Friday, October 24, 2014

B³ Pregame Report: Lincoln Stars vs. Sioux City Musketeers

The Lincoln Stars will play only one game this weekend and that will take place Saturday evening at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, IA against the Musketeers.  

Puck drops at 7:05pm CST.

If you you'd like to keep track of the Stars in Sioux City on Saturday you can follow the boxscore 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.

With a record of 3-3-1 (7 points), the Stars are tied with with two other teams for 5th place in the USHL Western Conference standings.  Click here to view the current league standings.

The Muskies will play tonight (Friday) at home against the Des Moines Buccaneers, but as I write this article, Sioux City has a record of 6-1-1 (13 points) and are tied with the Bucs for first place in the West.  

Since losing to the Stars in OT at the IceBox on 10/3/14, the Muskies have won five of six games to vault themselves to the top of the western conference standings.

This will be the second of six meetings between the Stars and Musketeers this season.  In a bit of an odd scheduling quirk, all six games between these two teams will occur before December 20th.  

The Muskies are led by forward and University of Minnesota-Duluth commit Adam Johnson (5g, 5a in 8 games played) and goaltender Collin Olson (5-1-1, 2.03 gaa, .933 save %).  Olson stopped 34 of 37 shots on goal in Lincoln's 4-3 OT shootout win against the Muskies on 10/3.  Johnson had 2 points (1g, 1a) and 5 shots on goal against the Stars.

It's been relatively quiet with regard to player movement for Lincoln.  Defenseman Tony DeVito was recently moved to the BCHL's Powell River Kings.  From what I've been told, there is a chance forward Joe Lappin, who is recovering from an injury, could be in the lineup for the Stars against Sioux City on Saturday.  Defenseman Dylan Woolf, who missed all of the preseason and the regular season thus far with a lower leg injury, will come off the IR list on 10/30.

Only one game for the good guys this weekend, and it will be a tough one against a surging Muskies squad looking for revenge after losing to the Stars a few weeks ago.  If Lincoln can avoid the slow starts they've suffered from as of late, and get good goaltending from either Hackett or Jones, they should be able to hang with the Musketeers.  Should be another good test for the Stars.

For those Stars fans out there who'd like to watch this game via FASTHockey, the team recently announced that Twin Peaks restaurant will broadcast all Stars away games.  Twin Peaks is located at 800 Q Street, which is in the Haymarket area of downtown Lincoln.  Nice to see the Stars finally partner up with a local establishment to simulcast away games.

I'll report back here with a recap, so keep an eye out for that.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

B³ Weekend Recap: Stars earn 3 of 4 points in Fargo

Blake Christensen scores Thursday night against Fargo
Courtesy of mjoy photography
The Lincoln Stars earned 3 of 4 possible points in their road series against the Fargo Force this past Thursday and Friday.

On Thursday, Lincoln fell to Fargo in OT by a score of 5-4.  Click here to view the Pointstreak boxscore from that game.

Friday evening, the Stars rebounded with a quality effort to beat the Force in OT by a score of 2-1.  Click here to view the Pointstreak boscore from that game.

With the OT loss and the OT win, the Stars improved their regular season record to 3-3-1 (7 points), and are in fifth place in the USHL western conference standings.  Click here to see the current USHL standings.

The Stars started very, very slow against the Force Thursday evening at Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND.  I'm hoping this isn't a trend, but it seems like the Stars have a bit of a problem with slow starts as of late.  The Force took advantage of Lincoln's bus legs and took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.  Fargo outshot Lincoln 12-5 in the first period.

Another slow start in the second period put Lincoln down two goals, but the team responded with two straight goals of their own to knot the game at 2-2 heading into the second intermission.  Through two periods of the game on Thursday, I'm not sure I've ever seen the Stars play that badly.  I'm not piling on here, just stating what I saw watching on FASTHockey.  The Force absolutely dominated every aspect of the Thursday evening game through forty minutes.

However, when Lincoln did have the rare scoring opportunity, they seemed to make them all count.  Lincoln's first goal in this game, scored by forward Miguel Fidler, was assisted by an incredible pass from forward August Von Ungern-Sternberg.  You can check it out below:

Lincoln's second goal in the middle period was scored by forward Blake Christensen on an odd man rush with a great assist from forward Grant Jozefek.  The picture at the top of this article, courtesy of mjoy photography, shows Christensen scoring that goal.

So despite being outshot 33-10 through two periods Thursday evening, the Stars were tied with the Force at 2-2.  Lincoln goaltender Cam Hackett was certainly Lincoln's MVP that night, and the next night for that matter.

In the third, both teams scored two goals a piece with Lincoln goals coming from forwards Michael Gillespie and Blake Christensen (his second of the night).  Christensen's second goal of the game incredibly gave the Stars a 4-3 lead, but Fargo answered later in the period to tie it up at 4-4.  Stars outshot the Force 16-8 in the third period.

In the OT period, Stars had a great opportunity early on with a 4-on-3 powerplay to end it, but they were not able to get the puck past Force goaltender Mathias Israelsson.  A make up penalty called on the Stars later in the OT period allowed Fargo to score the game winner.

I'm not sure the Stars had any business getting the game Thursday evening to overtime, but I like how they played in the third period and for the most part in OT.  Cam Hackett stopped 38 of 43 shots on goal, but without his stellar play, the Stars don't get the point.

Stars d-man Wyatt Kalynuk had some fan support in Fargo
Courtesy of mjoy photography
On Friday evening, the Stars performed quite a bit better I thought compared to the Thursday OT loss with goaltender Cam Hackett leading the way once again.

In the scoreless first period, both teams played very cautious and combined for only 10 shots on goal (five a piece).

I thought Lincoln played much better defensively to start the Friday night game, which was good to see considering what I saw from the Thursday opening period.

In the second, the shot total went up but goaltenders Mathias Israelsson and Cam Hackett stood tall.  Fargo outshot Lincoln 15-8 in the middle stanza, but the majority of those 15 shots fired by the Force were thrown on net from bad angles.

The Stars got on the scoreboard first thanks to Blake Christensen's third goal in two games. On that particular play, Christensen worked incredibly hard along the far boards to keep possession of the puck before spinning away from two Fargo players and then firing a laser past Israelsson that beat him high stick side.  Just a great individual play by Christensen who was one of Lincoln's best forwards in the series against Fargo.

The 1-0 third period lead by the Stars wouldn't last more than a minute as the Force answered with a goal of their own to knot the game at 1-1.  A Fargo shot from the point could not be controlled by Hackett and the Stars, which turned out to be the only goal Hackett would allow in this game.

Just like the Thursday night tilt, the Friday evening game went to an extra OT period.  However, this time around the Stars got the game winner thanks to some great teamwork from Stars forwards Miguel Fidler and Dominick Sacco.

Deep in the Fargo zone, Sacco did a good job digging the puck out behind the net before passing it to Fidler.  Sacco smartly used himself to screen a Fargo player from getting to Fidler, who was able to fire a shot on net.  The shot was save by Israelsson, but the rebound went right to Sacco who had beaten his man to the net.  Dom quickly batted the puck into the net and the Stars were victorious.  Check it out below:

Stars goaltender Cam Hackett stopped 39 of 40 shots on goal to rightfully earn the win.  Hackett made some incredible saves in the third period to keep this game tied.  Without his play against Fargo, I very much doubt the Stars get 3 points.

