Thursday, February 26, 2015

B³ Weekend Preview: Des Moines and Sioux Falls


The Lincoln Stars will take on the two teams fighting for the fourth spot in the USHL western conference playoff race this weekend with a Friday tilt in Des Moines, IA against the Buccaneers, and then a Saturday evening game at the IceBox against the Sioux Falls Stampede.

Puck drops at 7:05pm CST for each game.

If you you can't make it to either of the two road this weekend, you can follow the boxscores online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on 93.7 FM "The Ticket," or watch the games live on FASTHockey for a fee.

The Stars come enter this weekend with a record of 14-25-5 (29 points) and are in last place in the USHL western conference.  Lincoln is 2-10-0 in their last twelve games played, and those two wins came in a shootout.  The Stars are 18 points out of fourth place (playoff eligible) in the west.  Click here to view the current league standings.

Lincoln is coming off an embarrassing 8-3 loss this past Wednesday night at the IceBox to the Sioux City Musketeers.  In cast you were wondering, I am not going to devote a recap article to that particular game.  I ran out of time to get that done tonight, so I'll mention it briefly here.

Click here to view the boxscore.  As bad as the score looks, I definitely think this was a game the Stars simply ran into a buzzsaw.  I'm not going to sugarcoat the loss at all.  It was bad.  Really bad.  But the Stars went head to head against what I think is the top team in the USHL right now, and it showed.  Lincoln was never in this game.

As good as Lincoln's goaltending has been this season, in the 8-3 loss it could have been a lot better.  I think this game is a good example of the kind of scores the Stars would see more of this season if their goaltending hadn't been so good.  I really think Hackett and Jones have done a lot to cover up some of the defensive issues this team continues to have night in and night out.  Basically, without Hackett and Jones, we'd see more of these kinds of lopsided losses.

In case you were wondering, the last time an opposing team put 8 goals on the Stars on their home rink was way back on March 9th, 2010 when the Waterloo Blackhawks beat Lincoln at the IceBox by a score of 8-6.  That 2009-10 Stars team gave up 8 goals at home in three different games.  That was definitely a season most Stars fans had to get psychological help for once it was over.

Okay, back to the two games this weekend....

Lincoln's opponent this Friday will be the Des Moines Buccaneers who occupy fifth place in the USHL western conference with a record of 18-16-11 (47 points).  The Bucs are only four points behind the fourth place Sioux Falls Stampede, but the 'Pede have two games in hand over Des Moines.

This will be the sixth of eight meetings between the Stars and Bucs this season.  Lincoln is 2-3-0 in the previous five games vs. Des Moines.  Three of the next four games for the Stars will be against the Buccaneers.  On March 6th and 7th the Stars will travel back to Des Moines to finish out the regular season series.

After a red-hot start to the season in which they went 9-3-1, the Bucs have cooled off considerable going 9-13-10 since then.  As I mentioned above, the Bucs are trying to stay relevant in the western conference playoff race but they are slipping a bit as of late.  The Stars can definitely play the role of spoiler in their game Friday night.

Saturday evening at the IceBox the Stars will host the Sioux Falls Stampede who sit in fourth place in the west with a record of 23-15-5 (51 points).  The 'Pede are currently riding a five-game winning streak and are 6-2-1 in their last nine games played.

This will be the second of four meetings between the Stars and the Stampede this season.  In their only other meeting, Sioux Falls picked up a 3-1 win at home on 1/23/15.  The 'Pede have an impressive 15-6-3 home record, but a pedestrian 8-9-2 record away from the confines of brand new Denny Sanford Premier Center.  Starting this Friday, the Stampede begin a grueling stretch of 10 straight road games.

Two big opportunities for the Stars to play the role of spoiler this weekend against two teams trying to wrap up a playoff spot in the west.  However, they'll have to play a lot better than they played this past Wednesday if they even want to think about picking up any points this weekend.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

B³ Pregame Report: Sioux City Musketeers vs. Lincoln Stars

The Lincoln Stars will take on the top team in the USHL western conference (and the USHL) this Wednesday evening when they battle the Sioux City Musketeers at the IceBox.

Puck drops at 7:05pm CST.

If you can't make it to this game, you can follow the boxscore online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on 93.7 FM "The Ticket," or watch the game live on FASTHockey for a fee.

The Stars are 14-24-5 (33 points) and are in last place in the USHL western conference, eight points behind the seventh place Waterloo Blackhawks.  Click here to view the current league standings.

Sioux City comes into this mid-week matchup with a record of 30-12-4 (64 points), and as I mentioned above, the Muskies occupy the top spot in the west and the USHL overall.  The Musketeers are red hot as of late with a 9-1-1 record in their last 11 games played.  Conversely, the Stars are 2-9-0 in their last 11 games.

Despite where they are in the western conference standings, and how poorly they have played in the past couple of months, the Stars have an impressive 3-2-0 in the five previous meetings with the Musketeers this season.  This will be their last meeting this season.  In their last meeting on 12/19/14, the two teams combined for 14 goals in a 7-4 Stars win in Sioux City.  The seven goals scored by Lincoln in that game has been the most they have scored in any game this season.

This particular game was originally supposed to be played on November 7th, 2014.  Due to an on ice issue, the game had to be canceled at the last minute and it was rescheduled for Wednesday, February 25th.  Tickets (and the parking pass) from the 11/7/14 game will be accepted tomorrow night.

As per the Stars' Twitter account, affiliate defenseman Luke Jaycox will make his debut in a Lincoln uniform against the Muskies on Wednesday.  Jaycox just wrapped up his senior season at Warroad High School in Warroad, MN.  Due to an injury suffered mid-season, Jaycox only played a total of 16 games for Warroad, scoring 12 points (3g, 9a) and adding 18 PIM's.  Luke was originally selected by the Stars in the 12th round of the 2014 USHL Entry Draft.

Standing at 6'1" and weighing in at 185 pounds, Jaycox is definitely someone the fans should be excited about.  In the NHL's Central Scouting mid-term rankings, Jaycox made the list at #132, so there is a very good chance he is selected in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

In my viewings of him at Lincoln's tryout camp, what impressed me the most about Luke's game was how cool and composed he looked for a 17 year old.  Luke will certainly be a big part of Lincoln's rebuilding plans next season as a full-time player.  Getting him here in Lincoln to get a taste of the USHL before next season rolls around is huge.  Jaycox will wear #6 for the Stars.

These are the kind of games that the Stars can play the role of spoiler the rest of this season.  The Musketeers are fighting tooth and nail with the Tri-City Storm for first place in the western conference.  Also, Sioux City is competing with the Storm and the Cedar Rapids Roughriders for the Anderson Cup (regular season points leader).  Hopefully the Stars can put a strong effort together and catch the Muskies napping.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Monday, February 23, 2015

B³ Weekend Recap: 2/27 & 2/28

Chris Dodero reacts after his goal with 11 seconds remaining on Fri
Courtesy of Brandon Anderson Photography
The Lincoln Stars split a weekend home-and-home series against the Tri-City Storm with a 3-2 overtime shootout win on Friday at the IceBox, followed by a 3-1 loss in Kearney on Saturday.

Lincoln's win on Friday evening snapped a five-game losing streak.

Boxscores:
2/27:  Tri-City 2, Lincoln 3 OT Shootout
2/28:  Lincoln 1, Tri-City 3



This recap will be brief.  I ran out of time to do this on Sunday, and I don't have a lot of time tonight to devote to it.  I did not watch the Saturday game, so I will be very, very brief with that recap.  If any of you folks out there watched the Saturday game, or were there in person, please leave a comment below and let me know how the boys looked.

With the split weekend results, the Stars now have a record of 14-24-5 (31 points) and are still in last place in the USHL western conference.  The good news is that Lincoln does not have the worst record in the league right now, as the Green Bay Gamblers occupy that spot with a record of 14-25-5.  Click here to view the current league standings.

