Thursday, February 5, 2015

B³ Weekend Preview: Tri-City and Bloomington

The Lincoln Stars will be back at the IceBox this weekend to continue their seven-game homestand with games against Tri-City on Friday, and Bloomington on Saturday.

Puck drops at 7:05pm CST for each contest.

If you're unable to attend either of the two games this weekend at the IceBox, 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 enter this weekend in seventh place in the USHL western conference with a record of 13-19-5 (31 points), two points ahead of the last place Waterloo Blackhawks and eight points behind the sixth place Fargo Force.  Lincoln is 2-6-1 in their last nine games played.  Click here to view the current league standings.

Lincoln's first opponent this weekend will be the red-hot Tri-City Storm who have won eight-straight games and are currently in second place in the USHL western conference with a record of 22-10-5 (49 points).  

This will be the fourth of eight meetings between the Stars and Storm this season.  Lincoln is winless (0-3-0) in the prior three meetings with Tri-City, however two of those three Storm wins were by one goal.  In their last meeting, on 1/27/15 in Kearney, the Storm clobbered the Stars by the score of 6-1.  The Stars will play the Storm four times in their next thirteen games.

The Storm are led offensively by forward Chris Willkie.  The Omaha, NE native and UND commit has scored 31 points (22g, 9a) in 36 games so far this season.  His 174 shots on goal thru 36 games is the most by any player in the USHL this season.  Chris is definitely a shoot-first type of player (at least this season), and is absolutely deadly on the powerplay as 11 of his 22 goals have come with the man advantage.  The Storm are 10-4-4 when he doesn't score a goal and they are 12-6-1 when he does score at least 1 goal.

As good as their record is this season, if there is a weak spot with the Storm, it's their play on the road.  Tri-City has a very impressive 14-3-2 record at home, but they are 8-7-3 on the road.  Other than that, this is a very solid team with terrific offensive depth, quality goaltending, and above average special teams.  They are definitely a team built for a long playoff run, in my opinion.  

In fact, this is probably the best Storm team since the 2006-07 squad that finished in second place in the USHL western conference with a winning percentage of .650%.  It will be interesting to see how this team does in the postseason considering they haven't had any recent playoff success.  Tri-City head coach Jim Hulton, who took over the job mid-season last year, has done a fantastic job turning this franchise around in such a short amount of time.

This past week the Storm acquired veteran defenseman Vince Pedrie from the Bloomington Thunder, the team the Stars play on Saturday.  Pedrie, who is a Penn State commit, has scored 22 points (9g, 13a) in 39 games this season.  I thought the acquisition of Pedrie by the Storm was a very good one.  He'll provide some good veteran leadership and can quarterback the Storm powerplay while putting up some points.

On Saturday, the Stars will face off against the expansion Bloomington Thunder who are in sixth place in the USHL eastern conference with a record of 16-16-7 (39 points).  

Like the Storm, the Thunder are playing very well of late with a record of 4-0-1 in their last five games played.  This will be the second and final time Lincoln and Bloomy will face one another this season.  In their only other meeting, the Stars beat the Thunder in Lincoln by the score of 3-2 on 1/2/15.  In that particular game, Stars goaltender Cam Hackett stopped 29 of 31 shots, Ludvig Hoff potted two goals, and Biagio Lerario scored the game-winner.

The Thunder have recently traded away three of their top non-returning players (Vince Pedrie, Jack Jenkins, Matt Nuttle) so it appears that they may have decided to throw in the towel this season in terms of making the playoff and are making moves in anticipation of reloading next season.  Gotta think the Stars might be in that same boat soon as well.

Well, it will be very, very interesting to see how the Stars respond this weekend, especially on Friday night against the team that embarrassed them in Kearney, NE a few weeks ago.  I would assume that 6-1 loss will be in the back of their minds, along with the disappointing loss at home last Saturday against the Des Moines Buccaneers.  I think we'll know a lot about this team after that first period against Tri-City this Friday.  We'll learn quite a bit about their resolve, their pride, and if they want to finish out the regular season on an up note.

First the Storm on Friday...then the Thunder on Saturday!  Thankfully, there isn't a USHL team called the "Lightning" to round out the weekend.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.


Anonymous said...

Pushed around and flat out embarrassed at home by the Tri-City Storm? It was bad enough the Omaha Lancers did it. Now our red headed stepchild to the west is doing it. Pathetic.

Fans want to point the finger at the players, at the head coach, or the GM. But it starts at the very top. This new owner hired a GM who had never been the GM of a USHL team before. That person hired a coach who had never been a head coach before. The inexperience shows.

Anonymous said...

Patience... you saw an experienced team defeat a team loaded with kids who need to mature a lot.
This is the same GM who robbed Green Bay of Hacket and Polino for a fourth rd pick.

Anonymous said...

I think the trade deadline is coming ,....we could probably get a lot in a trade if we deal hackett. Must be teams out there who would love to have an elite goalie for the playoffs.
This season is done for us, but some team would take him or one of our older guys.

Anonymous said...

I agree, inexperience at all levels is the problem. Hull keeps trading and acquiring new players to make up for past mistakes he's made. All the changes he promised to make now that he is in charge of recruiting and roster moves have yet to show. As far as I'm concerned McGroarty did just as well, if not better in the position he was dealt. Last year's team wasn't the most skilled in the league, but they worked their bags off every night for the fans.