That fancy new arena on 72nd Street where the Omaha Lancers now store their ice skates and hockey sticks doesn't yet feel like home, sweet home.
Sure, the Lancers play their first game at the new Ralston Arena at 7:05 p.m. Friday — the Tri-City Storm provide the opposition — after opening the United States Hockey League season with eight consecutive road games.
Omaha players, coaches and staff members have been in their new digs for 10 days. But less than 24 hours before the first puck drops, the Lancers had yet to practice on the rink that is just a few steps from their Los Angeles Kings-replica locker room.
So much for home-ice advantage.
Until Wednesday, the Lancers practiced at Civic Auditorium, their home the past three seasons. On Wednesday and Thursday, they were able to prepare for the Storm on the Ralston Arena's second sheet of ice located just south of the main rink.
While less than delighted with the situation, Lancers coach Mike Aikens said everyone in the organization has stayed focused on being ready to go Friday night.
“It's going to feel more like a season opener than the ninth game of the season,” Aikens said. “There are a lot of great things about this new building, but everything we've had to do to get ready really makes it feel like things are just getting started.”
The Lancers got off to a 2-6 start on the extended road trip. Aikens said while no one is satisfied with that start, there have been signs of progress the last three games.
“A couple of weeks ago in Waterloo, you could feel it turning,” Aikens said. “It's been an adjustment period for everybody. Some of our young guys will be studs in this league. Whether that's by Thanksgiving time, Christmas time remains to be seen.”
Omaha was shut out 2-0 by the defending Western Conference champion Black Hawks to drop to 1-5 on Oct. 13, but Aikens was still encouraged. The Lancers had scored just 11 goals in their first six games before an offensive explosion produced an 8-3 victory over Tri-City on Oct. 19.
The Lancers fell short in their second chance to start a winning streak by falling 2-1 to the Storm the following night.
“We've been 2-8 or 1-6 in other years and come back strong,” Aikens said. “I was really hoping we could have come out 5-3 — that would have been exceptional. Going 4-4 would have been decent, but at 2-6, we're disappointed.”
Aikens had hoped the Lancers could lean on a solid corps of defenders while a young group of forwards had time to blossom. Aikens said goaltender Alex Lyon has been very good, but the defense didn't measure up.
That's why a few roster moves already have been made.
“Our D-corps was not a very solid group,” Aikens said. “I thought they would carry us early, but they didn't produce. We made some trades on the blue line that are a definite upgrade.
“I like our forwards, I think they're going to get better. We're starting to see some of those first-year forwards develop the way we thought they would.”
Following Friday's game against the Storm, Omaha will travel to Des Moines for a 7:05 p.m. game before returning to Ralston Arena on Sunday for a 5:05 p.m. game against the Buccaneers.
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