Waterloo beginning to fly

By Jason Shaner

The Waterloo Black Hawks started off on the wrong foot this season. Who can blame them though? Anybody who has to play the defending league champion, Sioux City, twice on the road, then face Lincoln and Sioux Falls, who are always at the top of the league, three times each and top it off with a home and away series with your arch rivals, the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, any team would probably be a little weary only 12 games into the season. The bad thing about that schedule is, the Black Hawks managed only three wins and one shootout loss in those first 12 games. The good thing is, Waterloo stuck with their opponents in nearly every game and now have many of their toughest road games out of the way before anyone has hardly broke a sweat.

The Black Hawks started a stretch last week at home against Chicago on the 8th of November that has become one of the best stretches of hockey Waterloo fans have seen in years. The Black Hawks dismantled the Steel on the 8th by a 7-1 score. Waterloo saw solid goaltending from Jeff Jakaitis and saw 7 different players light the lamp. The Black Hawks followed up that performance with another masterpiece beating the Tri-City Storm 6-0 for the 3rd win in a row at Young Arena. Again, the Black Hawks had great goaltending, this time from Jordan Parise and the Black Hawks continued to spread the wealth on offense.

Heading into this weekends action, the Hawks were riding the offense wave from last weekend and Chicago came calling again to Young Arena. Once again, the Black Hawks bent the Steel up, winning by a 4-1 score. This time Mike Radja continued his emergence with a hat trick and Jakaitis earned his second victory in a row over Chicago. The Black Hawks have now won four games in a row at Young Arena and boast a 5-2 home record.

Coming into Saturday night’s game at Des Moines the hopes were high. But the odds may have been a little stacked against them. The Buccaneers were fresh off a 4-1 smashing at the hands of the RoughRiders and they were returning home to the raucous fans at the Metro Ice Sports Arena in Des Moines. The Black Hawks history at the Madhouse on Hickman hasn’t been good but last season the Hawks began to change some of that misfortune. Saturday night they continued that trend beating the Buccaneers 6-3 for their fourth straight win this season.

The Black Hawks trailed 3-1 late in the 2nd period when Mike Dagenais scored to bring the Hawks to within one. Waterloo rode the momentum Dagenais gave them by scoring four more goals in the 3rd period while the Bucs offense was rendered silent. Radja tallied his fourth goal of the weekend and Joe Pavelski had his best game of the season, tallying a hat trick of his own. Pavelski scored a power play goal, a shorthander and topped it off with an empty netter. All of Pavelski’s goals were in the last twelve minutes of the game. Talk about clutch.

Waterloo’s success has come even with Andy Nelson out with injury and with the loss of veterans Cole Baron and Nathan Fornataro for different reasons. The Waterloo players and staff as well as the fans in the Cedar Valley are noticing something strange….a team with a .500 record. After 17 games, the Black Hawks are now 8-8-1 for 17 points and sole possession of 2nd place in the Eastern Division of the USHL. They are only four points behind 1st place Cedar Rapids and those two teams will have a home and away series Thanksgiving week. No doubt emotions will be high. Before that, the Black Hawks will have to head to River City to face the Lancers for the first time in their new barn. The Lancers have started the season off well and 2nd in the Western Division and 2nd overall.

The offense continues to find emerging stars like Pavelski and Radja, who both are beginning to garner quite a bit of attention from their opponents, the defensive side has picked it up as well with Reid Cashman, Matt Maunu and Dustin Molle playing well although at relatively young ages. Parise and Jakaitis have quickly become one of the better goalie combo’s in the league as each have a save percentage over 91% and both have a goals against of 2.60. Both numbers that them at the top of the league in those categories. The concern early on was the offense, but they were playing against the top teams in the league. Now they have begun to face the rest of the teams and have been winning with some strong confidence. That confidence will only continue to fester and when they begin facing those top teams again, they just might have enough confidence to go with their talent to knock them off. If that’s the case, there won’t be a better place to catch a hockey game this season, than at Young Arena.