Overall, I like how the Stars responded after the lackluster first two periods on Thursday evening.  The played much better defensively and for the most part outplayed Fargo on Friday.

Friday's 2-1 OT win was the first game this season in which the Stars did not surrender a powerplay goal against.  There's plenty of room to improve the penalty kill, but it was nice to see the Stars blank the Force on the PP.

Stars are back in action on Saturday, October 25th in Sioux City against the Musketeers.  The next home game is on Halloween at the IceBox against the Waterloo Blackhawks.  In a bit of a scheduling quirk, the Stars only play two games in the next 20 days.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

B³ Weekend Preview: Fargo Force

For the first time in the 2014-15 USHL regular season, the Lincoln Stars will venture away from the IceBox to play two road games at Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND against the Fargo Force.

The two teams will play the rare Thursday night tilt, and then also on Friday evening.

Puck drops at 7:05pm CST for both games.

If you you'd like to keep track of the Stars this weekend in Fargo, 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 Force enter these two games against Lincoln with a record of 4-1-0 (8 points) in five games played, and are currently in second place in the USHL western conference.  The Force are 2-0-0 in two home games this season, both coming against the expansion Madison Capitols.

Fargo is led by talented '97 forward Denis Smirnov, who has scored 5 points (1g, 4a) in five games so far this season for the Force.  Smirnov was originally acquired by Fargo in the 2014 Indiana Ice dispersal draft.  Last year for the Ice, Smirnov racked up 41 points (15g, 26a) in 47 games as one of the younger players in the USHL.  Smirnov is definitely a player the Stars will want to keep tabs on in these two upcoming games.  He's deceptively quick, has great vision, and silky smooth hands.

As good as Smirnov is, the MVP of the Force through five games is undoubtedly goaltender Mathias Israelsson.  The overager ('94) from Sweden, Israelsson has played every minute for the Force and has posted a record of 4-1-0, a goals against average of 2.56, and a save percentage of .918%.  It would not surprise me at all if Israelsson starts both games against Lincoln this week.

I watched the Force play two preseason games at the 2014 USHL Fall Classic in Sioux City, and they really struggled offensively at times.  I believe most pundits thought the Force might struggle a bit this season, but they have certainly played very well so far, thanks to Israelsson.  In my opinion, the Force are going to live or die with Israelsson in net.  He's an incredible talent, and will be a workhorse for the Force this season, but I think Fargo lacks scoring depth at the forward position.

Regardless, this should be yet another good test for a Lincoln Stars team looking to play more consistent hockey and potentially get their first two road wins of the season.  I'll be watching both games on FASTHockey and will report back here with recaps.

Switching gears....

My good friend BellTolls looked at the first five games of this season and compared them to the first five games of last season.  Here's what BT shared with me that I thought I'd share with all of you:

Last Year:
0-2-3 record
2.2 goals per game
4.2 goals allowed per game
20.4 PIM per game
Bitzer: .882 save pct.
Goalies combined: .867 save pct.

This Year:
2-3 record
2.8 goals per game
3.4 goals allowed per game
20.0 PIM per game
Hackett: .900 save pct.
Goalies combined: .897 save pct.

So, the Stars are off to a better start than last year by nearly every metric. Also, Lincoln's four opponents this year have a combined 14-8-1 record and all of them (Tri-City, Sioux City, Waterloo, Muskegon) are likely playoff teams this season.

In other news....

Earlier this week, the Stars traded forward Keegan Ward to the Muskegon Lumberjacks for forward Chris Dodero.  Dodero ('96) hails from Bloomingdale, IL and tips the scale at 5'9", 177 pounds.  In 102 games played in the past three seasons with the Lumberjacks and the Chicago Steel, Dodero scored 30 points (13g, 17a) along with 66 penalty minutes.  Chris has committed to play college hockey at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO.

During his time with the Steel, Chris was teammates with current Stars Biagio Lerario and Patrick Polino.  I'm a big fan of this trade.  Stars add more USHL experience and depth at the forward position with the acquisition of Dodero.  Click here to follow Chris on Twitter.

Also, per the Stars' official website, the team has signed Corey Courtney (Athletic Trainer/Equipment Manager/Strength Coach) to a four-year extension.  Anyone who has been a Stars fan for any length of time knows how important Corey has been to this team since he started in 1999.

Congrats to Corey!  He really deserves a lot of attention for what he has contributed over the years.  Here's to many more years with the Lincoln Stars.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cam Lee named USHL Defenseman of the Week

Photo courtesy of Brandon Anderson Photography
Congrats to Lincoln Stars defenseman Cam Lee who was named the USHL CCM Defenseman of the Week today by the league.  

Click here to read the official USHL press release.  Here's an excerpt from the article:

The defenseman scored a goal in both contests and posted a plus-four rating as the Stars split a weekend set against the Muskegon Lumberjacks.  

He netted a goal in the first period of Friday’s 3-2 loss and equaled a game high plus-two rating.  

The 17-year-old then netted his second goal of the weekend in Saturday’s 4-3 victory and again tied a game high plus-two rating.  

Lee has now scored a goal in three straight games for the Stars and has tallied those three goals on just four shots.  

The Ferguson’s Cove, Nova Scotia native is playing his first USHL season and is committed to play NCAA hockey at Providence College.

Nice for the Stars (and Cam) to get some recognition so soon after the season started.  Cam had a big weekend and will be counted on to have many more this upcoming season as one of the top offensive defensemen on the Stars. 

Congrats again to Cam!  Well deserved.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

B³ Postgame Recap: Muskegon 3, Lincoln 4

Stars celebrate the 4-3 win over Muskegon
Courtesy of Shooting Star Photos
The Lincoln Stars rebounded from Friday's loss to Muskegon with a hard-earned 4-3 victory over the Lumberjacks Saturday night at the IceBox.

Click here to view the Pointstreak boxscore.

With the win and the two points, the Stars improved to 2-3-0 (four points) and currently sit in sixth place in the USHL western conference standings.

Click here to view the current USHL standings.

The shot total might not indicate how well the Stars played in the first period, but I thought Lincoln showed a better sense of urgency in the first twenty minutes compared to what I saw on Friday night against this same team.

The Stars took advantage of a powerplay opportunity late in the first period to get on the scoreboard first thanks to a heads-up play by forward Michael Gillespie.  After a PP shot on goal by Dominick Sacco was blocked by Muskegon, the rebound went to a wide open Gillespie who quickly ripped a shot past Muskegon netminder Michael Latorella.

Stars took the 1-0 lead into the first intermission break.  Shots were 13-4 in favor of Muskegon, but many in attendance thought that total was far from correct.  I know for sure that the Stars had more than 4 shots on goal in that first period.  I'm not sure who is responsible for counting shots on goal, but Stars head coach Chris Hartsburg didn't agree with the totals either.

