The Omaha Lancers defeated Tri-City four of the first five times the two teams played this season.
The last three games didn’t work out so well for the Lancers. The Storm outscored Omaha 15-5 in those final three meetings.
“Every time, with the exception of the first time it was 5-1 where they handed it to us pretty good, we’ve had some pretty good hockey games with them,” Lancers coach Brian Kaufman said. “The last two games were pretty good, and that 5-3 loss really felt like a playoff game.”
Those victories were enough to give Tri-City enough points to earn home ice advantage for the first round of the United States Hockey League’s Clark Cup playoffs.
Tri-City finished with 80 standings points, three ahead of the Lancers to earn the No. 2 seed. Omaha hosts the 37-17-6 Storm in Game 1 at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday before the best-of-five series shifts to Kearney for game two Thursday night.
Game 3 also will be hosted by Tri-City but will be played Saturday instead of Friday because the Viaero Events Center was already booked that night for an appearance by the Harlem Globetrotters.
The Storm nearly won the Western Conference, finishing just one point behind first place Sioux City. The Musketeers play Sioux Falls in the other Western Conference semifinal series, with the two winners meeting later this month for a berth in the Clark Cup finals.
Omaha is looking to end a five-year drought of playoff misery. The Lancers last won a USHL playoff series in 2010, having lost in the first round three of the past four years.
That fourth year — the 2012-13 campaign — the Lancers missed the playoffs for the first time in 24 seasons.
To beat Tri-City, the Lancers will need to find a way to slow Storm forward Chris Wilkie. The North Dakota recruit leads the Storm with 55 points on 35 goals and 20 assists.
“He’s a great player, an offensively gifted player,” Kaufman said. “He has a great shot and is dangerous in a lot of different areas, especially on the power play. He’s a guy you definitely have to be aware of at all times.”
Omaha’s leading scorer won’t be in the lineup for any games in this series. Forward Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson has missed the last several weeks with an injury.
In 50 games, Forsbacka-Karlsson had accounted for 53 points on 15 goals and 38 assists. That makes Shane Gersich Omaha’s leading active scorer with 50 points on 27 goals and 23 assists.
Kaufman said other than Forsbacka-Karlsson, the Lancers should be pretty healthy for this series. He said Steven Spinner and Anthony Angello are ready to go. The only player who won’t suit up is Nick Rivera because of a one-game suspension handed out by the league office after Saturday’s game against Lincoln.
“I’m really happy with our guys where we are right now,” Kaufman said. “We’ve been battling injuries as of late, and we’re getting healthy.”
Three of the four teams in the Western Conference field are the same as a year ago — Sioux City, Omaha and Sioux Falls. Tri-City replaces Waterloo, which advanced to the Clark Cup finals in 2014. … As it was a year ago, Sioux Falls is the number four seed. … Two teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs are in the same playoff spots they were a year ago. Cedar Rapids is No. 2 and Dubuque No. 3. … Youngstown won the Anderson Cup for the best regular season record with a 40-14-6 record for 86 points. Last season the Phantoms finished in last place in the Eastern Conference with a 17-37-6 record (40 standings points).
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