Sunday, April 12, 2015

B³ Weekend Recap: 4/10 & 4/11

Stars celebrate a win in Omaha on Saturday
Thanks to Devan for the photo
The Lincoln Stars finished out the 2014-15 regular season with back-to-back games against the Omaha Lancers this past weekend.

On Friday at the IceBox, the Lancers skated past the Stars by a score of 6-1.  At Ralston Arena on Saturday, the Stars responded with a 2-1 OT shootout win to close out the season on a positive note.

4/10:  Omaha 6, Lincoln 1
4/11:  Lincoln 2, Omaha 1 OT shootout

The Lincoln Stars finished the 2014-15 regular season with a record of 18-37-5 (41 points).  The Stars were 10-20-2 at home this season, and 8-17-3 on the road.

Lincoln finished in last place in the USHL western conference, and last place overall in the league.  Click here to view the final league regular season standings.

Omaha 6, Lincoln 1

The final score might indicate otherwise, but I thought the lopsided 6-1 win for the Lancers was a much closer game than people might think.

The momentum turning play came very late in the first period.  With the game scoreless at 0-0, the Lancers were able to get a puck past Stars goaltender Cam Hackett with only 12 seconds remaining in the opening period to take a 1-0 lead.

I thought the Stars had played very well in that first period, and the late goal was a killer.  The Lancers used that momentum to scored three unanswered goals in the third period to basically put the game outside of Lincoln's reach.

It was a typical rough and tumble type of game between these two teams that really don't like one another.  The 2nd period alone saw 61 penalty minutes called, including one big fight between Biagio Lerario and Anthony Angello, and a spearing major (and game misconduct) by Lancers goaltender Kris Oldham.

In the third, the Lancers scored two more goals before the Stars finally got on the scoreboard to ruin the shutout bid by Omaha..  With the Lancers leading 6-0 at the midpoint of the third period, Stars forward  Sean MacTavish collected a rebound from an Ethan Price shot and fired it past Lancers goaltender Zach Driscoll.

As I said above, I really don't think the Stars played that bad in this game.  I've certainly seen them play much worse at the IceBox this season.  They had plenty of opportunities to score goals in this game, but puck luck wasn't on their side.  Meanwhile, what chances the Lancers had, they made the most of them.

One big key to this game was the special teams play of both teams.  Omaha went 2-for-4 on the powerplay, and also scored one shorthanded goal.  Lincoln went 0-for-4 on the powerplay and were never able to solve Omaha's terrific PK unit.

Stars goaltender Cam Hackett stopped 24 of 30 in the loss.  Lancers goaltender Kris Oldham stopped 18 of 18 before he was ejected for the spearing major.  Zach Driscoll stopped 6 of 7 shots in relief of Oldham for Omaha.

Tough game to end the home season at the IceBox, but I was happy to see a near sellout crowd.

Lincoln 2, Omaha 1 OT Shotout

The Stars showed a lot of resolve in fighting for a 2-1 OT shootout victory Saturday night at the Ralston Arena over the Omaha Lancers.

I wasn't able to watch this game in person, or on FASTHockey, but I did listen to the radio broadcast.

This was a much different game than what fans saw on Friday night.  It obviously wasn't as high scoring, and although there was some penalties called, it wasn't as frantic as Friday evening's game.

The only goal the Lancers scored in this game came in the latter half of the first period when Ryan Donato scored and even-strength goal to give his team a 1-0 lead.  After that, it was all Peyton Jones as the rookie goaltender stood on his head and did not allow another puck get past him.

The score would remain 1-0 in favor of the Lancers until the 8:11 mark of the third period when Stars defenseman Dylan Woolf scored his second goal of the season to knot the game at 1-1.  Wyatt Kalynuk and Sean MacTavish picked up the assists on Woolf's game-tying goal.

From the sounds of it, the Stars dominated the third period and had many more quality chances than the Lancers.  However, the Stars were not able to score the game winner in regulation.

After a scoreless five-minute OT period, this game went to a shootout.  Lincoln first two shooters (Dominick Sacco, Michael Gillespie) both scored, while Peyton Jones stopped the only two shooters he faced to seal the 2-1 victory.

Really happy to see the boys end the season on a high note with a win against Omaha on their own ice.  I'm sure that felt good.

Peyton Jones stopped 30 of 31 shots to pick up the win.  Very happy for him to finish out the season with a big win.  Lancers goaltender Zach Driscoll stopped 26 of 27 in the loss.

I'm going to take a bit of time here to try to recap the town hall meeting the Stars hosted this past Friday at the IceBox.  Stars GM Jon Hull was on hand to answer any questions fans might have.  I arrived just a few minutes late, but I tried to record most of what was said on my cell phone.  I'd say there was between 200-250 Stars fans in attendance at the town hall meeting, much more than what I expected.

