Weekend Preview: Gamblers Duel with Eastern Conference’s Top Seed

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GREEN BAY, Wisc. — After a weekend that saw the Green Bay Gamblers cede a pair of regulation contests on the road to conference rival Youngstown, head coach Pat Mikesch and company will play host to the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders Friday evening at the Resch Center to start the weekend before shipping out to northeast Iowa Saturday night for the finale of a two-game set with the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

Both clubs have growing increasingly familiar with one another in recent weeks. Green Bay pitched its first (and only) shutout of the season against Cedar Rapids Dec. 31 at the Resch Center en route to a 2-0 victory. Three weeks prior, the RoughRiders overcame a shots on goal disadvantage of 22-35 to complete its 6-3 victory at The Stable, and on Nov. 1 tagged Jason Pawloski with four goals on their way to a 5-2 regulation win.

“We’ve played well against them,” Mikesch said. “The game we played there earlier in the year, we had a bad four-minute span — and that really cost us the game. We’re about to go back-to-back against them here, and it’s that time of the year where we have to start focus on playing our game, and understand that when we play a good brand of Green Bay Gambler style hockey, we’ll have success against any team in this league.

Still nine points out of the conference’s final playoff spot, the stakes have never been higher for the Gamblers than now. To get a feel for how things might shake out, let’s take an in-depth statistical look at and comprehensive overview of both clubs. 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
Green Bay: 13-15-4 record | .469 WPCT | 30 PTS (sixth in Eastern Conference)
Cedar Rapids: 24-8-0 record | .750 WPCT | 48 PTS (first in Eastern Conference)

Team Home/Road Splits
Green Bay (home): 5-5-1 record | 2.55 GPG | 3.45 GAA | .125 PP%
Green Bay (road): 8-10-3 record | 2.95 GPG | 3.43 GAA | .140 PP%
Cedar Rapids (home): 12-4-0 record | 4.06 GPG | 2.38 GAA | .159 PP%
Cedar Rapids (road): 12-4-0 record | 3.62 GPG | 2.44 GAA | .234 PP%

Categorical Leaders
Points: CR Jiri Fronk (36) | GB Brian Bowen (28)
Goals: CR Jiri Fronk (20) | GB Chris Brown (12)
Assists: CR Andrew Oglevie (23) | GB Brian Bowen (18)
Plus-minus: CR Charlie Curti (+21) | GB Grant Frederic (+4)

Goaltender Comparison
Kevin Reich (GB): 6-3-1 record | 2.25 GAA | .932 save% | 29.7 SV/G
Jason Pawloski (GB): 5-11-3 record | 3.48 GAA | .898 save% | 29.1 SV/G
Ben Blacker (CR): 15-5-0 record | 2.39 GAA | .926 save% | 29.1 SV/G
Ryan Larkin (CR): 9-3-0 record | 2.23 GAA | .923 save% | 23.9 SV/G

Special Teams Comparison
Green Bay: .136 power play% | .800 penalty kill%
Cedar Rapids: .197 power play% | .857 penalty kill%

Though the RoughRiders have been shaky between the pipes over their last 10 games, posting a save percentage of .887, Ben Blacker and Ryan Larkin have proven to be one of the best goaltending tandems in the league over the course of this season. Overall, they’ve combined for a .923 save percentage — tops among all USHL clubs — which has enabled Cedar Rapids to post the league’s third-best penalty kill rate at .857 percent.

Offensively, Cedar Rapids excels in many respects. Led by Jiri Fronk, whose 36 PTS to this juncture ties for fourth-most in the league, the RoughRiders tally close to four goal per game and net approximately 13 percent of their shots. On the road, they’ve converted on an impressive .234% of their power plays (compared to .159% at home), which was a big reason why Cedar Rapids began the season 12-0-0 away from The Stable.

“We cannot make anything easy for them,” Mikesch said. “They’re an amazing transition team, and they have great depth from top to bottom of their lineup. The biggest thing for us is to play a good Gambler style of the game where we have possession of the puck and are responsible with it. We need to push the pace to our level, because they want to be that puck possession team. We need to make them defend us.”

Anthony Walsh and Vili Saarijarvi, who attended and played in Tuesday night’s USHL Top Prospects Game in Dubuque, will bear much of the responsibility for slowing Cedar Rapids’ front lines as Green Bay’s top defensemen. Jason Pawloski will be the last line of defense for the Gamblers on Friday, as Mikesch has officially named him the starter. Over his last seven starts, he’s performed admirably: 3-2-2, 2.81 GAA, .906 save%.

On the offensive end, the Gamblers will look to receive production from first-year forward Brian Bowen, who has swiftly become one of the club’s catalysts of late. The University of Vermont commit now has three consecutive games with an assist, and has secured sole possession of Green Bay’s season points total (28) due in no small part to the eleven helpers and three goals he’s secured over his last 10 games.

With the regular-season schedule now more than halfway over, the importance of each contest continue to grow for the Gamblers — especially in a jam-packed Eastern Conference. Fortunately, Green Bay will play 18 of its final 28 games at the Resch Center, beginning this Friday against the league’s top unit.

“That’s the key — if you’re going to be a successful team in this league, you have to be good at home,” Mikesch said, “and we have not been as good as I’d like to be. Early in the year, we gave away a few games and dropped a couple shootout losses at home. We need to make the Resch Center a tough place for anyone to come and play.”

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