Thursday, October 31, 2013

B³ Weekend Preview: Tri-City and Omaha

It's rivalry weekend for the Lincoln Stars as they go on the road to take on the Tri-City Storm on Friday evening, and then the Omaha Lancers on Saturday night.  The puck will drop at 7:30pm CST in Kearney for the game against the Storm, and at 7:05pm CST in Ralston, NE against the Lancers.

If you are unable to make it to any of the games 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.

Friday's opponent in Kearney, the Tri-City Storm, have a record of 3-5-2 (8 points) and are tied for seventh place in the USHL western conference with the Lincoln Stars (2-3-4).  Tri-City is the third lowest scoring team in the USHL, averaging only 1.8 goals per game through 10 regular season contests.

The Stars are 1-0-1 in two regular season games against the Storm this season.  In their last meeting, this past Friday night at the IceBox, the Stars dominated the Storm in route to a 6-1 drubbing and their first home win of the season.  The Stars are 11-0-1 in their last 12 regular season games against the Tri-City Storm, dating back to the 2011-2012 season.

The Storm laid an egg last weekend with losses to both Lincoln (6-1) and a shutout loss to the Omaha Lancers (2-0).  However, Tri-City rebounded with an impressive 4-2 home win against the Waterloo Blackhawks this past Wednesday night.

Lincoln's true arch-rival, the Omaha Lancers, will be the Stars' opponent on Saturday night at Ralston Arena in Ralston, NE.  This will be the first of eight regular season meetings between the Lancers and the Stars.

The Lancers sport an impressive 9-1-1 record through 11 games so far, and are all alone in first place in the USHL western conference.  Omaha is undefeated at home this season, with a 5-0-0 record in five games at Ralston Arena.  Four of those five victories at home have been shutout wins.

The Lancers have been the talk of the USHL through the first full month.  In their first five regular season games, the Lancers did not surrender one goal.  You read that correctly.  Omaha, and specifically goaltender Cole Bruns, shutout their opponents in each of their first five games of the season.  It was an incredible streak that garnered a lot of national media.  In those first five games, the Lancers outscored their opponents 22-5.  

Big test for the Stars this weekend.  The Storm should be a salty and motivated hockey club after getting smacked around last Friday night by the Stars at the IceBox.  Omaha is arguably the top team in the league right now and will be amped up at home to continue their home dominance at Ralston Arena.  There are no easy games in this league.

Some bad news for Lincoln this week as defenseman and co-captain Zach Frye has been suspended four games by the USHL due to a head contact major (and game ejection) he picked up in the third period of the Muskegon game last Saturday night.  Two of those four games that Frye will miss are against the Omaha Lancers.  Not a good time to lose the team's top defender and leader.

Unfortunately I won't be able to attend either of these two road games.  I do plan on watching the Friday game via FASTHockey and will report back to the blog with a full recap.  On Saturday I will not be around a computer to watch or follow along, so I hope to get a lot of feedback from Stars fans who make the trip to Ralston to watch the good guys against the Lancers.

Go Stars.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

B³ Postgame Recap: Muskegon 4, Lincoln 3

Stars celebrate Zach Frye's third period goal
Courtesy of Shooting Star Photos
It was a back and forth battle Saturday evening at the IceBox, but the visiting Muskegon Lumberjacks escaped with a 4-3 victory over the Lincoln Stars thanks to a late third period goal.

Click here to view the Pointstreak boxscore.

With the loss, the Stars dropped to 2-3-4 (8 points), while the 'Jacks improved to 6-4-1 (13 points).  Lincoln dropped from 5th to 6th place in the western conference.  Click here to see the current USHL standings.

Lincoln's powerplay unit got the home crowd cheering early on in this game when forward Brandon Smith batted a rebound past Muskegon goaltender Eric Schierhorn at the 2:53 mark of the first period.  Zach Frye and Magnus Hoff picked up the assists on Smith's second goal of the season.

While the fans were still cheering Smith's goal which made it 1-0 Stars, the Lumberjacks answered quickly with a goal scored 41 seconds after to even the game at 1-1.

Muskegon outshot Lincoln 14-11 in the first twenty minutes, but the score remained tied 1-1 going into the first intermission.

The second period was mostly controlled by the Lumberjacks as they outscored Lincoln 2-1.  The Jacks scored the first two goals of the second period to take a 2-1 lead, but John Simonson answered for the Stars late in the period.  Simonson's fifth goal of the season come with only 1:21 remaining in the middle period, with assists going to Christian Lampasso and Jared Kolquist.

Shots were even at 13 a piece in the second period for both teams.  Muskegon led 3-2 at the second intermission.

At the 6:18 mark of the third period, Stars co-captain Zach Frye scored a huge powerplay goal to even the game at 3-3.  Frye wristed a shot from the blueline that somehow found its way past all of the traffic in front of him and past Schierhorn.  Luke Shiplo and Luke Voltin earned the assists on Frye's first goal of the season.

It was looking like this game might go to overtime, but the Jacks scored on a goal-mouth scramble with less than 8 minutes remaining to take a 4-3 lead.  Try as they might, the Stars could not get that game-tying goal.  Lincoln had some very good opportunities late in the game to knot the game up on the powerplay, but they could not get the puck past Schierhorn.

Stars defenseman Zach Frye was whistled for a head contact major and game ejection late in this game.  I didn't get a good look at the play, so I can't give my opinion.  It seemed like most of the fans in attendance did not agree with the penalty.  This was Frye's second head contact major penalty of the season, so I assume the USHL is going to want to look at the tape.

