Thursday, January 27, 2011

B³ Weekend Preview: Indiana and Fargo

The Lincoln Stars (16-14-2, 34 points, tied for seventh place in the USHL Western Conference) will start another four-game home-stand this weekend with games against the Indiana Ice on Friday night, and the Fargo Force on Saturday night.  The puck will drop at 7:05pm at the IceBox for both games.   Click here to listen to Mike Melbye call the games on AM 1480 KLMS.  If you have money to burn, you can also watch the games via B2 Network by clicking here.  If you want to follow the Pointstreak boxscore, click here.

First up for the Stars this weekend will be the Indiana Ice (21-11-2, 44 points, third place in the USHL Eastern Conference), who are one of the hottest teams in the USHL.  This team is so hot right now you'd expect them to rename the team to the "Indiana Fire" (lame joke).  After starting the regular season very slowly, the Ice are 17-2 in the last 19 games, and have rocketed up the standings.  What has driven the Ice up the standings has mainly been their very potent offense.  Through 34 games played, the Ice have scored 130 goals (most in the USHL), which averages out to 3.8 goals scored per game (also tops in the USHL).  They have four players on their roster with at least 30 points scored (the Stars have one - Ryan Dzingel), and the Ice have 3 players in the Top 10 in overall scoring in the USHL.  They aren't the 1983 Edmonton Oilers, but this team can plain put the puck in the net.

The Ice have found a lot of success away from home, which their 10-5-1 road record indicates.  They have also won their last 8 straight road games.  Indiana is led on offense by forward Blake Coleman, whose 54 points (16g, 38a) leads the USHL in scoring.  Right behind Coleman on the Ice roster is the Russian sniper, Daniil Tarasov.  The '91 native of Moscow is second in the USHL in goals scored, with 20 scored through 31 games.  I watched Tarasov at the USHL Fall Classic back in September, and at the time, I said he was the best offensive player I had seen on any team in the entire tournament.  To say that the Ice will be a huge test for the Stars is an understatement.  Having said that, we've seen some very good teams come into the IceBox for the first time and lay some big eggs.  The players on the Ice roster put their skates on just the same as the Stars, so anything is possible.  Lincoln must play aggressive on the forecheck and take the play to the Ice instead of playing back and waiting for Indiana to make a move first.  This will be the first time this season these two teams have faced each other.

Saturday night at the IceBox, the Stars their divisional foe to the north, the Fargo Force (19-14-4, 42 points, second place in the USHL Western Conference).  Like the Ice, the Force are a team that are playing much better right now than earlier in the season.  Going into their matchup against the Omaha Lancers on the road this past Wednesday night (which they lost 5-2), the Force had won 5 straight road games, and were 9-3-0 in their last twelve games.  Also like the Ice, the Force are more than comfortable on the road, as Fargo sports an impressive 11-7-1 away record.  These two teams have faced each other three times this season, with Fargo winning two of the three games.  The last time they knocked heads, it was 12/10/10 in Fargo, and the Force shut out the Stars by a score of 3-0.

Like I mentioned above, the Force are coming off a Wednesday night game in Omaha in which they lost 5-2.  The Force will play Friday night in Des Moines, before traveling back to Nebraska on Saturday to face the Stars.  One can hope that by Saturday night the Force will be worn out emotionally and physically after a long week on the road.  I don't expect that, and the Stars shouldn't either.  This is a very good all-around team.  They have a ton of young, fast forwards, and two of the better goaltenders in the USHL.  The Force always seem to play the Stars tough at home, regardless of records.

The Lincoln Stars are also a team on the rise as of late, having won 5 of their last 7 games.  In the two games they lost (one in overtime), the Stars had the lead going into the third period against two very good teams (Cedar Rapids and Dubuque).  One concerning aspect of how the Stars have played in the past 10 games or so has been their team defense, specifically the amount of shots allowed on net.  In the each of the last six games played, Stars goaltender Kevin Murdock has made at least 36 saves.  Now, just because a team puts a ton of shots on goal doesn't mean they deserve to win, or have outplayed their opponent.  Quality over quantity wins every time.  Having said that, against teams like Indiana and Fargo, the Stars will be facing some top-notch offensive talent.  They cannot afford to give up 40+ shots per game and expect to pull four points out of the weekend.

On the injury front, Stars forward Josh Berge and defenseman Kyle Quick are still out of the lineup due to concussions.  There have been some rumors floating around that Berge will not be back this season, but until I hear it directly from the Stars, I wouldn't put much faith in that kind of talk.  The symptoms related to concussions can sometimes linger for a long time, so unlike other injuries, it's impossible to really anticipate when a player could be healthy enough to return.  It's a waiting game for sure.  The important thing right now is that both players take the time needed to get healthy.  When it comes to concussions, hockey is an afterthought.  

Be aware that there is a UNL womens basketball game Saturday night at the Devaney Center, so leave a little early that night than you normally would.  I really hope to see another full IceBox this weekend.  The talent the Stars will be facing this weekend will be very good, so the black and blue will need all of our support.  Be loud!

Go Stars.

Note:  Stars forward Ryan Dzingel was recently featured on the "This Week in the USHL Radio Show."  Click play below to listen to the interview.  Great job by Ryan who represents the Lincoln Stars very well.


Streaking STARS said...

Stars website just announced that Berge is out for the remainder of the season.

Yeti said...

Thanks for the heads up, Streaking STARS.