By Jason Shaner
The Topeka Scarecrows and Cedar Rapids RoughRiders open up 1st round playoff action tonight as the USHL’s Clark Cup playoffs get underway. The Scarecrows, in only their 2nd season in the league claimed the #3 seed in the post season going 36-17-7. They’ll be matched up against the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders who are making their 3rd consecutive postseason appearance. The RoughRiders, who came within an eyelash of winning the league’s Eastern Division last season, finished second again this year to Waterloo. The ‘Riders went 27-26-7 en route to a 6th place finish.
The Scarecrows and RoughRiders play two different styles of hockey which may make for a quick series. Topeka plays a bruising style of hockey and are led on offense by scoring juggernaut Luke Erickson (31-40-71pts). Erickson finished 2nd in the league in scoring after being acquired early in the season from the Anderson Cup winning Lincoln Stars. James Unger (19-26-45pts) is also a major force on offense for the ‘Crows. With the exception of Erickson the Scarecrows are quite balanced on the offensive end. Anyone of their physical forwards can cut you like a daggar. Phil Angell and Central Scouting Bureau prospect Slavomir Tomko lead a very punishing defensive corps. They are tough to beat along the boards. Layne Sedevie was the top goaltender for Topeka until an injury in Lincoln sidelined him for the remainder of the season. It is undetermined whether Sedevie will play in this series or not. If so, he may be rusty and could play a part in the series. Michael Zacharias has gone 14-7-4 in his absence with a solid 2.54 GAA.
For Cedar Rapids they are led by another balanced offensive attack. Chase Watson led the team in scoring with 19 goals and 37 assists for 52 overall points. Next on the team was Tyler Howells(22-19-41pts). The catalyst on this team however, is Kevin Brooks. Brooks is the team’s on ice leader and although he only scored 14 goals during the regular season, he could make or break the series for Cedar Rapids. The big and strong forward will need to work hard in the offensive zone to keep up with the Scarecrows rugged defense. Outside of Brooks, size is not an ally of the ‘Riders on offense. Wisconsin recruit Matt Olinger will be key on defense along with Derek Peltier. These two anchor a solid defense that plays well, but needs a little more size. Joe Fallon and Wes Russell have done a good job replacing Bobby Goepfert this season and they will also be a major key in the series. Fallon logged more ice time going 20-15-6 to Russell’s 7-11-1. Either one can get hot.
Cedar Rapids is talented but very young and on the small side as well. With the Scarecrows veteran front line, it will be hard for Cedar Rapids to match the physical power the ‘Crows will display. Goaltending will be the key in the series, if Fallon or Russell get hot, the ‘Riders could make some noise but Topeka should win this series in 4 bitterly fought games.