Stars goaltender Michael Bitzer stopped 32 of 36 shots on goal in the loss, while Eric Schierhorn stopped 28 of 31 for the win.  Muskegon went 0-for-5 on the powerplay while Lincoln went 2-for-6.

Lincoln's penalty kill unit has been spectacular the past four games, as they've killed all 25 opponent PP opportunities they've faced.

I don't think the Stars played bad in this game, but I don't think they played great either.  I thought Muskegon showed more quickness than Lincoln, and used that team speed to generate a lot of odd-man rushes on offense.  Give credit to the 'Jacks for being the more aggressive team for 60 minutes.

The Stars are back on the road next weekend, albeit in the borders of the state of Nebraska.  On Friday, the good guys will be in Kearney to face the Tri-City Storm.  Saturday night, Lincoln will play their arch rival Omaha Lancers for the first time this season.  That game will take place at the Ralston Arena in Ralston, NE.

Go Stars.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

B³ Postgame Recap: Tri-City 1, Lincoln 6

Stars celebrate the win
Courtesy of Shooting Star Photos
The Lincoln Stars captured their first home win of the season in dominating fashion with a 6-1 blowout victory over the Tri-City Storm at the IceBox on Friday night.

Click here to view the Pointstreak boxscore.

With the win, the Stars improved to 2-2-4 (8 points) and jumped from last place in the western conference to fifth place.  Tri-City dropped to 2-4-2 (6 points) and are tied with Fargo for last place in the west.  The Stars are 11-0-1 in their last 12 regular season games against the TC Storm, dating back to the 2011-2012 season.

Stars forward Luke Voltin got the Stars on the scoreboard first with a pretty backhand goal on a Lincoln powerplay at the 13:29 mark of the first period.  Brandon Smith and Dan Willett collected the assists on Voltin's first goal as a member of the Stars.

Very late in the period, another Lincoln forward got his first as a member of the Stars when Hunter Anderson knocked in a rebound past Storm goaltender Hayden Lavigne with only 35 seconds remaining in the first.  A point shot by Zach Frye was stopped by Lavigne, but Anderson did a great job of collecting the rebound with a Storm player on his back before slipping the puck into the net.  Frye and Max Humitz picked up the assists on Anderson's even-strength goal.

Stars took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission while leading on shots, 17-7.

In the second period, the Lincoln scoring explosion continued with even-strength goals from John Simonson at the 6:15 mark, and Tom Marchin at the 8:07 mark.  Simonson's goal came on an odd-man rush, while Marchin's was a bang-bang play directly of a faceoff in the TC defensive zone.  Magnus Hoff and Brandon Smith earned the assists on Simonson's fourth goal of the season, which leads all Stars.  Max Humitz picked up the lone assist on Marchin's goal.

Storm goaltender Hayden Lavigne was pulled after the Simonson goal and was replaced by Jacon Johansson, who gave up the Marchin goal.

Late in the second, with the Stars spending a good amount of time in the penalty box, the Storm turned it around a bit and seemed to play with more intensity.  Their good play was rewarded with a goal by Joel LEsperance at the 14:46 mark of the second period.  TC showed some life in the latter half of the middle period, but Michael Bitzer and the Stars were able to shut the door.

Lincoln took the 4-1 lead into the second intermission.  Storm outshot the Stars 17-13 in the second period.  Through two periods, Lincoln led in shots 30-24.

In the third, it was all Lincoln as the Stars outscored the Storm 2-0 and outshot them 14-7.

Christian Lampasso got his first in a Stars jersey at the 6:49 mark of the third thanks to another rebound given up by a Storm goaltender.  Lampasso was right outside the crease in perfect position to easily tap in the rebound.  Tom Marchin and Max Humitz collected the assists on Lampasso's even-strength goal.

Only 24 seconds after the Lampasso goal, which made it 5-0 Stars, forward Jason Stephanik scored at the 7:13 mark to complete the scoring on the night.  On the play, Jared Kolquist sent a shot wide of the goal which bounced off the rear boards and went right to Stephanik who snapped the puck past Johansson.  Kolquist and Zack Pittman picked up the assists on Stephanik's second goal of the season.

Max Humitz led all scorers with three points (all assists) last night, and was +3.  Jared Kolquist was an amazing +5 on the night.

Michael Bitzer was stellar once again, as he stopped 30 of 31 shots for the win.  Storm goaltenders Hayden Lavigne and Jacob Johansson combined to stop 38 of 44 Lincoln shots on goal in the loss.

Lincoln's penalty kill unit really did a great job last night, blanking the Storm on all 7 powerplay opportunities they had.  The Stars went 1-for-4 with the man advantage.

Did anyone out there see the double minor penalty (and game ejection) called on Stars defenseman Connor Frantti late in the second period?  I didn't see it at all, and neither did anyone around me.  It was a very odd course of events, as the ref never raised his hand during play, and conferred with his linesmen after the play for a few minutes before the call was made.  Frantti already seems to have a referee target on his back due to his size, something as Stars fans we are very familiar with (Mike McKee).

Here's a stat my good friend BellsTolls sent me this morning:  The Stars have not allowed more than 1 goal in their past 3 games (Team USA 1, Youngstown 1, Tri-City 1). The last time the Stars went 3 straight games without giving up more than 1 goal in each was Nov. 22-29, 2008 (Fargo 1, Sioux City 1, Tri-City 1; Borelli, Borelli, Murdock). It's been almost 5 years since the Stars have been that efficient 3 games in a row!