The bulk of the scoring in this particular game came in the middle stanza, as both teams combined for 5 goals, with three of those five coming from the Stars.

Just 22 seconds into the 2nd period, Stars defenseman Cam Lee scored his second goal of the weekend against the team that originally drafted him.  Some water on the ice in the Muskegon offensive zone allowed the puck to sit for a streaking Lee who slapped it past Latorella to give Lincoln a 2-0 lead.

The next four goals scored in the second would be traded one at a time between Lincoln and Muskegon.  First it was a goal-mouth scramble in front of Stars goaltender Cam Hackett that gave the 'Jacks their first goal of the game.

Lincoln's next goal came on a terrific individual effort by forward Patrick Polino in which he drove hard to the net and backhanded a shot past Latorella for his first goal in a Stars uniform.  On that play, forward Blake Christensen had a great head man pass to the streaking Polino who put it in sixth gear and blew past the Muskegon defender.  Polino's parents happened to be sitting next to my wife and I last night, so it was really cool to see their reactions after their son scored.  Very nice people.

'Jacks forward Matheson Iacopelli scored the first of his two goals on the night later in the 2nd period to pull his team to within one goal at 2-3.  Both teams were playing 4-on-4 hockey, and Iacopelli ripped a shot right off a faceoff past Hackett.  However, the Stars answered just a little over a minute later thanks to some hard work by Patrick Polino and Michael Gillespie.

Gillespie worked to get the puck off the boards in the Lincoln zone to Polino who skated quickly up the ice and into the Muskegon zone.  Polino put on the brakes just before feathering the puck to Gillespie who had beaten his man and was streaking to the net.  Polino's pass was right on target to Gillespie who redirected the puck past Latrorella.  Great example here of the team speed that the Stars have this year.

Thanks to Gillespie's second goal of the game, the Stars took a 4-2 lead into the 2nd intermission.  Shots were 11-10 in favor of Lincoln in the second period.

In the third, the 'Jacks threw everything but the kitchen sink at Cam Hackett but were only able to score one goal.  Shots were 20-4 in favor of Muskegon in the final twenty minutes, but again you could argue those shots totals aren't exactly accurate.  The 'Jacks certainly controlled play for most of the third, but the Stars did a good job of minimizing the offensive chances against.

The final shot total was 43-19 in favor of Muskegon.  Lincoln went 1-for-3 on the powerplay, while the 'Jacks went 1-for-4 with the man advantage.

Stars netminder Cam Hackett finished with 40 saves on 43 shots on goal, but somehow wasn't named one of the three stars of the game.  I thought Hackett played his best game in a Lincoln Stars uniform Saturday night against Muskegon.  There were quite a few times late in the third period that Hackett stood on his head and prevented the 'Jacks for scoring the tying goal.

Nice to see the Stars finish out the weekend with a win against a quality team.  It's obvious that consistency will be an issue with this team early on, but as they grow I'm positive we'll see that improve.

Lincoln's first five games of the season were at home, but the next three games will be on the road.  This coming Thursday and Friday, the Stars will be in Fargo, ND to face the Force  The upcoming road series against the Fargo Force should be a good one.  Fargo is out to a very good start, going 4-1-0 in their first five games.  I'll post more about that matchup here in the next few days.

Thanks for reading. Go Stars.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

B³ Postgame Recap: Muskegon 3, Lincoln 2

Cam Lee (L) celebrates his 1st period goal with
Dominick Sacco (center) and Connor Frantti (R)
Courtesy of Shooting Star Photos
The Lincoln Stars came up a bit short Friday night at the IceBox as the visiting Muskegon Lumberjacks skated to a 3-2 victory in the first game of the two-game weekend series between these two teams.

Click here to view the Pointstreak boxscore.

With the loss, the Stars dropped to 1-3-0 in four games this season.  Muskegon improved to 4-2-0 with the win.

Considering the lackluster performance in their last game (vs. Waterloo this past Sunday), I really expected the Stars to start the first period of this game with a lot of energy and aggressive play.  Unfortunately, I didn't see that.

The 'Jacks put two goals up on the scoreboard in the first 10 minutes of the first period and put the Stars behind the 8 ball early.  The first Muskegon goal was of the powerplay variety, with forward Jack Rowe roofing a backhand up high past Stars goaltender Peyton Jones.  The second goal came on bang-bang play right in front of Jones in which the Stars were unable to clear the puck, allowing 'Jacks forward Mason Jobst to pounce on a loose puck before scoring.

Lincoln defenseman Cam Lee breathed life into the Stars later in the first period with a rocket past Muskegon goaltender Eric Schierhorn to pull the home team to within one goal.  On that particular play, the Stars did a good job cycling the puck in the offensive zone before defenseman Connor Frantti found Lee wide open at the top of the circle.  

Muskegon took the 2-1 lead into the first intermission, and also held a 10-7 advantage in shots on goal.

Neither team would score in the middle stanza, but I thought this was Lincoln's best played period of the game.  Shots were 13-8 in favor of the 'Jacks in the second, but I thought Lincoln had the better scoring opportunities and controlled play for the most part.

In the third, Muskegon scored the eventual game-winning goal just two minutes into the period with a nice play by forward Matheson Iacopelli.  After his initial shot on goal was blocked by defenseman Ryan Jones, Iocopelli found some open ice in between the top of the circles and awaited a nice pass from David Keefer.  Iacopelli didn't waste time with his second shot opportunity as he wristed it between the legs of Jones.

Give the Stars some credit here, down two goals in the third period.  They didn't give up.  Lincoln forward Max Humitz brought his team to within on goal later in the period with a screened slapshot after a nice feed from forward Ludvig Hoff.  Humitz cycled the puck from along the boards before feeding the puck to Connor Frantti at the point. Frantti's point shot was blocked in front, and the rebound went right to Hoff.  Humitz had worked off the board and found a quiet spot on the ice just 10 feet in from the blueline and ripped the puck past Schierhorn.

Try as they might, the Stars were not able to score the equalizing goal in the remaining 7+ minutes of the third period after Humitz's goal.  'Jacks take this one by a score of 3-2.

Shots on goal were 31-22 in favor of the Lumberjacks.  The Stars were 0-for-3 on the powerplay, while the 'Jacks went 1-for-4.  Lincoln's PK unit continues to struggle so far this season.  The Stars are dead last in the USHL in penalty kill percentage (64%), a good ten percentage points behind the next team (Green Bay at 75%).

Peyton Jones stopped 28 of 31 in the loss, while Eric Schierhorn stopped 20 of 22 to get the win.  Overall, I thought Jones played very well despite coming up short.  It was hard to fault him for the first two goals, but I know he wants that third Muskegon goal back that beat him five-hole.  Jones also didn't get a lot of help from his teammates on the offensive side of the rink.  You aren't going to win too may games when you manage 22 shots on goal.

The Stars will look to even out the weekend series against Muskegon with a win tonight at the IceBox.  Puck drops at 7:05pm CST.

