The new-look Dells Ducks opened the 2017-18 United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL) regular season with a pair of heartbreaking defeats against the Minnesota Blue Ox at the Poppy Waterman Ice Arena over the weekend.
On Friday night the Ducks fell behind early, surrendering a pair of first period goals, and couldn’t pull all the way back in a 2-1 loss. The following night, the Ducks again fell behind 2-0, giving up a goal in each of the first two periods. This time though, the Ducks battled back with a pair of goals early in the final period, only to see the Blue Ox score the game-winner with just over a minute to go before adding an empty netter for a 4-2 victory.
Blue Ox 2, Ducks 1
On Friday night, the new Ducks team, which includes just one returning player — goaltender Zander Zafiro — and a couple of players that are just 16 years old, took the ice for the first time. The visiting Blue Ox, an xpansion team in the USPHL Midwest Division, was skating with many junior veterans.
The experience disparity showed early as the Blue Ox peppered Zafiro, holding a 16-5 shot advantage through the opening period as it built up a 2-0 lead with goals from Kristian Kause and Eric Worre.
The second goal came seconds after the Ducks successfully killed off a penalty with the play inside their blue line for most of the two minutes. The Ducks got credit for the penalty kill, one of four on the night, but were unable to get organized in time to prevent the even strength goal.
The shot margin was even greater in the second period (25-10), but it was the Ducks that scored on a strange play. Stone Stelzl carried the puck into the Blue Ox end and came in contact with Blue Ox goaltender Brady Boudreau, who is the son of Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau. The puck caromed to the front of the goal where Giovanni Mueller buried it into the empty net.
The Ducks were unable to score the equalizer despite a strong third period that Saw the Blue Ox hold a slim 12-11 advantage in shots. Zafiro finished the game with 51 saves while Boudreau turned aside 25.
Blue Ox 4, Ducks 2
The Ducks looked more prepared out of the gate on Saturday night, but the Blue Ox again put up a wide margin in shots, pounding Ducks’ goalie Corbin Moore with 25 shots. One of those 25 shots found the back of the net, giving the Blue Ox a 1-0 lead.
The Ox added another goal in the second period and carried a 2-0 lead into the final frame. Blue Ox goals came from Worre and Orlando Scherz.
Making the Ducks job tougher was some unfortunate calls. Both Travis McConnell and Jeffrey Rebmann were sent to the locker room early for grabbing a face mask and head contact penalties. The Ducks found themselves killing penalties for nearly seven straight minutes during one stretch.
Not only did the Ducks kill nine of the Blue Ox’s 10 power plays, but a breakaway goal by Stelzl gave the Ducks a second short-hander in two nights.
Stezl’s goal came 3:39 into the third period and he played a set up role on the tying goal, scored by Mueller a little more than five minutes later.
The Ducks had a couple of power play chances in the late minutes but couldn’t get the go-ahead goal. The teams appeared destined for overtime, but Phillip Schader fired a wrister past Moore with 62 seconds to play in the contest giving the Blue Ox a 3-2 lead. Oskari Halme then added an empty-net goal with three ticks left on the clock.
Moore finished the game with 41 saves for the Ducks while Josh Greune stopped 29 shots for the Blue Ox. Ducks fans will remember Greune, who last season played with the Forest Lake Lakers, now know as the Minnesota Mullets.
The Ducks will be off from league play this coming weekend and will hit the road for a game at Owatonna, Minnesota against the Steele County Blades on Sept. 30. The next home games for the Ducks will be Oct. 6-7 against the Ironwood Yoopers.