Big opportunity tonight at the IceBox to sweep the weekend and get four points with the Muskegon Lumberjacks coming to town.  The 'Jacks did not play last night, so I would assume they'll be well rested and ready to play.  Should be a great game.

Go Stars.

Friday, October 25, 2013

B³ Weekend Preview: Tri-City and Muskegon

The Lincoln Stars are back at the IceBox this weekend, looking for their first home win of the regular season against either the Tri-City Storm (Friday), or the Muskegon Lumberjacks (Saturday).  Puck drops at 7:05pm CST for both games.

If you are unable to make it to any of the games 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.

I ran out of time this week to type out a full weekend preview, so I apologize for that.  Just way too busy the last couple of days.

The Storm have a record of 2-3-2 (6 points) and are tied with Lincoln (and Fargo) for last place in the USHL's western conference.  Tri-City is riding a four-game losing streak (all were at home), and were outscored 22-9 in those four contests.  In their only previous meeting this season, the Storm beat the Stars 2-1 in overtime (shootout) in Kearney on 9/28/13.

Saturday's opponent, the Muskegon Lumberjacks, sport a record of 5-4-1 (11 points) and are tied for third place in the USHL's eastern conference.  After starting the regular season 4-0-0, the Lumberjacks are currently on a bit of a downward slide with a 1-4-1 record in their last six games.  This will be the first of two meetings this season between Lincoln and Muskegon.  The Stars will play at Muskegon later in the regular season, on 3/29/14.  The 'Jacks do not play Friday night, so they will be plenty rested for the tilt against the Stars on Saturday evening.

Hope to see a packed IceBox this weekend!  Great opportunity coming up to get four points at home! 

Go Stars.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stars acquire goaltender Shane Starrett from Sioux Falls; drop Nick Schmit

Some surprising roster moves this morning as the Stars dropped goaltender Nick Schmit from the roster, and traded for goaltender Shane Starrett ('94) from the Sioux Falls Stampede.

Lincoln traded a conditional fifth round USHL entry pick (2014) for the rights to Starrett, who has committed to Boston University.  Everything I've read online indicates Starrett will attend BU in the fall of 2014.

Starrett is a tall, lanky goaltender, coming in at 6'5", 180 pounds.  He is originally from Bellingham, MA.

Last season, Starrett emerged as one of the top goaltenders on the east coast after putting up a 24-12-4 record with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage for South Kent School, which is located in South Kent, CT.

Starrett received a lot of attention from NHL scouts, and was considered a possible late round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.  However, he was not selected.  Click here and here to read articles about Starrett.

This past spring, Starrett was drafted by the Sioux Falls Stampede in the fourth round of the 2013 USHL Entry Draft.  He participated in parts of 5 preseason games for the Stampede this season, and posted a 2-0-1 record with a 4.90 goals against average and a .829 save percentage.  In the regular season, Starrett only played 35 seconds in the Stampede's 2-0 loss against the Omaha Lancers.

Starrett became expendable by the Stampede after the team acquired goaltender Arthur Brey, who was surprisingly let go by the Dubuque Fighting Saints at the start of the regular season.  Sioux Falls returned goaltender David Jacobsen from last season as well.

Best of luck to Nick Schmit wherever he lands.  I would assume he will play for a NAHL team this season.  I'm just an idiot with a blog, but I'm not sure Schmit really got a fair shake here in Lincoln.  He started one game and was pulled after giving up three goals in the first period against Waterloo on 10/11/13.  In that particular contest against the Blackhawks, he didn't get much help from his teammates.  The Stars pretty much laid an egg that game, so I don't believe it was a fair representation of Schmit's skills and abilities.

This is just my worthless opinion, but this trade makes very little sense to me.  There's no question that Bitzer is the #1 goaltender for the Stars this season.  He's arguably the best goaltender in the USHL, and should be starting 85-90% of the games for Lincoln.  Trading another draft pick away for a highly touted (but USHL unproven) goaltender who is gone after this season doesn't seem very wise to me.

Now, if Starrett has been pushed back by BU to the fall of 2015, then the trade makes great sense.  However, as I stated above, everything I've read online indicates Starrett is attending BU in the fall of 2014.

Enough of my inane ramblings.  Your thoughts on the trade?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Michael Bitzer named USHL Goaltender of the Week

Congrats to Lincoln Stars goaltender Michael Bitzer who was named the USHL Goaltender of the Week earlier today.  Click here to read the official USHL press release.  Here's an excerpt from the article:

Michael Bitzer, G, Lincoln Stars:  Turning 20 this Wednesday, the Moorhead, Minnesota native celebrated early by posting a 1-0-1 record with a 0.95 goals-against average and .970 save percentage in a pair of road games.  He stopped a season high 37 shots, and then turned aside both shootout attempts, in a 2-1 win over Team USA on Friday for his first win of the season. 

On Saturday, the Bemidji State University commit made 28 saves in a 1-0 overtime loss to the Youngstown Phantoms.  He has allowed two-or-fewer goals in four of seven games played this season and has posted a 1-1-4 overall record with a 2.42 GAA and .912 SV%.

Great to see the league give some recognition to Michael.  He was the #1 reason why the Stars earned three of four points this past weekend.  Hopefully this is the first of many awards this season for him.

