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Puck drops at 7:05pm CST at the IceBox.
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.
The Stars and Storm met two times in the preseason, with Lincoln winning one at home, and losing one in Kearney. The Storm finished the 2014 exhibition schedule with a 4-0-1 record in five games, and outscored their opponents 20-11.
Tri-City forward Garrett Gamez was the leading point-getter for the Storm in the preseason with 7 points (3g, 4a) in five games played, although six of those seven points came in one game against the Des Moines Bucs.
Like the Stars last season, the Storm struggled to play consistent hockey, probably more so than Lincoln. Tri-City finished in seventh place in the USHL Western Conference in 2013-14 with a record of 21-35-4 (46 points), 10 points behind the fifth place Lincoln Stars.
Towards the last few months of last season, the Storm pretty much had a yard sale in terms of sending some of their top, college-bound players to playoff-contending USHL teams so they could stockpile draft picks and young prospects. Because only four teams from each conference make the playoffs, bottom dwelling teams will throw up the white flag on the current season, and start working on next season. And that's exactly what the Storm did.
In this case, although it's still very early, I think what the Storm did last season worked. They return a good core group of quality forwards and defenseman, and have added two very good goaltenders in Blake Weyrick (played for the NTDP last season) and Alec Dillion (L.A. Kings draft pick). Many USHL pundits expect the Storm to be a much improved team in 2014-15, and to be in the playoff hunt come next spring. I tend to agree with those pundits.
As for the Stars in 2014-15, you've heard me say numerous times this is a VERY young team. They will likely be the youngest team in the USHL on opening night. There are some very talented '96's and '97's on this team that will need some time to adapt to the speed and physicality of the USHL. It won't come overnight. With that said, there are some quality USHL vets on this team that should lead by example and show the youngsters how to succeed at this level.
As fans, it will be very fun to watch this team grow in 2014-15. There will be some ups and downs, some growing pains, but I'm confident they'll get better as the season goes along. I've had the opportunity to chat with owner Ryan Schiff, GM Jon Hull, and Head Coach Chris Hartsburg, and I know they will do absolutely everything in their power to bring winning hockey back to Lincoln. They are all 100% committed to creating something special here that the fans will be proud of. We just need to be patient.
I posted this earlier today on Twitter, but Tri-City Storm head coach Jim Hulton has some interesting things to say about the environment inside the IceBox in this article posted today in the Kearney Hub newspaper. I'll quote it below:
“It’ll be baptism by fire for some of our young kids going into Lincoln on Friday night with hopefully a hostile crowd throwing some beer at us and spitting on us and parading the environment right off,” Hulton said. “But we want that. We want the ‘us-against-world’ mentality this year.”
You could guess that the reactions from Stars fans on Twitter wasn't exactly rainbows and unicorns. I thought about not even mentioning the quote by Hulton in this blog article because I don't think it's really necessary to give attention to something obviously so narrow-minded and trollish.
Having said that, I understand what Hulton was trying to say (or at least I think I do). However, Hulton could have simply said, "We're going into a hostile environment this Friday night at the IceBox, and we wouldn't want it any other way." That's it. Done. To add the stuff about fans tossing beer and spitting was a poor choice of words and something you wouldn't expect out of a head coach in a league like the USHL.
If anything, maybe the Stars can use the quote as bulletin board material.
Earlier today, the Stars announced the six players will head up a new "leadership group." Click here to read more about that. The six players in said group are: (D) Connor Frantti, (F) Dominick Sacco, (F) Max Humitz, (F) Blake Christensen, (F) Biagio Lerario, and (F) Patrick Polino.
Three of the above six players will wear the "A" (alternate captain) on their jerseys at home, while the other three players will wear the "A" for road games. This is definitely something we haven't seen in Lincoln, but I like it. I assume this was done by the coach to see how the above players respond to being put in a leadership role. Maybe down the road this will help to establish the players who deserve the opportunity to wear a "C" on their jerseys. We'll see.
Before I end this rambling mess, please take a minute to think about how hard the players on this roster have worked to get to this point in their hockey careers. I pretty much said the same thing last season before the first game, but I think it bears repeating. Well over 100+ players tried out for the Lincoln Stars way back in June at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, MN. The players on this team have sacrificed so much, and have worked their butts off to earn a spot on the roster. So cheer a little louder tomorrow night in honor of these young men who are here to play for your entertainment. They deserve our praise and recognition.
See you all at the IceBox. Let's get rowdy (but not toss beer or spit on players).