Stampede fans wondering how Sioux Falls would respond after an ugly Friday night didn't have to wait long as a huge four-goal first period built a foundation for a 5-4 win over the league-leading Dubuque Fighting Saints Saturday at the Arena. Todd Skirving chalked up his second hat trick of the season for the Herd (11-5-0) while Zeb Knutson and Tony Calderone added scores of their own in front of a crowd of 3,730 fans. Charlie Lindgren turned aside 24 of 28 shots from the Fighting Saints (14-2-1), who had defeated the Herd twice last season.
"Sometimes off a real tough night where nothing goes well it's hard to get it going the next night," said head coach Cary Eades. "I know we had the effort but we also had the execution. We built up that 4-0 lead and we needed every one of those goals."
The opening period was a mirror opposite of Friday night's, with the Stampede coming out angry, intense and firing on all cylinders. Local product Zeb Knutson initiated the Herd offensive onslaught 2:43 into the game with a post-ringing wrist shot in between the circles, his seventh tally in a Stampede uniform. A Tony Calderone goal followed by two straight Skirving scores gave the Herd a 4-0 lead that held until Dubuque put the puck into the net with 12 seconds left, leaving the Stampede leading 4-1 after 20 minutes.
"We had a little talk in the locker room amongst the players and we knew we had to win this game," said Skirving. "We had to prove a point not only to ourselves, but also the coaches, the fans and the league to show that we can bounce back."
Several athletic saves by Lindgren highlighted a magnificent period for a Stampede offense that looked out of sorts the previous evening.
"Today we were ready right from the get-go," said defenseman Matt Van Voorhis, who assisted on the first goal by Skirving. "We outplayed them early on and it paid huge dividends in the end."
Dubuque answered the Herd's outburst by putting the pressure on to open the second period, cutting what started as a 4-0 Stampede lead in half at 5:30 when Fighting Saint winger Eric Freschi spun around and wristed a shot past Lindgren. However, ball caps were flying onto the ice a little over ten minutes later as Skirving kept the Stampede in front, tipping a shot off the post and into the goal for his second hat trick of the season and making the score 5-2 Sioux Falls before the intermission.
"Everybody works hard and when one guy gets rewarded the team gets rewarded," said Van Voorhis. "Todd's been playing really well. He's been shooting the puck and he's been in the right areas."
The comfortable lead was a promising omen for the Herd, who were undefeated at the Arena when ahead after two periods, but the final 20 minutes would be far from easy for Sioux Falls. Seconds felt like hours in an anxiety-ridden third period that saw the fighting Saints bring the Herd lead down to one goal after two straight scores. Nevertheless, Charlie Lindgren and the Stampede defense would persevere and hold on for the 5-4 win.
"I didn't think we played all that intelligent of a third period until the game got to 5-4. We really buckled down and started putting the puck in the right places," said coach Eades. "I was really proud of the way we played after it became 5-4. We have a couple of things we can learn to keep it from getting so close but a lot of teams would have crumbled there."