Tri-City 2, Lincoln 3 OT Shootout

In what was probably their best overall effort in the last month or two, the Lincoln Stars snapped their five-game losing streak with a dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 OT shootout win over the Tri-City Storm this past Friday night at the IceBox.

I'm hesitant to call this a complete 60-minute effort by the Stars, because there were good stretches of the 1st period in particular that the Storm took control of this game.  However, it was a very strong effort against the hottest team in the USHL, and in the end, the Stars deserved the two points.

The Storm took at 1-0 lead into the first intermission thanks to a solid opening period and a 11-3 shot advantage.

Although they did not score in the second period, I thought the Stars performed very well in a period that lately has been a bit of a nightmare.  Lincoln outshot Tri-City 14-11 and the score remained 1-0 in favor of the Storm heading into the third period.

Just under seven minutes into the third period, Stars forward Ludvig Hoff got Lincoln on the scoreboard thanks to an incredible individual effort.  Hoff got possession of the puck in the neutral zone with a head full of steam before making a shifty move past a Storm defender and unleashing a rocket that beat TC goaltender Jared Rutledge.

The Storm found their legs after the Hoff goal and pressed the Stars hard until they were rewarded with a 2-1 lead at the 9:08 mark of the third period.

It was starting to look like Lincoln might lose their sixth in a row late in the third period with goaltender Cam Hackett pulled for the extra attacker, but forward Chris Dodero was the hero of the day as his goal with only 11 seconds remaining in regulation tied the game at 2-2.  Dodero, who was just re-acquired by Lincoln earlier in the week in the Joe Lappin trade, came up huge with a rebound goal after an intial chance by Biagio Lerario.

After a scoreless five-minute overtime period, this game was decided by shootout.  In the skills competition, the Stars received goals from Ludvig Hoff, Michael Gillespie, and Biagio Lerario (the game winner) while Cam Hackett stopped two of four Tri-City shooters to seal the victory.

Once again, Cam Hackett made all the saves he should have and many he probably shouldn't have to keep Lincoln in this game long enough to tie it up and win it in the shootout.  Hackett stopped 34 of 36 and was rightly named the #1 star of the game.

This was a fun game to watch live.  Tri-City is certainly the real deal, yet the Stars skated with them and played well enough to earn the two points.  We haven't seen a lot of these types of games so far this season at the IceBox, but this particular contest had a playoff feel to it.

Before I wrap this particular recap up, I want to get on my soapbox.  Stars forward Grant Jozefek was on the receiving end of a dirty elbow by Storm defenseman Jalen Schulz in the second period of this game.  If you'd like to see a replay of the hit, click here to view the Vine.  The quality of the video isn't the greatest, but you should be able to see Schulz take four good strides over the Jozefek before initiated contact first with his left elbow directly to Grant's head up against the boards.  Jozefek immediately went down and did not return to the game.  I've heard he is currently suffering from concussion-type symptoms.

This is exactly the kind of play the USHL is trying to remove from the game (as they should), but for some reason Schulz was only given a one-game suspension, which was basically an automatic suspension because Schulz picked up a game misconduct on the play (along with a five minute major for head contact).  The USHL will never clean up dirty, high hits like this without throwing the book at players like Schulz when they headhunt.

The lack of action by the league will also throw more fuel on the fire the next time these two teams meet.  I guarantee you that Jozefek's teammates will remember this hit the next time they play the Storm.  They'll be further upset because Schulz received a slap on the wrist.  The officials on the play agreed it was a dirty, unnecessary hit....why didn't the league?  Very, very disappointing.  This is the kind of shit that makes me want to stop following junior hockey and stick with college/pro.  Those leagues take it seriously.  It's obvious to me that USHL does not.  End rant.

Lincoln 1, Tri-City 3

As I stated above, I wasn't able to catch this game live nor have I watched the replay.  Based on the boxscore, it was another ugly second period that helped Tri-City overcome a 0-1 hole and score two goals to take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.  The Storm added one more in the third to complete the scoring.

After putting a total of 8 shots on goal in the opening twenty minutes, the Stars combined for only 8 shots in the final forty minutes.

Cam Hackett stopped 36 of 39 in the loss.  I'm not sure what else you can ask from this kid.  I'd hate to think of where the Stars would be this season without Cam.  It's already not very pretty.  Without him, it would be plain ugly.

Would love to hear from those who caught this game on FASTHockey, or in person.  Please leave a comment below.

The Stars will be back in action this Wednesday with a midweek game against the top team in the West, the Sioux City Musketeers.  I'll post a quick preview article tomorrow about this game.

Later this weekend, the Stars will go on the road for a tilt against the Bucs in Des Moines, IA on Friday, then back at the IceBox on Saturday against the Sioux Falls Stampede.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

B³ Weekend Preview: Tri-City Storm

The Lincoln Stars will take on arguably the hottest team in the USHL this weekend with a home-and-home series against the Tri-City Storm.  Friday night's game will take in Lincoln at the IceBox, while the Saturday evening game will take place at the Viaero Event Center in Kearney.

Puck drops at 7:05pm CST for each contest.

If you're unable to attend either of the two games this weekend, you can follow the boxscores online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on 93.7 FM "The Ticket," or watch the games live on FASTHockey for a fee.

The Tri-City Storm enter this weekend with a record of 26-11-5 (57 points) good enough for second place in the USHL western conference, three points behind the first place Sioux City Musketeers.  The Lincoln Stars are in last place in the western conference with a record of 13-23-5 (31 points).  Click here to view the current league standings.  

The upcoming weekend series will be the fifth and sixth times that the Stars and Storm will play one another this season.  These two teams will meet a total of 8 times in the 2014-15 regular season.  Tri-City is 4-0-0 in the four prior meetings with Lincoln  this season and have outscored the Stars 15-6.

In their last two games against Tri-City, the Stars have been outshot 100-37.  You aren't seeing things.  100-37 in two games, both losses, obviously.  Amazingly, the Storm only scored a total of 9 goals in those 100 shots on net.  As has been the case all season for Lincoln, goaltenders Cam Hackett and Peyton Jones have stood on their heads and kept the scores from getting too out of control.

As I mentioned above, the Storm are definitely one of the hottest teams in the USHL right now.  In their last 13 games played, Tri-City has a record of 12-1-0.  Meanwhile, the Stars are 2-10-1 in their last 13 games played.  Polar opposites.

As for the Stars, they made a roster move this week when forward Joe Lappin was traded to the Des Moines Buccaneers.  Per this tweet, the Stars acquired forward Christopher Dodero, a 1st round Phase II pick in return for Lappin and a 4th round Phase II pick that the Stars originally acquired from Waterloo for Blake Christensen.  Dodero of course was acquired by Lincoln from Muskegon earlier this season before he was sent to Des Moines.

I know there are some fans out there wondering why the Stars would trade away one of their top point producers when the team is really struggling and can't seem to buy a win.  To put it simply, it's a smart move right now for the Stars to unload players who aren't going to be in the USHL next season for younger player and/or draft picks that can be used to rebuild for next season.  It hurts right now, but it should pay dividends next season.

The USHL trade deadline is March 2nd, so you will likely see more of these kinds of trades from teams who aren't going to make the playoffs.  There are teams out there fighting for a playoff spot who could use good players from bad teams, even if it's just for the final third of this season only.  Right now, it's a sellers market, so teams like the Stars are able to get a positive return for a player that wasn't going to be here next season.

Trading some of the older, college-bound players also gives some of the younger players on this team to get more ice time, and hopefully in turn build more confidence that will carry over to next season.  It also allows teams like the Stars to call up some of their affiliate list players (prior draft picks) to give them a taste of the USHL before they return next season to Lincoln to be full-time players.

