After spotting the Green Bay Gamblers the first game of their best-of-5 series in the United States Hockey League championship series, the Dubuque Fightning Saints capped a three-game winning streak on Saturday with a decisive 6-1 victory in Game 4 of Clark Cup before an energized 3,480 at Mystique Ice Center.
It was the largest crowd to see a game in the history of Dubuque hockey, which earned its first USHL crown since the 1984-85 campaign. Dubuque became the first expansion team to win the Clark Cup since the Lincoln Stars won it all during their inaugural season of 1996-97.
The last team to reach the Clark Cup Final in their first season was the Fargo Force in 2008-09. The first time Dubuque had a USHL team, they won the Clark Cup in their inaugural season 30 years ago (1980-81).
Following a scoreless opening period, during which Dubuque outshot the 2010 Clark Cup champion Gamblers, 13-10, Green Bay grabbed a 1-0 lead just 33 seconds into the second when C.J. Eick connected for his second goal in as many games. It also marked the second consecutive time that the Gamblers would open the scoring before eventually losing the contest -- the club was 4-0 when scoring the first goal of the game in the playoffs prior to its series with Dubuque.
Tyler Lundey scored his second goal in two games midway through the second before Dubuque captain T.J. Schlueter knocked in his first of the playoffs three minutes later to put the Saints in front, 2-1. Schlueter would then score 1:50 into the third for a 3-1 lead on a power-play goal to drain any energy Green Bay might have had entering the final 20 minutes. John Doherty
, John Gaudreau
and Shane Walsh would also score in the third to complete the scoring.
Gaudreau, who is rated No. 193 by NHL Central Scouting on its final list of North American skaters eligible for the 2011 Entry Draft, not only led the team in scoring during the regular-season with 72 points (36 goals, 36 assists) but topped the team in 11 playoff games with 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists). Gaudreau, a left wing who is committed to Northeastern University next fall, also finished with a plus-9 rating in the postseason.
"It's awesome, coming out here as an expansion team with a bunch of players you don't know and winning it," Gaudreau said. "We played an awesome season and we deserved it."
Dubuque goalie Matt Morris (University of Maine) made 37 saves, his highest total of the playoffs, to earn the win. He also garnered Clark Cup Playoff MVP after finishing 9-2 with a 1.53 goals-against average and .943 save percentage.
Dubuque defenseman Joakim Ryan
, rated No. 174 on Central Scouting's final list and who will attend Cornell in September, had 2 goals, 5 points and a plus-6 rating in 11 playoff games. Ryan, a native of Rumson, N.J., led all defensemen on the team with 29 assists and 32 points in 53 regular-season games.
In all, seven players competing in the championship series are ranked among the top prospects by NHL Central Scouting, including Gaudreau, Ryan and goalie Jackson Teichroeb
of Dubuque and defensemen Andrew Welinski and Aaron Harstad
and center Austin Czarnik
(No. 115) of Green Bay.
Two players in the series have already been selected in the NHL Entry Draft -- Dubuque defenseman Nick Luukko
by the Philadelphia Flyers
in 2010 and Dubuque forward Vinny Saponari
by the Atlanta Thrashers
in 2008. Saponari, of Powder Spring, Ga., finished second on the team with 64 points during the regular-season and second in the playoffs with 9 points (5 goals).
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale