The first lap of the race for the USHL’s Clark Cup is over and boy was it a race. We saw some of the best hockey to date in the playoffs, when skill and desire overpower anything else. As expected the Omaha Lancers disposed of the Chicago Steel 3 games to 1 in the best of 5 series. The Lancers shut out Chicago in the clincher thanks to the Steel getting their attention after winning game three 4-3 in overtime. The Green Bay Gamblers swept the Des Moines Buccaneers behind a high powered offense and more strong goaltending by Eric Pfligler. Sioux City smothered the Sioux Falls Stampede in a three game sweep as well. The Musketeers shut down the Sioux Falls offense and shut out USHL scoring leader Thomas Vanek. As Vanek went, so did the Stampede. That brings us to the best series so far, Cedar Rapids and Lincoln. The RoughRiders were the only ones who didn’t know they were suppose to lose to the Stars and their determination and desire was second to none in the first round. The two teams played three overtime games out of the four including the USHL’s longest game in history, going four overtimes in game two. The RoughRiders were the only lower seed to win in the first round. The second round begins April 24th with Omaha facing Cedar Rapids and Green Bay hosting Sioux City.
1. Omaha Lancers vs 6. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders
Omaha stood by it’s bread and butter all season long in their first round win over Chicago, they rode their goaltending and defense. Dominic Vicari went 2-0 with a .50 goals against average and .968 saves percentage. Aaron Slattengren leads the Lancers offensively with 3 goals and 3 assists. Brian Burns has scored two goals, both of them game winners. Defensively the Lancers have been strong as expected as they only allowed seven goals in the series, six by Marty Magers and only one by Vicari.
Bobby Goepfert has been the man for Cedar Rapids so far in the postseason as he was during the regular season. Goepfert took home every piece of hardware a USHL goaltender could grab this season and he’s still looking for one more piece to complete the collection. Nate Meyers, the rugged and gritty right winger for Cedar Rapids leads the RoughRiders with three goals and 1 assist. Alexander Valentin also has four points on a goal and three assists. Valentin’s goal though was probably the most important goal of the series in the fourth overtime of game two. The win gave Cedar Rapids the decided edge over Lincoln that the Stars could not overcome.
I went against Cedar Rapids in the first round, based on Lincoln’s big winning streak to end the season. They proved me wrong. I can’t go against Omaha however as their mixture of defense and goaltending has been unmatched this season, plus the RoughRiders are winless in four attempts with the Lancers this season. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong again.
2. Green Bay Gamblers vs 4. Sioux City Musketeers
Green Bay is hot, as hot as anyone can be right now. After a three game sweep of Des Moines, which appeared almost too easy, the Gamblers are primed for another top quality opponent in Sioux City. Green Bay has the top four scorers in the playoffs so far as Matt Johnson and Joey Crabb each have eight points. Tim Stapleton and A.J. Degenhardt both have seven points. Degenhardt has notched three power play goals in his totals. Eric Pfligler has a goals against average of 3.24 and save percentage of .903 which aren’t up to his standards of late, but they have been good enough to win behind his team’s offense.
Sioux City used their physical strength to overpower Sioux Falls, the league’s top scoring offense as they allowed the Stampede only three goals. Andy Franck has been in net all three games for the Musketeers and has a 1.00 goals against average and .961 saves percentage. B.J. Greaves leads the Muskies offense with a pair of goals and assists for four points. Jeff Adduono and Matt Ciancio have three points apiece.
It’s tough to go against Green Bay right now as the Gamblers have been hot but all hot streaks need to come to an end. Sioux City has the balance and defense to withstand Green Bay’s offense and the Musketeers have a strong goaltender in Franck. Sioux City will win once in Green Bay and they will be next to impossible to beat at the Sioux City Auditorium. Sioux City wins it in five.
Anyone planning on attending the Omaha/Cedar Rapids series, Game 3 and if necessary, Game 4 will be played at Young Arena in Waterloo, Iowa as the RoughRiders have scheduling conflicts that will not allow them to play on their home ice.