Hopefully that makes sense.  I know the fans can sometimes form a close bond with these players, but junior hockey isn't Candyland.  Players get traded.  Teams are always looking to what they can do to get better right now, or looking ahead on how they can get better for next season. It would not surprise me at all to see the Stars make more moves before the March 2nd deadline to build further for next season.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

B³ Weekend Recap: 2/13 & 2/14

Courtesy of Brandon Anderson Photography
The Chicago Steel swept the Lincoln Stars this past weekend at the IceBox with a 3-1 victory on Friday, and a 5-4 win on Saturday.

The Stars have now lost 5 in a row and 11 of their last 13 games.

Boxscores:
2/13:  Chicago 3, Lincoln 1
2/14:  Chicago 5, Lincoln 4



After the two regulation losses, the Stars are still in last place in the USHL western conference with a record of 13-23-5 (31 points).  The Stars are 14 points out of a playoff spot in the USHL western conference with 19 games remaining in the regular season.  Click here to view the current league standings.

I was hoping to see a different Stars team this weekend after the two embarrassing losses last weekend, but I didn't see a lot of improvement to be honest.  There were flashes of it, specifically in the first period of Friday's game and the third period of Saturday's game, but that was about it.  I'm still seeing the same mistakes made that I saw at the beginning of the season and that's not encouraging.

2/13:  Chicago 3, Lincoln 1

The Stars got out to a quick 1-0 lead after a strong first period, but the Steel scored three unanswered goals to win on Friday the 13th.  This was the third straight contest the Stars scored the first goal of the game but still lost.

I really liked the energy the Stars showed in the first twenty minutes of this game.  They were rewarded with a goal scored at the 7:22 mark of the first period just as a Lincoln powerplay ended.  A point shot from defenseman Ryan Jones was deflected by Ethan Price, which was his 2nd goal in a Stars uniform.

Unfortunately, the Stars were not able to take that 1-0 lead into the first intermission as the Steel scored a late goal to tie the game at 1-1.  This was probably the one goal Stars goaltender Cam Hackett would want back from this game.  It was a high, short-side shot that got past his blocker and into the net.

Shots were 14-9 in favor of Lincoln in the first period.

It was yet another sluggish second period for the Stars in this particular game, but I thought Cam Hackett's play was the key to keeping the Steel off the scoreboard.  Shots were 10-6 in favor of Chicago in the middle period.

I highlighted Chicago Steel forward Robby Jackson in the weekend preview article, and he showed why he is considered a sure-fire NHL draft pick in 2015 with a big goal early in the third period.

This was a frustrating play to watch because the Stars had the players to defend the Steel rush, but Lincoln's defensemen forgot to pick up Jackson who snuck in on the back door.  The two Lincoln defensemen keyed on the Steel player who carried the puck into the zone, and forgot about Jackson who was behind them streaking towards the goal.  The pass over to the wide open Jackson was enough for him to one-time it past Hackett to score the eventual game-winner.  Game over.  This particular play typifies how the season has gone for the Stars.

The Steel added a powerplay goal later in the third period to increase their lead to 3-1, which completed the scoring.  Lincoln outshot Chicago 13-6 in the final period, but Steel goaltender Lassi Yrjola came up big.  I thought Yrjola had a very good game, and was a big reason why the Steel were able to get the two points.  Stars really peppered him in the first and third periods, but he stood tall.

Stars outshot the Steel 33-25 overall.  Lincoln goaltender Cam Hackett stopped 22 of 25 in the loss, while Chicago goaltender Lassi Yrjola stopped 32 of 33 for the win.  Lincoln finished 0-for-4 on the powerplay, while Chicago finished 1-for-4.

Overall, it was an improvement over the disastrous play last weekend but it was still nowhere near a full 60 minute effort.

2/14:  Chicago 5, Lincoln 4

A third period comeback from the Stars fell just short as the the Chicago Steel used a strong 2nd period to skate past Lincoln and earn the weekend sweep.

The Steel got on the scoreboard first with a goal at the 8:51 mark of the first period.  Some of the fans around me joked that since the opposition scored fired, maybe the Stars would win this game.

Joe Lappin gave the Stars some life in the latter part of the first period with a goal scored at the 16:39 mark.  On the play, Patrick Polino drove hard to the Steel net with the puck before passing it quickly to Lappin who slapped the loose puck it into the open net.

The score remained 1-1 after one period.  Shots were 9-8 in favor of Chicago in the opening twenty minutes.

I'm not sure what the deal is with 2nd periods and this team, but once again the wheels came off for the Stars as the Steel outscored Lincoln 4-1 in the second.  It's like the movie "Groundhog Day."  It's the same second period relieved just about every home game.  It was ugly.

Ryan Jones' goal at the 13:18 mark split the four goals scored by Chicago in the second period.  The Steel outshot the Stars 17-9 in the second.  Stars goaltender Peyton Jones didn't get much help.

In the third, the Steel sat back a bit and the Stars woke up from their second period slumber with a couple of late goals to make it interesting.  First, it was Biagio Lerario scoring his 14th goal of the season at the 16:34 mark to pull the Stars to within two goals.  On the play, Lerario used his speed to skate into the zone with the puck before firing a laser glove high past Yrjola.

14 seconds after Lerario's goal, Walt Hopponen scored to pull Lincoln to within one goal.  On the play, Joe Lappin skated from behind the Steel net before firing a nice pass across the top of the crease to Hopponen who wristed the puck into the open net.  Suddenly, the Stars and the IceBox had life.

Try as they might in the last few minutes, the Stars were unable to score the game-tying goal.  The effort was there in the latter half of the third period, but they just couldn't score enough goals to offset the bad second period.

Chicago outshot Lincoln 30-28 overall.  Stars goaltender Peyton Jones stopped 25 of 30 in the loss, while Lassi Yrjola picked up his second win of the weekend with 24 saves on 28 shots.

Chicago finished 0-for-3 on the powerplay while the Stars went 0-for-5.  In the past 8 games, the Lincoln Stars are 3-for-32 on the powerplay (that's a 9% success rate).  Not so good.

Considering the Steel had just fired their head coach a few days ago, and the fact that they had struggled a bit as of late, I really thought the Stars would be able to get at least 2 points out of this weekend.  I'm not sure if it's a mental thing, but it's frustrating to watch this team struggle when you know the talent is there.  I've given up trying to figure it out.

Not a bad start for Chicago interim coach Dan Boeser.  In his first two games as a USHL head coach, his team comes into Lincoln and beats the Stars in back-to-back games at the IceBox.  Boeser didn't have much help behind the bench either, as he was the only coach who made the trip.

The Stars will take on the red-hot Tri-City Storm in a home-and-home series next weekend with a game in Lincoln on Friday, and then a game in Kearney on Saturday.  The Storm have won 12 of their last 13 games.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

B³ Weekend Preview: Chicago Steel


The Lincoln Stars will be back at the IceBox once again this weekend looking to snap out of their current funk with back-to-back games against the USHL eastern conference Chicago Steel.

Pucks drops at 7:05pm CST for the Friday, and Saturday games.

If you're unable to attend either of the two games this weekend at the IceBox, you can follow the boxscores online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on 93.7 FM "The Ticket," or watch the games live on FASTHockey for a fee.

The Stars enter this weekend with a record of 13-21-5 (31 points) and are in last place in the USHL western conference.  Lincoln is 2-8-1 in their last 11 games, and those two wins came after regulation.  Their last regulation win was more than one month ago on January 3rd against Madison (a 3-2 victory).  Lincoln's current winning percentage of .397% is dead last in the USHL.  Click here to view the current league standings.

