Sean Kuraly scored a hat trick Saturday night to lead the Ice to a 3-2 victory over the Saints -- one that was piggybacked onto a 6-1 win on Friday night over the same team.
The Ice (13-7-2) remain in fourth place with 28 points, but are just one point back of second, as Dubuque and Youngstown are both tied with 29 points. The Ice have a game in hand on Youngstown. Green Bay has a double-digit lead on the division. But the Ice made a big statement this weekend in a matchup of two teams vying to become the Gamblers' biggest challenger.
Kuraly staked the Ice to a 3-0 lead. His first goal, on an assist from linemate Daniil Tarasov (and defenseman R.J. Boyd, who had a big weekend), came just 3:37 into the game, and came shortly after the Ice killed off an opening-minute penalty.
The Ice's vaunted power play got fired up again tonight, scoring twice in five chances, including both second-period opportunities. The first came at 7:28 of the period on assists from linemates Jacob Fallon and Robbie Baillargeon. The second came at 15:02 and, as it turned out, became the game-winner. Baillargeon and Tarasov assisted, giving each a two-point night.
Kuraly now has 13 goals -- tying him with Tarasov for the team lead and putting him in a sixth-place tie for the USHL lead. Tarasov's two assists give him 30 points for the year, second in the USHL in points (to Omaha's Jimmy Murray, who has 33) and third in assists with 17 (to Murray, with 22; and to linemate Jacob Fallon, who has 18).
With a 3-0 lead, things looked comfortable, as Jon Gillies had a shutout going until the game's final five minutes. But the Fighting Saints struck quickly, twice, as the Ice committed back-to-back-to-back penalties, giving Dubuque an extended 5-on-3. Mike Matheson made it a 3-1 game with 4:04 left. Dubuque still had more than 50 seconds of 5-on-3 left as a third penalty took effect, but the Ice killed that off. But before the final minor could expire, Ryan Siiro scored with 2:26 to go to cut the lead to 3-2.
But the Ice were able to kill off the final 146 seconds -- including the final 90 seconds with the Dubuque goalie pulled -- to end the game. Gillies made 15 saves in the third period as the Saints outshot the Ice 17-4.
The Ice now head on the road next weekend for three games -- two in Chicago against the Steel, and then a Sunday trip to Muskegon.
1. Sean Kuraly (Ice), 3 goals, 4 shots, +1, GWG, 2 PPG
2. Jon Gillies (Ice), 41 saves, win
3. Daniil Tarasov (Ice), 2 assists, +1, 2 shots