Greg Brown experienced a nice mix of success and teachable moments in his first preseason as the Dubuque Fighting Saints’ head coach.
Now, the games begin to count.
The Saints went 3-1 in the preseason and outscored their opponents, 19-10. They open the regular season at 1:30 p.m. Thursday against Tri-City at the USHL Fall Classic in Cranberry Township, Pa.
“I like the progress we’ve made,” Brown said Saturday night. “With each game, we’ve advanced in different areas and become more of a complete team. Obviously, we have many more steps to go, but over the four games we’ve experienced a lot of improvement, which is what you want to see at this point in the process.
“The effort they’ve put in during camp has been really good. They’re hungry to get better and they’re hungry to learn. We’ve been fortunate to have those teachable moments in the preseason instead of later in the year. They guys have addressed them, and we can check them off the list.”
That showed this weekend. After a 2-1 loss to Cedar Rapids on Friday night, Brown and assistants Justin Hale and Evan Dixon emphasized net-front presence. Less than 24 hours later, traffic in front of the Cedar Rapids net played a key role in a 6-3 victory.
“The team looks better and better the more we play, and that shows in how well we bounced back from (Friday) night,” veteran forward Tristan Lemyre said. “Everything was better — our special teams, our communication, our breakouts.
“Having those (teachable) moments gets us more prepared for the regular season. You’d rather have them now than when the season starts. Its shows a lot about the character of this team that we’re learning from those mistakes and making the adjustments to get better.”
It’s still a work in progress, though, and stiffer challenges await at the Fall Classic. The Saints also play Omaha on Friday before returning home.
“There were a lot of really positive things to come out of the preseason, but we realize there are areas of our game we still have to clean up,” veteran defenseman Max Burkholder said. “A lot of it is just the little things you have to do well to be successful. Like our breakout, our forecheck, our communication and faceoffs.
“We feel pretty confident about going to the Fall Classic. But we know we’re going to have to play well defensively against two really good teams. We’re excited to get going.”
The Saints’ best defense might be its puck-control offense. Dubuque dominated at times this weekend simply by keeping the puck away from the RoughRiders and waiting for scoring chances.
“We train at a very high tempo in practice every day, so, when we get to the games and we play against teams that don’t play at a high tempo, things go a lot smoother,” said defenseman Samuel Sjolund, a Dallas Stars prospect. “We’re used to that pace. That’s something Coach Brown emphasizes. We create those habits in training, which makes it a little easier to execute them during the game.”
The Saints reached the 25-man roster limit this weekend by trading Christopher Lynch to Fargo and Primo Self to Youngstown for conditional draft picks.