Congrats again to Michael!  Well deserved.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

B³ Postgame Recap: Lincoln 0, Youngstown 1 OT

Stars goaltender Michael Bitzer pitched a shutout through three periods in Youngstown, OH on Saturday night, but it wasn't enough as the Phantoms squeaked out a 1-0 overtime win over Lincoln.

Click here to view the Poinstreak boxscore.

With the overtime loss, the Stars dropped to 1-2-4 (6 points) and are in a three-way tie for last place in the USHL western conference.  Lincoln has gone to overtime in five of the seven games they've played this season.

Amazingly, the Stars picked up 3 of a possible 4 points this weekend despite only scoring one regulation goal in the two games.

This recap is be very, very short.  I did not get a chance to listen to the radio broadcast, or watch the game on FASTHockey.  If you'd like to add your thoughts of the game, please leave a comment below.

Just looking at the boxscore, it appears that the Stars had some big problems staying out of the box last night.  Since I didn't watch or listen to the game, I don't know if that was from playing undisciplined, or if they ran into a referee with an agenda.  I guess it could have been both, too.

Stars goaltender Michael Bitzer stopped all 28 shots on goal he faced through sixty minutes yesterday evening.  Phantoms goaltender Sean Romeo was just as good, stopping all 34 shots he faced in regulation.

Despite the Phantoms having a whopping 9 powerplay opportunities Friday evening, they were not able solve Bitzer or Lincoln's penalty kill unit.  Youngstown had triple the amount of PP chances last night, as Lincoln went 0-for-3 with the man advantage.  

Anyone out there know who the referee was last night?  The Pointstreak boxscore only lists "default referee."  Edit:  I've since been told the referee last night was Cory Chipperfield.  It's not a name I recognize so I assume he's new to the USHL this season.

From what I've heard from fans who were watching, a costly turnover in their own end cost the Stars this game.  Phantoms forward J.J. Piccinich took advantage of the turnover by scoring the game-winning goal, and only goal of the entire game, just 48 seconds into the overtime period.

Tough loss for sure, but it certainly appears to me that the Stars are getting better, especially on the back end.  Right now, the team is playing great defensive and the goaltending has been superb.  But the offense is still dormant.  The Stars have not score more than 3 goals in a game this season.  I'm hoping as all the new players adapt to the speed and physicality of the USHL, the offense will improve.

The Stars will return to the IceBox next weekend for back-to-back games.  On Friday, Lincoln will look for some payback against the Tri-City Storm, who beat the Stars 2-1 in a shootout on 9/28.  Saturday evening, the Muskegon Lumberjacks will visit the IceBox for the only time this season.  More on those two games later this week.

Go Stars.

Friday, October 18, 2013

B³ Postgame Recap: Lincoln 2, Team USA U-18 1 OT Shootout

Against arguably the most talented team in the USHL, the Lincoln Stars got their first win of the season in dramatic fashion with a 2-1 overtime shootout road victory over Team USA U-18.

I've been waiting to post that sound clip for awhile now.

Click here to view the Poinstreak boxscore.

I did not watch this game on FASTHockey, so this recap will be brief.  I did listen to most of the game on the radio.  If you were lucky enough to watch this game in person, or if you caught the FASTHockey broadcast, please leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your opinions.

It wasn't looking good early on for the Stars when at the 5:37 mark of the first period, U-18 forward Sonny Milano scored an even-strength goal to give the NTDP a 1-0 lead.  Little did anyone know at the time, but that would be the only Team USA shot on goal that would get past Stars goaltender Michael Bitzer on the night.

Lincoln played the U-18's very tough in the first period, outshooting them 7-6, but the NTDP took at 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

A scoreless second period saw the NTDP outshoot Lincoln 13-8.  Both goaltenders made some big saves in the middle period.

In the third, the Stars spent a lot of time in the penalty box, but their penalty kill unit came up huge.  On the night, the Stars killed all four Team USA powerplays they faced.

Very late in the game, with Stars goaltender Michael Bitzer pulled for the extra attacker, the hero was forward Max Humitz who picked a clutch time to score his first career USHL goal.  With only 1:08 remaining on the clock, Humitz put the puck past USA goaltender Edwin Minney to knot the game up at 1-1.  Jason Stephanik and Zach Frye picked up the assists on Humitz's goal.

After sixty minutes, this contest would go to overtime.  The NTDP outshot Lincoln 15-6 in the third period, and 34-22 overall.

After a scoreless five-minute overtime, these two teams went to a shootout. Going into this game, the Stars were 0-2 in shootouts, but that would change against Team USA.  Lincoln forwards Brandon Smith and Johnson Simonson both scored, and Michael Bitzer stopped both Team USA attempts against him to seal the victory.

Huge props go out to Michael Bitzer who stopped 37 of 38 shots on goal for the win.  It's a shame he wasn't named one of the three stars of the game, but I guess Team USA felt a little butt hurt afterwards.  Bitzer had gotten off to a bit of a slow start this season, but we all knew he would turn it around.  He deserves a lot of praise for keeping his team in the game.

Huge, huge road win against a very good U-18 squad.  As I stated in the weekend preview article, this U-18 team was 5-0-0 in five games against USHL teams coming into this game.  In those five victories, Team USA outscored their opponents 26-6.  So this win should be a big confidence booster for the Stars.

Lincoln will now head further east to Youngstown, OH to take on the Youngstown Phantoms at the Covelli Center on Saturday evening.  Puck drops at 6:05pm CST.  The Phantoms lost Friday night at home to the Indiana Ice by a score of 3-1.