Quick note:  Yesterday afternoon, Stars forward Jared Bethune ('97) announced via Twitter that he had singed with the WHL's Prince George Cougars.  The news definitely caught me off guard.  I had heard some rumblings earlier this week about Bethune leaving the Stars, but his decision to sign with a major junior team really surprised me.  Hopefully this is not a decision he regrets later on in life.  Since he has signed with a major junior team, he will not be allowed to play college hockey (Bethune had previously committed to UMD).

As one door closes, another door opens for a player on this team (who wants to be here) to rise up and take advantage of the opportunity of more playing time.  

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

B³ Weekend Preview: Muskegon Lumberjacks

The Lincoln Stars will be back in the friendly confines of the IceBox this weekend with back-to-back games against the Muskegon Lumberjacks.

The puck will drop at 7:05pm CST for the Friday and Saturday night home games.

If you are unable to make it to any of the 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.

Before I get to this weekend preview, I want to apologize for the lack of game recaps last weekend.  Real life got in the way of blogging, and I had zero time to devote to the B³.  I also missed both home games last weekend, so my recaps wouldn't have been that lengthy anyway.  But I'm back in the saddle now, and ready for the two upcoming games against the Lumberjacks.

The Stars enter this weekend with a record of 1-2-0 in three games played so far in the regular season.  These two upcoming home games at the IceBox will complete a five-game home-stand to start the 2014-15 season for Lincoln.

Lincoln is coming off an up and down couple of games last weekend in which they played very well in a 4-3 overtime shootout victory over the Sioux City Musketeers, but then fell flat against the Waterloo Blackhawks in a disappointing 4-1 loss.  The Stars had 38 shots on goal against the Muskies, but only 20 against the Blackhawks.

Lincoln's foe this weekend, the Muskegon Lumberjacks, sport a record of 3-2-0 in five regular season games so far this season.  After starting the season 3-0-0, the Lumberjacks have lost two straight and were outscored 10-3 in those two road games against the Cedar Rapids Roughriders.

Even those these two teams are meeting for the first time this season, the Stars and the 'Jacks are pretty familiar with each other so far.  In the preseason, Lincoln and Muskegon played two games against one another.  At the 2014 USHL Atlantic Challenge, the 'Jacks beat the Stars by a score of 4-2.  A few weeks later at the 2014 USHL Fall Classic West, Muskegon walloped Lincoln by a score of 7-2.

I've mentioned this in other blog articles, but the Stars and the 'Jacks have been frequent trading partners as of late.  Current Stars GM Jon Hull was Muskegon's assistant GM before coming to Lincoln, so that might explain why both teams have swapped a number of players.  Current Stars Connor Frantti, Blake Christensen, Cam Lee, and Grant Jozefek were all property of the Lumberjacks at some point in the past.

Current 'Jacks (and former Stars) Tommy Marchin and Daniel Willett will be playing at the IceBox for the first time this weekend as members of the opposing teams.  Willett was traded to Muskegon during the 2013-14 season, while Marchin was traded at the conclusion of the regular season.  So far this season, Willett has one assist for Muskegon through five games, while Marchin has four points (2g, 2a) in five games.

The two games this weekend against the 'Jacks should be another good test for this young Stars squad.  Just like Lincoln's first three opponents (Tri-City, Sioux City, Waterloo) this season, I think Muskegon is also a playoff team once the 2014-15 regular season campaign is complete.  They are an extremely deep team, and have probably the best pure goal-scorer in the USHL right now in forward Matheson Iacopelli.  Through 58 games last season for Muskegon, Iacopelli racked up 41 goals, including 12 on the powerplay.

Stars head coach Chris Hartsburg took his team to task during his radio interview with Mike Melbye after the 4-1 loss this past Sunday evening to Waterloo, so it will be interesting to see how the players respond against Muskegon.  I'd expect the Stars to come out with their hair on fire Friday night to start that particular game.

There's no excuse not to be at the IceBox this weekend if you are a hockey fan living in Lincoln.  Come on down and support the boys.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

B³ Weekend Preview: Sioux City and Waterloo

The Lincoln Stars are back at the IceBox this weekend with games against the Sioux City Musketeers on Friday, and the Waterloo Blackhawks on Sunday.

Puck drops at 7:05pm CST at the IceBox for the Friday game, and at 4:05pm CST for the Sunday afternoon matchup.

If you are unable to make it to any of the 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 enter this weekend with a 0-1-0 record on the young 2014-15 season.  Lincoln will play the first five games of the season at home at the IceBox.

First up for the black and blue will be the Sioux City Musketeers, who have a record of 1-0-0 after getting a 4-3 OT win over the Omaha Lancers in Ralston, NE last Friday.  Muskies forward Joe Snively's shorthanded goal with only 36 seconds remaining in the overtime period gave his team the two points.  Sioux City goaltender Collin Olson, whom I expect to start against Lincoln, stopped 36 of 39 in the win.

This will be the first of six meetings this season between the Stars and Muskies.  In an odd scheduling quirk, these two teams will meet six times between now and December 19th, but no other meetings after that for the remainder of the regular season.

In a rare Sunday afternoon tilt, the Stars will battle the visiting Waterloo Blackhawks who currently have a record of 0-1-0.  Last Friday, the Fargo Force squeaked by the Blackhawks by a score of 2-1 at Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND.  Waterloo outshot Fargo 39-17 in that particular game, yet still lost.  Wow.

A little bit of Lincoln Stars trivia:  the last time the Stars played a Sunday home game at the IceBox was way back on October 19th, 2003.  Over ten years ago.  In that particular game 11 years ago, the Stars beat the Waterloo Blackhawks by a score of 6-1.  Current Stars assistant coach Mick Berge had three points (all assists) to led the team in scoring.

Anyway, back to the current-day Waterloo Blackhawks, who appear to have reloaded with yet another high-powered offense this season.  Yes, they were held to only one goal against Fargo last weekend, but this Blackhawks squad is going to score plenty of goals this season in the USHL.  

The Waterloo scoring attack is led by what some pundits believe is the top offensive line in the league in forwards Brock Boeser (Wisconsin commit), Tom Novak (Minnesota commit), and Tyler Sheehy (Minnesota commit).  Now, I'm not 100% sure that Waterloo head coach P.K. O'Hanley will play the above three players on the same line against Lincoln, so we'll have to wait and see.

The two games this weekend will be a good test for the Stars.  Sioux City is still my pick to win the USHL western conference, and Waterloo will likely be a playoff team as well.  Personally, I think Waterloo is a bit top heavy, meaning they aren't as deep as other USHL teams in the west.

In Stars news....

Lincoln defenseman Ryan Cook, who was obtained last week from Cedar Rapids, has been suspended by the USHL for two games due to his kneeing major penalty at the end of the home opener loss to Tri-City last Friday.  Cook will miss both games this weekend.

Quick reminder that the Husker volleyball team will be playing at the Devaney Center on Friday evening at the same time as the hockey game, so be prepared for your typical UNL parking fiasco.  Thankfully, this is the last time this season that Husker volleyball and Stars hockey have conflicts on the same night.  

