By Richard Roeder
The Anderson Cup champion Lincoln Stars begin their pursuit of the Clark Cup on Wednesday, April 2nd in Kearney against the Tri-City Storm. The schedule for the series is an unusual one, with the higher seeded Stars playing the first game on the road before opening the playoffs at home on Friday and Saturday. Lincoln and Tri-City came to this schedule due to conflicts with the Tri-City arena this weekend.
Lincoln ended the regular season the way it started, with an exhibition game in Cedar Rapids. Lincoln sat a healthy Danny Irmen, Ryan Potulny, and David Backes to allow them to evaluate other players and make sure all three were healthy going into the playoffs. Michael Nesdill also sat out the game, due to injury. Assistant captain Tyler Magura dressed but did not play. Defensemen Mike Eickman and Andrew Guyer filled in as forwards in the season ending 2-0 defeat.
The offense of the Stars revolves around Irmen, Potulny, and Backes. The game on Saturday proved that, without a doubt. The Stars enter the playoffs with confidence. Both the coaches and players are assuring a deep playoff run and plans to contend for the Clark Cup. I, on the other hand, have some concerns about the offense. Lincoln does not seem to have found line combinations that are “set in stone”. In the last three games of the season, Lincoln had many opportunities to bury pucks on good scoring chances and did not produce. Throw out a dominant third period against Waterloo, and the Lincoln offense hardly resembles the high-scoring machine displayed for most of the season. They need to crank up the O to bring the Clark Cup back to Lincoln.
The defense has not given up a lot of goals down the stretch. This trend needs to continue for a playoff run. Limiting odd man rushes and playing smart is essential. Look for Ethan Graham to be fully recovered from injury and step up come playoff time. The rest of the defense simply needs to limit mistakes and play solid. Forwards need to forecheck and finish (their checks). Lincoln can be a physical team, but when they aren’t, they are vulnerable. Playoff hockey is always more physical, and no team will win without holding their own in that department.
Both Philippe Lamoureux and Nate Zieglemann have been solid down the stretch. Look for them to continue to split time, as both are playing well and coming up big when asked. Not much to report, because there is little to speculate about. Both are among the top goalies in the league, and both have earned playing time. Enough said.
Keys for victory :
Special teams – Lincoln owns the league’s best power play and penalty kill units. If Lincoln can convert opponent penalties into goals, and defend when they are short a man, their job becomes lots easier.
Shots on goal – Down the stretch, the Stars seem hesitant to put the puck on net. Scoring that highlight goal is all well and good, but they all count the same. More shots and hustle for rebound shots will also improve chances.
Play Physical– The most important factor of playoff hockey is effort. Who is willing to skate hard into the corner to win a battle for the puck? Who wants to win enough to give 110% all the time? Lincoln has the talent to win, but talent alone doesn’t win playoff hockey. It’s all about heart. Tri-City has heart, making the playoffs from the mid-season cellar has proven that. Lincoln has not had its heart tested yet. A hard-fought series vs the Storm will answer a lot of questions.
Lincoln in 5