Lincoln's only opponent this weekend, the Chicago Steel, are in seventh place in the nine-team USHL eastern conference with a record of 17-19-3 (37 points).  This will be only two times the Stars and Steel will face one another in the 2014-15 regular season.  

The Steel are a better road team than they are a home team, based on their stats through 39 games this season.  Chicago has a 5-8-1 home record, but for a seventh place team, they have an impressive 12-11-2 road record.  The Steel are 4-3-1 in their last eight road games.  Chicago has lost two straight games heading into their weekend series with Lincoln.

Don't be confused when you look at Lincoln's schedule on Poinstreak.  See the screenshot below.  Although it shows the Friday game as being in Chicago, it is obviously not.  The Stars bought that game from the Steel so they could have back-to-back home games.  So even though Friday's game will be played at the IceBox, technically it will be a road game for the Stars.  Clear as mud.

Inline image 1

The big news out of the Windy City this week was a change made at the top of the Steel coaching staff.  Head coach and GM Scott McConnell was fired by the team yesterday.  Click here and here to read more about that.  McConnell took over as the Steel head coach very late in the 2010-11 season.  In parts of five seasons with the Steel, McConnell had a career record of 100-124-16 in Chicago and his teams never made the USHL Clark Cup playoffs.

Scott McConnell was actually a name I heard quite a bit when rumors were flying around last spring when the Lincoln Stars were searching for a head coach.  I can't say whether or not the Stars were interested in McConnell at the time, but it was a name I heard more than others.  Again, it was just a rumor and you know how people like talk.

So the first two games the Steel will play in the post-Scott McConnell era will come this weekend at the IceBox.  It will be interesting to see how the Steel players respond to such a big change in personnel.  According to the articles linked above, assistant coach Dan Boeser (a former USHL player) will take over as interim head coach for the Steel.

Like many prior years with Chicago Steel teams, this year's squad has very good depth at the forward position.  The Steel have 8 players who have scored at least 20 points so far this season.  Chicago leading scorer Mason Bergh is tied for 3rd in USHL scoring with 44 points (17g, 27a) in 33 games, while Fredrik Olofsson isn't too far behind with 38 points (18g, 20a) in 36 games.

Steel forward Robby Jackson, whom is probably the most talented forward on the roster and a surefire NHL draft pick in 2015, is coming back from a recent injury that forced him out of the lineup for about two months in December and January.  Jackson has scored 4 points (2g, 2a) in five games since his return from the injured reserve list.  Robby was the USHL Rookie of the Year last season with 42 points (28g, 14a) in 60 games.  The St. Cloud State commit is certainly a player the Stars will want to key on when he is on the ice.

As for the Stars, they are coming off yet another disappointing weekend in which they lost back-to-back games at the IceBox against the Tri-City Storm and the Bloomington Thunder.  They have not put a full 60 minute effort together in at least a month or two.  At this point of the season, the playoffs are out of the question, but I'm hoping they aren't using that as an excuse to allow the season to fall completely apart.  Personal pride should be something they can rally around.

Stars defenseman Dylan Woolf was suspended three games by the USHL due to his high-sticking major against the Tri-City Storm on 1/6/15.  Woolf served the first game of his three-game suspension last Saturday against Bloomington, so he will be out of the lineup for both tilts against Chicago this weekend.

These are two teams really struggling right now to find their identity, so it will be interesting to see what happens this weekend at the IceBox.  

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

B³ Weekend Recap: 2/6 & 2/7

Courtesy of Brandon Anderson Photography
The IceBox became a house of horrors once again for the Lincoln Stars as they dropped two disappointing games this past weekend to fall further in the USHL western conference standings.

On Friday, the Stars lost 3-1 to Tri-City, and on Saturday they lost 5-2 to Bloomington.

Boxscores:
2/6:  Tri-City 3, Lincoln 1
2/7:  Bloomington 5, Lincoln 2


With the two regulation losses, and Waterloo's three points earned this weekend, the Stars are now all alone in last place in the USHL western conference with a record of 13-21-5 (31 points).  Lincoln's winning percentage of .397% is last in the entire USHL.

The Stars are 14 points out of a playoff spot in the USHL western conference with 21 games remaining in the regular season.  Click here to view the current league standings.

Well, I'm not sure where to even start with these two games.  If the playoffs weren't out of the picture before this weekend, they certainly are now.  It's the same broken record game in, and game out.  Inconsistent play.  Defensemen can't get the puck out of their own zone.  Turnovers, turnovers, and more turnovers.  Stars goaltenders standing on their heads in order to keep games somewhat close. No sense of urgency in long stretches.  No adjustments made during the game to fix above problems.  It's just ugly hockey, folks.

2/6:  Tri-City 3, Lincoln 1

A colossal second period collapse was all that the Tri-City Storm needed to skate to their ninth straight win and a 3-1 victory over the Stars Friday night at the IceBox.

This was a very strange game.  Lincoln came out extremely strong in the first period and dominated play for the first 8-10 minutes.  I was really happy with what I saw.  Lincoln's forecheck was outstanding, and they were playing the body at every opportunity.  That led to turnovers, which led to shots on goal, which led to a powerplay goal by Joe Lappin before the game was four minutes old.  The Stars had all the momentum on their side.

Towards the end of the first period, however, I noticed that the Storm started to get their legs and were playing more aggressive.  They were punched in the mouth early and responded by creeping back into the game.  That would be the exact opposite of what the Stars would do in the second period when they were faced with adversity.

Lincoln took at 1-0 lead into the first intermission.  Shots were 12-9 in favor of Tri-City, with the majority of those 12 TC shots coming in the latter half of the first period.

In the second period, the wheels came off for the Stars.  Completely off.

The Storm outshot the Stars 21-3 in the middle period and outscored them 3-0 to take complete control of the game.  I mentioned above that the Storm responded in a good way after they were punched in the mouth.  In the second period, the Stars simply rolled over and played dead after they were punched in the mouth.  No energy.  No focus.  No fight.

That second period was really all that the Storm needed to kill the resolve of the Stars.  Tri-City played keep-away from Lincoln in the third period to end this game mercifully, 3-1.  Lincoln didn't show up for the third period either as they were outshot 17-4.

Considering that the Storm outshot the Stars 50-16 in this game, it's remarkable that the score was only 3-1.  All credit goes to Lincoln goaltender Cam Hackett for keeping this game from really getting out of hand.  Without his efforts, this is probably a 8-1 or 10-1 loss.  It seems like I've been writing the same thing all season long about Lincoln's goaltenders.  They don't get any help and have to stand on their heads just to keep their teams from getting blown out.

Seriously, how do you get outshot 50-16 at home?  In all of my hockey watching at the IceBox, which goes back to the very beginning in 1996, I don't think I've ever seen a Stars team outshot that bad.  It was embarrassing.

If there was one positive from this game it was Lincoln's penalty kill unit which performed pretty well, considering they were going against the top powerplay team in the USHL.  The Storm were held without a PP goal in five opportunities, which included a five-minute man advantage after Stars defenseman Dylan Woolf was given a five-minute major for high-sticking in the 2nd period.  Your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer, and Hackett was certainly that.

Out-worked, and out-coached.  Storm made the adjustments in this game, and the Stars never did.  That's the story of this disappointing loss.

2/7:  Bloomington 5, Lincoln 2

It was another second period collapse by the Stars which helped propel Bloomington to an easy 5-2 win Saturday night at the IceBox.

I didn't attend this game, but I did catch the replay on FASTHockey this morning.

It was a somewhat similar start to Friday evening as the Stars looked pretty decent in the first twenty minutes against Bloomington before it fell apart.  Once again, Lincoln got out to an early 1-0 lead thanks to Biagio Lerario's powerplay goal at the 2:48 mark of the first period.