I will not be in attendance Friday night, but I will be there Sunday.  I'll report back to the blog with recaps of both games.  I'm hoping to catch a replay of the Friday night game on FASTHockey sometime late Friday, or early Saturday.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

B³ Postgame Recap: Tri-City 4, Lincoln 3

Stars celebrate Biagio Lerario's first goal of the game
Courtesy of Shooting Star Photos
The visiting Tri-City Storm put a damper on Lincoln's home opener with a 4-3 come-from-behind win over the Stars at the IceBox on Friday night.

Click here to view the Pointstreak boxscore.

With the loss, the Stars fall to 0-1-0 on the young season.  Click here to view the USHL regular season standings.

Before I get into the action on the ice, I just want to say a few things about the pregame festivities.

First off, I thought all of the upgrades inside the IceBox looked great.  Fresh paint, new banners, updated bathrooms, new counter tops in the concession stands, etc.  I thought it all looked great.  You could tell the staff have worked very, very hard on the upgrades.  They should be proud of their work.

Secondly, I thought the home opener video which was played before the game was awesome.  It looked very professional to me, and it got the crowd pumped up.  I'm hoping the Stars will put that video on YouTube.

Lastly....let there be light!  Wow.  I knew the Stars had installed new lighting above the ice, but I wasn't expecting it to be that bright.  It was great.  I've been going to Stars games since 1996, so in a way, it almost felt like I was watching a game in a different rink last night.  Two thumbs up.

On to the game....

It was definitely a back-and-forth first period although I thought the Stars were the better team.  Lincoln forward Biagio Lerario got the scoring going with an even-strength tally at the 9:54 mark.  On that play, a point shot by defenseman Ryan Cook was initially saved by TC goaltender Alec Dillion, but the rebound went right to Lerario who fired it into the open net.  Good play by Lerario to go to the net in anticipation of a rebound.

As would be the theme for the night, Tri-City responded quickly with a goal of their own after the Lerario goal.  Just one minute after the opening goal of the game, Kevin Kerr of Tri-City darted to the net behind the Lincoln defensemen before firing a shot glove high past goaltender Cam Hackett to knot the game at 1-1.

Later in the first period, Biagio Lerario got his second goal of the period with a nice individual effort.  Lerario collected a loose puck in the neutral zone, avoided a big check by a TC player at the blueline, and entered the Storm zone on a 2-on-1.  Lerario skated in on Dillion, went to the backhand, and roofed it to give Lincoln a 2-1 lead which they would take into the first intermission.

Early in the second period, a strange play in the Storm offensive zone allowed the Stars to take a 3-1 lead.  TC defenseman Gordi Meyer, who was just to the left of goaltender Alec Dillion, tried a cross ice pass to a teammate but the puck deflected off of the skate of Stars forward Ludvig Hoff and into the net.  It was a poor decision by Meyer to attempt the pass, and Dillion was obviously not paying attention on the play.  Puck luck was certainly on Lincoln's side for that goal.

An ill-timed Lincoln penalty less than a minute after the Hoff goal allowed the Storm to score a PP and kill any momentum the Stars may have had at the time.  I can only imagine that as a head coach, Chris Hartsburg had to have been frustrated with the penalty considering Lincoln had Tri-City on the ropes with a 3-1 lead.  But the Storm PP goal by Garrett Gamez gave his team life and quieted the raucous IceBox crowd.

With only 16 seconds remaining in the second period, Tri-City scored an even-strength goal to tie the game at 3-3 going into the second intermission.  I've always been of the opinion that goals scored in the last minute of a period are killers, if they're scored against your team.  They can suck the life out of a team going into the next period.

In the third, the only goal scored was the game winner by Storm forward Chris Wilkie on a nice wrister that looked like it went glove high.  Wilkie's goal, which came with 7:13 remaining was an even-strength tally and gave his team the 4-3 lead.  The Stars pulled goaltender Cam Hackett with a minute remaining for the extra attacker, but they were not able to score the equalizing goal.

Shots were 31-24 in favor of Tri-City.  Lincoln had 12 shots on goal in the first period, but combined for a total of 12 shots on goal in the last two periods.  Tri-City went 1-for-2 on the powerplay, while Lincoln was 0-for-2 with the man advantage.

Stars goaltender Cam Hackett stopped 27 of 31 shots on goal in the loss.  Storm netminder Alec Dillion stopped 21 of 24 in the win.

Unfortunately, a kneeing major by Stars defenseman Ryan Cook nearly started a line brawl situation as the horn sounded at the end of the third period.  The officials sent the Stars immediately to the locker room, so the team was not allowed to gather around center ice for their salute to the crowd.  In all of the games I've attended at the IceBox over the years, I don't know if I've ever not seen the Stars salute the crowd.  But considering the situation, I understand why the officials got the Stars off the ice quickly.

Overall, I was happy with how the Stars began this game but not how they finished.  I thought Lincoln looked very lethargic and tired in the third period, while the Storm got better each period.  Give full credit to Tri-City, as they played much more aggressive than Lincoln last night, especially on the forecheck.  They forced the Stars to make some bad decisions which led to goals.

After the game, head coach Chris Hartsburg was interviewed by Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye, and you could tell he wasn't happy.  It was refreshing to hear a coach tell it like he saw it and not try to sugarcoat it.  I wasn't used to that.  At one point during the interview, Hartsburg said he needs to figure out which players want to be here, and which players who don't.  I thought that was an interesting comment.  It should be an intense week of practice for the Stars.

Only one game for the Stars this weekend, so the next opportunity to bounce back will be Friday, October 3rd at the IceBox against the Sioux City Musketeers.  On Sunday, October 5th, Lincoln will take on the Waterloo Blackhawks at the IceBox for a rare 4:05pm Sunday afternoon puck drop.  More on those two games later next week.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

B³ Home Opener Preview: Tri-City Storm vs. Lincoln Stars

Home Sweet Home
The Lincoln Stars will open the 2014-15 USHL regular season schedule this weekend with their Friday night home opener against the Tri-City Storm.

Puck drops at 7:05pm CST at the IceBox.

If you are unable to make it to any of the 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 and Storm met two times in the preseason, with Lincoln winning one at home, and losing one in Kearney.  The Storm finished the 2014 exhibition schedule with a 4-0-1 record in five games, and outscored their opponents 20-11.

Tri-City forward Garrett Gamez was the leading point-getter for the Storm in the preseason with 7 points (3g, 4a) in five games played, although six of those seven points came in one game against the Des Moines Bucs.

Like the Stars last season, the Storm struggled to play consistent hockey, probably more so than Lincoln.  Tri-City finished in seventh place in the USHL Western Conference in 2013-14 with a record of 21-35-4 (46 points), 10 points behind the fifth place Lincoln Stars.

Towards the last few months of last season, the Storm pretty much had a yard sale in terms of sending some of their top, college-bound players to playoff-contending USHL teams so they could stockpile draft picks and young prospects.  Because only four teams from each conference make the playoffs, bottom dwelling teams will throw up the white flag on the current season, and start working on next season.  And that's exactly what the Storm did.

In this case, although it's still very early, I think what the Storm did last season worked.  They return a good core group of quality forwards and defenseman, and have added two very good goaltenders in Blake Weyrick (played for the NTDP last season) and Alec Dillion (L.A. Kings draft pick).  Many USHL pundits expect the Storm to be a much improved team in 2014-15, and to be in the playoff hunt come next spring.  I tend to agree with those pundits.

