Though it turned out to be more of a Battle on Slush than a Battle on Ice, the Omaha Lancers and Lincoln Stars who spent more time jumping over the blue lines than skating across them Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park still will cherish the experience of playing an outdoor game.
The Lancers figure to have the better recollections. They scored four first-period goals en route to a 4-2 victory over the rival Stars in the first outdoor game in the history of the United States Hockey League.
Sunshine that normally would be welcome in early February caused problems with the ice on the rink set up just behind the pitcher's mound at the home of the College World Series.
The blue lines were turning to mush almost from the beginning because the darker colors on the ice don't hold up as well to sunlight. Lancers coach Mike Aikens said players at times were looking for alternatives to skating over those lines.
“On rushes, they were jumping over the blue lines,” Aikens said. “It was almost comical at times.”
the Lancers took advantage of the ice at its best by scoring all four of their goals in the first period. Omaha native Gage Hough and fellow forward Robbie Baillargeon led the Lancers' offensive charge by scoring two goals and dishing out one assist apiece.
Stars skaters couldn't erase the 4-1 deficit they faced less than 18 minutes into the game despite sending 36 shots at Omaha's goal in the final two periods. Much of that had to do with another outstanding performance by Omaha goalie Alex Lyon.
The Yale recruit stopped 42 of the 44 shots sent his way. Both Aikens and Stars coach Chad Johnson said that was just another typical performance from Lyon.
“Our goalie was the difference in the hockey game,” Aikens said. “Alex gives us a chance to win every night, and he did that again tonight.”
Johnson said Lyon's performance and the Lancers' quick start were the biggest reasons for their sixth win in seven games between the teams this season.
“When you get Alex Lyon in the net and we have a little bit of a slow start, (you) can't expect to come back against a good team like that,” Johnson said. “You can't have just one guy on the puck. When the game is on TV, you would have liked to have five guys on the screen.”
|Check out the interactive panoramic photo from Saturday's Battles on Ice opener. Were you at the historic event?|
Even before the game started, players knew the game would be memorable for more than just being played outdoors.
“We couldn't stick-handle the puck — we had to chip everything deep,” Lincoln forward Vinni Lettieri said. “I noticed during warmups it was going to be a problem. We tried to work with what we could.”
Hough set the tempo for the Lancers by opening the scoring just 1:20 into the game. He got the puck when Trent Samuels-Thomas slipped a pass behind the Lincoln defense.
Hough deftly moved from the left side of the Lincoln crease to the right and caught Stars goalie Michael Bitzer off-guard with his quick shot. The Lancers improved to 19-5 when scoring the first goal of the game.
“For us to go out and make a few plays early was big,” Aikens said. “We had some Grade A opportunities.”
Hough put Omaha up 2-0 with the first of his team's two power-play goals at 8:16 when he got a cross-crease pass from Baillargeon. Hough was uncovered on the left side and sent the shot past Bitzer.
the Stars (24-15-3) needed just nine seconds to get that goal back when Phillip Marinaccio won a battle for a loose puck at the top of the Lancers' goal crease for his 12th goal of the season.
Omaha made it 3-1 just 1:23 later when assistant captain Dominic Racobaldo found Baillargeon at the side of the net for Omaha's second power-play goal.
Baillargeon scored Omaha's final goal at 17:59 of the first when he sent home his 16th goal of the season past new Lincoln goalie Jackson Teichroeb.
Will Suter, a Lincoln-born member of the Stars who grew up in Omaha, scored the final goal of the game 6:47 into the second period.
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>> Video: Watch game highlights from the Lancers' 4-2 win over the Lincoln Stars:
>> Video: The Battles on Ice crew works to keep the ice in playing condition at the outdoor hockey rink:
>> 360-degrees: This virtual reality look at TD Ameritrade Park during the National Anthem before the Omaha Lancers hockey game against the Lincoln Stars was made by stitching several images together. To look around click your mouse anywhere in the image and drag it to the direction you wish to see. You can also use the arrow keys to move around. To zoom use the "control" and "shift" keys.
Note: QuickTime 7 software required