GREEN BAY, Wisc. — The Green Bay Gamblers will soon depart to northern Iowa for a two-game road trip this weekend, one that will begin with a Friday-evening matchup with the Dubuque Fighting Saints (27-14-4) at the Mystique Ice Arena and wrap up with a visit to The Stable in Cedar Rapids against the Eastern-Conference-leading RoughRiders (32-16-0).
Friday and Saturday’s games are scheduled for 7:35 p.m. and 7:05 p.m. CT, respectively, and can be viewed on FastHockey.
Green Bay’s second-to-last road swing of 2014-15 comes on the heels of perhaps its biggest victory of the season. After trading forward Chris Brown to Tri-City last Monday, the Gamblers capped last weekend with a 3-1 victory over Team USA’s U-18 National Development Program squad on Saturday at the Resch Center, a win fueled by Jason Pawloski’s 32-for-33 saves performance and game-winning goal from defenseman Grant Frederic.
“It’s been good,” said Gamblers head coach and general manager Pat Mikesch of his team’s mood in the locker room this week. “I think it’s been that way for a stretch now. We know we’re playing good hockey, and it was good to get the result we got on Saturday night. We’ve had spirited practices in a nice environment for a good stretch now. I think our team defense along with our goaltending was obviously very strong in that game.”
As two of the top squads in the United States Hockey League’s Eastern Conference this season, Cedar Rapids and Dubuque present a tough challenge for a young and refurbished Green Bay roster. But Mikesch has been pleased with the way his club has competed with both teams in previous meetings, and remains confident that with the right amount of puck control and defensive discipline, this weekend will turn out to be a successful one.
“On the road, you can’t take lapses of time off,” Mikesch said. “You have to understand the momentum changes in an away rink, and we don’t get to choose the matchups. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen all year long. We’ve played well against both; we beat Dubuque the last time we played them. We’re a confident group against them; they’ve made some upgrades for the playoffs, but at the same time, I really like the way we’re playing.”
Team Season Stats
Green Bay: 15-26-5 record | .380 WPCT | 35 PTS (eighth in Eastern Conf.)
Dubuque: 27-14-4 record | .644 WPCT | 58 PTS (third in East)
Cedar Rapids: 32-16-0 record | .667 WPCT | 64 PTS (first in East)
Team Home/Road Splits
Green Bay (road): 8-14-3 record | 2.76 GPG | 3.40 GAA | .148 PP%
Dubuque (home): 16-6-1 record | 3.91 GPG | 2.30 GAA | .212 PP%
Cedar Rapids (home): 14-9-0 record | 3.61 GPG | 2.65 GAA | .118 PP%
Points: CR Jiri Fronk (46) | DUB Seamus Malone (43) | GB Ryan Tait (23)
Goals: CR Fronk (23) | DUB Brett Boeing (24) | GB Tait (12)
Assists: CR Andrew Oglevie (27) | DUB Malone (28) | GB Vili Saarijarvi (16)
Plus/minus: CR Oglevie (+25) | DUB Malone (+23) | GB Joey Marooney (+3)
GB Jason Pawloski: 7-16-4 | 3.36 GAA | .900 save% | 9.6 SV per 20 mins
GB Kevin Reich: 6-7-1 | 2.87 GAA | .916 save% | 10.2 SV per 20 mins
DUB Jacob Nehama: 20-9-4 | 2.32 GAA | .914 save% | 7.9 SV per 20 mins
CR Ben Blacker: 18-8-0 | 2.74 GAA | .916 save% | 9.8 SV per 20 mins
Special Teams Comparison
Green Bay: .138 PP% (eighth in East) | .783 PK% (fourth in East)
Dubuque: .192 PP% (sixth in East) | .839 PK% (third in East)
Cedar Rapids: .161 PP% (seventh in East) | .839 PK% (second in East)
Led by Jiri Fronk, Andrew Oglevie and Erik Foley, Cedar Rapids’ forward lines have grown to become arguably the USHL’s most lethal, averaging a league-high 3.56 goals per game this season. With former Gamblers forward Joe Wegwerth in the mix as of last month, the RoughRiders have brought in additional depth to their forward lines down the stretch, something that presents a problems for any amateur hockey defensive line.
“I think Joe’s a nice piece to their puzzle, but they’ve got some very special guys who are all having great years,” said Mikesch. “They’ve become a team who can potentially make a deep run in the playoffs. For us, it won’t be anything tactical (against them). Coach Carlsson keeps them very well coached and a team that will be very well on their special teams play. We need to make sure we’re well aware of those aspects this weekend.”
Two players the Gamblers will lean heavily on this weekend to produce at the top of their forward lines will be Sam Saliba and Joey Marooney. Acquired from Sioux City and Cedar Rapids, respectively, in the past month, the two have combined for 12 points in nine games and have seen action on the same line in three of those contests. Mikesch said the duo have looked in sync on the ice, which is encouraging for he and his coaching staff.
“Shift after shift, you can see a little chemistry starting,” said Mikesch. “They play with a good pace and they raise our level of practice, as well. I like the way they played, but I thought we were three lines strong the other night with even missing an extra forward. I’ve been happy with the combinations as of late; we’re playing a quicker game to create chances. But we’re going to need to have strong team defense going into this weekend.”
As of Wednesday evening, Mikesch and his staff have decided on Friday’s starting goaltender, which we will announce about an hour or so prior to the 7:05 p.m. puck drop time in Dubuque. Follow myself at @AlecDopp and the Gamblers at @GamblersHockey on Twitter for comprehensive coverage of both contests this weekend, and don’t forget to show your support using the #GoGamblers hashtag.