I’m pretty agitated that my first write-up of a hockey game isn’t about the Blackhawks, but I’m just crying over spilt milk so I’m just going to go ahead and let that go. Instead, this write-up is about the local hockey team, the Lincoln Stars. (The University team isn’t NCAA, it’s only Club.)
I attended Friday night’s game against their bitter rival, the Omaha Lancers. I’ll offer a teeny bit of background before I get started. They are a Tier 1 Junior team in the West Division of the United States Hockey League (USHL). Former Stars players include Andy Schneider, Josh Langfield, Jared Boll, and David Backes. (Yeah, Backes was probably a douche then, too.) The Stars have won two Clark Cups in their short existence and are one of the most attended junior hockey teams in the nation, averaging well over 90% stadium capacity since they joined the league in 1996.
They were off to a hot start this season – 9-0 and in first place – but have since dropped to third in the USHL standings due to a bit of a scoring drought.
This was my first taste of Stars hockey and for that matter, junior hockey. Other than the fact that the players were my age and a few minor rule tweaks here and there (no-touch icing, no trapezoid rule, automatic suspension if you fight in the last 5 minutes of a game, etc.), the game was pretty similar to the ones we can’t watch right now. Let’s get started, shall we?
In the battle for non-Husker football Nebraskan sports relevance, the Omaha Lancers edged the Lincoln Stars 2-1 (SO) in five rounds. The Lancers took advantage of a five-minute major on Illinois native Jimmy Devito and knotted the score at one apiece about 53 seconds into the third period.
Stars goalie Jackson Teichroeb got caught in no-man’s-land as he laid out in an attempt to cover a loose puck, only to have a Lancer tap the puck into the wide open net. Lancer goalie Alex Lyon would then stave off 11 Stars shots in the third and 5 more in overtime to lead his team to the shootout. There, he stopped 4 of the 5 shots he faced while Teichroeb only stopped 3 of the 5 shots on him.
Although there was no scoring in the second period, there was plenty of action to make up for it. About 6 minutes into the second, Omaha’s defense started to break down, allowing the Stars about three consecutive fast breaks. The Lancer defensemen couldn’t stop the Stars from skating along the edges and then beating them to the outside. Unfortunately, in what turned out to be the theme of the Stars’ night, they couldn’t capitalize on the chances they had and came away empty-handed.
On the first fast break, it was a 2 on 1 where Lyon lost his stick and after a last-second feed from his opposite winger, Stars forward Vinni Lettieri’s shot just nicked the blocker of the lunging Omaha goalie.
Their very next offensive possession, the Stars get another 2 on 1 and miss the shot wide off a similar passing play. About twenty seconds later, the Stars get yet another fast break. Lyon would make a good pad save on a shot from the slot, but the rebound would kick out to his right, where the goal practically screamed “right here!” and Lettieri was waiting. He chipped the puck towards the gaping net but was robbed by the phenomenal desperation stick save made by the athletic Lyon. It wasn’t unlike the great save Tim Thomas made against the Lightning in the 2011 ECF. (Probably the only Tim Thomas praise you’ll hear from me).
I didn’t realize just how badly these teams hated each other until about the 13:00 minute mark in that same period. Things started getting chippy as post-whistle shoving became the norm and checks started to get more vicious. The ill-will boiled over when Jimmy Devito decided it would be a good idea to check Lyon as he went behind his net to play the puck. Since Devito actually made solid contact with Lyon, the Omaha netminder crashed into the boards and fell down. An Omaha player, number 29 (apparently, he was just cut by the Stars and got picked up by the Lancers), hurried to defend his uninjured goalie, only to have his butt handed to him by Devito. Devito got a 10-min game misconduct and the Stars were assessed a 5-minute major, which the Lancers tallied one goal on.
The Stars offense reminded me a lot of the Blackhawks’ offense, so that was frustrating. They got too cute both on the power play and at full strength. They would often try to make too many passes, sometimes even when there wasn’t any passing lane available. Their 32 shots on goal were somewhat deceiving. The Stars couldn’t really sustain pressure for any significant period of time and most of their chances were a “one and done” type of deal. On the power play, it was pretty obvious the Stars were missing a big man in front of the net to do the dirty work required to score power play goals.
The Stars’ defensemen had difficulty getting their point shots past Lancer ankles and the ones that did get by, Lyon had a pretty good look at. As reported by the Lincoln-Journal Star, Stars head coach Chad Johnson (I don’t think he goes by Ochocinco) agreed, claiming their scoring drought was a result of getting away from the fundamentals and not doing the little dirty things required to put points on the board.
Other than some unruly teenagers to my left who repeatedly asked random women if they’d contracted gonorrhea and shouting a few words I rather wouldn’t have heard, I was pleased with the overall experience. I plan on going back to a few more this year, preferably some playoff games, as well. I’d recommend attending a junior hockey game to just about anyone, even when the NHL returns. The fans seem genuinely passionate about their local team and it’s pretty damn cheap. I only paid $8 for my ticket. And besides, any hockey is good hockey, right?