Lincoln clinches fifth to set up western division showdown
The Lincoln Stars clinched fifth place in the USHL over the weekend to set up a first round matchup between the Stars and the 4th place Sioux City Musketeers in the first round of the USHL playoffs. Lincoln clinched a playoff spot on Wednesday with a 6-5 shoot-out win in Sioux City. The Stars then went on to win 3 more games over the weekend including wins over Dubuque 8-3, North Iowa 4-3 (SO), and a 5-3 win over Green Bay at home. Lincoln got contributions from literally every direction as they tallied 21 goals from a total of 11 different players in their 4 games on the week, let by Eric Maksimenko’s 4 goals.
The bottom teams in the USHL continue to scramble for the last 3 remaining births in the playoffs. Thunder Bay, who has only 2 games remaining, was only able to gain a single point over the weekend in a 2 game series with the USA (18& Under) Team. They lost on Friday 4-1, and took the USA team to a shoot-out before losing on Saturday by a 3-2 (SO) score. The Flyers, by gaining the one point for a shoot-out loss, still hold on to 6th place in the league currently with 43 points.
Wins by Waterloo and North Iowa keep teams 6-9 separated by just 4 points
The Waterloo Black Hawks and North Iowa Huskies, who are both fighting for their playoff lives managed to take a pair of games each from teams they are battling for the remaining playoff births in the USHL. Waterloo took a pair of 2-1 wins from Thunder Bay north of the border on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The Black Hawks played a pair of tight defensive games headlined by goaltender Mike Walsh, who made 61 of 63 saves over the weekend to earn the league’s defensive player of the week. The losses could spell big trouble for the Flyers who have only 4 games remaining, 2 against USA (18 & Under), 2 with Omaha, and have a combined 0-2-2 record against those 2 teams so far this season. Thunder Bay is leading 9th place Rochester by just 4 points, while the Mustangs have 4 games in hand.
North Iowa bounced back from an 11-0 loss on Wednesday to the red hot Des Moines Buccaneers, and swept a home and home series with the Dubuque Fighting Saints. The Huskies won a 4-1 decision on Saturday in Mason City, IA with goals from Josh Schlipp(2), Effren Larranago, and Marty Goulet. They then capped the weekend by traveling to Dubuque and blanking the Saints 2-0. Jason Gregoire got the Shutout on Sunday stopping all 23 of Dubuque’s shots on goal.
The Thunder Bay Flyers dropped both games in a crucial weekend homestand against the Waterloo Blackhawks. Two wins would have more or less guaranteed a playoff spot. Now the Flyers need to upset either the USA Under 18 or the Omaha Lancers in the final two series of the year. Despite the largest crowd of the at 2,704 the Flyers played uninspirted Saturday afternoon and dropped the game by a score of 2-1. The Flyers came out flat every period and only played about 20 minutes of the game. Thunder Bay Midget King Affiliate Tyler Bruno scored the Flyers only goal. Corey Macheran made 28 saves in the Flyers net. Sunday afternoon was almost identical to Saturday with the Flyers coming up with a poor effort. The Flyers once again lost by a score of 2-1 despite a great game from Corey Macheran. Defenceman Mike Tilson scored the lone Thunder Bay marker. Waterloo swept the season series with four victories. Thunder Bay was without All-star defenceman Arron MacKenzie who broke a knuckle early in Saturday’s game.
Sioux City clinches birth while Des Moines continues to roll
The Sioux City Musketeers became the 4th team to clinch a USHL playoff birth over the weekend with 2 victories. The Musketeers scored 4 goals in the first period of Friday’s game against the Fargo-Moorhead Ice Sharks and that would be enough as they eventually roll to a 7-2 victory. Morgan Roach, last weeks offensive player of the week, got the game winning goal in the Friday contest. Ruslan Fedotenko also added to his league leading goal tally twice on Friday bringing his season total to 47. Sioux City then took a game from the Twin Cities Vulcans 5-2 the following night to join Des Moines, Omaha, and Green Bay as teams that have clinched playoff births.
Des Moines continued their winning ways with a 10-5 drubbing of Twin Cities on Friday and then blanking the Dubuque Fighting Saints 6-0 in a game played in Davenport, IA on Saturday night. The wins were numbers 6 and 7 in a row, which is the longest current winning streak in the league. While offense was the order of the night on Friday with Des Moines receiving goals from Peter Sejna(2G), Pete Fregoe(2G), Nick Field (2G), Noah Clarke, Jerrid Reinholz, Nick Stodgell, and Garrett Stafford, they quickly turned to stingy defensive play on Saturday. Matt Carney stopped all 23 Dubuque shots and CSB ranked Matt Shasby was a +3 with an assist. Des Moines continues to lead the league with 79 points and an impressive record of 25 wins, 5 losses, and one shootout loss.
The USHL hopes to take its place beside other leagues in talent production. Few are aware of this league that often comes before college hockey for many players.
The USHL is not like the junior hockey played throughout Canada. The players in this league (ages 16-20) are not allowed to be paid because they are trying to maintain eligibility for US College Hockey which, by NCAA rules, does not allow a player who was paid to play hockey at any other level of play to participate. The USHL is known as Junior A hockey or “Tier II Juniors”. Many of these players do not expect to get drafted immediately by NHL franchises, although some are, and want to continue to develop their hockey skills in this league and eventually in college level hockey.
Besides maintaining eligibility for college hockey, there are many other reasons players choose to come to the USHL. Some are following coaches who may have coached them in high school before moving into the USHL. Others simply prefer to play hockey in the United States instead of moving North to Canada.