As for the Stars in 2014-15, you've heard me say numerous times this is a VERY young team.  They will likely be the youngest team in the USHL on opening night.  There are some very talented '96's and '97's on this team that will need some time to adapt to the speed and physicality of the USHL.  It won't come overnight.  With that said, there are some quality USHL vets on this team that should lead by example and show the youngsters how to succeed at this level.

As fans, it will be very fun to watch this team grow in 2014-15.  There will be some ups and downs, some growing pains, but I'm confident they'll get better as the season goes along.  I've had the opportunity to chat with owner Ryan Schiff, GM Jon Hull, and Head Coach Chris Hartsburg, and I know they will do absolutely everything in their power to bring winning hockey back to Lincoln.  They are all 100% committed to creating something special here that the fans will be proud of.  We just need to be patient.

Switching gears....

I posted this earlier today on Twitter, but Tri-City Storm head coach Jim Hulton has some interesting things to say about the environment inside the IceBox in this article posted today in the Kearney Hub newspaper.  I'll quote it below:

“It’ll be baptism by fire for some of our young kids going into Lincoln on Friday night with hopefully a hostile crowd throwing some beer at us and spitting on us and parading the environment right off,” Hulton said. “But we want that. We want the ‘us-against-world’ mentality this year.”


You could guess that the reactions from Stars fans on Twitter wasn't exactly rainbows and unicorns.  I thought about not even mentioning the quote by Hulton in this blog article because I don't think it's really necessary to give attention to something obviously so narrow-minded and trollish.

Having said that, I understand what Hulton was trying to say (or at least I think I do).  However, Hulton could have simply said, "We're going into a hostile environment this Friday night at the IceBox, and we wouldn't want it any other way."  That's it.  Done.  To add the stuff about fans tossing beer and spitting was a poor choice of words and something you wouldn't expect out of a head coach in a league like the USHL.

If anything, maybe the Stars can use the quote as bulletin board material.

Moving on....

Earlier today, the Stars announced the six players will head up a new "leadership group."  Click here to read more about that.  The six players in said group are: (D) Connor Frantti, (F) Dominick Sacco, (F) Max Humitz, (F) Blake Christensen, (F) Biagio Lerario, and (F) Patrick Polino.

Three of the above six players will wear the "A" (alternate captain) on their jerseys at home, while the other three players will wear the "A" for road games.  This is definitely something we haven't seen in Lincoln, but I like it.  I assume this was done by the coach to see how the above players respond to being put in a leadership role.  Maybe down the road this will help to establish the players who deserve the opportunity to wear a "C" on their jerseys.  We'll see.

Before I end this rambling mess, please take a minute to think about how hard the players on this roster have worked to get to this point in their hockey careers.  I pretty much said the same thing last season before the first game, but I think it bears repeating.  Well over 100+ players tried out for the Lincoln Stars way back in June at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, MN.  The players on this team have sacrificed so much, and have worked their butts off to earn a spot on the roster.  So cheer a little louder tomorrow night in honor of these young men who are here to play for your entertainment.  They deserve our praise and recognition.

See you all at the IceBox.  Let's get rowdy (but not toss beer or spit on players).

Go Stars.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

USHL Protected Rosters Released

Very quick article tonight.  The USHL released the 23-player protected rosters and affiliate lists of all teams.

Click here to see the rosters.  It's a PDF file.

I'll post Lincoln's 23-player roster below.  No real surprises, in my opinion.  Forwards Angus Scott and Grant Jozefek were both moved to the affiliate roster, but both are still in town.  

Every year we see USHL teams keep a couple of extra players in town and they are able to move them back and forth from the 23-player roster to the affiliate roster.  Don't ask me to explain the USHL roster rules, because after all these years I'm still trying to figure them out.

A little surprised to not see '97 (D) Austin Cho on Lincoln's affiliate roster.  He's a RPI commit and a top prospect out of Canada.  2014 Phase II draft pick of the Stars.  He now appears on Cedar Rapids' affiliate roster.  Not sure yet if the Stars dropped him, or if they traded his rights to Cedar Rapids

BTW, here are my predictions for team captains.  I'm picking (2) captains, and (2) alternate captains.

C's:  Connor Frantti, Dominick Sacco
A's:  Max Humitz, Patrick Polino

I'd love to hear your predictions!  Leave a comment below and name your four.  Thanks!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lincoln Stars Roster Mania

I'm going to post a quick article here to highlight all of the roster moves the Stars made today.

The first move made was the addition of defenseman Ryan Cook ('95) from the Cedar Rapids Roughriders.

 Per the USHL's Hockey Ops Twitter account, the Stars sent a 7th round pick in the 2015 USHL Phase II draft to Cedar Rapids for the rights to Cook.

Cook hails from Lancaster, NY (suburb of Buffalo) and adds some much need size to Lincoln's blueline, coming in at 6'3", 205 pounds.  Cook was originally a free agent addition by the Cedar Rapids Roughriders, meaning he was not previously drafted.

Last season for the Aberdeen Wings of the NAHL, Cook scored 13 points (2g, 11a) in 55 games played.  He also accumulated 48 penalty minutes.  In a total of five preseason games for the Roughriders this month, Cook had one assist and 16 penalty minutes.  As far as I can tell from looking online, Cook is uncommitted to a college.

The second roster move made was the trading of forward Quin Foreman ('96) to the Des Moines Buccaneers.  This particular trade was announced by Stars GM Jon Hull via Twitter, but it was not mentioned what Lincoln got in return for Foreman.  I assume it was a draft pick.

Foreman was originally selected by the Lincoln Stars in fifth round of the 2014 USHL Phase II draft.  In fact, Foreman was the first forward chosen by the Stars in that particular draft.  Quin has previously committed to play college hockey at Dartmouth University.

In five preseason games for the Stars this month, Foreman had 1 goal, zero penalty minutes, and two shots on goal.  Foreman will now join a Des Moines Bucs team that will play the Stars a total six times during the 2014-15 regular season.

The third move, made just a few minutes ago as I was typing up this article, was the addition of forward Joe Lappin ('94) from the Bloomington Thunder.  Stars GM Jon Hull again announced this trade via Twitter.  It was not noted what the Stars gave up for the rights to Lappin.

Last season, Lappin played for the South Shore Kings of the USPHL Premier.  In 45 games for the Kings, Lappin scored 44 points (27g, 17a) and accumulated 30 penalty minutes.  9 of his 27 goals were scored on the powerplay, and 9 of the 27 were game-winners.  Joe was the leading goal-scorer in the USPHL in 2013-14.

Joe was originally acquired by the expansion Bloomington Thunder in the fourth round of the 2014 USHL Phase II draft.  Joe hails from Geneva, IL and comes in at 6'1", 175 pounds.  Back in 2011-12, Lappin played for the Team Illinois U18 program, the same program that Stars GM Jon Hull used to be the head coach of.  I'm sure Joe Lappin was a player Jon Hull was very familiar with.

