USHL: Lancers Lose in Finals; Stars Take Home All the Hardware

By Andrew Hoyle

Turnabout is fair play. In 2001, the River City Lancers won the USHL’s Clark Cup on Lincoln’s home ice in a decisive Game 5 of the championship series. This time around, the Stars took home the hardware by beating River City at the Mid-America Center in Game 4, and won the series 3 games to 1. With the win, Lincoln became the first team since the 1998-1999 Des Moines Buccaneers to win both the Anderson and Clark Cups in the same season. It also marked the third season in a row the Lancers made it to the USHL’s championship round. A look at how the action went in this year’s finals:

A Whole Lot of Nothing: at Lincoln, April 22nd.

The Lancers and Stars spent the first two periods getting reacquainted and trying to get the upper hand on each other in a very physical contest, but it was a series of even-strength penalties that kept both teams from getting the advantage. Lincoln finally opened the scoring in the third period with a goal by Matt Hayek at the 6:09 mark. Three and a half minutes later Lincoln’s Jeff McFarland beat Lancer goaltender Dominic Vicari to take a 2-0 lead. River City refused to pack it in and call it quits, though. Team captain T.J. Jindra got the rally started at the 14:44 mark of the third, beating Stars goaltender Nate Ziegelmann. Less than two minutes later, Lancer forward Mike Howe evened the score at 2-2 with a power play goal during a Chris Porter hooking penalty. The score remained tied at the end of regulation, and after a 15 minute intermission, Lincoln only needed 25 seconds of overtime to finish off the Lancers with a goal by Ryan Potulny, making it a 3-2 Stars win. Vicari made 36 saves on 39 shots for the night in the losing effort. The Lancer penalty kill unit did what it set out to do, making the Stars go 0 for 4 on the power play for the night, while the Lancer power play unit went 1 for 4. Lincoln outshot River City 39-33 for the night. The game also featured 36 minutes of penalties on 18 infractions. Lincoln goes up 1-0 in the series.

Shutout: at River City, April 25th.

After another scoreless first period, the Lancers struck first with another Mike Howe goal, this one coming at the 1:22 mark of the second period. Matt Carle added a power play goal at the 4:00 mark of the second, slipping one past Ziegelmann to make it a 2-0 Lancer lead. Frustration set in for the Stars after that, and it finally boiled over in the last minute of the game when Lincoln’s David Backes ran over Lancer goaltender Vicari behind the cage on a clearing play. River City defenseman Tim Cook took exception to the act, and both Cook and Backes received game misconducts and one game suspensions for their actions. River City went on to win 2-0, and even the series at one game apiece. The Lancer defense shined once again, with Vicari pitching his second playoff shutout. The penalty kill unit also pitched a shutout as Lincoln went 0 for 4 on the power play yet again. River City made it two games in a row with a power play goal by going 1 for 6 on the power play. 20 penalties in the game equated to 59 minutes of bad boy box time between the two teams. The round turned into a best of three series, with each team having won one game at home.

Costly: at Lincoln, April 26th.

Yet again, the Lancers and Stars both played it close to the vest in the first period, with neither team getting a good chance to score. But the loss of Cook to the one game suspension proved to be more costly to the Lancers than the loss of Backes was to the Stars in the second period, when the Stars found the back of the net three times, twice on the power play. The Lancers got one of their own on an unassisted goal by Jason Dest at the 11:07 mark of the second, but that would be it as Lincoln won 4-1 with an empty net goal late in the game. River City broke its streak of not allowing the Stars a power play goal, with Lincoln going 2 for 5 on the power play opportunities for the night, and River City failed to score a power play goal of its own (0 for 4) for the first time in the series. Lincoln goes up in the series 2-1 and smells blood.

Revenge: at River City, April 29th.

Somebody finally scored in the first period of the series; unfortunately for the Lancers, it was Lincoln. Things stayed that way until halfway through the second period, when River City’s Drew Miller stole the puck in the Lincoln zone and scored a shorthanded goal at the 8:29 mark, catching Stars goaltender Phillippe Lamoureux by surprise. Expectations and hopes were quickly dashed, though, as Backes returned the shorthanded goal favor, and reintroduced himself to Vicari four minutes later with a steal and goal of his own. Lincoln added one more in the second, and two in the third, including another empty net goal, to win 5-1 and take the series. River City pulled Vicari with 4:18 left in the game and put up 16 shots on goal in the third, but were unable to find the back of the net in the final frame. Neither team scored on the power play in this one (River City 0 for 2, Lincoln 0 for 3), and River City outshot Lincoln 36-29 on the night, but the Lancers were thoroughly dominated by the Stars after the shorthanded goal.

Up next for the Lancers:

League meetings and draft day. River City must replace half its roster next season, and it’s going to be difficult to replace players like Matt Carle, Mike Howe and Dominic Vicari. The league meetings promise to contain headaches aplenty for all concerned, as the fate of the Topeka ScareCrows in the USHL still is undetermined (attendance problems, facility contract renewal), and the petitioning of the Danville Wings and Detroit Compuware of the NAHL to join America’s premiere Tier I league, the USHL, is sure to present problems of its own. The retaliatory measures taken by the NAHL this year (suspension of the progression rule) in response to the continued acquisition of its players by the USHL is sure to be a big factor in determining the fate of these teams’ petitions.

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