Weekend Preview: Gamblers Travel Westward for Two-Game Set with Force

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Green Bay, Wisc. — Last weekend, the Green Bay Gamblers dissolved a season-long losing streak of nine games in splitting their weekend home-stand with the Omaha Lancers (22-12-5) at the Resch Center. This weekend, Pat Mikesch’s young and newly constructed roster aims to build upon its momentum as it travels westward to Fargo, N.D., for a two-game set with the Fargo Force (17-18-5).

Friday and Saturday’s matchups are slated to begin at 7:05 p.m. CT from Scheels Arena, and will serve as the only meetings between both clubs during the 2014-15 regular season. Last year, the Gamblers went 1-1 against the Force. Green Bay is 7-5-2 (.571 WPCT) all-time in non-playoff meetings since Fargo entered the United States Hockey League prior to the 2007-08 season.

With a 14-20-5 record and points total of 33, the Gamblers are currently 15 points back of Youngstown for the fourth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. This weekend will mark the third-to-last road trip of the season for Green Bay, as 13 of its 21 remaining contests will be decided on home ice, including nine consecutive from late March to early April.

Mikesch said development as a team and focusing on playing consistent, “60-minute” hockey heading into the home stretch of his club’s remaining schedule will be essential, and maintained that keeping an eye toward the steady progression of its recent acquisitions in Matt Berkovitz, Sam Saliba, Jason Dhooghe, Joey Marooney and Adam Huska will be important, additionally.

“We need to make sure we’re developing these kids for the next level,” Mikesch said. “Whether that be the next level within our own team moving into a bigger role or moving on to college hockey. That message hasn’t changed.

“I think the last couple weeks we’ve had great practices and our games have been good. I thought we had a good game against Chicago and I really liked the way we played in against Omaha.”

To get a feel for how things might shake out this weekend, 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 myself us on Twitter at @GamblersHockey and myself at @AlecDopp and show your support using the #GoGamblers hashtag.

Team Season Stats
Green Bay: 14-20-5 record | .423 WPCT | 33 PTS (eighth in Eastern Conference)
Fargo: 17-18-5 record | .488 WPCT | 39 PTS (sixth in Western Conference)

Team Home/Road Splits
Green Bay (road): 8-11-3 record | 2.86 GPG | 3.45 GAA | .141 PP%
Fargo (home): 11-6-2 record | 2.74 GPG | 2.68 GAA | .206 PP%

Categorical Leaders
Points: FAR Mikey Eyssimont (33) | GB Chris Brown (29)
Goals: FAR Mikey Eyssimont (17) | GB Chris Brown (13)
Assists: FAR Justin Baudry (19) | GB Chris Brown (16)
Plus-minus: FAR Denis Smirnov (+10) | GB Joey Marooney (+2)

Goaltender Comparison
Kevin Reich (GB): 6-6-1 record | 2.86 GAA | .915 save% | 30.1 SV/G
Jason Pawloski (GB): 6-13-4 record | 3.35 GAA | .900 save% | 29.0 SV/G
Mathias Israelsson (FAR): 12-12-4 record | 2.94 GAA | .914 save% | 31.3 SV/G
Robbie Beydoun (FAR): 5-6-1 record | 2.61 GAA | .931 save% | 34.0 SV/G

Special Teams Comparison
Green Bay: .128 PP% | .800 PK% (ninth & fourth-best in Eastern Conf.)
Fargo: .157 PP% | .837 PK% (sixth & fourth-best in Western Conf.)

Fargo’s goaltending presents a formidable challenge for the Gamblers this weekend, as Mathias Israelsson and Robbie Beydoun have combined for a Western-Conference-leading .916 save rate as a tandem between the pipes. But Mikesch and his staff believe their recent acquisitions will administer speed and agility at the top of the forward lines, playing into the current and new-found strengths of the roster.

“I think we played a real fast style against a good defensive team last weekend in Omaha,” Mikesch said. “We don’t want to do anything in particular; you have to create scoring chances the same way in all games. For us, we’re successful when we play fast and create things on the rush. We have a little more of an undersized team now, which I think has played into our favor these last few games.”

Marooney, whom Green Bay acquired from Cedar Rapids last month in exchange for forward Joe Wegwerth, will be integral to the transition game this weekend. The 5-foot-8 forward with a commitment to the University of Alabama-Huntsville has already tallied a pair of assists and a plus-minus ratio of +2 through three games, a likely product of his fast-paced style of play and clear nose for the puck.

“I think he’s still developing with us, but we’ve seen him generate offense in every game,” Mikesch said, “and that’s something we were lacking in the early part of the year. It’s nice to have another guy who can play in those situations with a lot of individual skills, like Ryan Tait. He’s played well for us, and we’ve put him in good positions with players like Marc (Michaelis) and Christopher Brown, too.”

As the Gamblers departed for Fargo earlier this morning, Mikesch said he has not determined starting goaltenders for this weekend, noting that he will likely discuss the approach with his staff Thursday evening before announcing Friday’s goaltender at some point tomorrow morning

Jason Pawloski has received starts in each of the last three games (1-1-1 record, .925 save rate, 2.33 GAA in that span), but with the 17-year-old Huska off the affiliate list and now eligible to play a total of 10 games, Mikesch said he plans on playing the recently acquired Slovakian goaltender sooner rather than later.

Regardless of who gets the call between the pipes this weekend, though, the Gamblers’ focus remains squarely on playing efficient, collaborative hockey from the moment the puck drops Friday evening. Mikesch’s roster has performed well in practice this week, and he hopes it does the same against a well-rounded Force squad.

“All I’m worried about is the first period on Friday night,” Mikesch said. “We don’t talk to our guys about needing four points, needing this or needing that. We’re not measuring ourselves on what we need to get on this road trip. We need to have a good first period on Friday night. It should be a great atmosphere. Fargo is a great place to play.”

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