I'm highlight what I thought were the more important questions asked, and then the answers from Jon Hull below.  As I said, I missed the very beginning so if I forget to include anything that was said below, please leave a comment.

-Question/concern about how the Stars players have developed over the course of this season.
Jon Hull:  "Development" is a tricky word.  I see big strides in a lot of areas.  One area we have failed in was that we have lost hockey games in small stretches this season.  We seem to be a team that starts well, gets a lead, and in a 4-5 minute stretch, things have gone against us.  Some players have gotten better and grown, and some haven't.  We as a staff have to do a better job at fostering these players and making sure we give them every opportunity to succeed.

-Question/concern about a disconnect between the coaching staff and the players.
JH:  Chris Hartsburg and I are a young coach, GM duo. We need to grow together for this team to be successful.  As a manager, I need to do a better job of supporting him, and pushing our style of play so that he can connect more with the players.  I believe that if there is any fault between our coach and our players, it's on me. I have to do a better job at managing this club.  I have to do a better job at making sure we want to play the way I say we want to play every night.  I intend to do those things.

Question/concern about the head coach's lack of ability to take responsibility for losses
JH:  I don't want to be in the habit of speaking for Chris. If there is a general feeling from our fan group here that that's what he does, then that falls on my shoulders and I need to do a better job.  I need to make sure he doesn't throw our players under the bus and he supports our team, because I do.  That's going to change.  That's on my shoulders.

Question/concern about key player skills he (Jon Hull) wants to improve on heading into next season.
JH:  I feel we have a group of talented defensemen coming back next season, with 7 guys returning.  One area we've lacked some depth this season is at center.  I think we've lacked some size, but more importantly some skill at center this season.  Goaltending has been inconsistent at times.  If we have the opportunity to get a high end goaltender, we will.  If we have the opportunity to build through a couple more forwards and depth at center, we will.  Overall skills we need to improve on is that we need to possess the puck more, a lot more.

Question/concern about the lack of attendance this season at the IceBox.
JH:  Obviously, a winning team fills a rink.  I will say in the large picture, there are things that happen ever day in our club that people aren't aware of.  We chose to operate the whole season with no sales staff.  Zero.  None.  Because we've tried to fix things in the front office.  We've tried to hire the right personnel.  Standing to my right is our new executive director, Kate Hrnicek, who is going to lead all of our sales from now on forward.  Ryan Schiff's (Stars owner) theory was that he had time, and he wanted to wait until he found the right person to handle sales and growth in those areas.  In our estimations and our numbers, if we would have had a sales staff, we wouldn't be down in attendance this season.

Question/concern about the the communication lines between the head coach and the GM.
JH:  I have to be involved, and be here more, if I want to have more of an impact on this hockey team day-to-day.  That's what I intend to do.  We have the next five months (offseason) here to learn, get better, and spend a lot of time together.

Question/concern about the players who can return next season, are they excited to return?
JH:  The general comment I've gotten from players is that they are excited to return to Lincoln next season. These are good signs. Biagio Lerario, who recently committed to Brown University, could have went to college this fall but chose to come back to Lincoln to get better.  Players love playing in Lincoln.

Question/concern about if the team has a goaltending coach.
JH:  We do have a goalie coach.  His name is John Helkin (sp?) whom we fly in from Toronto once a month.  He spends around 4 days here working with our goaltenders in practice.

Question/concern that it would be nice to have the head coach at the town hall meeting to talk to fans.
JH:  His (Hartsburg's) vision moving forward has to be mine.  We have to grow together, and I'm a big part of that.  I have to have a big footprint on that next year.  If there are shortcoming this season, that's on me.  It's not on Chris.  He's a young coach.  I feel that he's done a good job in some areas. He has the intangibles to make this hockey club good.  But I feel that a lot of it has to come from me, and I need to be more involved.  If there is an area that we have failed, the ownership is on me.

Question about at what point next season, if we don't progress, do you cut the cord on the head coach?
JH:  For me to talk about a timeline on our head coach is very premature.  I know it's frustrating.  I know you want to win more games.  I'm in it, trust me.  I moved my family across the country.  A wife that didn't want to move, that had never been away from her family.  I care about this team.  I really care about this group.  Our focus is getting better now.  I don't think putting a timeline on our coach is realistic.  We want to take steps forward.  We want to get better and we think we've put the right pieces in place to do that.

