by Andrew Hoyle
The River City Lancers open the 2003 USHL playoffs right where they left off in the 2002 playoffs, playing against the Sioux City Musketeers. This time around, River City comes in as the number five seed, while the Musketeers come in at the number four seed. While some may think these two USHL powerhouses have dropped off some since last year, you can bet this series will be just as exciting as any other. Here’s a quick look at the keys for the Lancers:
Forward Mike Howe: 52 GP, 25 G, 17 A, 42 PTS, +12, 38 PIM, 11 PPG, 1 SHG, .118 shooting%. River City’s leading scorer has to be accounted for at all times by the Sioux City defense; he can score from anywhere. Though he’s listed as day-to-day because of a knee injury, don’t expect him to sit this one out.
Defenseman Matt Carle: 59 GP, 12 G, 30 A, 42 PTS, +26, 98 PIM, 5 PPG, 1 SHG, .068 shooting%. An extremely smart and gifted player, look for Carle to be the key to the Lancers’ defense. Great penalty killer, and good on the power play, too. Not ashamed to pass the puck around.
Forward T.J. Jindra: 60 GP, 14 G, 25 A, 39 PTS, +17, 49 PIM, 1 PPG, 3 SHG, .109 shooting%. Team captain and third on team in scoring. A true warhorse, he hasn’t missed any time due to injury this season. An extremely opportunistic player, as evidenced by his three shorthanded goals on the season.
Forward Janne Jokila: 52 GP, 16 G, 22 A, 38 PTS, +9, 61 PIM, 6 PPG, 1 SHG, .144 shooting%. Phenomenal puck handling ability and speed; takes two guys to cover him. Good power player converter.
Forward John Togiai: 44 GP, 8 G, 6 A, 14 PTS, -6, 66 PIM, .123 shooting%. True heart and soul of the team, great motivator both on and off the ice. Big, physical hitter. Now that he’s healthy, look for him to make up for lost time.
Forward Phil Todd: 39 GP, 13 G, 8 A, 21 PTS, +8 23 PIM, 1 PPG, .167 shooting%. Another big, physical hitter. Has come on strong as of late; look for him to continue to do so in the playoffs. Knack for scoring right off the bat in a game, his own version of “shock and awe.”
Goaltender Dominic Vicari: 45 GP, 2507:56 MIN, 28 W, 14 L, 2 OTL, 6 SO, 85 GA, 2.034 GAA, .914 SV%. Vicari put all the blame for last year’s overtime loss in game five of the championship series against Sioux City squarely on his own shoulders; you can bet he’s going to be ready for this one. Good stats versus Sioux City this season (3 W, 2 L, 8 GA, 1.6 GAA, .9385 SV%); look for him to pick it up even more.
Series and Streaks: River City had the edge in the regular season series, 4-2, averaging 2.6 goals a game to Sioux City’s 2.0. Playing at Sioux City won’t bother the Lancers; they won two of three there this season. River City won 13 in a row before dropping their last four league games; Sioux City has won 8 of their last 10, losing to Chicago and Sioux Falls (OT). Sioux City has beaten last place Green Bay three times in the past two weeks; Green Bay shut out River City 3-0 during the recent 4-game Lancer skid.
Last year’s Clark Cup championship series between these two teams went to overtime in the decisive game five; look for this year’s first round series to go down to the wire also. Both teams play it close to the vest, so don’t look for a wide margin of victory, either. There’s no love lost between these two teams, or their fans, and that short ninety minute drive makes for packed houses and lots of excitement.