Go Stars.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

B³ Weekend Preview: Team USA U-18 and Youngstown

The Lincoln Stars will head east this weekend on a long road trip to Michigan and Ohio to battle Team USA and the Youngstown Phantoms.  Both of these games will start a little earlier than what we are normally used to.  The Friday night game against Team USA U-18 in Ann Arbor, MI will begin at 6:00pm CST.  On Saturday, the Stars will drop the puck at 6:05pm CST in Youngstown, OH against the Phantoms.

If you'd like to follow the team this weekend, you can track 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.

Up first for the Stars this Friday will be Team USA, who have a record of 6-2-0 (12 points) and are in first place in the USHL eastern conference.  This will be the first of two meetings this season between the NTDP and the Lincoln Stars.  Team USA U-17 visits the IceBox on March 15th, 2014.

The casual USHL fan might not know this, but the National Team Development Program (NTDP)  which competes in the USHL is actually two teams (U-17 and U-18).  The Stars will play the U-18 team on Friday evening.

This is not to say that the U-17 squad isn't talented, because they are, but the U-18 team is the cream of the crop of the NTDP.  This particular team plays both USHL and collegiate teams throughout the season.  In fact, in five games against USHL foes this regular season, the U-18 squad is 5-0-0 and have outscored their opponents 26-6.  Yikes.

In their last game, Team USA U-18 lost 8-4 to Colorado College.  The game before that, the U-18's beat Lake Superior State University by a score of 3-2.  This group is really salty, and will give Lincoln all it can handle on Friday night.  Needless to say, the Stars will have to be on the top of their game to win this tough road matchup.

On Saturday, the Stars will finish up the long weekend road trip with a contest against the Youngstown Phantoms.  With a record of 3-4-1, the Phantoms occupy fifth place in the USHL Eastern Conference.  This will be the first of two meetings between these teams this season.  On Friday, November 22nd, Youngstown will visit the IceBox for a tilt against the Stars.

After a rough start to the regular season which saw the Phantoms go 0-3-0 and give up 20 goals in those three games, Youngstown is 2-0-0 in their last two games.  They have given up a league-leading 35 goals, but have also scored 28 goals through 8 games.  So on paper, this is a team that can both score and give up goals in bunches.

Youngstown forward Kyle Connor leads the USHL in scoring with 12 points (4g, 8a) through 8 games played.  Forwards J.J. Piccinich (10 points) and Maxim Letunov (9 points) are right behind Connor in the stat column.  

Lincoln will be without the services of defenseman Connor Frantti for both games this weekend, due to a two-game suspension handed down by the USHL after an elbowing major and misconduct he picked up this past Friday against the Sioux Falls Stampede.  The good news is that defenseman Zach Frye will be back in the lineup after serving a one-game suspension against Sioux Falls.

Big test this weekend for the Stars.  It will be interesting to see which team shows up.  Will it be the team that looked lost against Waterloo last Friday, or will it be the team that outplayed the first-place Sioux Falls Stampede this past Saturday?  Stay tuned.

Go Stars.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Snapshots of the Game: Sioux Falls vs. Lincoln 10/12

Thanks again to Starstruck and Shooting Stars Photo for allowing me to share the videogram below.  Press play to check it out.  If you'd like to look at individual pictures from the game, click here to see those.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

B³ Postgrame Recap: Sioux Falls 4, Lincoln 3 OT

Brandon Smith celebrates after his 2nd period goal
Courtesy of Shooting Star Photos
The Lincoln Stars exploded for three goals in a three-minute span in the second period Saturday night at the IceBox, but it wasn't enough as the Sioux Falls Stampede escaped with a 4-3 overtime win.

Click here to view the Pointstreak boxscore.

With the OT loss and the one point, the Stars dropped to 0-2-3 (3 points) on the season and are tied for last place in the western conference with the Des Moines Buccaneers.  Sioux Falls improved to 5-2-0 (10 points) and are in a first place tie with the Omaha Lancers, who are 5-0-0.

After Friday night's 5-1 loss to the Waterloo Blackhawks, the Stars had a great opportunity to come out strong and prove they are a better team than what they showed the previous night, and that is exactly what they did in this game.

Although Sioux Falls outscored Lincoln 1-0 in the first period, and outshot them 8-3, I really thought the Stars were the better team 5-on-5.  In fact, for the entire game, I thought the Stars were the better team at even-strength.  However, much like Friday night, the Stars could not win the special teams war, and that's what would limit them from picking up two points.

Early in the second period, with a 1-0 lead over the Stars, Stampede forward Zeb Knutson scored a PP breakaway goal to put his team up 2-0.  Instead of crawling into a shell and letting the first-place Stampede to roll over them, the Stars battled back and took back control of the game with three goals scored in less than three minutes late in the second period.

Stars forward Brandon Smith started the comeback with a powerplay goal at the 16:53 mark of the middle period.  A Luke Shiplo shot bounced off the back and right to Smith who was in the right time at the right place to notch his first career USHL goal.  A 1:29 after Smith's PP tally, Stars captain John Simonson scored another powerplay goal to knot the game up at 2-2.  Simonson leads all Stars in goals with 3 through five games played.

The IceBox was alive with excitement after the Simonson goal, and the fans would make it even louder when Jonathan Desbiens scored with only 23 seconds remaining in the second period to give Lincoln it's first lead of the game at 3-2.  Desbiens followed up his own shot on an odd-man rush with a rebound goal, his first of his USHL career.

Stars took the 3-2 lead into the second intermission.  Shots were 16-16 through two periods.

