USHL Western Conference semifinal preview

Fargo Force starters being announced

Will the Fargo Force win the Western Conference playoffs and advance to the Clark Cup?

Last week, I brought you a preview of the Central Division semifinals in the North American Hockey League. This week, it’s time for a preview of the other junior hockey league with teams in the Dakotas, the United States Hockey League.

This post will focus on the Western Conference, as it’s the division located in this area. The division is made up of one team in North Dakota, one team in South Dakota, three teams in Nebraska, and three teams in Iowa. Four of the eight teams have advanced to the conference playoffs: the Sioux Falls Stampede, the Fargo Force, the Waterloo Black Hawks, and the Lincoln Stars.

The divisional playoffs begin with two best-of-five series: #1 Sioux Falls vs. #4 Lincoln and #2 Fargo vs. #3 Waterloo. Sioux Falls and Lincoln got underway Tuesday night with Sioux Falls winning 3-2 in overtime to take a 1-0 lead in the series. The Fargo-Waterloo series begins Wednesday, along with the two series in the other conference (Dubuque vs. Muskegon and Green Bay vs. Youngstown).

The winners of the two Western Conference series will play in another best-of-five series to determine the conference champion and advance to the Clark Cup against the Eastern Conference champion.

USHL Western Conference Playoff Bracket

It’s not exactly a preview technically since the series has started already, but let’s look first at the Sioux Falls-Lincoln series.

NOTE: All information under “Season Series” and “Team Comparisons” for this series comes from the regular season only. In other words, game one between these two teams on Tuesday is not factored in.

#1 Sioux Falls vs. #4 Lincoln

Playoff Schedule

    • Game 1: April 16 at 7:05 p.m. in Sioux Falls (3-2 Sioux Falls win in OT)
    • Game 2: April 17 at 7:05 p.m. in Sioux Falls
    • Game 3: April 19 at 7:05 p.m. in Lincoln
    • Game 4: April 20 at 7:05 p.m. in Lincoln (if necessary)
    • Game 5: April 23 at 7:05 p.m. in Sioux Falls (if necessary)

Season Series

    • Wins: 5-3 in favor of Sioux Falls
    • Points: 10-7 in favor of Sioux Falls
    • Record in Sioux Falls: Tied at 2 (wins); Tied at 4 (points)
    • Record in Lincoln: 3-1 in favor of Sioux Falls (wins); 6-3 in favor of Sioux Falls (points)
    • Goals Scored: 24-19 in favor of Sioux Falls
    • Game Results:
      • 9/28/12 – in Lincoln – 5-1 Lincoln win
      • 11/10/12 – in Sioux Falls – 5-2 Sioux Falls win
      • 12/1/12 – in Sioux Falls – 2-1 Lincoln win
      • 12/15/13 – in Lincoln – 4-3 Sioux Falls win in a shootout
      • 2/1/13 – in Lincoln – 4-1 Sioux Falls win
      • 2/16/13 – in Sioux Falls – 6-1 Sioux Falls win
      • 3/22/13 – in Lincoln – 2-1 Sioux Falls win
      • 3/30/13 – in Sioux Falls – 4-1 Lincoln win

Sioux Falls had a slight edge in the season series. Could that be an indication of what’s to come in this series?

One potential problem for Sioux Falls, however, could be that the Stampede did not take care of business at home, splitting with Lincoln. Lincoln dropped game one of this playoff series in Sioux Falls, but if the Stars can steal game two on the road, that suddenly makes this series a whole lot more interesting.

Team Comparisons

Sioux Falls Lincoln
Overall Record 45-17-2, 92 pts. (1st Western) 39-22-3, 81 pts. (4th Western)
Home Record 24-8-0, 48 pts. 20-9-3, 43 pts.
Away Record 21-9-2, 44 pts. 19-13-0, 38 pts.
Goals For/Against 241-187 217-191
Last Ten Games 7-3-0, 14 pts. 8-2-0, 16 pts.
Second Half of Season Record 22-9-1, 45 pts. 20-12-0, 40 pts.
Leading Scorers Dennis Kravchenko (22 G, 41 A), C.J. Franklin (32 G, 28 A), Zeb Knutson (26 G, 25 A), Todd Skirving (23 G, 22 A), Tony Calderone (29 G, 15 A), Sam Rothstein (18 G, 26 A) Eric Scheid (23 G, 36 A), Vinni Lettieri (28 G, 28 A), Paul LaDue (12 G, 37 A), Luke Johnson (19 G, 27 A), Dominik Shine (26 G, 19 A)
Goaltending Charlie Lindgren (35-14-2, 2.80 GAA, .900 SV%), David Jacobson (3-0-0, 1.51 GAA, .931 SV%) Michael Bitzer (22-11-1, 2.70 GAA, .905 SV%), Jackson Teichroeb (17-11-2, 2.78 GAA, .904 SV%)

Both teams enter the playoffs on a roll, winning a combined 15 of their last 20 games. Whose hot streak will come to an end?