Question/concern about the possibility of adding bigger players next season.
JH: I don't equate big with physical.  If you look at our team this season, were in the top 3 in fighting majors, and near the top in overall penalty minutes.  By standards, we're near where prior Lincoln Stars teams have always been.  The game of hockey is trending in a different direction.  In every league, there is more emphasis put on puck possession, and skill.  If I have the opportunity to bring in a player that is big, strong and physical, we will do it.  Maybe the perception of this team having a lack of physicality is because we've chased the puck a lot this season.

Question/concern about does the team draft players for our system, or to match our coach.
JH:  Big picture is we want those two things to be the same.  We always want speed, skill and aggressiveness.  We always want those things.  But there are times when I see a kid play and I think that he would play well under Chris.

Question/concern about the low shot totals this season.
JH:  We chase the puck a lot.  We don't possess the puck, therefore we can't shoot it.  That's a problem we're trying to remedy.

Question/concern about the possibility of the team hiring a second assistant coach next season.
JH:  There's probably some merit to that.  It's been discussed a couple of times with our ownership staff and myself.  As long as the coaches are all on the same page, another set of eyes would certainly help.

Question/concern about if ticket pricing will be going up next season.
JH:  Ticket prices are NOT going up.

These were the highlights, in my opinion.  A lot of folks really didn't have specific questions, and just wanted to vent.  I'm not going to include ever single thing said in the meeting here on the blog.  The meeting itself lasted 45+ minutes long.  That's just way too much info to post it all here.

I'm going to post a 2014-15 season recap article later tonight.  Stay tuned for that.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.


Jason O said...

Give credit to Jon for being willing to stand up to a townsfolk with pitchforks and torches in hand. He was candid at times and seemed to be willing to acknowledge deficiencies in the team, his own performance and even willing to take questions that called his ability into question.

Of course the proof of pudding is in the eating and we'll see if this translates into success. Given the tone of the meeting, fans will not take a third year of losing. This year, in most eyes being a playoff team was a lot to ask for, but next year people will rightfully expect a playoff team or at least one fighting for a spot. This group risks a third strike and fans will be out if they aren't competitive next year.

I was a little disappointed that he didn't speak to the off-ice concerns: parking, lines at the concessions, the Face-Off selection, as he mentioned these in passing – so they seem to be issues that have been presented to Ryan. I think these things deserve more attention than they're getting: I don't think it's as simple as winning curing all: Tri-City and Youngstown have seen minimal percentage increases in average attendance despite going from cellar dweller to contender in just a year. The entertainment competition can't be ignored.

Maybe it takes more time to grow when winning. But I would've expected at least a canned answer even if he wasn't the person to best discuss the issue. Perhaps Spencer or Kate could've spoke to this. Maybe it's something Ryan could address in a letter soon.

If there's anything that gives me optimism it was the Saturday post game tweets from the players. They seem to be a tight bunch that are eager to play and do well next season. I know we've all had their best interests at heart and want to see them succeed.

In the end it's having a chance to see these kids come to our town and grow to bigger and better things that should be the goal.

Yeti said...

Terrific post, Jason. You brought up some good points. I also agree that someone at the town hall meeting could have/should have been available to address any non-hockey questions. Personally, I think Ryan Schiff should have been there as owner, especially considering what transpired this season.

I also agree that next season is crucial, and another non-playoff season should mean some big changes management-wise are needed.

lincolnstarsfan said...

There is no way this gm and coach will turn this around for next season. Depth at centre and a high end goaltender are not the answer to this team's problems.
Hull says the players all like playing in Lincoln? Does that include those under the bus?
Firstly, I can't imagine Peyton Jones nor Hacket wanting to play for this team. This team leads the league in shots surrendered, and in scoring chances.
Everyone can see how porous our defence is. Hull calls that a talented group? The same group Hartsburg threatens will be replaced on next season's team? The same group our coach throws under the bus on Coach's Comments following most games? Of course, the coach is a frequent no show on Melbe's post game show.
Interesting that Hull says we have a goalie coach who comes in once a month. The Helkin guy was brought in from Toronto once this season. Once.
There is no goalie instruction. Peyton and Hacket have no instruction.
Every team in the league has more coaching staff than we do. We're icing the youngest team in the league and could use the extra coaching. Why don't we have the same size staff's as other teams?
Typical non-answer on Hartsburg's absence from the town hall meeting. He should have been there. Furthermore the sooner he realizes the post game comments are part of the product, the better.
Attendance is shrinking because the product is poor. U need a good truck to negotiate the potholes in the parking lot. The entertainment needs updating and the sales and marketing is non-existent.
The entertainment market is very competitive in Lincoln. The downward trend may be tougher to reverse than Hull realizes.

MacAttack said...

Jon Hull said at the very beginning that the meeting was all his idea and really had nothing to do with the Stars organization and that he was there to discuss hockey.