Much like the Storm did on Friday night, it appeared that the Thunder responded positively after going down one goal early.  Instead of rolling over on their backs at the first sign of adversity, the Thunder pushed back and were rewarded with a goal very late in the first period to knot the game at 1-1.  Bloomy's goal with only 21 seconds remaining in the first period was a killer.  It flipped momentum on their side which they used to bury the Stars in the following period.

The Thunder outscored the Stars 4-0 in the second period to take a commanding 5-1 lead going into the third period.  Although it may not have been as ugly as the second period Friday night against Tri-City, this one still wasn't pretty.  Two of Bloomington's four second period goals came on the powerplay.

After the fourth Thunder goal, Stars goaltender Cam Hackett was pulled and Peyton Jones entered the game.  Jones' only goal against came with 5 seconds remaining in the second period to make it 5-1, Bloomington.  Shots were 13-9 in favor of the Thunder in the second period.

Lincoln seemed to play with a little more energy in the third, but the damage had already been done.  The only goal of the third period came from Lincoln forward Joe Lappin at the 14:09 mark.  Lappin has scored a goal in three straight games for the Stars.


As I said on Twitter last night, the second period was Lincoln's kryptonite this past weekend.  In the two losses, the Stars were outscored 9-0 and outshot 34-12 in the second period.  It all goes back to consistency.  The Stars have struggled mightily this season with putting 60 minutes of quality hockey together.  Now, we have seen flashes of it.  I've seen this team put 60 minutes together against the top team in the western conference (Sioux City) and beat them.

However, these last few weeks the Stars have regressed.  In their last 11 games, Lincoln has a record of 2-8-1, and those two wins came after regulation.  In fact, the last game the Stars won in regulation was back on January 3rd against Madison (a 3-2 win).  In their last 11 games, the Stars have averaged 1.8 goals scored, and 3.4 goals against.

Although this is not a playoff team, I really hope the fans don't give up on these kids.  I know a lot of fans are frustrated right now, but I'm sure the players are just as upset also.  They didn't come here to lose hockey games.  Back in 2009-10 when the Stars had the worst team in the USHL, the Stars still led the league in attendance.  This fan base isn't fickle and will support the players win or lose.  I know it's hard to think positive after what we've seen these past couple of weeks, but as a fan base we gotta keep the faith that the people in charge will do what's necessary to turn this thing around.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

B³ Weekend Preview: Tri-City and Bloomington


The Lincoln Stars will be back at the IceBox this weekend to continue their seven-game homestand with games against Tri-City on Friday, and Bloomington on Saturday.

Puck drops at 7:05pm CST for each contest.

If you're unable to attend either of the two games this weekend at the IceBox, you can follow the boxscores online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on 93.7 FM "The Ticket," or watch the games live on FASTHockey for a fee.

The Stars enter this weekend in seventh place in the USHL western conference with a record of 13-19-5 (31 points), two points ahead of the last place Waterloo Blackhawks and eight points behind the sixth place Fargo Force.  Lincoln is 2-6-1 in their last nine games played.  Click here to view the current league standings.

Lincoln's first opponent this weekend will be the red-hot Tri-City Storm who have won eight-straight games and are currently in second place in the USHL western conference with a record of 22-10-5 (49 points).  

This will be the fourth of eight meetings between the Stars and Storm this season.  Lincoln is winless (0-3-0) in the prior three meetings with Tri-City, however two of those three Storm wins were by one goal.  In their last meeting, on 1/27/15 in Kearney, the Storm clobbered the Stars by the score of 6-1.  The Stars will play the Storm four times in their next thirteen games.

The Storm are led offensively by forward Chris Willkie.  The Omaha, NE native and UND commit has scored 31 points (22g, 9a) in 36 games so far this season.  His 174 shots on goal thru 36 games is the most by any player in the USHL this season.  Chris is definitely a shoot-first type of player (at least this season), and is absolutely deadly on the powerplay as 11 of his 22 goals have come with the man advantage.  The Storm are 10-4-4 when he doesn't score a goal and they are 12-6-1 when he does score at least 1 goal.

As good as their record is this season, if there is a weak spot with the Storm, it's their play on the road.  Tri-City has a very impressive 14-3-2 record at home, but they are 8-7-3 on the road.  Other than that, this is a very solid team with terrific offensive depth, quality goaltending, and above average special teams.  They are definitely a team built for a long playoff run, in my opinion.  

In fact, this is probably the best Storm team since the 2006-07 squad that finished in second place in the USHL western conference with a winning percentage of .650%.  It will be interesting to see how this team does in the postseason considering they haven't had any recent playoff success.  Tri-City head coach Jim Hulton, who took over the job mid-season last year, has done a fantastic job turning this franchise around in such a short amount of time.

This past week the Storm acquired veteran defenseman Vince Pedrie from the Bloomington Thunder, the team the Stars play on Saturday.  Pedrie, who is a Penn State commit, has scored 22 points (9g, 13a) in 39 games this season.  I thought the acquisition of Pedrie by the Storm was a very good one.  He'll provide some good veteran leadership and can quarterback the Storm powerplay while putting up some points.

On Saturday, the Stars will face off against the expansion Bloomington Thunder who are in sixth place in the USHL eastern conference with a record of 16-16-7 (39 points).  

Like the Storm, the Thunder are playing very well of late with a record of 4-0-1 in their last five games played.  This will be the second and final time Lincoln and Bloomy will face one another this season.  In their only other meeting, the Stars beat the Thunder in Lincoln by the score of 3-2 on 1/2/15.  In that particular game, Stars goaltender Cam Hackett stopped 29 of 31 shots, Ludvig Hoff potted two goals, and Biagio Lerario scored the game-winner.

The Thunder have recently traded away three of their top non-returning players (Vince Pedrie, Jack Jenkins, Matt Nuttle) so it appears that they may have decided to throw in the towel this season in terms of making the playoff and are making moves in anticipation of reloading next season.  Gotta think the Stars might be in that same boat soon as well.

Well, it will be very, very interesting to see how the Stars respond this weekend, especially on Friday night against the team that embarrassed them in Kearney, NE a few weeks ago.  I would assume that 6-1 loss will be in the back of their minds, along with the disappointing loss at home last Saturday against the Des Moines Buccaneers.  I think we'll know a lot about this team after that first period against Tri-City this Friday.  We'll learn quite a bit about their resolve, their pride, and if they want to finish out the regular season on an up note.

First the Storm on Friday...then the Thunder on Saturday!  Thankfully, there isn't a USHL team called the "Lightning" to round out the weekend.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Monday, February 2, 2015

B³ Weekend Recap: 1/30 & 1/31

Peyton Jones - Courtesy of Brandon Anderson Photography
It was another up-and-down weekend for the Lincoln Stars as they split their series against the Des Moines Buccaneers with an overtime shootout win, and a regulation loss at the IceBox.

Boxscores:
1/30:  Des Moines 2, Lincoln 3 OT shootout
1/31:  Des Moines 3, Lincoln 1

Lincoln earned 2 points over the weekend and now have a record of 13-19-5 (31 points) and are still in seventh place in the USHL western conference, two points ahead of the last place Waterloo Blackhawks (29 points).

The Stars are currently 12 points out of a playoff spot in the western conference, with 23 games left in the regular season.  The Stars are 2-3-0 in five games against Des Moines this season so far.  Click here to view the current league standings.

As has been the case all too often this season, consistency was Lincoln's main issue this past weekend.  On Friday, I thought the Stars played pretty well considering they were going against a Bucs team playing pretty well and fighting to stay relevant in the USHL western conference playoff race.  Lincoln was rewarded with two points for their effort on Friday evening.  However, on Saturday it almost felt like it was a different team that I was watching as the Bucs controlled the game from beginning to end to win in regulation.

