BLOOMINGTON — Eliminated from playoff contention, the Bloomington Thunder had to embrace the spoiler role against the Green Bay Gamblers.
“I don’t know if it’s as much to be the spoilers, but to be a group that ends the season well,” said captain Jake Durflinger. “We’re disappointed that the year didn’t end with us in the postseason, but we want to win as many games as possible.”
With Durflinger providing the only goal and third-year Thunder veteran Logan Halladay making 29 saves, Bloomington battled its way to a 1-0 victory over Green Bay before a Thursday night crowd of 1,015 at U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
“It was a group effort, it wasn’t just one or two guys,” said Halladay, who earned his 36th victory in a Thunder uniform. “It was a great win for the team and we’re all excited about it. But we’re going to get refocused and try to go out and do the exact same thing.”
In snapping the Gamblers’ eight-game winning streak, Bloomington improved to 25-26-8 overall and 15-11-3 on home ice ahead of Saturday’s 7 p.m. season finale against Muskegon at the Coliseum.
“These types of games really tell you what type of guys you’ve got out there, what type of team,” said coach Dennis Williams. “I thought it was a very good character win for us; they guys battled and we competed hard.
“We had to play for each other and that’s what they did.”
Despite getting 36 saves from David Hrenak, Green Bay finished at 34-22-4 and missed a chance to secure the final spot in the Clark Cup playoffs. The Gamblers now need one regulation loss by Youngstown in its two home games against the Team USA under-17 team.
Bloomington completed a stellar defensive showing in the third period, preventing Green Bay from mounting any sustained attack.
“They probably had over 60 attempts and probably 20 of those were blocked or tipped out of play,” said Halladay, who earned his first shutout of the season and fourth of his career. “The guys in front of me were awesome; they always are.”
With 89 seconds left in the second period, Durflinger seized on the Gamblers’ inability to escape their defensive zone. He moved in to collect an errant pass above the right circle and launched an unexpected drive at Hrenak that fluttered into the cage.
“I’m sure he would tell you it was a laser from the wall,” joked Williams.
“I think it was kind of a lucky goal,” admitted Durflinger. “Walker Duehr did a good job getting in on the forecheck and the puck hopped over their winger’s stick. I just kind of hit it and Duehr did a good job getting in front of the goalie’s eyes.
“It wasn’t the hardest shot. It was kind of rolling along the boards and I just kind of whacked at it.”
Aside from that one, it was a game of missed opportunities. Earlier in the second, Bloomington winger Christiano Versich raced in on a 2-on-1 advantage with Alec Mehr but the puck rolled off his stick before he could do anything with it.
The Thunder dodged a bullet on a Green Bay power play when the puck found Josh Dunne all alone on the doorstep in front of Halladay. But Dunne’s momentary hesitation prevented him from putting a quality attempt on the net.
“It was a defensive battle. Throughout the whole night it was going to be which team’s back end cracked first,” said Durflinger. “We were lucky enough they had a little mishap and we capitalized on it.”
Bloomington’s best scoring chance in the first period came when Duehr chipped the puck past a defender along the right wall in the neutral zone, outraced him to the corner for a retrieval and maneuvered behind the net for an open wraparound attempt that somehow missed the mark.
The shutout lowered Halladay’s goals-against average for the season to 2.59 overall (including two games for Tri-City) and 2.50 in 33 games with Bloomington.
“I think it starts to cap off a great three years here,” said Halladay, whose season-long charity raffle for his specially designed mask raised $6,120 for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.
“Even if that didn’t happen tonight, it still would’ve been a great three years. This is kind of like a nice cherry on top, but it’s not over. We’ve still got Saturday.”