A lot changed for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints on Dec. 4th.
The Saints were playing the Omaha Lancers on the road on that date. The Saints were on a three-game losing streak, and coach Jason Lammers decided to alter his lineup. He put Nathan Sucese, Shane Kavanagh and Willie Knierim together on a line, and not just that line, but all the lines began clicking. That line scored two goals and combined for 14 shots on net in a 3-2 win against the Lancers.
A game later, the Saints won 7-4 behind a hat trick by Gordon Green and four points from Sucese. The Saints then won their next game and their next game, and their winning streak kept rolling until it was finally broken after 10 games. Now through 31 games, Dubuque owns the best record in the USHL with a 22-9-0-0 mark.
“We had a good start, a rough patch, and then we figured it out in the face of adversity and we ended up having a 10-game win streak, which is huge for us,” Knierim said. “I think all lines were clicking. Our goaltending was phenomenal. Nathan Sucese shot up in the standing for points leaders, a huge individual effort. Aside from that, everyone chipped in.”
Sucese, a Penn State recruit, was on fire during the streak. He produced eight goals and 13 assists in the 10 games. He has 13 goals and 20 assists on the season and is tied for fourth in the league with 33 points.
Knierim was also a factor in that. He hadn’t been pleased with his play leading up to the Dec. 4th game. He had six shots on goal in that game and has had three goals and three assists in his last six games. He also had two assists in the 2016 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and continues to be among the league’s top NHL prospects.
“I remember thinking, ‘Willie, you got to figure it out,’” said Knierim, a Miami University recruit. “‘This isn’t enough. This isn’t enough for the team. You got to produce more, do it for your teammates.’”
Lammers also pointed to Dec. 4th being big for Knierim.
“I think he really had a coming-out party that night,” said Lammers, a first-year USHL head coach. “He had points, but more importantly he played a 200-foot game. … I know he’s really improved in terms of his play away from the puck. He continues to be really good below the circles. I think that’s something that’s helped us out. We count on him to help us.”
Lammers also believed Michael O’Leary began playing better on Dec. 4th. O’Leary had just three assists on the season before that game. Beginning with an assist in that Dec. 4th game, he has since generated five goals and five assists in his last 12 games. He also played well in last night’s USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, contributing a goal and three assists to a Team East win.
“I’ve seen his confidence grow,” Lammers said. “I’ve seen his skating grow and I’ve seen his ability and creativity continue to blossom. He’s been really good at faceoffs for us. He’s pretty awesome at faceoffs for us.”
The Saints’ other point leaders include Evan Smith (10 goals, 13 assists), Mitchell Smith (nine goals, 13 assists), Green (six goals, 14 assists), Kavanagh (eight goals, 11 assists), Keegan Ford (six goals, 12 assists) and Petter Makitalo (seven goals, nine assists).
Dubuque goalie Hunter Miska, a Minnesota-Duluth recruit, is 19-5-0-0 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. Backup goalie Jaxson Castor also picked up two wins during the winning streak and allowed a total of one goal in those two starts.
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