By Jim den Hollander
While the results show more losses piling up, the Dells Ducks junior hockey team certainly is making strides toward respectability in its most recent contests.
The Ducks squared off against two rivals that have dominated them this season in the past two weekends, the Chicago Cougars and Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings.
Tangling with the Riverkings is simply too difficult a task this season for the Ducks. The top team in the USPHL’s Midwest-West Division, the Riverkings saw a stretch of 16 straight games without a regulation loss snapped at the Chicago Showcase tournament just before Christmas.
The team which makes a habit of switching to a higher gear after the Christmas Break has not lost in regular since then either, its 7-0 and 9-0 wins against the Ducks on the weekend running its current string to 9-0-1. The Riverkings are not only a near lock to make it to the National Championship tournament next month, but at this point the team is among the favorites to bring home the hardware too.
Nobody will ever concede before the games are played, but this season, the Riverkings are just too tough.
The same was thought to be the case with the Chicago Cougars who defeated the Ducks by a combined score of 20-1 on the opening weekend of the season. So, when the Ducks skated into an overtime period, locked in a 2-2 draw with the Cougars on the road, Jan. 22 it was a pleasant surprise for Ducks fans and a flat-out shock for the Cougars.
Adam Brown and Liam Hogan scored the goals against the Cougars with assists for Luke Marks and Kanyn Rogers.
Consider the fact the Cougars did not have league-leading scorer Jozef Martancik or recently added OHL defender and legit NHL Draft prospect Simon Motew in their lineup when they faced the Ducks in September and – on paper – this is an improved Chicago team. But the Ducks gave them a legit battle in this game and that is a testament to both the never-say-die attitude of the team and improvements the team has made at virtually every position since dropping its first 26-games of the season.
Next up is an opponent the Ducks have also always had a tough time with. The Moose have been among the front runners in the USPHL’s Midwest-West Division since joining the loop and have twice made quick work of the Ducks in the post season.
The Moose used a pair of wins against Hudson Havoc on the weekend to slip into second place in the Division on the weekend and they actually sit just four points behind the Riverkings with a game in hand. They carry an eight game winning streak into the weekend set in Spooner and also picked up lopsided wins against a different Ducks team earlier this season.
The point against the Cougars pushed the Ducks out of the bottom spot in the division for the first time this season last week as they slipped by the Rum River Mallards into the eighth and final playoff position.
However, the Mallards grabbed the spot back snapping a nine-game losing streak on Friday night with a 2-1 overtime win against the seventh place Rochester Vipers. The Mallards have dropped another pair since then, but they lead the Ducks by a point. Ironically, the game winner scored against the Vipers was an overtime goal by Noe Ben-Salem a former Ducks’ player who has been with the Mallards since just before the Christmas Break.
The Ducks have two games left to play against the Mallards which could decide the final playoff spot (as well as the winners of the Inaugural ‘Ducks Cup’), but the Mallards have five extra games to play, including two more against the Vipers who could be pulled back into a three-way race for two playoff spots in the next few weeks.
What’s left for the Ducks – 9 games.
@Minnesota Moose (Spooner) – 2 (Feb. 5-6)
Vs. Rochester Vipers – 1 (Feb. 7 at Lake Delton Ice Arena)
Vs. Minnesota Blue Ox – 2 (Feb. 19-20 at Lake Delton Ice Arena)
@Minnesota Mullets – 2 (Augsburg University Ice Arena.)
@Rum River Mallards – 2 (TBA)