This weekend, the Lincoln Stars will arguably play their biggest two games so far this season when they take on the Omaha Lancers in a home-and-home series.
Friday's matchup will take place at the IceBox in Lincoln. Saturday's game will be held at the Ralston Sports and Entertainment Complex in Ralston, NE. The puck will drop at 7:05pm CST for each game this weekend.
If you are not able to make it to the two games this weekend, you can follow the boxscores on Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on 93.7FM "The Ticket," or watch the games online via FASTHockey.com for a fee.
The Stars are currently 20-10-3 (43 points), and are in fourth place in the USHL Western Conference. Click here to view the updated USHL standings. Lincoln is 5-2-0 in their last seven games.
The Lancers come into this weekend with a record of 19-16-0 (38 points), and are in fifth place in the USHL Western Conference. Omaha is 3-4-0 in their last seven games.
This will be the fifth time this season that the Stars and Lancers have played one another. In their four previous meetings, the Lancers have a record of 3-1-0, however two of their wins have come in the overtime shootout. Three of the four games played between Omaha and Lincoln have been decided by only one goal. The Stars and Lancers will play a total of 10 times in the 2012-13 season.
Since they last faced the Stars on 12/14/12, the Lancers have made a number of moves to shakeup their roster. Gone are forwards Kenny Gillespie, Eli Lichtenwald, and defenseman Frank Schumacher. In return, defenseman Dominic Racobaldo was acquired from Fargo, and forward Robbie Baillargeon from Indiana.
If you're curious about the current "Good Life Cup" standings, here they are :
If you look at the current western conference standings posted below, you'll see that the top four teams (SF, FAR, WAT, LNK) have started to pull away from the bottom four teams (OM, DM, TC, SC). There's still a lot of hockey yet to be played this season, but the playoff race has already begun. Starting this season, only the top four teams in each conference make the playoffs.
The Lancers have made the playoffs the last 22 seasons in a row. As of right now, that streak is in jeopardy. That's why these next two games are VERY important for both squads. The Stars want those four points to distance themselves further from the bottom four teams, and inch closer to Waterloo and Fargo. Omaha desperately needs those four points against the team they are trailing for that last playoff spot in the west. So a lot is on the line this weekend.
The top two teams in each conference get home ice advantage when the playoffs start, so if you're a Stars fan, you should be rooting for the teams that Sioux Falls, Fargo, and Waterloo play from this point on the rest of this season. Finishing in the top four is nice, but to take advantage of the home-ice atmosphere that the IceBox provides, the Stars will need to finish in the top two. Again, there is still a lot of hockey yet to be played, but it's never too early to start thinking about the playoffs.
Getting back to the games this weekend, the Stars will be without defenseman Mike McKee and goaltender Michael Bitzer for Friday night's game only because of suspensions. Both players will be available to play Saturday night in Ralston if needed. So that means Jackson Teichroeb will start for sure Friday night at the IceBox. Lancers goaltender Alex Lyon was in net Wednesday night against Cedar Rapids, so I assume he'll start for Omaha Friday also.
Jake Wood and Jimmy DeVito will be back in the lineup also after they both served a one-game suspension this past Tuesday in Lincoln's 4-2 win over Waterloo. As for injuries, the only one I'm aware of is Dominik Shine. I'm hoping he'll be back in the lineup soon.
These two games this weekend will be the last that each team will play against one another until the big outdoor game at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha on February 9th, 2013. Hard to believe that game is only a few weeks away.
Nothing better than the Stars and the Lancers knocking heads in back to back games. Should be fun. See you all at a sold out IceBox Friday night.