By Jason Shaner
Knuckle up, Guard your grill….it’s playoff time in the USHL and it isn’t for the faint of heart. All the marbles are out on the table and it’s time to start. The Eastern Division Champion Waterloo Black Hawks have drawn an old time rival in that of the Des Moines Buccaneers. Many many times in the past, the Bucs were the Division winners, but not this year. Faceoff for Game 1 is Wednesday night, April 2nd, in Young Arena where the Black Hawks were 25-3-2 this season.
The Bucs are without a doubt one of the hottest teams in the league, finishing with a 27-27-6 record. Their last visit to Young Arena only a few short weeks ago, the Black Hawks needed a late 3rd period goal to take the game to overtime where Des Moines prevailed in a shootout. The next week, in Des Moines, the Bucs throttled the Hawks, instilling fear into the hearts of Black Hawks fans everywhere if they had to face Des Moines in the playoffs. Well, it’s happened, and there is no turning back. I’ll venture a guess the Black Hawks aren’t scared.
Des Moines is led offensively by a sleek skating Slovak by the name of Tomas Jasko (30-37-67pts) and Marty Guerin (27-33-60pts). These two have been here since the season started, but the difference maker may be that of Mike Erickson (12-18-30pts) who joined the team after leaving the University of Minnesota. Erickson adds a dimension of not only skill but the veteran leadership needed to win the close games and big series. Defensively the Bucs are led by another defection from the college ranks. Joe Campbell (3-15-18pts) has been hard to get past since returning the same time as Erickson. Campbell isn’t the only defensive stud on this rejuvenated team who started the season off in the cellar and were uncertain for the first few months of the season. Evan Stoflet and 6 foot 6 Thomas Morrow are solid as well.
Where the Black Hawks may struggle is getting the puck into the net. A.J. Bucchino has stymied the Hawks a couple of times this year. Although Bucchino is only 14-17-2 with a 3.51 GAA and .909 saves percentage, he can carry the Bucs on any given night. Brian Papcun also may see action against Waterloo. Papcun sported a better record of 13-10-4 but his GAA of 3.62 and saves percentage of .903 show his vulnerability. Bucchino is expected to be the goaltender of choice for Buccaneer Head Coach/GM Bob Ferguson.
Waterloo, led offensively by Joe Pavelski (34-33-67pts), Ross Carlson (20-30-50pts) and Andy Nelson (20-30-50pts) will have to stay as balanced as they have all year long, leading the league in goals scored. No doubt Black Hawks coach P.K. O’Handley will have a solid game plan ready. The Black Hawks hope to have their defense rejuvenated with the anticpated return of co-captain Jim Jensen for the series. He may be rusty so Jon Saunders,, Dustin Molle and Igor Bobcek will have to maintain peace on the ice.
Coach O’Handley will more than likely continue with his goalie rotation of Jordan Parise and Jeff Jakaitis. Parise has been better in the clutch, but either is capable of getting hot and winning a game on their own.
As Des Moines and Waterloo are geographically so close to each other, Young Arena and the Metro Ice Sports Arena will be full of fans from both teams. It won’t be nice, it won’t be easy, but if the Hawks play their game as they can, I say Waterloo takes the series in 4.