The Dells Ducks junior hockey team made a somewhat successful return from the Christmas break by winning two of four games played at a Boston-area showcase tournament against some tough competition.
The Ducks ended up playing the top three teams from the USPHL Elite North Division and one against a team from the USPHL Elite South as well.
After dropping its opening contest 3-2 against the Syracuse Stars from the North Division on Friday, the Ducks returned to the rink on Saturday and collected a 4-1 win over the Palm Beach Hawks.
On Sunday, the Ducks faced a difficult task, facing off against the North Division’s top two teams just a few hours apart. After an impressive 3-2 overtime win against the Islanders Hockey Club, just the third regulation defeat for the team this season, the Ducks fell behind early against the South Shore Kings and never fully recovered, dropping the tournament finale 3-2.
STARS 3, DUCKS 2
Rather than three periods, USPHL Showcase games feature two 25-minute halves. The Ducks found themselves trailing 3-1 after the first half, having played a total of 11 minutes shorthanded and surrendering a pair of goals while battling with a player in the penalty box.
The first Syracuse goal came 2:34 into the game, with an extra attacker and the New York squad added another 34 seconds after that to grab control of the contest.
Reedsburg’s Sean Teske got the Ducks on the board by converting a feed from Jake Tomkowiak, but a major penalty gave the Stars enough power play time to add another late in the period as well.
The Ducks regrouped over the half and managed to pull one back late in the second half on a goal by Pat Freeman off an assist from Sherman Mowery.
DUCKS 4, HAWKS 1
The loss on Friday was the first Showcase defeat in five seasons for the Ducks, but the players didn’t spend a lot of time feeling sorry for themselves. Instead, the team took its frustrations out on its Florida-based opponent on Saturday.
The Ducks collected a 2-1 lead in a wide open opening half that saw a total of 41 shots thrown on net by the two teams.
Rhinelander’s Cal Erdman struck for the first Ducks’ goal, the first of the season for the defenseman. Captain Chris Vella had a set up on Erdman’s goal and a little more than two minutes later, Wyatt Nielson doubled the Ducks’ margin from Tomkowiak and Mowery.
Nick Levesque was in goal for the Ducks stopping 29 of 30 shots in the contest, the only to get by him coming late in the opening half.
The Ducks shut down the Hawks in the second half with a 25-11 edge in shots, with goals from Vella and the team’s newest addition Nik Kropp, a native of Northbrook, Illinois, who last season played for the Chicago Cougars.
DUCKS 3, ISLANDERS 2
This win ranks as one of the team’s biggest victories of the season, on a par with the win last month against the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings. Without a doubt, the Islanders are among the favorites in the USPHL Elite League this season.
Like the Syracuse game, the Ducks found themselves trailing early, down 2-0 at the half after being outshot by a 21-11 margin.
But again, the team regrouped at the break and Matthew Stewart got the Ducks on the board at the 10:39 mark of the second from Trevor Jestadt. Stewart got the call to play for the Kenai River Brown Bears of the North American Hockey League at the end of the Showcase event.
Josh Repaal, a Tomah based defender pulled the Ducks even just 31 seconds later with help from Teske and Trevor Jestadt.
Gennaro Anzevino turned aside all 17 of the shots he faced in the second half in goal for the Ducks to keep this one even.
There was only one more shot in the overtime and Neilson buried it to give the Ducks its only lead of the contest at the perfect time, with another assist for Vella.
KINGS 3, DUCKS 2
Every team at the tournament played four times, but the Ducks faced a tough schedule at the end, and that could have played a part in its final setback.
After knocking off the top team in the North, the Ducks saw the Kings just a few short hours later and once again found themselves trying to dig out of an early hole.
The Kings scored three times in 3 minutes, and appeared to have total control of the game 12:40 into the first half, but Levesque never allowed another goal, helping his team get close.
Teske notched his second goal of the tournament later in the first half from Vella and Stewart, but the Ducks didn’t get to within one until Mowery found an opening with 1:20 to play from Vella and Neilson.
The split at the tournament leaves the Ducks in second place in the Midwest Division with a 23-8-2 record and just 11 games remaining on its regular season docket.
The team will be off this coming weekend and plays its next-to-last homestand Jan. 20-22 at the Poppy Waterman Ice Arena. The Chicago Cougars will be in town on that Friday for their final meeting of the season with the Ducks, followed by the Blaine Energy for the Saturday and Sunday games.
The Forest Lake Lakers, River Falls Renegades and Detroit Fighting Irish will make up the opposition for the team’s final eight games of the season.