ASHWAUBENON - The Green Bay Gamblers find themselves in unfamiliar territory. The USHL’s most successful team is in a dog fight for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot with just two weeks remaining.
The Gamblers are tied with Muskegon for the final playoff spot with 58 points each. Chicago and Team USA are both just two points behind. The Gamblers have made the playoffs every season since 2008-2009. Head Coach Derek Lalonde says his team will need playoff intensity this weekend as they host games Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. "We talked about playing desperate. We're still learning how to do that at times. It comes instinctively at certain times but I want to start desperate," Lalonde said. Forward Nick Schmaltz explained what desperate hockey means. "Just working hard, getting pucks to the net, winning one on one battles is desperate hockey," Schmaltz said.
This Gamblers team has had their share of highs and lows throughout the season. Forward Matthew Weis was on the Clark Cup winning team two seasons ago and knows what it takes to win a game this time of year. "To win a game and keeping moving on in this league you've got to play a full 60 minutes and we've had trouble doing that this year but hopefully like you said we've got it in our hands the next five games to get into the playoffs and hopefully we can do that," Weis said.
"It seems like we play at the level of whoever we're playing. So just playing urgency from the get go and we're going to try and do that Friday."
Despite any hardships this team has faced their faith in themselves remains unshaken. Their leading scorer Matthew Weis sees that talent when he looks around the locker room. "We have the most talent in that room I think and everyone knows when we're at our best we can compete with everybody so that's why we've got to make sure we get our level up to," Weis said.
The Gamblers points leader, Nick Schmaltz, added, "If you just look at some of our games we've played we've beat some of the best teams in the league and if we can put that together night in and night out people should be scared," Schmaltz said.
Coach Lalonde agrees with his players. If they earn the division’s final playoff spot, they have the talent to go the distance, but first they need to clinch their playoff spot.