The Lincoln Stars are always slow starters to begin each USHL season. The 2003-2004 Stars are no exception, starting the season with one win and three losses. Due to rink conflicts, the Stars always start training camp later than any other team in the USHL. This team will also count heavily on several players who played their first USHL games over the last two weekends. All of the above is true, but the fact remains Lincoln must improve if they expect to contend this year. The offense has struggled to score goals, and Lincoln has routinely been outshot in early games. It will be interesting to see how long it takes coach Steve Johnson to get this group playing up to their potential.
9/24 at Danville – Lincoln started the year with a 1-0 shootout victory over Danville. North Dakota recruit Phillippe Lamoureux stopped all 27 shots in regulation, and all five shooters in the shootout after facing no shots in the overtime period. The only other bright spot for Lincoln was Adam Bartholomay’s goal that gave Lincoln the win. Bartholomay roofed a backhand over Danville goalie Justin Tobe for the only goal of the contest. Danville outshot Lincoln 27-19, with both team going 0-4 on power play opportunities.
9/27 at Green Bay – Lamoureux once again kept Lincoln in the game, but it was not enough as the Gamblers dominated most of the game and won 3-1. Once again shots on goal was the key statistic, with the Gamblers holding an 18-2 edge after the first period and ending the game with a 48-19 advantage. Lamoureux kept it even until four minutes into the second period, but Gambler Branden Longley finally got one by Lamoureux to give Green Bay the lead for good. Third period goals by Billy Smith and Jimmy Kilpatrick put the game out of reach before Lincoln’s Brent Borgen banged home a rebound of a Matt Hayek shot to finally scratch the scorecard. Lincoln did not have an answer for the physical play of Green Bay, and it showed in the end result. Just as the previous night, both teams were 0-4 when they had the man advantage.
10/03 Tri-City – Unbeaten Tri-City opened USHL play in the Ice Box, but the celebration in Lincoln was short-lived. After a lengthy (but impressive) pre-game ceremony in which Lincoln raised Anderson and Clark Cup banners from 2002-2003, the Storm came out and quieted the 4,610 in attendance with two goals in the first eight minutes. Jack Hillen started things off just 3:41 in with a power play goal, and less than three minutes later it was 2-0 after Bill Thomas blasted a high shot past the glove of Lamoureux. Nick Pernula finished off the first period scoring for the Storm, poking one in off a nice cross-ice pass from Tim Madsen. Lincoln played better in the second and third periods, but the damage was done and they fell by a final score of 4-2. Lincoln goals were both with a man advantage, the first Evan Rankin and then a late goal by bruiser Matt Hayek after Lincoln had pulled Lamoureux for the extra skater. Once again Lincoln was dominated physically for most of game. A late surge of shots in the third allowed them to outshoot an opponent for the first time all year (25-24). Lincoln scored its first power play goal of the year in six tries, but Tri-City got two of its own, also on six opportunities.
10/04 at Sioux Falls – Once again the Stars dug themselves a hole early and couldn’t recover. The Stampede scored three goals before the first intermission and Lincoln came up short for the third straight game 3-2. Anthony Ciraulo didn’t waste any time for Sioux Falls, scoring an unassisted goal just :39 seconds into the game. Power play goals by Jim McKenzie and Drew Sando left Lincoln scrambling again before the game had really started. They managed to get it back to a one goal game with third period tallies by Bartholomay and Ben Gordon, but it wasn’t enough. Former Star Ross Cherry stopped 37 of 39 shots for the win. Lincoln lost this game on the power play, going just 1 for 10. Sioux Falls was two for five.
Lincoln has an excellent chance to right the ship this weekend, playing two teams that have also struggled thus far, both at home. St. Louis will make their first trip ever to the Ice Box on Friday, with the winless River City Lancers coming to town on Saturday night. Two wins would get them back to .500 for the year and help Lincoln gain some confidence. If Lincoln continues to struggle, it could continue to be an uphill battle to improve to contender status.