Looks like Lappin only played one preseason game with the Thunder and was held scoreless with one shot on goal.  Lappin becomes the second player born in 1994 on the current Stars roster.  The other overager is defenseman Connor Frantti.  Lappin is uncommitted.

As I've mentioned before, USHL teams have to cut down to 23 players on their main roster before Tuesday, September 23rd.  As I look at the Stars' roster, I believe they still need to cut/trade two more players.  I'm going to list the players below that I believe are on the team as of right now:

G - Cam Hackett
G - Peyton Jones
D - Connor Frantti
D - James LaDouce
D- Tony DeVito
D - Wyatt Kalynuk
D - Tye Ausmus
D - Ryan Jones
D - Cam Lee
D - Ryan Cook
F - Chris Klack
F - Dominick Sacco
F - Miguel Fidler
F - Max Humitz
F - August Von Ungern-Sternberg
F - Michael Gillespie
F - Ludvig Hoff
F - Angus Scott
F - Jared Bethune
F - Keegan Ward
F - Grant Jozefek
F - Biagio Lerario
F - Patrick Polino
F - Blake Christensen
F - Joe Lappin

That's 25 players by my count.  Two goaltenders, eight defensemen, and fifteen forwards.  I've been wrong plenty of times in the past, but I doubt the Stars will begin the regular season with 8 defensemen on the protected roster, especially when (D) Dylan Woolf comes off the 45-day injured reserve list in late October.

There is always the chance that the Stars could send one of the players above to their affiliate roster, but those player must be born in either 1996, 1997, or 1998.  So, we'll have to wait and see if any other roster moves are made this week.

Thanks for reading.  If any other roster moves are made, I'll try to get an article up as soon as I can.  I'm also going to try to post my annual "Predict the Captains" article this week as well.

Go Stars.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

B³ Fall Classic Postgame Recap: Muskegon 7, Lincoln 2

The Lincoln Stars wrapped up their exhibition schedule Saturday afternoon at the USHL Fall Classic in Sioux City, IA with a 7-2 loss to the Muskegon Lumberjacks.

Click here to view the Pointstreak boxscore.

The Stars finished the 2014 preseason with a 3-5-0 record in eight games.

I'm not sure how much time I want to devote towards this recap.  It wasn't a fun game to watch.  It was an ugly, penalty-marred contest that couldn't end soon enough.

Having said that, I don't think the final score indicates how the Stars played in this particular game.  Muskegon certainly was the better team, and deserved to win.  They were more disciplined, more physical, and took full advantage of the offensive chances they had.  However, the Stars played much better than you would think if you just glanced at the final score.

Muskegon pretty much won this game in the first two periods with six goals scored.  The bulk of the Lumberjacks scoring (5 goals) came in a six minute span from the end of the first period to the beginning of the second period.  In that six minute span, the game went from a 0-0 tie to a 5-0 Muskegon lead that they would ride out for the win.

Lincoln goals were scored by Michael Gillespie (SH - primary assist to Wyatt Kalynuk), and Dominick Sacco (PP - nice primary assist to Michael Gillespie).

After an uneventful first period in terms of penalty minutes, these two teams combined for 72 PIM's in the last forty minutes.  Stars head coach Chris Hartsburg was on more than one occasion visibly upset with referee Lucas Martin.  There were a few calls that should have been whistled against Muskegon, especially in the first period.  But like I've always said, good teams overcome bad calls.

In the end, the 'Jacks got the 7-2 win, and their second victory over the Stars in the preseason.  Muskegon outscored Lincoln 11-4 in those two games.  I thought the Lumberjacks were one of the better teams I saw at the Fall Classic.  They are big, fast, physical, and deep.  I believe they will definitely be a playoff team in the USHL eastern conference.

Shots were 36-34 in favor of Lincoln.  Stars goaltender Peyton Jones stopped 27 of 34 in the loss.

Muskegon went 2-for-8 on the powerplay while the Stars went 1-for-5.  Lincoln finished the preseason with 3 PP goals in 31 opportunities.  Lincoln's penalty kill unit surrendered 9 PP goals in 41 opportunities.

What's next?  Lincoln and every other USHL team now has the tough task of cutting their main rosters down to a total of 23 players.  The deadline to make these cuts is Tuesday, September 23rd.

Looking at the Stars' roster, I think they'll only have to make one cut.  I assume (D) Dylan Woolf is on the IR, so he wouldn't count towards the 23.  (G) Hunter Shepard is no longer on the team, so he wouldn't count as well.  So based on the players who have participated in the preseason for Lincoln, I see a total of 24.

The Stars will open up the 2014-15 regular season this Friday night at the IceBox where they will face the Tri-City Storm.  There's nothing better than a home opener at the IceBox.  Really looking forward to that.  I'll post a home opener preview article later on in the week.

Go Stars.

Friday, September 19, 2014

B³ Fall Classic Postgame Recap: Lincoln 4, Sioux Falls 3

Stars celebrate the 4-3 win over Sioux Falls
August Von Ungern-Sternberg's two goals, including the game-winner in the third period, powered the Lincoln Stars to a 4-3 come-from-behind win over the Sioux Falls Stampede at the first day of the USHL Fall Classic in Sioux City, IA.

Click here to view the Poinstreak boxscore.

With the win, the Stars improved their preseason record to 3-4-0 in seven games played.  After losing their first three preseason games this month, Lincoln has won three of their last four.

In the first period, Sioux Falls took full advantage of two powerplay opportunities to score two PP goals and take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.  The lone Lincoln goal in the first period came on a nice play by forward August Von Ungern-Sternberg.  August jumped on a loose puck outside the blueline and turned on the jets before blasting an uncontested wrist shot past the glove of Sioux Falls goaltender Stefanos Lekkas.

It was sort of a back and forth first period, but overall I thought Sioux Falls was the better team.  The Stampede held a 10-7 shot advantage over the Stars after one period.

The Stars come out hot to start the second period and controlled the middle stanza for the most part with a more aggressive forecheck and some timely scoring.  Chris Klack knotted the score at 2-2 early in the second period thanks to a very good play by Michael Gillespie who fought his way out of the corner with the puck and fed it across to Klack who scored.

Speaking of Klack, he really stood out to me today.  He's certainly not the biggest guy on the team, but he's very slippery.  And when I say slippery I mean he's very good at avoiding big body checks from opposing players.  He also has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.  I talked to a couple of scouts today who also shared some of the same positive feedback about Klack.

Near the halfway point of the second period, Sioux Falls scored to take a 3-2 lead over the Stars.  However, Lincoln answered a little later to tie the game at 3-3 thanks to some hard work by Max Humitz.  On this particular goal, Sioux Falls looked like they were going to skate the puck out of their own zone, but Max was able to work hard to pokecheck the puck lose before it left the zone.  Dominick Sacco then corralled the puck before feeding Patrick Polino who waitied for Humitz to get open just to the left of Lekkas.  Polino fed a nice pass across the top of the crease to Humitz who tapped it into the open net.  Terrific effort on the goal that was started and finished by Max.

Both teams were tied up at 3-3 at the second intermission.  Stars outshot the Stampede 11-4 in the second period and dominated play for the most part.

