The Dells Ducks made a triumphant return from the Thanksgiving Break, picking up the maximum four points in Decatur, Illinois with a 2-1 win on Friday and then a 4-1 victory on Saturday to complete the series sweep of the host Blaze.
The Ducks have collected at least a point in six of their past seven games, and while they still sit in the eighth spot in the nine-team United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL) Midwest-West Division, the local squad now finds itself within striking distance of a number of clubs in the bottom half of the division.
Nobody would have thought the Ducks had a shot at climbing back to .500 this season when they started out with a 2-13-1 run through their first 16 games. The Dells is still miles away from an even record, as the team pulled out of Decatur at 7-13-2, but it could be a legitimate goal at this time for the team.
Ducks 2, Blaze 1
Many other teams have discovered the struggles of getting the puck past Blaze goalie Lane Timmons, who has kept his team in many games this season. The Ducks were the latest in that situation, as they managed to get just two of 38 shots past the net-minder.
The first Ducks goal came from 20-year-old defenseman Eric Pristyazhnyuk. He notched the lone goal of the first period, his first of the season from Justin Gulas.
That stood up as the lone goal until Ithica Jones tied things up 7:44 into the second period. Giovani Mueller pushed the Ducks into the lead about about seven minutes later with an assist from Wyatt Mikkelson that wrapped up the scoring.
The Ducks were never secure in Friday’s win, and the final period was back and forth, with the Ducks holding a 13-9 edge in shots down the stretch.
Zander Zafiro was beaten just once on 21 shots and grabbed his fifth win of the season for the Ducks.
Ducks 4, Blaze 1
Zafiro was back between the pipes for the second game in Decatur on Saturday night, when he added another 23 saves to boost his season record to 6-4, leading the Ducks to victory.
Unanswered first and second period goals had the Ducks up 2-0 heading down the stretch. Jacob Cameron collected the first period goal for the Ducks, his fourth of the season, with help from Roger Schoenike and Jake Bevins.
Captain Stone Stelzl scored his team-leading 15th goal of the season late in the second period, off assists from Jeffrey Rebmann and Alec Scarsella.
Conor Mulcahy ended the bid for a third shutout for Zander Zafiro just two minutes from the final buzzer, but 44 seconds later, Austin Phillips sank the clincher into an open net for the fourth Ducks goal, with another assist going to Scarsella.
The win wrapped up a 5-1 road stretch for the Ducks, and the team will have two weeks to prepare for its return to the Poppy Waterman Ice Arena on Dec. 15-16 against the Steele County Blades, who currently sit in seventh place (8-13-1), just one point ahead of the Ducks. In their only meeting so far this season, the Blades rallied back from an early 2-0 deficit for a 3-2 overtime win at Owatonna, Minnesota on Sept. 30.
After those two games, the Ducks will go into a stretch of eight straight showcase matches – playing in a Chicago event against teams from the Midwest-West and Midwest-East Divisions on Dec. 20-23. After the Christmas break, the Ducks will begin at a Boston Showcase event against teams from the Mid-Atlantic and North Divisions.