All the small things led to a big return to the win column for the Dubuque Fighting Saints on Wednesday night.
Max Burkholder, Stephen Halliday and Kenny Connors scored two goals apiece to lead the Saints to a 7-4 victory at Green Bay to snap a four-game losing streak. Paxton Geisel made 27 saves, including a handful of Grade A stops after the Gamblers had whittled a four-goal deficit to one late in the third period.
“In weeks prior, we were getting a little sloppy in our systems, and at times we were playing more as individuals than as a unit,” Burkholder said. “But our systems were much better tonight. It was a really good team win.
“It definitely feels good to be back in the win column and it gives us really good spirits going into the weekend. Hopefully, this is the start of a nice win streak.”
The Saints took Thanksgiving off and will play a home-and-home with Des Moines starting Friday on the road.
“We had more intensity and a little more desperation than we’ve had lately,” coach Greg Brown said. “We lost a little of that when we got ahead tonight, and we talked about how we have to keep that intensity the whole 60 minutes. Nobody likes losing, and they were determined to end the streak we were on.”
Gabriel Lundberg gave Dubuque the early lead with his first career USHL goal. Halliday carried the puck into the Green Bay zone and left a drop pass for Connor Kurth, who shot from the right point. Aaron Randazzo stopped the initial shot, but Lundberg backhanded the rebound into the net at 8:47 of the opening period.
“It felt really good to get the team going tonight,” Lundberg said. “I could definitely hear it in the huddle after I scored, and it was pretty cool to see everybody lit up when I came back to the bench. But getting the win was the most important thing, and hopefully we can build on it.”
Halliday moved into sole possession of third place on the Saints’ career scoring list in the Tier I era with his 109th point after being tied with current Ottawa Senators forward Dylan Gambrell. Shane Sooth tops the list with 144 points, and Seamus Malone ranks second with 131.
Halliday doubled the Saints’ lead with his 11th goal of the season at the 17:26 mark while the teams skated 4-on-4. Axel Kumlin’s pass from behind his own net found Halliday on the left wing, and the 6-foot-4, 210-pound center used his speed through the neutral zone to get around defenseman Jarod Crespo. Halliday switched from his backhand to his forehand at the top of the blue paint before beating Randazzo.
Dubuque’s pressure led to a pair of Burkholder goals in the first 7:48 of the second period to stretch the lead to 4-0.
Riley Stuart dumped the puck below the Green Bay goal line and outworked the Gamblers defense along with linemate Shawn O’Donnell. Stuart won the puck and backhanded a pass to wide-open Burkholder, who snapped a wrist shot inside the left post for his second goal of the season at the 3:21 mark.
Then, O’Donnell pressured John Mittlestadt into a turnover in the Green Bay zone and fed the puck to a charging Burkholder. In all alone, the defenseman deked Randazzo down with his forehand, then backhanded the puck into a vacated net for his third goal of the year at 7:48.
“Our forecheck did a great job tonight,” Burkholder said. “They definitely deserve the credit for both of those goals.”
Green Bay ended Geisel’s shutout bid 2:49 later while on the first power play of the game. Matt Deboer deflected Alex Servagno’s shot for his fourth goal of the campaign.
Mittelstadt cut the Gamblers’ deficit in half at the 15:43 mark with a stellar individual effort. He skated around the left faceoff circle before firing shot off the far post and behind Geisel for his sixth goal of the season.
Halliday struck again 3:33 into the third period to push the lead to 5-2. He carried in on a 3-on-2 and dropped a pass for a Kurth shot, but Randazzo left a rebound for Halliday to score on a backdoor tap-in. Mikey Burchill assisted on Halliday’s 12th of the season.
But the Gamblers answered 57 seconds later on Servagno’s second goal of the season. Servagno pulled the Gamblers within 5-4 at 11:20 with a one-timer from the right circle on Green Bay’s second power play of the evening.
Connors gave the Saints a little breathing room with a power play goal of his own at 14:39. Connors redirected Axel Kumlin’s centering pass over Randazzo’s shoulder for his eighth goal of the season. Tristan Lemyre picked up secondary assist.
Connors sealed the win by scoring an empty net goal with 48.5 seconds remaining. An Austin Oravetz clearing attempt hit a Green Bay skate, and Connors hit the empty net from his own right faceoff circle.
“We never want to be in that position where a team can squeak back into it, but it was good to see we could shut them down when they did,” Connors said. “We just stuck to the basics and our structure. That’s what works best.”