By Richard Roeder
After two periods of Lincoln’s game vs the Waterloo Black Hawks on Friday night, the Lincoln Stars Anderson Cup chances looked pretty dim. In their last seven games, the league leading Stars had seen their cushion in the standings dwindle down to a single point. The Stars found themselves down 2-0 and had just been dominated during the second period. A little over 24 hours later, the play of the Stars had returned to “pre-slump” form and the Anderson Cup will be in the Ice Box all next year.
Just a week earlier, Coach Steve Johnson had questioned where the veteran Stars had disappeared to. They stepped to the front in period three Friday night. Danny Irmen and David Backes tied the game up with third period goals, with Ryan Potulny assisting on both. Backes’ goal came with :31 seconds remaining and goalie Phillippe Lamoureux on the bench. The equalizer came after an empty-net chance by the Black Hawks narrowly went wide in the final minute. Even without the win and two critical points, the third period was a turning point for the Stars. Players were finishing their checks and jumping into the play with speed and confidence that had the red-hot Black Hawks back on their heels for most of the period. Another veteran, John Snowden, finished off the improbable comeback 1:46 into the overtime period, roofing a rebound over Waterloo goalie Jeff Jakaitis.
Lincoln kept it going the next night. They out shot the Des Moines Buccaneers 18-7 in the first period, continuing the aggressive play started the night before. Lincoln built a 5-0 lead before finishing off the Bucs in Des Moines 5-1. Once again, the same names are plastered all over the box score. Irmen and Potulny each lit the lamp at least once apiece and each had two assists. Snowden and Backes both scored a goal. More importantly, the Stars looked like a team all on the same page and with the same goals in mind. This, coupled with losses by both River City and Waterloo, were enough to guarantee at least a share of the regular season title for Lincoln. As Lincoln owns the tie-breaker with Waterloo , the Anderson Cup will be in Lincoln for the third time in four years.
Now the fun really starts. It’s time to end the grumblings around the league that Lincoln doesn’t expand on the accomplishments of the regular season, come playoff time. By struggling most of the last month of the season, Lincoln looks to be back on track heading into the playoffs. It’s all about who wants it more, and the lessons Lincoln learned late may be the determining factor in who holds the most prized possession in junior hockey high come late April/early May. The playoffs are a different animal, and the league looks more balanced than it had in years. Anyone wanting the Clark Cup will have to step up and claim it. It should be fun (and exciting) to watch.