In the third, the Stars outshot the Stampede 9-7, and outplayed them for the most part, but Sioux Falls once again took advantage of a powerplay opportunity.  At the 7:41 mark of the third, the Stampede scored their third PP goal of the game to tie the score at 3-3.

In the overtime period, Stars forward Jason Stephanik picked up a slashing minor at the :39 second mark, and it only took the Stampede 18 seconds to score with the man advantage and win the game.  Tough way to lose this one, but the Stars have to be proud of their effort.  They took on a team that most pundits say will win the western conference, and they outplayed them for the most part.

Michael Bitzer stopped 20 of 24 shots on goal in the loss, while Stampede goaltender Art Brey stopped 22 of 25 to get the win.

As mentioned above, the Stampede got the two points tonight because they took care of business with the man advantage.  Lincoln did pretty well on the powerplay Saturday night, going 2-for-5, but the Stampede did even better, going 3-for-7.  Lincoln's two opponents this weekend, Waterloo and Sioux Falls, went a combined 7-for-16 on the powerplay.  That will have to improve if the Stars want to start putting up wins.  You can outplay a team 5-on-5, but if you can't stay out of the penalty box, and can't stop the opposing teams' PP, then you aren't going to win too many games.

Lincoln will head out on a long road trip next weekend in search for their first win of the season.  On Friday, the Stars will be in Ann Arbor, MI to take on the Team USA U-18 squad.  On Saturday, Lincoln will be in Youngstown, OH to battle the Phantoms.  Neither team is a pushover, especially the U-18 squad, so the Stars will have their hands full once again.

Go Stars.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

B³ Postgame Recap: Waterloo 5, Lincoln 1

The Waterloo Blackhawks scored four powerplay goals Friday night at the IceBox in route to a 5-1 win over the Lincoln Stars.

Click here to view the Pointstreak boxscore.

With the loss, the Stars fell to 0-2-2 (2 points) and are alone in last place in the USHL western conference.  Waterloo improved to 3-1-0 with the road win.

You can pretty much summarize this game with how both teams played in the first twenty minutes.  The Stars came out very flat, while the Blackhawks took control of the game thanks to their superior teams.  Waterloo had four powerplay opportunities in the first period and scored on two of them, while the Stars' PP unit was held scoreless in 3 PP opportunities.

Stars goaltender Nick Schmit started this game for Lincoln, but was pulled after surrendering the third Waterloo tally.  I know Schmit probably would like a do-over with this game, but I also think he didn't get a lot of help out there.  As good as Lincoln's penalty kill unit looked in the preseason and the first few games of the regular season, it did not look good last night.  Give credit to Waterloo for that.

Waterloo took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission and led in shots, 12-5.  Schmit stopped 5 of 8 shots before he was pulled in favor of Michael Bitzer.

In the second period, the Stars played much better, but Waterloo added another powerplay goal at the 8:44 mark to take a 4-0 lead.  Referee Lucas Martin was certainly whistle-happy last night, but I thought there were some bad calls on both sides of the ice.

Stars forward David Parrottino finally got the home team on the scoreboard with a snipe at the 12:36 mark of the second period.  Luke Voltin and Connor Frantti collected the assists on Parrottino's even-strength goal.

Waterloo took a 4-1 lead into the second intermission and led in shots, 24-19.  The Stars outshot Waterloo 14-12 in the middle stanza.

In the third, the Blackhawks added their fourth powerplay goal of the game at the 15:19 mark to complete the scoring.  Lincoln didn't play as aggressive in the third period, and Waterloo outshot them 13-8 in the final twenty minutes.  The Blackhawks outshot Lincoln overall, 37-27.

Michael Bitzer stopped 27 of 29 shots on goal in relief of Nick Schmit, who picked up the loss.  Blackhawks goaltender Cal Petersen stopped 26 of 27 to get the win.

Waterloo finished 4-for-9 on the powerplay, while Lincoln went 0-for-8.  As I mentioned above, those stats pretty much sum up this game.  Both teams spent a lot of time in the sin bin, but Waterloo took advantage with the four powerplay goals.  Unfortunately, Lincoln's special teams was anything but special last night.  Through four games, the Stars have the second-worse PP and PK units in the USHL.

Stars captain Zach Frye picked up a five-minute major for head contact (and a ten-minute game misconduct) late in the third period after an elbow to a Waterloo player who was already on his knees.  It wouldn't surprise me if the league hands out a suspension for that hit.  We'll have to wait and see how that works out.  Losing Frye would definitely hurt, especially against a team like the Sioux Falls Stampede, whom the Stars play tonight (Saturday).

It won't get any easier for the Stars as a grumpy Sioux Falls Stampede club will visit the IceBox tonight (Saturday).  Surprisingly, the first-place Stampede were shutout by the Omaha Lancers last night by a score of 2-0.  I'm sure the Stampede will be ready to take out their frustration on the Stars, so the good guys will have to be ready.  Speaking of the Lancers, Omaha has gotten out to an unbelievable start.  They are 4-0-0 so far through four games, and they have not given up one goal.  You read that right.  They have outscored their opponents 15-0 through four games.  Lancers goaltender Cole Bruns has four straight shutouts to start the regular season.  Unbelievable.

It wasn't pretty Friday night, but you have to think the play will improve as this team gets more experience.  When you lose 98% of your goal scoring from the year before, you have to expect some growing pains.  I know a lot of fans aren't happy, judging by all the empty seats in the IceBox last night in the third period, but we have to keep the faith.  These kids deserve better.