1/30:  Des Moines 2, Lincoln 3 OT shootout

Before this game was five minutes old, the Stars got behind after a Bucs powerplay goal made it 1-0.  Heading into this game, the Bucs had done very well on the PP against the Stars, scoring 7 times in 17 opportunities (41% success rate on the PP).

Despite the slow start, the Stars responded with two goals in the remaining 3:39 of the first period to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.  Ethan Price got the Stars on the board with a very pretty goal at the 16:21 mark to knot the score at 1-1.  After a turnover in the Bucs' zone, Price skated in and got possession of the puck before firing a laser past Des Moines goaltender Ryland Pashovitz.  It was a quick, bang-bang play that Price finished in a hurry with a tremendous shot.  The goal was Price's first in a Lincoln Stars uniform.  Nice to see him get that first USHL goal out of the way.

Stars forward Michael Gillespie added another goal with only 40 seconds remaining in the first period to give Lincoln a 2-1 lead and all of the momentum heading into the first intermission.  Shots in the first period were 14-9 in favor of Lincoln.  I thought it was probably Lincoln's best period of the entire weekend.

Both teams went scoreless in the second period with the Bucs outshooting the Stars 14-10.

In the third period, the Bucs notched the intensity up a bit and were finally rewarded with the game-tying goal with only 4:10 remaining in regulation on a fluke play.

Neither team scored in the five-minute overtime period, so it went to a skills competition to name a winner.  In the shootout, Stars forwards Biagio Lerario and Ludvig Hoff both scored, while Lincoln goaltender Peyton Jones stopped two of the three shooters he faced to get the two points.

Shots were even at 36 a piece for each club.  Des Moines went 1-for-5 on the powerplay while the Stars went 0-for-3.

The #1 star of this game was definitely Lincoln goaltender Peyton Jones who stopped 34 of 36 shots on goal to get the win, his fourth of the season.  As was a common theme this weekend, without Jones' play, this definitely could have ended much worse for Lincoln.

Overall, I thought Lincoln was the better team for the majority of this game and deserved the two points.  There were some times, especially in the third period, that the Bucs took over control of the pace of this game, but in the end the Stars found a way to hold on and get the two points.

1/31:  Des Moines 3, Lincoln 1

In what I thought was one of their worst efforts in front of the home crowd this season, the Stars put it on autopilot and let the Bucs skate to an easy 3-1 victory.

Honestly, I really don't know if I want to go into a whole lot of detail with this particular game.  I worry that I sound too negative as of late, and I don't like feeling that way.  I don't want to pile on after a bad loss like this.  Nobody wants to read that.

Lincoln's only goal in this game, which was shorthanded, came from Joe Lappin with only 31 seconds remaining in the third period to spoil Bucs goaltender Ryan Ruck's shutout attempt.  That was really the only positive from this game.  Lincoln wasn't shutout.

I didn't see any sense of urgency from the Stars in this game.  None.  As one Stars fan on Twitter told me, "this is not the team that played last night."  It's like they flipped a switch.

Without Peyton Jones in net, this could have easily been a 6-1 or 7-1 type of game.  The final score was definitely not a good indication of how close the game was.  The Stars were never in it.

Consistency has been one of Lincoln's biggest problems this season, and that was definitely on display this weekend.  There are games in which this team can play with and beat the top teams in the USHL.  There's no doubt about that.  However, there are other games they wouldn't beat most NAHL teams.  Mentally, physically, they are not there.  Why and how that happens, I have no idea.  Someone much smarter than me can answer that question.

Owner Ryan Schiff was interviewed on the radio by Stars announcer Mike Melbye after this game, and he brought up the fact that Lincoln has one of the youngest teams in the USHL when talking about the Stars' struggles as of late.  I mentioned this on Twitter, but considering the lack of improvement through 30+ games so far this season, I'm not sure I'm buying the youngest team in the league excuse anymore.  I know he wants the best for this franchise and I'm sure he's just as frustrated as we all are.  This is an organization used to winning hockey, and making the postseason every season.  As a fan, I suppose I wouldn't be as frustrated if I saw improvement from day one, even if it was a gradual improvement.  You could argue this team has regressed, actually.  Anyway, I'm rambling so I'll cut my rant short.

The Stars will continue their long homestand this upcoming weekend with games against Tri-City (Friday) and Bloomington (Saturday).  More on those two games later this week.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

B³ Weekend Preview: Des Moines Buccaneers

The Lincoln Stars will begin a seven-game homestand this weekend with back-to-back games against the Des Moines Buccaneers.

Puck drops at 7:05pm CST for each game.

If you're unable to attend either of the two games this weekend at the IceBox, you can follow the boxscores online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on 93.7 FM "The Ticket," or watch the games live on FASTHockey for a fee.

The Bucs enter these two games against Lincoln with a record of 17-13-6 (40 points), and are currently in fourth place in the USHL western conference.

The Stars are 11 points behind the Buccaneers with a record of record of 12-18-5 (29 points).  Lincoln has lost three in a row.  Click here to view the current league standings.

This will be the fourth and fifth meetings between these two teams so far this season.  The Stars are 1-2-0 in the three prior matchups with the Bucs.  Lincoln will play Des Moines five times in the next 13 games.

The Bucs have lost two in a row coming into this weekend, and are 1-2-2 in their last five games played.  Des Moines is 6-8-3 in 17 road games so far this season.

This is a big weekend for both of these teams as the Stars and Bucs are each looking to snap a losing streak.  Des Moines is right in the hunt for the playoff spot, so they can't afford to take Lincoln for granted.  Postseason hockey might not be on the immediate horizon for the Stars, but they have a lot to play for also (i.e. pride).

Sorry for the abbreviated weekend preview.  Just ran out of time tonight to get it done.  Hope to see some good crowds at the IceBox this weekend.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

B³ Postgame Recap: Lincoln 1, Tri-City 6

The Tri-City Storm scored six unanswered goals in route to a 6-1 thumping of the Lincoln Stars at the Viaero Event Center in Kearney, NE Tuesday night.  The Storm win was their seventh in a row.

Click here to view the Pointstreak boxscore.

With the loss, which was their third straight, the Stars dropped to 12-18-5 (29 points) and still occupy seventh place in the USHL western conference.

Click here to view the current league standings.

For obvious reasons, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this recap.  I wasted a Tuesday evening (and $$) watching this game, and I don't want to spend a lot of time reliving it.  It was that bad.

I actually thought Lincoln played pretty well for the first 8-10 minutes of the first period before the wheels came completely of.  Ludvig Hoff gave the Stars a 1-0 lead 8 minutes into the first period after collecting a rebound from a Michael Gillespie shot on goal.  For a little while there, I thought the Stars would be in this game and maybe even have an opportunity to pull out a road win.

The Storm responded with three goals in the first period to pretty much end this game before it ever got to the second period.  TC added one goal in the second, and two more in the third period to finish out the scoring.

Shots on goal were 50-21 in favor of the Storm.  Yup, you read that correct.  Cam Hackett was once again left out to dry as he stopped 44 of 50.  As I said on Twitter last night, Hackett saw more rubber in this game than a dead skunk on the highway.  He must feel like a human pin cushion most nights.  Without a number of big saves from Cam in this game, the Storm would have won 10-1.

Best thing to do after this game is forget about it and move on.  Unfortunately, we have seen too many of these "forget it and move on" types of games this season.

I'm not seeing a lot of improvement on either end of the ice.  I've never seen a Lincoln Stars team have so much trouble getting the puck out of their own zone.  It's something I noticed in the preseason and early in the regular season, but I chalked it up to a young team learning a new system from a new head coach.  Unfortunately, 30+ games later, I still see the same issues with not getting the puck out of their own zone, turning the puck over, which leads to goals against.

