Thursday, February 23, 2012

B³ Weekend Preview: Youngstown and Tri-City

The Lincoln Stars will face off against an unfamiliar foe, and a very familiar foe this weekend when they take on the Youngstown Phantoms and the Tri-City Storm.  On Friday night at the IceBox, the Stars will host the Phantoms.  On Saturday night in Kearney, the Stars will battle the Storm for the third time in seven days.  The puck will drop at 7:05pm CST for both games.

If you can't make to the games this weekend in Lincoln and/or Kearney, you can follow the boxscores online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on KLMS 1480 AM, or watch the games on FASTHockey for a fee.

Lincoln enters this weekend with a record of 25-14-3 (53 points), and are in sole possession of second place in the USHL Western Conference.  The Stars are only two points behind the first place Omaha Lancers (55 points), and Lincoln has two games in hand.  Click here to see the current USHL standings.

First up this weekend for the Stars will be the Youngstown Phantoms (25-14-4, 54 points, fourth place in the USHL Eastern Conference).  This will be the first, and only time the Stars will face the Phantoms this season. You can thank the USHL for that, I guess.  I don't know about you guys, but I'm tired of seeing the same western conference teams at the IceBox.  I miss seeing more of the eastern conference teams.  I know the USHL is trying to cut travel costs down, but a little variety in opponents would be nice.

Although the Phantoms have struggled in the past two seasons since joining the USHL, this year they are playing much, much better.  In their first season in the USHL, the Phantoms went 20-36-4 in 2009-10 and finished in last place in the east.  The next season in 2010-11, Youngstown went 23-30-7 and finished in second to last place in the east.  This season, the Phantoms are one of the top teams in the USHL, thanks to head coach Anthony Noreen who was promoted from assistant coach to head coach before this season began.

If you weren't aware, the Youngstown Phantoms are owned by Bruce Zoldan who also happens to be CEO of "Phantom Fireworks," one of the largest fireworks distributors in the country.  Because of the owner's deep pockets, the Phantoms sport one of the coolest buses you'll see in junior hockey.  Click here to view a video the USHL recently posted about the Phantoms' bus.

The Phantoms and the Stars are two very similar teams in both records, and how they like to play the game.  They like to play an up-tempo game on offense.  Both teams are very, very physical.  Lincoln has a total of 1001 penalty minutes through 42 games, good enough for second-most in the USHL.  Youngstown has accumulated a total of 869 penalty minutes through 43 games which is good enough for third-most in the USHL.  On paper, this game looks like it could be a very fun one to watch live.

On Saturday night at the Viaero Event Center in Kearney, the Stars will knock heads once again with the Tri-City Storm (18-26-0, 36 points, seventh place in the USHL Western Conference).  This will be the seventh time this season the Stars and Storm will play one another.  Lincoln has a 4-1-1 record against the Storm in their six previous meetings.

Just last Saturday, the Stars were spanked by the Storm at the Viaero Event Center by a score of 8-3.  The blowout loss left a sour taste in the mouth of the Stars, and they took out their frustrations on the Storm this past Tuesday at the IceBox.

A quick side note, the Stars will be without the services of forward Brent Tate this Friday night due to a one-game suspension handed down by the USHL.  Tate was suspended due to the instigator minor, fighting major, and unsportsmanlike conduct game misconduct (say that fast five times in a row) he picked up late in the 6-3 victory over the TC Storm this past Tuesday at the IceBox.  After getting high-sticked in the face by Storm forward Brian Ward, Tate took exception and instigated a fight with Ward.  Brent will be back in the lineup Saturday night just in time to face the TC Storm again.  That could be another interesting game.  It wouldn't surprise me at all if Tate and Ward go at it again Saturday night.

Another quick statistical note:  the Stars are on a five-game home winning streak, and a five-game road losing streak.  If the Stars can figure out how to win away from the comfy confines of the IceBox, there's no doubt in my mind they can leapfrog the Omaha Lancers into first place in the west.

I'm really looking forward to the game against Youngstown tomorrow night at the IceBox.  It will be interesting to see how the Stars stack up against one of the top teams in the eastern conference.

Go Stars.

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