Go Stars.

Edit:  I'm going to get on my soapbox for just a little bit and talk about the new "rule" that the opposing team has to get on the ice at the IceBox after the light show/starting lineups.  I was hoping that when I saw it happen during the home opener it was just a one-time deal, but it appears that it is something that the league has told visiting teams they must do.  I know some fans here on this blog had talked about it before, after the Des Moines game last weekend that I missed.

I don't understand the reasoning for it, and so far from what I've seen, I believe kills the atmosphere at the IceBox big time.  One of the things Lincoln is known for throughout junior hockey is their great pregame show.  You hear interviews from opposing players all the time how crazy the atmosphere is at the IceBox, and how intimidating it can be.  I really think having the opposing team on the ice really adds to that excitement, but apparently the league has neutered that.  It's really unfortunate.  It's definitely not the same kind of pregame atmosphere we've been used to since the late 1990's.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

B³ Weekend Preview: Waterloo and Sioux Falls

The Lincoln Stars will be back at the comfy confines of the IceBox this weekend for back-to-back games against western conference rivals.  On Friday evening, the Stars will host the Waterloo Blackhawks.  Saturday night, the Stars will battle the Sioux Falls Stampede.  Puck drops at 7:05pm CST for each game.

If you are unable to make it to any of the games 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.

Up first for the good guys this Friday will be the Waterloo Blackhawks, who have a record of 2-1-0 (4 points) and are tied for fourth place in the USHL western conference.  Waterloo has played one game on the road this season, a 3-2 win in Chicago on 9/27 against the Steel.

The Blackhawks are a much different team than the offensive-heavy squad from last season.  Gone are forwards Taylor Cammarata, Justin Kloos, Vincent Hinostroza, Zach Stepan, J.T. Stenglein, and defenseman Ian McCoshen.  Waterloo lost their top 8 point scorers from last season, so much like the Stars, the Blackhawks are reloading this season with a lot of new faces.

Goaltender Cal Petersen returns for the Blackhawks, and he has played every minute so far this season.   The draft pick of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres is 2-1-0 in those three games, a 2.68 goals against average, and a .914 save percentage.  I have no reason to believe that Petersen won't get the start Friday night at the IceBox.

The first-place Sioux Falls Stampede (4-1-0, 8 points) will invade the IceBox Saturday evening looking to win their fifth road game of the season.  Oddly, the Stampede are 0-1-0 at home, but 4-0-0 on the road so far this season.  After exploding for 17 goals in their first three games of the season, the Stampede hit a wall the past two games, scoring a total of only 2 goals.

The Stampede are a veteran-laden team, and in my opinion, should run away with the western conference regular season title again this season.  This team is stacked.  They return a ton of forwards from last season, including Zeb Knutson (8 goals in 5 games this season), CJ Franklin (60 points last season), Dennis Kravchenko (63 points last season), and Tony Calderone (44 points last season).  Honestly, Knutson, Franklin, and Kravchenko should be playing college hockey right now.  I'm shocked that they are back playing in the USHL this season.  

The Stars will definitely have their hands full against the Stampede.  This is a team that most pundits are picking to win the west, and potentially the Clark Cup.  I had a chance to watch them at the Fall Classic, and they are for real.  Sioux Falls plays Friday night in Omaha, so lets hope the Lancers tire out the Stampede so the Stars can use some home cookin' to beat them on Saturday.

After missing last Friday's game against Des Moines, I'm excited for a full weekend of hockey at the IceBox.  Great opportunity for the Stars to get their first wins of the season against two teams ahead of them in the standings.

Go Stars.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Stars acquire defenseman Connor Frantti from Muskegon

A little roster news this afternoon to break up the mid-week monotony.

Per the Lincoln Stars' Twitter account, the team has acquired defenseman Connor Frantti ('94) from the Muskegon Lumberjacks.  In return for Frantti, the Stars traded a 7th round pick in the 2014 USHL Entry Draft.

Franti is a big kid, coming in at 6'6", 203 pounds.  He is originally from Spring Grove, IL, and has committed to play college hockey at Northern Michigan University, starting the fall of 2014.

Frantti was originally drafted by the Lumberjacks in the 16th round of the 2013 USHL Entry Draft, and only played one game with Muskegon this season before he was traded.  In that one game against Team USA on 9/27/13, Frantti had no points and was +1 in a 5-4 Muskegon win.

In five preseason games with the 'Jacks, Franti had no points, was -1, and accumulated 21 penalty minutes.  19 of those 21 PIM's came in one preseason game against Cedar Rapids.

Before getting drafted by Muskegon, Frantti played hockey at Culver Military Academy in Culver, IN.  That's the same program that has produced former Stars such as Michael Sdao, Cory Hibbeler, David Gerths, and Andrew Schmit.

Interesting trade, in my opinion.  The Stars were already set with 7 defensemen before this trade, so it would seem that with 8 d-men on the roster, more player movement could be coming.  I suppose the coaches still could keep 8 defenseman on the active roster, but most seasons only 7 are protected.  We'll have to wait and see what happens with that.

Thoughts on the trade?  Please leave a comment below.

Go Stars.

