Thursday, March 8, 2012

B³ Weekend Preview: Team USA U-17, Muskegon

The Lincoln Stars will look to improve upon their two-game road winning streak this weekend with two contests against eastern conference foes in the state of Michigan.  On Friday evening, the Stars will be in Ann Arbor, MI to face the U.S. National Team Development Program (U-17).  Faceoff for that matchup will be at 6:00pm CST.  On Saturday, the Stars will travel east from Ann Arbor to take on the Muskegon Lumberjacks.  Faceoff for the Muskegon game will be at 6:15pm CST.

To follow the team this weekend you can check out 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 28-15-4 (60 points) and are currently in second place in the USHL Western Conference.  Click here to see the up to date USHL standings.

First up for the good guys this weekend will be the U-17 Team USA squad (20-20-4, 44 points, sixth place in the USHL Eastern Conference).  For those not familiar with Team USA, they are divided into two different squads:  U-18 and U-17.  The U-18 team consists of some of the best homegrown hockey players under the age of 18.  The U-17 team consists of players under the age of 17 (all players on this team were born in 1995).  This will be the first, and only time Lincoln and Team USA face each other this season.

By my calculations looking at the Team USA U-17 schedule, the youngsters have a 11-14-2 record against USHL teams so far this season.  Despite their very young age, this is a salty bunch of seasoned players.  They've already beaten some of the better USHL teams this season, so this won't be an easy game for the visiting Stars.

One name on the Team USA U-17 roster that may sound familiar to Lincoln hockey fans is forward Michael McCarron.  Michael's older brother John played three seasons in Lincoln and is now a freshman on the Cornell University ice hockey team.  When the elder McCarron brother played here, he was often referred to as "Big John."  Well, "little" brother Mike has his older brother beat.  Michael McCarron stands 6'5", weighs 220 pounds, and just turned 17 years old yesterday.  Mike is a big, talented kid with a bright future.

On Saturday, the Stars will complete their Michigan road trip with a tilt against the Muskegon Lumberjacks (15-24-7, seventh place in the USHL Eastern Conference).  Like the Team USA game, this will be the first and only time Lincoln and Muskegon will meet this season.  Last season, the Stars went 2-0 against the then expansion Lumberjacks.  

This game could be a very interesting one to watch.  You have the top two teams in terms of penalty minutes accrued in the USHL.  The Lumberjacks hold the top spot with a total of 1,204 penalty minutes accumulated in 46 games (average of 26.2 PIM's per game).  The Stars are second overall with 1,074 in 47 games (average of 22.9 PIM's per game).  Both teams thrive on intimidating their opponent, although the end result hasn't been nearly as successful for the Lumberjacks this season compared to the Stars.

The 'Jacks have surrendered 179 goals this season, which is the most of any USHL team.  Defensively, they have a lot of holes.  At the beginning of this season, the Lumberjacks made a trade for a goaltender some fans in Lincoln may remember.  John Keeney, formerly of the Omaha Lancers, was acquired to help shore up their goaltending.  Althought Keeney hasn't played that bad this season, he's only one player.  The problems on the 'Jacks go much further than Keeney, the only goaltender I know in the USHL with his own website.  Although the team in front of him can be a defensive nightmare, Keeney has the talent to stand on his head and steal games on his own.

Although both of the teams the Stars will face this weekend are barely treading water near the bottom of the eastern conference standings, Team USA U-17 and Muskegon are more than capable of winning games in their own rinks against teams with better records than they have.  There are no easy games in the USHL.

A number of Lincoln players will be making a homecoming of sorts this weekend with the road trip to Michigan.  Brent Tate (Canton), Dominik Shine, (Pinckney), and Charles Williams (Canton) are Michigan natives and should have a lot of family and friends in attendance at both games.

Don't forget that both games are being played in the eastern time zone, so they will be starting about an hour earlier than what we are used to.

Good luck to the team this weekend!  Bring home four points!

Go Stars.

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