It’s not necessary to be a devoted fan of either the Omaha Lancers or Lincoln Stars to understand that this hockey rivalry is a bit on the intense side.
Casual observers of the USHL appreciate the spirited play by both teams every time they get together for a 60-minute scrum on the ice.
Now meet Trent Samuels-Thomas, a player who has lived both sides of this rivalry in the past three months.
Samuels-Thomas started this season in Des Moines, where he played 58 games in 2011-12 for the Buccaneers. He scored 32 points on 15 goals, including two game-winners, and 17 assists.
After eight games in Des Moines in the fall, the Bucs traded Samuels-Thomas to Lincoln. When things didn’t work out after 10 games with the Stars, the Lancers snatched him up, and he has been a steady force in Omaha’s lineup the past 18 games.
As the Lancers get ready to host the Stars on Saturday at 12:35 p.m. at TD Ameritrade Park in the first of two scheduled outdoor “Battles on Ice” — UNO and North Dakota will square off in the second game around 4 p.m. — Samuels-Thomas will be the player who knows everyone on the two benches the best.
Though his time in Lincoln was brief, Samuels-Thomas said he appreciates the passion of the fans.
“Fans on both sides really get out and support their teams,” Samuels-Thomas said. “That just makes the games we play against each other that much more fun.”
It’s been a bit more fun for Omaha fans this season, as the Lancers have won five of the first six meetings between the teams. There are three more games scheduled after Saturday’s contest, but the next won’t be until March 23.
Samuels-Thomas has two goals and an assist since joining the Lancers. The West Hartford, Conn., native is used to the colder climate but said this will be the first outdoor game.
“I think this is going to be an experience all of us will never forget,” Samuels-Thomas said. “Not many teams at any level get to play in a game like this, but we have to remember that every game is big as we try to get to the playoffs.”
Lancer coach Mike Aikens said Samuels-Thomas brings a good blend of skills that have helped him increase his ice time the more he’s around his new teammates.
“Trent brings an element of toughness with a good level of skill,” Aikens said. “He has more skill than people might realize. He’s a guy who can get it done in all areas of the game.”
The biggest thing Aikens has noticed since Samuels-Thomas joined the Lancers is his level of confidence.
“He was lacking some confidence when he got here,” Aikens said. “But now he’s learning to free himself up more to make some plays. He’s going to get better because he works hard, watches a lot of video and does what he has to do.”
While he still has friends who will be sitting on the opposite bench Saturday, Samuels-Thomas said those relationships will need to be put aside for just a couple of hours.
“Once you get on that ice, even though I played with those guys, they’re enemies while we’re on the ice,” Samuels-Thomas said. “Then we’re back to being friends again after it’s over.”
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