Sioux Falls, SD--A pair of big nights from Zeb Knutson and Thomas Forgione powered the Sioux Falls Stampede offense as they overwhelmed the Des Moines Buccaneers 4-2 at the Arena Sunday night in front of 3,478 fans. The victory was the Stampede’s fourth straight and doubled Sioux Falls’ lead in the Western Conference going into the New Year, putting them four points ahead of Lincoln and Fargo for first place in the Western Conference.
“The Western Conference is tight right now,” said Forgione, who has 17 points on the season for the Herd. “We have to battle every game. It’s hard, but it’s good to have that four point cushion, especially heading into the New Year.”
Knutson and Forgione had two goals each for the Herd (20-8-1), and netminder Jan Obernesser stopped 12 of 14 shots from Des Moines (15-16-1) to earn his seventh win of the year. With the win, the Stampede have now won seven of their last eight games overall.
A rare scoreless first period featured several fine opportunities for the Herd, including an opportunistic breakaway by Sam Rothstein during a Des Moines power play. Neither team could stay out of the penalty box, as each team was slapped with three calls each. The Herd defense made a huge stand before intermission, stifling the Bucs during a 5-on-3 with under two minutes left.
“That was a big point in the game,” said head coach Cary Eades. “Obernesser made a couple good saves and we were able to give rid of that 5-on-3. Had they gotten a lead it would have really worked into their game.”
Zeb Knutson woke the dormant Herd offense at 7:59 of the second period when he wristed a shot home in between the circles, giving Sioux Falls its first lead of the game at 1-0. The lead compounded to 2-0 thanks to a stunning goal by Thomas Forgione. The Vermont recruit blew down the right wing side and stymied Christopoulos with a nasty backhand forehand move.
“I thought the goalie was going to poke check the puck, but he just stayed in his net,” said Forgione. “I drove it wide and tapped it in.”
Though the Bucs would slice the Herd’s margin down the middle to 2-1, Sioux Falls took the lead into third period, where they came in 15-0-0 when on top after forty minutes.
“It was a 2-1 lead, but one lucky bounce or one call by the referees can change the game,” said Knutson, who committed to Minnesota State-Mankato. “We knew we needed to come out and get more because we didn’t want to leave the game to chance. We weren’t comfortable by any means, but I think it gave us an extra push knowing we had to get more goals.”
In a mirror image of the second period, Knutson and Forgione combined for two consecutive Herd scores, the latter another beauty from Forgione as he snagged a loose puck and faked out Christopoulos. The Bucs tried to make it close with a quick tally with 2:41 to go in the game, but the Herd took the 4-2 to the end to give them a positive start for a four game homestand and a confident boost for the second half of the season.
“We’ve done some good things, but there’s a long way to go in the season and our level of play, our level of execution and our consistency,” said Eades.
The Stampede will return to the Arena this weekend for a two-game series against I-29 rival, Sioux City. Game times are 7:05 PM both Friday and Saturday night and tickets are available through the Sioux Falls Arena Box Office or any Ticketmaster location.