Oliver David asked each of the Dubuque Fighting Saints to jot down an individual goal for the final weeks of the United States Hockey League regular season.
The exercise from the second-year head coach encourages personal growth at a time when that can become lost in the hunt for playoff positioning.
Goaltender Matthew Thiessen wrote “making timely saves” as his game-changing goal.
And did he ever follow through on it Saturday night.
Thiessen, a University of Maine recruit and a seventh-round NHL Draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks last summer, stopped all 44 shots he faced to backstop the Saints to a 5-0 victory over Chicago at Mystique Community Ice Center. He set a Dubuque franchise record for most saves in a shutout during the USHL Tier I era.
“Oliver is a really good coach, and he’s always giving us individual goals to work on,” said Thiessen, who earned the USHL goaltender of the week award on Monday for his performance against Chicago. “I really want to be making those game-changing saves, so that’s why I put it on my card.
“When I’m on my game, I’m very calm and I’m making those kinds of saves. The guys play so hard in front of me, you want to return the favor and have their backs. You have to trust the guys in front of you, then it’s your job to go out and stop the puck. With them playing as well as they did in front of me (Saturday) night, it gives you all the confidence in the world.”
Thiessen improved to 18-17-4-4 while lowering his goals against average to 3.04 and raising his save percentage to .888. He earned his first USHL shutout and won for the second consecutive outing.
“I was moving around really well, and I was able to find the puck all night,” Thiessen said. “A lot of that has to do with the guys in front of me playing as well as they did. Sometimes you have those nights when you’re really feeling it, and I had one of those nights.”
Thiessen helped the Saints survive a second period in which they were outshot, 19-6, but turned a 1-0 lead into a 3-0 cushion. Dubuque stopped all five of Chicago’s power plays, including two that overlapped for 1:53 for parts of the first and second periods.
“There was about a 14-minute stretch in the second period where he literally won us the game,” David said. “He gave us a star-studded goaltending performance in the best Junior hockey league in the world.
“I couldn’t be happier for him, because he deserved this shutout. He works so hard at his game, and he really cares about his team and doing everything he can to help the Dubuque Fighting Saints win a Clark Cup championship.”
The win on Saturday night helped the Saints complete their first weekend sweep since mid-January. Dubuque improved to 28-24-4-4, and, with two regular-season games remaining, ensured it would finish with an above-.500 record for the ninth consecutive season. No other team has accomplished the feat during that time period.
The Saints also beat Cedar Rapids, 4-3, on Friday night. Dubuque, which clinched a ninth-straight playoff berth last Sunday, will face either Chicago, Youngstown or Cedar Rapids in the first round of the playoffs.
“This was a huge weekend for us,” Thiessen said. “We needed to beat those teams to prove we can play with anyone in the league and make a run toward the Clark Cup.”