by Andrew Hoyle
Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the River City Lancers have been through a physical and mental wringer in the past week. With four games scheduled in seven days before going on the Christmas break, the Lancers were hoping to gain significant ground on the West Division-leading Lincoln Stars. Not to mention maybe finding some answers to problems currently plaguing the team, like injuries, quality shot production, and better power play conversion. Instead, the Lancers find themselves gaining ground on the Stars one point at a time, and more questions than answers keep popping up.
Friday the 13th: A superstitious person would say if it’s going to go wrong, it’s going to happen here. With newly-returned goaltender Chad Beiswenger facing a high-powered Sioux Falls team that averages 3.9 goals a game, scoreless first and second periods, and the first pane of broken glass at the new Mid America Center quickly replaced, most nervous Lancer fans were rubbing that lucky penny or throwing popcorn salt over their shoulders. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, fans watched as 6-0, 190 pound defenseman Matt Carle beat Stampede goaltender Kellen Briggs over the left shoulder at 12:16 into the third period to break the deadlock. Carle (27 GP, 7 G, 11 A, 18 PTS, 35 PIM, 3 PPG), leading the USHL with a plus/minus rating of +20, saw his opportunity when the Sioux Falls defense couldn’t clear the puck, and smacked it home. Forward Nate Raduns added a score at the 15:42 mark, off a Charlie Kronschnabel rebound, to make it 2-0, and an empty net goal later solidified a 3-0 win for the Lancers. Beiswenger had to make only 17 saves on the night, while the Lancer offense put up a barrage of 51 shots on goal for the night. Things seemed to be well in hand for the Lancers, with the only glaring problem of the night being the missing of several quick face-offs. The Lancer offense and defense got caught unprepared and Sioux Falls won the face-offs uncontested.
Beiswenger’s Waterloo: Just like Napoleon, Beiswenger didn’t exactly get the result he was looking for. With the Lancers desperately trying to end the Waterloo Blackhawks’ unbeaten streak, and an errant fire alarm disrupting the second period of play, Beiswenger was unable to stop the first three shooters en route to a 3-2 shootout loss. Despite outshooting the Blackhawks 44-25, and having a two-night total approaching 100 shots on goal, the Lancers let Waterloo escape with two points off their home ice for the second time this season. Defenseman Jason Dest came up with a shorthanded goal at the 14:20 mark of the first period, and team captain T.J. Jindra came up with another shorthanded goal at 14:01 into the second period to complete the Lancer scoring. The quick face-offs were a problem for the Lancers again this night, missing several in a row. For his efforts over the weekend, Beiswenger was named the USHL Defensive Player of the Week (1 shutout, .975 SV%, 0.96 GAA). The Lancers gained one point on Lincoln for the shootout loss.
Weathering the Storm: The Lancers took the league-best 8-5-1 road record to Tri-City on Tuesday, December 17th, and finally ended another power play goal drought. Carle scored a power play goal at the 2:31 mark of the second period, smashing a shot past Tri-City goalie Casey Mapes, and breaking a 1-1 tie. Forward Yale Lewis added some insurance seven minutes later, on a feed from Raduns, making the score 3-1. The Storm had an opportunity to close the gap in the third period when both Jindra (hooking) and Tim Cook (holding) went off at the 12:36 mark, giving Tri-City a 5 on 3 power play. They were unable to convert, though, and Beiswenger and the Lancer defense stood tall in the final frame, stopping 15 shots on goal. The Lancers came away with a 3-1 victory, and put up a modest 25 shots on goal for a game total. Tri-City head coach Jim Hillman resigned two days later, adding to Tri-Cities’ woes.
No Place Like Home? With River City head coach Mike Hastings gone to the World Junior Championships, and the Lancers being only two points behind Lincoln, the Topeka ScareCrows came calling Thursday night in what should have been an easy game before the holiday break. Ever since a 10-1 drubbing last year, however, the ScareCrows have had it out for the Lancers; in fact, they were the only team to take a regular-season series from the Lancers last year. And, like that least-favorite aunt that always shows up with the lime green Jello with the shaved carrot on top for the holidays, the ScareCrows weren’t going away empty-handed. With defensemen Janne Jokila out for a third game in a row with a groin injury, and Kyle Hood back in British Columbia due to a family tragedy, the Lancers were unable to shut down Topeka. Lewis got the Lancers on the board at 5:35 into the first, beating ScareCrows goalie Layne Sedevie. Kronschnabel broke a 1-1 tie later in the second period on a nice pass from Lewis, but Topeka again came back to tie it up. After taking the conservative approach for the rest of regulation and the overtime period, the Lancers would again fall 3-2 in a shootout. The inability to convert on power play opportunities would once again be the downfall of the Lancers, who went 0 for 7 on the power play against the league’s worst penalty kill unit. Being two points behind the Stars during the holiday break should have the Lancers asking Santa for an extra late present, as the Stars are the first team to come calling to the Mid America Center after the break, on December 29th.