In the third, the lone goal came from Stars forward August Von Ungern-Sternberg early in the period.  This was another great example of the Stars being the aggressor and getting a good forecheck in the Sioux Falls zone.  Lincoln was able to put enough pressure on behind the Stampede net to force a turnover.  The Stars then cycled the puck to August who skated to a quiet spot in between the top of the circle and the blueline before he ripped another wrister past a screened Lekkas.

Try as they might, the Stampede were unable to score the equalizing goal in the remaining minutes of the third period.  Good effort by the Stars to get, and more importantly, hold onto the lead.

Sioux Falls won the special teams war as they went 2-for-4 on the powerplay while Lincoln finished 0-for-5.  The Stars definitely need to work on their PP, as it has not looked particularly well the last couple of games.

Stars goaltender Cam Hackett played all sixty minutes and stopped 23 of 26 shots on goal.  Hackett made some HUGE saves late in the third period to keep the Stars in the lead.  I think this was probably his best game in a Stars uniform so far this preseason.  You could tell he was dialed in, especially when it counted in the final twenty minutes.

This is really a fun team to watch when they are clicking, as they did in good stretches in this game.  They may be young, but they are incredibly skilled and fast.  I think Stars fans are really going to enjoy watching this team grow in front of our eyes.

Lincoln will finish out their exhibition schedule Saturday afternoon at the Fall Classic when they face the Muskegon Lumberjacks at 1:00pm CST.  The 'Jacks beat the Fargo Force today at the Fall Classic by a score of 3-2.  Former Stars Daniel Willett and Tommy Marchin both had a goal for Muskegon in the win against Fargo.  The game on Saturday should be a very good test for the Stars as I thought Muskegon played very well today against the Force.

Go Stars.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

B³ Lincoln Stars 2014 USHL Fall Classic Preview

The Lincoln Stars will continue their 2014 preseason schedule this week when they travel to Sioux City, Iowa to participate in the 2014 USHL Fall Classic (West) showcase.

The Stars will play a total of two games over the course of two days during the Fall Classic.  Lincoln will face off against the Sioux Falls Stampede on Friday, September 19th, and the Muskegon Lumberjacks on Saturday, September 20th.

The two contests at the Fall Classic will be the final preseason games the Stars will participate in before the 2014-15 USHL regular season schedule begins on Friday, September 26th.

The Stars are 2-4-0 in six preseason games so far this month.  This past Tuesday evening at the IceBox, Lincoln scored three goals in the third period to beat the Sioux City Musketeers by a score of 5-4.

Like last year, the league split the 2014 Fall Classic event into two events:  the East Fall Classic in Green Bay, WI from 9/15 to 9/17, and the West Fall Classic in Sioux City, IA from 9/19 to 9/20.

Only western conference teams will be participating in the Sioux City Fall Classic this week (sort of).  Muskegon, who is an eastern conference team, will be participating in the Fall Classic West showcase.  They swapped places with the western conference Waterloo Blackhawks who played in the Fall Classic East.  Clear as mud.

The Fall Classic is one of the most heavily scouted hockey tournaments in North America.  Every year I go to Sioux City for this event, I'm amazed at the amount of college and pro scouts that I see.  At times, scouts outnumber the total amount of fans in the seats.  This tournament is a great opportunity for so many players to be seen, and possibly earn a college hockey scholarship if they don't already have a commitment.

For those who are unaware, the USHL Fall Classic West tournament will be held in one rink in Sioux City, which is the Tyson Events Center (TEC).  The TEC is the home rink for the Sioux City Musketeers.  The Musketeers staff and volunteers do a great job of hosting this event.  Here is the pricing for the tickets, which can be purchased in person at the TEC:

Daily pass: $15 Adult / $10 Child

Daily passes are good for all four games for the date purchased.  So if you are wanting to watch both days of the showcase, expect to pay a total of $30 ($15 x 2).  Unlike in past years, when the Fall Classic was four days long and all 16 USHL teams participated in it, there will not be an all-event pass option offered.  What a bummer.

If you decide to purchase passes ahead of time on Ticketmaster (which I don't recommend), you'll end up spending a lot more money because of Ticketmaster's hidden charges.  These games do not sellout.  In the past I've always just bought passes at the rink when I arrive.

All games this Friday and Saturday will be broadcast live on FASTHockey.

If you don't want to spend the cash on FASTHockey, you can also follow the boxscores of each game online via Pointstreak.   I do not believe any of the Fall Classic games will be available over the radio.  Let's get to the individual matchups.  All times listed below are CST.

Friday, September 19th @ 4:00pm:  Lincoln Stars vs. Sioux Falls Stampede

The Stampede are coming off somewhat disappointing 2013-14 campaign in which they finished in fourth place in USHL western conference regular season standings.  I say "somewhat disappointing" because a lot of pundits, including myself, thought the Stampede would run away with the western conference title because of the amount of returning vets they had on the roster.  However, the 'Pede struggled mightily with playing consistent hockey, and they were eventually swept (0-3) in the first round of the 2014 USHL Clark Cup playoffs.

The Stampede have only played two preseason games so far this month.  On Tuesday, September 9th, Sioux Falls beat the Omaha Lancers at the Ralston Arena by a score of 4-3 in OT.  On Saturday, September 13th, the Stampede fell 1-3 to the Fargo Force in Fargo.

Saturday, September 20th @ 1:00pm:  Muskegon Lumberjacks vs. Lincoln Stars

Although they finished the 2013-14 regular season with a respectable 30-25-5 record, the Lumberjacks missed the Clark Cup playoff by only one point.

I've mentioned this in a prior article, but the Stars and the 'Jacks have been frequent trading partners as of late.  Current Stars GM Jon Hull was Muskegon's assistant GM before coming to Lincoln, so that might explain why both teams have swapped a number of players.  Current Stars Connor Frantti, Blake Christensen, Cam Lee, and Grant Jozefek were all property of the Lumberjacks at some point in the past.

The 'Jacks sport a preseason record of 3-2-0 in five games this month with wins over Cedar Rapids (4-3), Lincoln (4-2), and NTDP U-17 (1-0).  Their two loses came by the hands of the NTDP U-18 (1-5), and Bloomington (0-5).

Like all preseason games, you really never know what to expect with these Fall Classic contests.  Most of these teams will rest some of their better players, and will instead roster some of the younger, inexperienced players whom the coaches want to watch live during a USHL game environment.  As I've said before, these exhibition games are more for the coaches than they are for the fans.  The coaches of every USHL team have to cut down their rosters down to 23 players before the regular season begins.  So it's really important that they get as many players as possible into these games so they can better evaluate them before the start of the regular season.

I am planning on making the trip up to Sioux City for both days, and I'm really looking forward to that.  I have heard from a lot of Stars fans who also plan on being in attendance, so hopefully I'll get to meet and talk with a lot of them over the two days.  So if you'll be in attendance, please come back here to the blog and share your opinions.  I'd love to hear from you.

I will post recap articles this week after each game, so stay tuned for those.  It's starting to feel more and more like hockey season!  Wishing safe travels to all hockey fans and player parents/family/friends going to Sioux City this week.

Go Stars.