The Stars finished their four-game road trip with a record of 1-3-0.  Lincoln now begins a seven-game homestand with the first two contests this Friday-Saturday at the IceBox against the Des Moines Buccaneers.  The Stars will play the Bucs five times in their next 13 games.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Monday, January 26, 2015

B³ Pregame Report: Lincoln Stars vs. Tri-City Storm

The Lincoln Stars will travel to the Viaero Event Center in Kearney, NE this Tuesday evening for a midweek tilt against the Tri-City Storm who are riding a six-game winning streak.

Puck drops at 7:05pm CST.

If you can't make it out to Kearney, you can follow the boxscore online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on 93.7 FM "The Ticket," or watch the game live on FASTHockey for a fee.


The Stars are 12-17-5 (29 points) and are in seventh place in the USHL western conference, two points ahead of the eighth place Waterloo Blackhawks and eight points behind the sixth place Fargo Force.  Click here to view the current league standings.

This will be the third of eights meetings between these two teams in the 2014-15 regular season.  The Stars are 0-2-0 in the previous two contests against the Storm this season.  Both of those games were decided by one goal.

In the last meeting, the Storm squeaked by the Stars in Kearney by the score of 2-1.

Tri-City comes into this mid-week matchup with a record of 20-10-5 (45 points) and are tied for second place in the USHL western conference standings with the Omaha Lancers.  The Storm have a very impressive home record of 12-3-2 and are riding a current four-game home winning streak.

The Storm sport the top powerplay unit in the entire USHL, clicking at 25.19%.  Their penalty kill unit is the 7th best in the USHL with a rating o 82.91%.  Very, very good special teams for Tri-City.

Tough task for the Stars this Tuesday evening in Kearney, but every game is going to be this tough from here on out.  Lincoln's four-game road swing started off well with a quality win in Madison against the Capitols, so let's hope it ends well with a victory against the Storm.  It would be nice for Lincoln to head into the upcoming seven-game homestand with a little momentum and a win under their belt.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

B³ Weekend Recap: 1/23 & 1/24

It was another 0-2-0 weekend for the Lincoln Stars as they lost two road games against divisional foes ahead of them in the USHL western conference standings.  On Friday, the Stampede beat Lincoln in Sioux Falls, SD by the score of 3-1.  Then on Saturday, the Lancers beat the Stars 6-3 in Ralston, NE.

Boxscores:
1/23:  Lincoln 1, Sioux Falls 3
1/24:  Lincoln 3, Omaha 6

With the two losses the Stars fell to 12-17-5 (29 points) on the season, good enough for seventh place in the USHL Western Conference.

The last place Waterloo Blackhawks, who have won three in a row, are now only two points behind the Stars.  Lincoln does have one game in hand over Waterloo.  Click here to view the current league standings.

Lincoln 1, Sioux Falls 3

A dominating first period effort was all that the Stampede needed to cruise to a 3-1 victory over the Lincoln Stars this past Friday night at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, SD.

All three goals that the Stampede scored in this game came in the first period.  Sioux Falls also outshot Lincoln 19-6 in the opening twenty minutes.  Not a great start at all.  I was watching on FASTHockey and the Stars looked asleep at the wheel.  We've seen some stinker opening periods from the Stars this season but this may have been the worst so far.

I'm not sure if they were suffering from bus legs from the long trip from Madison, WI to Sioux Falls, SD but the Stars didn't have their head in the game in the first period and it cost them.

Considering how bad they looked in the first period, I thought the Stars actually played much better defensively in the latter two periods of this game but the damage had been done.  Offensively, the Stars never really got going against the Stampede.  Give credit to Sioux Falls for that.  They play a smothering team defense and put a blanket on the Stars for most of the 60 minutes.

The lone Stars goal was scored by Ludvig Hoff on a powerplay early in the third period.  On the play, Stars forward Michael Gillespie collected the puck deep in the Sioux Falls zone before firing a no-look backhand pass into the slot where a streaking Ludvig Hoff fired it low, glove side past Stampede goaltender Art Brey to pull the Stars to within one goal.

Surprisingly, there was only one powerplay opportunity in this entire game, and the Stars scored on it.  Sioux Falls never got one man advantage opportunity.  That's good team discipline by the Stars.

Lincoln goaltender Cam Hackett stopped 27 of 30 shots on net in the loss.  Cam didn't get a lot of help from his teammates in the first period.  Sioux Falls goaltender Art Brey only faced 17 Lincoln shots and saved 16.  Easy night for Brey.

Lincoln 3, Omaha 6

The Lancers outscored the Stars 2-0 in the third period to pull away from Lincoln and get a 6-3 victory in front of a sellout crowd Saturday night at Ralston Arena, in Ralston, NE.

I was only able to catch bits and pieces of this game so this recap will be brief.

It was another slow start for the Stars in this game as the Lancers jumped out to a 1-0 lead less than five minutes gone, but Lincoln responded with a goal from an unlikely source three minutes later.

Down the one goal, the Stars had the puck in the Omaha zone.  Lincoln forward Patrick Polino passed the puck back to defenseman Connor Frantti at the point who unleashed a bomb from just inside the blueline.  Stars forward Joe Lappin did a great job screening Omaha goaltender Zach Driscoll as Frantti's shot got past everyone and found the back of the net.  It was Frantti's first career USHL goal in 83 games.  As you can imagine, Connor was very excited after the goal, as he should have been.

Omaha forward Shane Gersich scored his first of three goals on the night at the 13:51 mark of the first period to give his team a 2-1 lead.  Lancers took that 2-1 score into the locker room at the first intermission.  Omaha outshot the Stars 20-6 in the first period.

So just in the two games over the weekend, the Stars were outshot by a combined 39-12 in the two first periods.

It was kind of a wild and crazy second period as the two teams combined for four goals scored and rash of penalty minutes.

Gersich scored his second goal of the game at the 4:58 mark to give Omaha a 3-1 lead.  However, the Stars responded with a goal at the 8:56 mark.  Ludvig Hoff's powerplay goal pulled the Stars to within one goal at 3-2.  It was Hoff's second goal of the weekend.  Hoff has 8 points (4g, 4a) in his last five games played.

With less than a minute remaining in the second period, the Lancers scored what seemed like at the time a momentum killer for the Stars.  Anthony Angello's powerplay goal with only 19 seconds remaining gave Omaha a commanding 3-1 lead.  I think most people watching in person or at home figured the Lancers would take the two goal lead into the second intermission but that wasn't the case.

Stars defenseman Dylan Woolf's goal with only 2 seconds left in the second period brought Lincoln back to within one goal.  Woolf's goal, which was his first in a Lincoln Stars uniform, also gave his team a much needed momentum boost heading into the second intermission.

Unfortunately in the third period, it was all Omaha as the Lancers scored two goals, including Gersich's third of the night, to win this one by the score of 6-3.

Shots were 43-24 in favor of Omaha through the three periods.  Stars goaltender Cam Hackett stopped 37 of 43 in the loss.  Lancers goaltender Zach Driscoll stopped 21 of 24 in the win.

The Stars had plenty of powerplay opportunities to get back in this game but were only able to score one PP goal in eight chances.  Meanwhile, the Lancers went 2-for-6 with the man advantage.

With the loss the Stars fell to 1-3-1 in five games against the Omaha Lancers this season.  These two teams won't meet again until Tuesday, March 31st at the IceBox.

The Stars will wrap up their four-game road swing this Tuesday night in Kearney, NE against the Tri-City Storm.  The Storm are playing their best hockey of the season right now as they have won six straight.



I hate to say it, folks...but the Stars are not a playoff team this season.  I'll probably catch some flak for saying that, but that's just how I feel.  I haven't seen the type of improvement I'd expect over the course of 30+ games.  Consistency is still a big issue.  Some games, like against Madison this past week, the Stars look very good for 60 minutes.  Other games, they might play well in one period and look lost and lethargic in the other two.  Slow starts continue to be a problem as well.