Edit:  According to the Poinstreak roster, the Stars have released forward Nick Monfils.  I assume this was done to make room for Frantti.  I've since been told that Monfils is on his way to Corpus Christi (NAHL).  Best of luck to him going forward.  I was a fan of his speed and skill.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Photos and video from Bucs vs. Stars game 10/4

For your lazy Sunday viewing, I have photos and video from this past Friday's Stars game vs. the Des Moines Buccaneers.  The videogram courtesy of Shooting Star Photos.  If you want to look at the individual photos, click here to see those.  The video is courtesy of Scott Thompson, who is a Bucs fan and traveled to Lincoln this past Friday to follow his team.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

B³ Postgame Recap: Des Moines 4, Lincoln 3 OT Shootout

John Simonson scores in the 2nd period
Coutesy of Shooting Stars Photos
Despite being doubled up in shots on goal, the Des Moines Buccaneers escaped from the IceBox Friday night with a 4-3 overtime shootout win over the Lincoln Stars.

Click here to view the Pointstreak boxscore.

With the shootout loss, the Stars dropped to 0-1-2 (2 points) on the season, and are tied for fifth place with four other teams in the west.  The Bucs earned their first win of the season and improved to 1-2-0.

Unfortunately, I was not in attendance last night due to a cold that has been kicking my butt this week.  I listened to a little bit of the first period on the radio and then I went to bed.  A good friend of mine who was at the IceBox last night was kind enough to send me his thoughts of the game, which I've included below in italics.

Pretty good game tonight and it's another one of those where the goalie on the other end was the show and I think the shots on goal show that.  Lincoln looked real good in the first and had nothing to show for it.  Shots were about how it the play went, 9-7 in favor of Lincoln, but it seemed to me the play was being carried by the Stars.

Two quick goals early in the second and it looked like they were going to put the hammer down and take control but Des Moines came right back and matched the two and then jumped up one a power play goal.  Less than a minute later we were right back at a tie when Parrottino slipped one by and that was the scoring for the duration of regulation.  

Just look at the shots in the 3rd and you'll see who was the dominant team, but they could not find the back of the net, but it was not for lack of trying.  Great effort and good hustle by everyone and all four lines looked good to me tonight.  

All things considered, I think we are OK.  I did not see much in the way of dumb penalties and the PK looks good still, but the PP could use some work.

For the second straight game, it sounds like the Stars ran into a hot goaltender.  Lincoln has put a whopping 84 shots on goal in the last two games (Tri City, Des Moines), but only 4 of those 84 shots have found twine.  The team is a good job of generating shots on goal, but no puck luck.  You gotta think that will change.

Not the start we all had hoped for, but the season is still very young.  This is a young team, with a lot of new faces, so it could take some time for them to find their identity.  Plenty of time to turn it around and begin winning games.

Go Stars.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

B³ Pregame Report: Des Moines Buccaneers vs. Lincoln Stars

One team will leave the IceBox with their first win of the season this Friday night when the Lincoln Stars (0-1-1) host the Des Moines Buccaneers (0-2-0).  Puck drops at 7:05pm CST.  The Stars will play the lone Friday night matchup this weekend, with no game on Saturday or Sunday.

If you are unable to make it to the game on Friday evening, you can follow the boxscore online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on 93.7 FM "The Ticket," or watch the game live on FASTHockey for a fee.

This preview is going to be very short.  I've been battling a cold all week and I can't seem to shake it.  I'm not sure if I'll be up to going to the game Friday night, but we'll see.

As noted above, the Bucs are off to a little bit of a slow start having lost two games at home the last two Saturdays.  On 9/21, the Sioux Falls Stampede ruined Des Moines' home opener with a 6-4 trouncing.  The next Saturday, on 9/28, the Omaha Lancers blanked the Bucs by a score of 4-0.  So through their first two games of the season, the Bucs have given up 10 goals.  Not good.

However, the Buccaneers were without some key players in those two games and played very shorthanded.  From what I've ready online, it sounds like Des Moines will get a lot of those players back this weekend, so I anticipate them playing much better against Lincoln than what they've shown the last two Saturdays.

I had a chance to watch the Bucs play at the preseason USHL Fall Classic tournament, and I was very impressed with how they played.  They have a good group of young, talented forwards like Willem Nong-Lambert, Ryan Galt, and Patrick Grasso.  They have a goaltender (Christopoulos) with some good USHL experience. and good group of defensemen in front of him.  I heard a lot of scouts talking about how improved the Bucs looked at the Fall Classic compared to last season when they finished in second to last place in the Western Conference with a 25-35-4 record.

Three current members of the Stars played for the Des Moines Bucs last season:  forwards Christian Lampasso, Luke Voltin, and defenseman Luke Shiplo.  I'm sure those three are pretty excited to face their former teams and prove it was a wrong decision to trade them away.

A reminder for every fan planning on going to this game....leave early.  The Huskers volleyball team plays at the Devaney Center at the same time, so traffic in and out of the area will be a mess.  I heard from a lot of Stars fans that parking was a nightmare last week, so I'm sure it will be a lot worse on Friday.  Plan ahead.

Go Stars.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Brandon Bollig scores Chicago Blackhawks' first goal of season last night

In cast you missed it last night, former Lincoln Stars fan favorite Brandon Bollig scored the Blackhawks' first goal of the season in Chicago's 6-4 opening night win over the Washington Capitals.  It also happened to be Brandon's first ever regular season goal.  In April of 2012, he scored a playoff goal in a series against the Phoenix Coyotes.

 I'm going to embed some videos below for folks to check out.  The first is video of the goal, and the second is video of Brandon talking to the Chicago media after the game.  Very cool to see him doing so well at the NHL level.   It seems just like yesterday that we were all watching him wreak havoc at the IceBox.