On paper, Sioux Falls is a better team, but for a series between a #1 and a #4 seed, the teams’ records really aren’t too far apart, so this series could easily go either way.

For a more complete comparison of the two teams, the USHL provides very in-depth stats about the season series and about each team.

Now let’s look at the other series between Fargo and Waterloo.

#2 Fargo vs. #3 Waterloo

Playoff Schedule

    • Game 1: April 17 at 7:05 p.m. in Fargo
    • Game 2: April 19 at 7:35 p.m. in Fargo
    • Game 3: April 21 at 3:05 p.m. in Waterloo
    • Game 4: April 23 at 7:05 p.m. in Waterloo (if necessary)
    • Game 5: April 24 at 7:05 p.m. in Fargo (if necessary)

Season Series

    • Wins: 4-1 in favor of Fargo
    • Points: 8-4 in favor of Fargo
    • Record in Fargo: 2-0 in favor of Fargo (wins); 4-1 in favor of Fargo (points)
    • Record in Waterloo: 2-1 in favor of Fargo (wins); 4-3 in favor of Fargo (points)
    • Goals Scored: 19-12 in favor of Fargo
    • Game Results:
      • 2/11/13 – in Waterloo – 3-2 Fargo win
      • 2/15/13 – in Fargo – 4-3 Fargo win in a shootout
      • 2/16/13 – in Fargo – 6-1 Fargo win
      • 3/22/13 – in Waterloo – 5-4 Fargo win in a shootout
      • 3/30/13 – in Waterloo – 2-1 Waterloo win

Fargo had a clear edge in the season series, taking four of five games. All five games happened in approximately the last two months of the regular season, which only gives more weight to Fargo’s winning of the season series.

It is interesting to note, however, that with the exception of a 6-1 blowout by the Force in Fargo, the games all were decided by one goal, twice in a shootout. This series was actually much closer than its record indicates.

Team Comparisons

Fargo Waterloo
Overall Record 38-19-7, 83 pts. (2nd Western) 39-21-4, 82 pts. (3rd Western)
Home Record 19-9-4, 42 pts. 20-11-1, 41 pts.
Away Record 19-10-3, 41 pts. 19-10-3, 41 pts.
Goals For/Against 229-201 273-217
Last Ten Games 6-3-1, 13 pts. 8-1-1, 17 pts.
Second Half of Season Record 20-10-2, 42 pts. 19-9-4, 42 pts.
Leading Scorers Dominic Toninato (29 G, 41 A), Brendan Harms (25 G, 45 A), Gabe Guertler (31 G, 20 A), Dave Gust (21 G, 28 A), Alex Iafallo (20 G, 23 A) Taylor Cammarata (38 G, 55 A), Justin Kloos (29 G, 58 A), Zach Stepan (32 G, 46 A), Vince Hinostroza (25 G, 35 A), Ian McCoshen (11 G, 33 A)
Goaltending Brendan Jensen (24-11-1, 2.92 GAA, .911 SV%), Cameron Johnson (14-8-6, 3.07 GAA, .909 SV%) Cal Petersen (21-11-1, 2.97 GAA, .906 SV%), Eamon McAdam (17-9-3, 3.45 GAA, .896 SV%)

The information in this section is where this playoff series gets a lot more interesting because it points toward a Waterloo advantage, unlike the season series.

Waterloo enters the playoffs with an eight-game winning streak, the longest active streak in the entire USHL. Fargo, meanwhile, dropped its final two games of the regular season at home against sixth-place Sioux City with a combined score of 10-2.

Fargo also has to worry about the high-scoring Waterloo offense. Waterloo easily led the USHL in scoring in the regular season, scoring 26 more goals than the team with the next highest amount. The Waterloo offense is led by Cammarata, Kloos, and Stepan, who went 1-2-3 in the regular-season scoring race in the USHL.

The season series points to Fargo, but several other factors point to Waterloo, so this should be an exciting series to watch and one where anything could happen.

Again, for further comparison, the USHL provides a helpful page with some in-depth stats about the season series and the two teams.