Shane Sooth couldn't imagine a better way to start the United States Hockey League season.
So far, it's been perfect for the Dubuque Fighting Saints.
Dubuque held off the defending Clark Cup champion Green Bay Gamblers, 2-1, on Saturday night in Wisconsin to improve to 7-0, the best start in the Tier I era of the Saints. Dubuque started 1-2 in each of its first two seasons after returning to the USHL in the fall of 2010.
But it's the way the Saints have gotten to 7-0 that impresses the team captain.
"All seven wins have been team wins, and it can't get any better than that," said Sooth, a three-year veteran. "Every game, it's a different guy stepping up. And our goalies have been unbelievable."
On Saturday night, Connor Girard stole the show in net for the Saints. He kicked aside 27 shots and came within 1:29 of a shutout while improving to 3-0.
Girard's teammate, Arthur Brey, leads USHL goaltenders with a 1.00 goals against average in four starts. Girard is a close second at 1.30.
Of course, Dubuque's league-best defense has been a difference maker. The Saints have outscored their opponents, 24-8, this season.
"Obviously, we're in competition with each other, but we're also both very supportive of one other," Girard said. "It makes a huge difference when you know you've got each others' backs.
"The bottom line is our goal is the same. We both want to do whatever it takes to help the team win."
Girard made two impressive backdoor saves to keep the Gamblers off the scoreboard. Green Bay's lone goal came after Girard mishandled the puck behind his net, and Kyle Novak scored into an empty net.
"Green Bay played a very determined game tonight, and had Connor Girard not played as well as he did, we might have had a different outcome," Saints coach Jim Montgomery said. "This was the first time all season where we looked tired in the third period.
"But I give the guys a lot of credit. They found a way to win even though they were mentally and physically tired. It was a great learning experience."
Peter Quenneville staked the Saints to a 1-0 lead with an unassisted highlight-reel goal at 11:16 of the first period. Quenneville gathered the puck in the neutral zone, played the puck between his legs to fend off a defenseman in the Green Bay zone and rifled a shot under the crossbar to beat goalie Michael Rotolo.
"As the pucks have started to go in for us, we've started to feel a little more comfortable about taking risks," Quenneville said of his third goal in as many games. "It was a spur-of-the-moment thing and something I thought I'd try. Fortunately, it worked out well for us.
"Any time you can score the first goal of a game, it gives you a little more confidence."
Sooth stretched the lead to 2-0 at 12:08 of the third period and shortly after a faceoff win in the Green Bay zone. Mike Downing and Frankie DiChiara worked the puck to Sooth, who scored on a one-timer.
"I have to give all the credit for that one to the 'Big Frankfurter' for getting the puck to me," Sooth said. "It was a lucky shot. But it turned out to be a big one."
Dubuque completed a home-and-home sweep of the Gamblers. The Saints have defeated Green Bay three times with three meetings remaining.