We’ve reached that time of year. The USHL Playoffs are upon us. Aaaaaaaand, the Phantoms aren’t a part of them. Now, we’ve known this for a while. But, if you can’t make the playoffs, what is the next best way to finish out the season? That’s right! Play the spoiler!
Dubuque, after an 0-10 start to the season, was able to squeak past the NTDP for the 4th and final spot in the East. Going into the final weekend, most everyone outside of Iowa had Team USA penciled in. The Saints had a 3-in-3 with a game against Muskegon and two with Green Bay. And Team USA? 3 games against the lowly Youngstown Phantoms. Dubuque won 2 of 3, and so did the Phantoms. Some people out there with opinions stated that the Phantoms screwed USA in more ways than one. With the possible points percentage that was used to rank teams that didn’t play a full 54 game schedule, Dubuque and Green Bay actually benefited from playing less games, both of which due to being unable to reschedule postponed games with the Phantoms. That’s fair, except I would like to present Exhibit B to this argument. The U18’s were 1-3-0-1 (3 pts) in their final 5 USHL games. The U17s were 1-7-1-0 (3 pts) in their final 9 USHL games. This is from March 23rd to the end of the season. That is a combined 2-10-1-1. A potential 28 points, they got 6. But yeah, blame the Phantoms.
Now that the soapbox is back under the chair, in this playoff preview we’re going to take a look at all four 1st Round Matchups. That’s right, for the first time this season, there are numbers from the Western Conference! I’ve beat around the bush enough, so let’s jump right in. I want to point out that these charts will be from the viewpoint of the higher seeded team.
#1 Chicago Steel vs #4 Dubuque Fighting Saints
Chicago ended the season with an 8 game winning streak, 4 of those against the Phantoms. Dubuque ended their season on a 5-1-1-0 run, including two wins over Green Bay in their final two games to clinch the #4 seed. When the times are added up, it has been a close season series. 5 of the 8 games were 1 goal games, but Chicago outscored Dubuque 32-19 over 8 games. I wouldn’t count out the Saints, but the Steel are playing their best hockey, and the Saints will have to bring nothing but their best to have a chance.
#2 Muskegon Lumberjacks vs #3 Green Bay Gamblers
Muskegon and Green Bay limped to the finish line, both finishing 2-3-1-0 in their last 6 games. In 10 games against each other, the ‘Jacks were 5-4-0-1 (11pts) and Green Bay was 5-3-1-1 (12pts). The Gamblers ended the series with almost 45 more minutes in “Lead Time”. Muskegon scored first 3 times in the series, but only won one of those games (1-2-0-0). But while Green Bay got the 1st goal 7 out of 10 games, they were 3-3-0-1 in those games. When it’s all said and done, this series is a coin flip. Playoff hockey with Lohrei vs Gushchin. This will be one to watch.
#1 Tri-City Storm vs #4 Fargo Force
Hey, look! Western Conference numbers. But seriously folks, the WC this season was interesting to say the least. Only 1 point separated the top four teams. Any one of them could have been the top seed, but Tri-City won the pony. And their reward is a series with the Fargo Force. This may be the only 1st Round matchup with a clear vision of which team was the better team against the other this season. While the Storm did drop 2 games out of 6 to the Force, they didn’t have much trouble playing against Fargo. Almost a 90 minute difference in “Lead Time” to “Trail Time” points that fact out. But, both teams limped into their seedings with Tri-City finishing the season 4-5-1-0, and Fargo finished 3-6-1-0. Nothing is set in stone in this series, but I think Noreen’s boys will be up to the task in the 1st round. And finally…
#2 Omaha Lancers vs #3 Sioux City Musketeers
Again, coin flip. Both teams played 53 games. Both teams ended with 63 points. Both teams had 30 ROW. So how is Omaha hosting this 1st Round series? Funny enough, it came down to the head-to-head record, and an Omaha overtime loss on April 10th actually helped them. Omaha finished the 8 game season series with Sioux City with a 4-3-1-0 (9pts) record. Sioux City finished 4-4-0-0 (8pts) against Omaha. See? I told you it was funny. The Lancers won 4 of the first 5 games these teams played, but the Musketeers took 4 of the final 5 games they played. (Look at the chart, I promise that makes sense). So which team has an edge? Momentum? Both finished the season strong. 18 out of a possible 20 points in the last 10 games for Omaha vs 17 out of a possible 20 for Sioux City in the last 10. Special teams? The numbers there are fairly similar. This could be the series to watch in Round 1.
Phew! That took some work. With this Round 1 Playoff Preview taking way longer than any other blog I have written so far, I estimate that the Phantoms and (by proxy) the Eastern Conference wrap-up will be coming next week as we also have the Season 4 Finale of the Dump and Chase Podcast coming up this week. So until next time, stay thirsty my fri...you know what? No. I’m not doing it this time.