won a lot of those faceoffs, which can obviously kill a lot of time,” Mikesch said. “But we just had guys executing very well. It’s never an easy kill, but the guys did what they had to do and Jason (Pawloski) made the stops he had to make.”
Indeed, he did. Jason Pawloski delivered with what became arguably his best performance of the season, saving 28 of 30 Fighting Saint shots on goal and going three-for-three in blocked shots in the overtime shootout period. His first winning decision in net at the Resch Center this season was deservedly earned, to say the least.
“It feels pretty good to get the monkey off my back, so to speak,” said Pawloski, who will receive full playing time in net for the next several games with Kevin Reich participating in the World Junior Challenge. “The team really leans on you at times. They’ve got my back, and I’ve got theirs.”
With the victory in hand and the holiday break now in full swing, the Gamblers will take the next week off from practice before returning to action next Saturday, Dec. 30 at the Alliant Energy Center against Madison, who has given Mikesch and company trouble at times this season.
“You don’t want to walk away from it right now, but the guys deserve a break,” Mikesch said after the win. “We’re right back at it in just over a week against Madison, who’s been a thorn in our side and we need to be ready to play them.”