Thursday, February 21, 2013

B³ Weekend Preview: Team USA U-18 and Waterloo

The Lincoln Stars will return to the IceBox this weekend with two home games against extremely talented hockey clubs.  On Friday evening, the Stars will host Team USA U-18 at the IceBox.  Saturday evening, the Waterloo Blackhawks will invade the capital city looking to distance themselves from the Stars in the standings.  The puck will drop at 7:05pm CST for each game.

If you are unable to make it to the IceBox this weekend, you can follow the boxscores online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on 93.7 FM "The Ticket," or watch the games live on FASTHockey for a fee.

The Stars are currently 26-16-3 (55 points), and are in fifth place in the USHL Western Conference, one point behind the fourth place Waterloo Blackhawks.  Click here to view the updated USHL standings.

First up this weekend for the Stars will be the uber-talented youngsters of Team USA U-18.  Team USA, which consists of two separate teams (U-17's and U-18's), has a USHL record of 11-24-5 (27 points) and are in eighth place in the USHL East Division.  This will be the first and only time the Stars play the U-18's this season.

Unlike the U-17 squad, the U-18 team also plays games against NCAA teams along with their regular schedule of USHL opponents.  If my calculations are correct, the Team USA U-18 squad has a 8-5-0 record against USHL competition this season.  Click here to see the U-18's 2012-13 schedule, which includes the results of their games.  Some of the NCAA college hockey teams that the U-18's have beat this season are: Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, and Merrimack.  They've also tied powerhouse teams like North Dakota and Minnesota.

This past Wednesday, the U-18's blanked the Steel in Chicago by a score of 4-0.  The U-18's outshot Chicago 51-19 in that game (wow).  Team USA was supposed to play the UNO Mavericks in Omaha tonight (Thursday), but that game was postponed until Saturday because of the snowstorm we are dealing with right now.  The snow should not affect either game at the IceBox this weekend.

Don't let Team USA's sub-par USHL record (11-24-5) fool you.  The majority of those losses are from the U-17 squad.  The U-18 squad is straight up deadly, and is jam packed with the best young American-born players in the country.  Some names to watch for on Friday night per Chris Peters of the "United States of Hockey" blog are:  J.T. Compher (F-#7), Steven Santini (D-#16), Keaton Thompson (D-#6) , John Hayden (F-#15), Hudson Fasching (F-#22), Tyler Kelleher (F-#19), and Anthony Louis (F-#9).

Two players in particular on the U-18 roster have some Lincoln ties, but unfortunately, only one will make a visit to the IceBox.  U-18 forward Mike McCarron, whose older brother John McCarron played for the Stars from 2008-11, did not make the road trip with Team USA because of an injury he suffered in practice earlier this week.  John's "little" brother is a 6'5", 228 pound 16-year old.  Incredible size for someone that young.  Mike has a bright future ahead of him, as he is drawing a ton of interest from NHL scouts due to his combination of size and skill.

Mike was selected by the Lincoln Stars in the fifth round of the 2012 USHL Entry Draft, but I don't think we'll ever see him in a Stars uniform.  I believe the Stars coaches took a shot on him playing one more season in the USHL after he ages out of the Team USA program after this season.  Mike has committed to Western Michigan University for the fall of 2013, and he also has the opportunity to play major junior hockey in the OHL as well.  It's too bad we won't get to see Mike play at the IceBox on Friday night.  I know his family was really looking forward to that.

The other U-18 player with a Lincoln connection is forward Sean Malone from Buffalo, NY.  Sean was a fourth round draft pick of the Stars in the 2011 USHL Futures Draft.  There was a chance that Sean would have played this season in Lincoln, but after playing extremely well in a couple of Team USA camps this past summer, the NTDP came calling.  And when Team USA comes calling, you don't ignore it.  It would have been great to have Sean in Lincoln this season, but I can completely understand why he decided to play from Team USA when they offered him a spot.  You can't turn that opportunity down.

Like Mike McCarron, I don't believe we'll see Sean Malone in a Lincoln Stars uniform either.  Sean is a very bright kid, and will be attending Harvard University this fall after his season with Team USA.  I've had the opportunity to befriend members of Sean's family (who read this blog) the past year or so, and they are super nice people.  They even bought Lincoln Stars gear after Sean was originally drafted by Lincoln.  I know they will all be watching this game via FASTHockey back in Buffalo.

On Saturday, the Stars will play host to the Waterloo Blackhawks, who have a record of 27-17-2 (56 points) and are in fourth place in the USHL Western Conference.  This will be the third time the Stars and B'hawks have met this season.  On 12/31/12, the Blackhawks scored 8 powerplay goals in route to a 10-2 victory over the Stars.  On 1/15/13, the Stars got some revenge at the IceBox with a well-played 4-2 win over Waterloo.

Like the Stars, the Blackhawks are battling for that fourth and final playoff spot in the western conference.  Sioux Falls and Fargo are firmly in the top two spots in the west, so that means Omaha, Waterloo, and Lincoln are left to fight it out for the remaining two playoff spots.  There's still a lot of hockey yet to be played, but the Stars can definitely help themselves with a big win over the Blackhawks this Saturday.  Not allowing Waterloo to pick up any extra points in overtime would be nice also.

This weekend preview article is already too long, so I better wrap it up.  Huge, huge test for the Stars this weekend against two very talented hockey clubs.  Lincoln will have to play its best hockey to beat these two teams.

Quick plug for the Lincoln Stars' BlueLine Booster Club:  The booster club is organizing a bus trip to Sioux City, IA for the Friday 3/29/13 game against the Musketeers. This will be game #1,000 in Lincoln Stars franchise history. You may have heard Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye talking about this recently on air.  Melbye really wants to get as many Stars fans up there for this historic game.

The cost to ride the BlueLine Booster Club bus to Sioux City on 3/29 is $25, and if you get a ticket through the club, it will cost an additional $10. The BLBC needs 45 people to sign up by 3/8/13 for the bus to go. If you are interested, sign up in the BLBC booth beginning this Friday.  This bus trip can only happen if the club gets at least 45 people to sign up.  I'm planning on doing it, so I hope you all consider it as well.  This should be a great opportunity to hang out with other Stars fans, and support the boys in Sioux City during a very important game in Lincoln's franchise history.  But again, this can't happen if the club doesn't get at least 45 people.  So make sure you stop by the BLBC booth this weekend to sign up.  Thanks.

Go Stars.

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