By Jason Shaner
It’s over!! The hex is over. For 16 years the Waterloo Black Hawks had not won a playoff series, until last night that is. Waterloo won in the Metro Ice Sports Arena 5-4 in double overtime giving the Hawks their first playoff series since many of their current players were able to walk.
The series was not a cakewalk as the Buccaneers proved to be one of the hottest and best teams in the league during the 2nd half of the season. Waterloo won game 1, 6-3 but the score did not indicate how close the game truly was. After jumping out to an early 2nd period lead of 3-0, the Black Hawks let the Bucs come creeping to within one goal at 3-2. Ross Carlson and Joel Hanson each scored 3rd period goals to build the lead back to 5-2 before Jamie Hoffman scored for Des Moines to pull with two at 5-3. Carlson added an empty net goal for the final count.
Game 2 belonged to Des Moines from start to finish. The Buccaneers scored two goals in the first five minutes and two more to end the period for a 4-0 lead going into the first intermission. Playoff scoring leader Joe Pavelski and Igor Bobcek notched 2nd period goals to pull to within two and it seemed the Black Hawks might make the comeback. But Des Moines winger Tomas Jasko put an end to the comeback, scoring late in the 2nd to give Des Moines a comfortable 5-2 cushion heading to the 3rd period. The Bucs scored two more goals to push the lead to 7-2 before Rob Lehtinen scored on the power play. The goal did little in changing the outcome of the game as the Bucs romped 7-3.
In Game 3 the Black Hawks returned home and again looked like Division Champs winning 5-2. Hanson had the lone first period goal but Des Moines tied it up early in the 2nd period with a goal from Joel Kitchen. The game was up for grabs until midway through the period when Matt Fornataro scored. Hanson then scored the game winner a couple minutes later giving the Black Hawks the lead of 3-1. Hanson got the hat trick on the night scoring on the power play midway through the final period. Patrick Borgestad brought Des Moines to within two again shortly but Pavelski sealed the victory with a shorthanded goal as the Black Hawks went into Game 4 with high spirits and control of the series.
Game 4 was much different than the first 3 games as it was back and forth. Des Moines took the early lead in the 1st period on a goal from Marty Guerin. Lehtinen tied it up only to see Des Moines take the lead again on a goal by Jasko. In the 2nd period the Black Hawks seemingly took control of the game scoring two goals seconds apart by Carlson on the powerplay and then Jon Saunders scored to give Waterloo a 1 goal lead. Kitchen tied it up at 3 only two minutes later but Carlson struck again on the power play in the period giving the Hawks the 4-3 lead heading into the 2nd intermission. Kitchen scored his 2nd goal of the night early in the 3rd period and that is where it stayed until the 2nd overtime. The Black Hawks had numerous chances in the final 2 periods of regulation but Bucs goaltender A.J. Bucchino was phenominal. Fornataro put an end to the game as it neared midnight in the midwest when he scored at the midway point of the 2nd OT. Former Bucs Andy Nelson and Carlson got the assists. Nobody was happier than those 2 as they helped put the daggar in the heart of the team who gave up on them last season and traded them to Waterloo.
Now it’s on to the semi-finals and their next opponent is the River City Lancers. The Lancers defeated last season’s Clark Cup Champions, the Sioux City Musketeers 3 games to 1. Waterloo was 6-0 against the Lancers this season however, the playoffs are as they say, a different animal. Nothing should be assumed by what happened in the regular season. The Lancers are led on offense by Mike Howe and their defense is top notch, led by Matt Carle. The Lancers were not a high powered offensive team by any stretch of the imagination but this is a team built on the teamwork ethic, much like Waterloo. Howe led River City in scoring during the regular season with 42 points and leads the team in scoring during the postseason with 2 goals and 2 assists. The biggest obstacle for Waterloo against the Lancers will be the USHL’s top rated goaltender, Dominic Vicari. Vicari however, has not had his best games against Waterloo in Young Arena and as the Black Hawks hold home ice advantage, this will definitely play into the mix.
Waterloo will need more balance on offense than they had in the first round as the line of Pavelski, Hanson and Mike Dagenais scored the majority of the points in the first series. Nelson and Carlson will no doubt step up their game. Jim Jensen has returned from an injury and after playing the last 2 games of the Des Moines series, looks to make more of an impact against the Lancers. As is with every series in the postseason, goaltending will determine the outcome and Waterloo’s goaltending will have to improve. Jordan Parise won all three games for Waterloo against Des Moines but posted a 3.15 GAA and .882 saves percentage. Both numbers are well below what he produced during the regular season.
As the Black Hawks removed the 16 year monkey off their back by winning their series with Des Moines, chances are high the Black Hawks can win another one. After going 6-0 against River City in the regular season and holding down home ice advantage, the offense could be ready to explode. Waterloo played a solid first round but P.K. O’Handley will no doubt have them even more pumped up for round 2. If Vicari can be unstoppable, the Lancers have a chance in the series, but more than likely the Waterloo offense, which is far superior to the Lancers, will take control and hence, win the series. Waterloo in 4.