Thursday, December 27, 2012

B³ Weekend Preview: Tri-City and Sioux City

The Lincoln Stars will return from their short holiday break with two games against western conference divisional foes this weekend.  This Friday evening at the Viaero Event Center in Kearney, NE, the Stars will take on the Tri-City Storm.  On Saturday night, the Stars will return to the IceBox to battle the Sioux City Musketeers.  The puck will drop at 7:30pm CST for the Friday night game in Kearney, and at 7:05pm CST for the game against Sioux City on Saturday.

If you can't make it to either of the two games this weekend, you can follow the boxscores online via Pointstreaklisten 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 15-8-3 (33 points), and are in fourth place in the USHL Western Conference.  Click here to view the updated USHL standings.  Lincoln is only 4 points out of first place, and six points out of seventh place in the wild, wild western conference.  The Stars are 5-8-3 in their last 16 games after starting the season 10-0-0.

First up for the good guys this weekend will be a road tilt against the Tri-City Storm, who have a record of 12-13-3 (27 points) and are in seventh place in the USHL Western Conference.  The Storm are 2-4-2 in their last eight games played, and have a subpar home record of 7-8-0 in fifteen games played at the Viaero Event Center in Kearney.

This will be the fourth time the Stars and Storm will meet this season.  Lincoln is 3-0-0 in their three previous games against Tri-City, and have outscored them 10-3.  In their last meeting, which took place in Kearney on 10/30/12, the Stars and goaltender Jackson Teichroeb pitched a 3-0 shutout victory over the Storm.  Lincoln and Tri-City will meet a total of nine times during the regular season.  In two games in Kearney this season, the Stars are 2-0-0 against the Storm and have outscored them 7-1.

With only 75 goals scored in 28 games played this season, the Storm are the third lowest scoring offense in the USHL behind Team USA and the Sioux City Musketeers (Lincoln's opponent Saturday night).  On the other end of the ice, the Storm have surrendered 93 goals against in those 28 games played, which is second-most in the western conference.  Those numbers aren't pretty, but the Storm have somehow played well enough to be a near .500 hockey club so far this season.

Goal scoring depth and consistency have been the Storm's biggest issues so far this season.  They have some high end talented forwards in Trevor Moore, Tim Bonner, and Brian Ward....but not much depth after that.  There are nights when the Storm look very, very good....and nights when the team craps the bed.  I think Stars fans can sympathize with that kind of inconsistent play.  We've seen a lot of it the past month or so.

Saturday night at the IceBox, the Stars will host the Sioux City Musketeers who occupy last place in the USHL Western Conference with an abysmal 5-16-6 (16 points) record.  This will be the third of eight regular season games the Stars and the Muskies will play against one another.  Lincoln is 2-0-0 in their two prior games against Sioux City this season.  Only one of Sioux City's five wins this season have come on the road.

In my opinion, the Muskies are a much better team than their record indicates.  Since losing 4-2 to Lincoln on 12/6/12 at the IceBox, the Muskies are a respectable 2-2-2 in their last six games leading up to this weekend.  Head Coach Brett Larson has made a number of recent changes to the roster, which I think will benefit them in the long run.  They've added quality players such as J.T. Stenglein, Riley Bourbonnais, and Christian Lampasso.

However, it may already be a little too late.  Goaltending is a serious issue in Sioux City, as neither netminder on the roster has a save percentage about .900, which is a must in this league.  It will be very difficult for the Muskies to climb out of last place and into the playoff race, especially when only the top four teams in each conference qualify for postseason play.  Even more difficult to do all of that in the cutthroat western conference.

On paper, you'd think would be an easy four points for the Stars this weekend.  Lincoln has a combined 5-0-0 record this season against Tri-City and Sioux City.  Lincoln has outscored Tri-City and Sioux City 19-8 in those fives games.  Yet, this is the first couple of games coming off the short holiday break.  Mentally, will the Stars be able to set their minds to playing 60 minutes of hockey each night?  Or will they come out flat, suffering from a holiday hangover?  We'll find out soon enough.

I know a lot of Lincoln fans are planning on making the trip out to Kearney for the game Friday night, so hopefully those folks are treated to a Stars win.  I'll be watching from home, and will post a recap article late Friday night.

Go Stars.

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