On a night the Dubuque Fighting Saints celebrated opportunity in hockey, it was the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders who capitalized a little more.
Cedar Rapids scored on three of its first six shots Friday night and held on for a 4-3 victory at Mystique Community Ice Center. Dubuque finished with a 29-20 advantage in shots on goal and had a chance to tie in the final minutes with the goaltender pulled for a sixth attacker.
“We played a really good game and kept fighting until the end,” said Matias Maccelli, who tallied a pair of assists to raise his team-leading point total to 55. “We deserved to win the game. The good thing is we get another chance (tonight) down there.”
A near-capacity crowd of 2,905 fans helped the Saints celebrate diversity and inclusion while punctuating the team’s inaugural “Hockey for All” month, a joint effort between the team, United Way of Dubuque Area Tri-States and John Deere Dubuque Works. The first of its kind in the United States Hockey League, the Saints patterned their initiative after the National Hockey League’s successful “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign, which has taken place in February for the past two decades.
Throughout February, the Saints wore special jerseys with rainbow-colored logos and numbers during pre-game warmups at Mystique. Those jerseys were auctioned off by play-by-play announcer Jack Milewski following Friday’s game. Proceeds from the jersey auction, the sale of rainbow-colored pucks and a 50/50 raffle benefited United Way of Dubuque Area Tri-States.
In addition to the special night and the funds raised for United Way, the Saints paid visits to The Workshop in Galena, Ill., St. Mark Youth Enrichment and the Boys & Girls Club of Dubuque during the month. They selected those organizations in an effort to reach out to potential fans who might not otherwise have a connection to the Saints.
“It’s a great thing we’re doing and I just wish we could have gotten a win tonight for it,” said Riese Gaber, who scored Dubuque’s first goal. “Cedar Rapids got a few fortunate bounces, but that’s part of the game. I’m proud of the guys for how hard they kept battling. We always believed we could win, and we just kind of kept chipping away.”
Cedar Rapids opened the scoring with a goal on its first shot. Adam Backehag’s shot from the left point eluded traffic and hit the center portion of the net behind goalie Matthew Thiessen at the 1:57 mark.
Dubuque answered three minutes later on Riese Gaber’s breakaway goal, set up by J. D. Greenway and Matias Maccelli. Gaber skated in on goalie Blake Pietila, deked to his backhand and tucked a forehand shot past Pietila.
Cedar Rapids regained the lead at 15:46 on its first power play of the night. Liam Walsh fed a blind backhanded pass to the left circle, and Nathan Smith hit an open net.
The RoughRiders added another goal 2:09 later. A bad bounce off the end boards resulted in an Ethan Wolters goal. Cedar Rapids led despite being outshot, 13-6, in the first period.
Saints coach Oliver David inserted Aaron Randazzo in net to start the second stanza. He allowed a goal on the second shot he faced following a Dubuque turnover. Max Sasson made it 4-1 at the 6:02 mark of the second.
Dubuque pulled within 4-2 with a power play goal 2:38 into the third. Randazzo played the puck to Matias Maccelli, who sent a long outlet to a streaking Verners Egle. Egle beat Pietila with a low shot. Dubuque received the power play after Maccelli took a shot to the head.
The Saints cut the deficit to 4-3 with 2:40 remaining in regulation. Chris Lipe scored on a fortunate bounce after taking a shot from below the goal line.
“As we’ve seen all year, our guys play with a lot of heart and play a relentless game,” Saints coach Oliver David said. “We didn’t fold the tent. We kept playing, and we were one shot away from tying it up at the end.”