By Jason Shaner
It’s hard to say what aspect of the 2002-2003 Waterloo Black Hawks regular season was the best. Was it the 12 game winning streak? The 14 game home winning streak? A season sweep of the River City Lancers? Countless goals scored in OT or late in the games to win or push games to the extra period when maybe the Hawks hadn’t played their best. That is what champions are all about. The Black Hawks set franchise records for overall winning streak, home winning streak, they won their first ever Eastern Division title after 23 years of trying. They won in Sioux Falls for the first time in the Stampede’s 3 years of existence, going 0-11 prior. Needless to say, this one really WAS a season for the record books!
The Black Hawks have clinched the #2 seed overall in the USHL, assuring themselves of home ice advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The #1 seed went to Lincoln, with whom the Black Hawks chased to the finish for the Anderson Cup, but a goal with 30 seconds remaining in overtime by the Stars against Waterloo on Friday March 21st, put the coveted Cup out of reach. The Black Hawks dominated their division, going 18-5 to date with one road matchup with Chicago on Sunday left to go. It’s yet to be determined who the Hawks will face in the first round of the playoffs. Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Tri-City are all fighting for the #6, #7 and #8 spots. Des Moines and Tri-City have been hot, but it’s unlikely anyone is going to come into Young Arena, where the Black Hawks ended up with a league best home record of 25-3-2, and win many, if any games.
Waterloo did what they had to do on the ice, they currently lead the league in goals scored (219), they are towards the bottom in goals allowed (168), their penalty kill unit has been spectacular while their power play unit has picked things up in recent weeks.
Joe Pavelski has led the team in scoring nearly from start finish with an amazing 34 goals and 33 assists. Currently he stands 4th overall in the league in scoring. Fittingly so, Ross Carlson and Andy Nelson are tied for 15th in scoring, each with 20 goals and 30 assists. There have been few duo’s in the league like those two. The Hawks had 11 players register 25 points or more. If that isn’t balance, I don’t know what is.
Defensively the Hawks had seen some injuries throughout the season, but have held strong through all the up’s and down’s. There are very few, if any, defenses better than the Black Hawks. Jim Jensen, the team’s vocal and physical leader has been out for awhile, but will be ready to go for the post season. Jon Saunders proved to be worth the #1 pick in the disperal draft last season from Tulsa, as he has been a rock. Reid Cashman and Matt Maunu also were spectacular this season.
Jordan Parise and Jeff Jakaitis proved to be probably the best goaltender duo in the league. Parise is 21-10-2 and Jakaitis 17-7-2. Both boast GAA and saves % in the top 10 in the league.
Solid and skilled are two words that can best describe this team. Above all, the title of Champion can be labeled on them. This is something not heard in the Cedar Valley in association with the Black Hawks since they were a professional team back in the ’60’s. Coach P.K. O’Handley certainly has dotted all his i’s and crossed all his t’s. Now, on to the post season and the chase for the Clark Cup.