Having said that, going into this season I didn't expect this to be a playoff team.  New owner, new GM, new head coach, new system, and a ton of young players trying all to work with one another.  It was a big task.  When friends asked me before the season started how I thought the Stars would do in 2014-15, I said that it was probably not going to be a playoff team, but I thought they could be a .500 hockey club.  As of right now, the Stars are 11 points out of a playoff spot in the western conference and have a winning percentage of .426 (third worst in the USHL).

If they don't make the playoffs, it will be the first time in franchise history that the Stars won't play postseason hockey in consecutive seasons.

Who knows, I could be all wrong.  Maybe the Stars go 7-0-0 in this upcoming seven-game homestand.  Maybe a couple of the teams ahead of them in the standings falter down the stretch.  If the Stars can pull it together and squeak into the playoffs, I'll be the first to eat crow.  I'll be happy to eat a big plate of it.

Win or lose, I'll still be at the IceBox supporting the Stars.  I'm not giving up on them and I hope the fans don't either.  It doesn't happen very often, but the Stars have missed the playoffs in the past and the fans have still packed the IceBox.  Even if they aren't going to play postseason hockey, there is still a lot of opportunity in these last 26 games to show improvement heading into next season.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Edit:  I wanted to highlight an article that Alex Lantz of the Lincoln Journal Star authored.  That link is below.  Really good stuff.  Alex is in his first year covering the Stars for the LJS and he's doing a fantastic job in my opinion.  Much different from what we've seen in the past from certain LJS journalists.  Unfortunately, Lincoln Stars hockey gets pushed to the side too often in this city because of the 1,000 pound gorilla that is Nebraska Huskers athletics.  Just glad to see Alex and the LJS commit to the Stars.

Click here to read the article
Click here to see some pictures taken on the road

Thursday, January 22, 2015

B³ Weekend Preview: Sioux Falls and Omaha


Lincoln's four-game road trip continues this weekend with two crucial contests against western conference divisional foes who are above them in the standings.  On Friday, the Stars will be in Sioux Falls, SD to face the Stampede for the first time this season.  Then on Saturday, the Stars will take on the Omaha Lancers in Ralston, NE.

Puck drops at 7:05pm CST on Friday, and at 7:35pm CST on Saturday.

If you you can't make it to either of the two road games this weekend, you can follow the boxscores online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on 93.7 FM "The Ticket," or watch the games live on FASTHockey for a fee.

The Stars come into this weekend with a record of 12-15-5 (29 points) and are in 7th place in the USHL western conference.  Lincoln is six points ahead of the last place Waterloo Blackhawks, and 8 points behind the sixth place Fargo Force.  The Stars are 11 points out of fourth place (playoff eligible) in the west.  Click here to view the current league standings.

Lincoln is coming off an impressive 3-2 overtime road victory this past Wednesday evening against the Madison Capitols.  The win snapped Lincoln's three-game losing streak.

Lincoln opponent this Friday evening will be the Sioux Falls Stampede, who sit in fifth place in the USHL western conference with a record of 17-13-4 (38 points).  Sioux Falls has a record of 11-6-3 in 20 home games this season .  The Stampede are 6-1-1 in their last eight games, which were all at home.  Their game against Lincoln on Friday will wrap up a nine-game homestand.

Surprisingly, this will be the first time in the 2014-15 regular the Stars and Stampede will play one another.  Lincoln and Sioux Falls will play a total of four times this season.  Friday's game in Sioux Falls, SD will be played at the brand new Denny Sanford Premier Center, which replaced the old (and horribly designed for hockey) Sioux Falls Arena.

At Ralston Arena on Saturday, the Stars will battle their rival the Omaha Lancers, who sit in second place in the USHL western conference with a record of 19-9-5 (43 points), two points out of first place.

This will be the fifth of eight meetings between the two rivals.  Lincoln is has a record (1-2-1) in their four prior games against Omaha this season.  In their last meeting against Omaha, the Stars won in dramatic fashion with a 5-4 OT victory at the IceBox on 1/9/15.

Since Lincoln's win against Omaha on 1/9/15, which snapped their nine-game winning streak, the Lancers are 3-1-0 in their last four games played.  So if you go back 14 games, the Lancers sport a very impressive record of 12-1-1.  Five of those twelve wins came in a shootout.

Big, big weekend to say the least for the Lincoln Stars.  They are a relatively healthy bunch right now, fighting like crazy to get back into the playoff hunt.  Getting three of four points this weekend has to be considered the starting point.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

B³ Postgame Recap: Lincoln 3, Madison 2 OT

The Lincoln Stars snapped their three-game losing streak Wednesday evening in Madison, WI with a gutsy 3-2 OT win over the Capitols.

The Lincoln victory also snapped Madison's three-game winning streak.

Click here to view the boxscore.

With the win and the two points, the Stars improved to 12-15-5 (29 points) on the season.  Lincoln is in seventh place in the USHL western conference.  Click here to view the current league standings.

Madison opened up the scoring with  a lucky bounce of the back of Stars goaltender Peyton Jones seven minutes into the first period.  Madison forward Hunter Luhman had the puck just behind the goaline to the side of Lincoln goal, and Luhman simply fired the puck off the back of Jones and the lucky deflection found the back of the net to give the Capitols a 1-0 lead.

The Stars responded with a goal from Patrick Polino with less than three minutes remaining in the first period to tie the game at 1-1.  On the play, Lincoln forward Dominick Sacco brought the puck into the Madison before passing over to the right wing where a streaking Polino accepted the puck and fired a rocket that beat Madison goaltender Garrett Metcalf high short side.

It was looking like the score would remain at 1-1 going into the first intermission, but a bad turnover by the Stars in their own zone led to a Capitols goal with only 20 seconds remaining in the first period.  Madison took momentum and a 2-1 lead into the locker room after the opening period.

Shots were 14-10 in favor of Madison in the first period.  Based on what I saw via FASTHockey, I highly doubt Madison had 14 shots on goal in the first.  As we'd see the rest of this game, I think the off ice officials in Madison were definitely cookin' the shots totals in favor of the home team in this game.

The lone goal scored in the second period came at the 6:46 mark from Stars forward Biagio Lerario after a wild goal-mouth scramble.  On the play, a few Stars had wide open chances but the puck was either saved by Metcalf or blocked in front.  Metcalf was still scrambling in net when Lerario gained possession of the puck and quickly fired it into the open net to tie the score at 2-2.

Shots were 17-9 in favor of Madison in the second period.  Again, more home cookin' shots totals.  No way did Madison have 17 shots on goal.

Neither team would score in the third period, so this game went to overtime tied at 2-2.  Shots were 7-5 in favor of Madison in the third.

In the overtime period, Lincoln defenseman Ryan Jones scored the game-winner just 26 seconds in to give the Stars a big 3-2 victory over the Madison Capitols.  Stars forwards Biagio Lerario and Miguel Fidler got the play started with some good work behind the Madison net.  After a Miguel Fidler shot on goal was saved by Metcalf, the rebound came back out to Fidler who, while on his knees, passed the puck back out to Ryan Jones who unleashed a bomb which beat Metcalf high glove side.

Stars goaltender Peyton Jones stopped 36 of 38 shots on goal to record his third win of the season.  Nice to see Peyton rebound with a quality effort tonight.  He has struggled a bit as of late, but he came up big against Madison.  Hopefully this big road win give him the boost of confidence he needs heading into the second half of the regular season.

Both teams were 0-for-2 on the powerplay.

Great win to start this four-game road swing for Lincoln.  This should give them some much needed confidence heading into their two big road games this weekend.  On Friday, the Stars will be in Sioux Falls to face the Stampede for the first time this season.  Then on Saturday, the Stars will be in Ralston to take on the Omaha Lancers.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.