The Green Bay Gamblers find themselves in an unusual position as the USHL playoffs begin, the role of underdog, as they take on top seeded Indiana.
The playoffs unofficially began for the Gamblers a few weeks ago. They won five of their final six games just to make the playoffs. Head Coach Derek Lalonde said that means his team is battle tested.
"We are the most playoff tested team in the playoffs right now. We've played two elimination games where if we would have lost our season would have been over with," Lalonde.
Nick Schmaltz said the players are ready to carry over the attitude they’ve cultivated in the past few weeks. "I think we know how to prepare for playoff type games here so it's the same mentality going into this week here and I think we should be successful."
The Gamblers split their regular season series with Indiana, including a win at Indiana last Friday night. They think their highly skilled team makes them a tough matchup for the top seed. Lalonde explained why teams don’t want to see them in the playoffs.
"We have that high end talent and there's times where you see it this year. There's stretches where we get out shot, out played, out chanced, but then we make a play,” Lalonde said. “I think that's what scares people about us come playoff time and excites us moving forward."
The Gamblers offense was firing on all cylinders during their playoff push averaging four goals per game over the past six games. They'll have to buckle down on defense to win this series. According to Schmaltz the defensive game plan starts with moving the puck. "I think our D's just got to make strong plays getting out of the zone and we should get some odd man rushes out of that. And then we've got to bury our 2 on 1's and 3 on 2's,” Schmaltz said.
Matthew Weis added, "Penalty kill and power play are going to be huge in this series, obviously sticking to the plan in our defensive zone will be big so I think defense will definitely be the story in this one."
The Gamblers have started to grow their playoff bears. How thick they get may very well depend on the job they do on defense.