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Lancers proving to be too much for competition

by Brad Holland /
The Lancers, who lead the USHL in just about every conceivable category, are a cavalry force of their own.

The word lancer, as defined by the Oxford English dictionary, is defined as “a cavalry soldier armed with a lance,” and first was recorded as a term sometime between the years 1580-90.

The proper noun “Lancer” has been used to name a brand of car, wine, a publishing house, a TV series, and numerous characters in the world of video games and fantasy novels. The U.S. Air Force also named a strategic bomber the B-1 Lancer and has used it in long-range bombing runs since 1986.

Generally, the term is used to describe anything that pierces at speeds, is used for attack in groups, or just needs to sounds menacing.

Enter the Omaha Lancers.

The Lancers, who lead the USHL in just about every conceivable category – including wins (seven), points (14), penalty minutes (234), goals for (35), goals against (16), and winning percentage (.875) – are a cavalry force of their own. They attack in a group, strike quickly, and leave behind little or no trace of the carnage when finished.

Eighteen of their players have at least one point; of those, 10 have at least two goals. They boast two of the top five leading scorers and five of the top 15. Their goaltenders sit 1-2 atop the league in goals-against average and 2-3 in save percentage.

The Lancers have used this balanced approach to sprint to an early season lead, with a mind to avenge their 0-2 record in the second round robin a year ago.

This past week, the Lancers maintained that momentum to the tune of a 2-1 record in a three-games-in-three-nights set. They suffered their first defeat, at the hands of the Tri-City Storm on Friday night, despite out-shooting the Storm by a 40-34 margin. The Storm earned the victory as the Lancers fought until the final buzzer, pulling within one goal in the final minute of the game with the goaltender out before surrendering an empty-netter to seal the outcome.

From there the Lancers traveled to play the Des Moines Buccaneers at Buccaneer Arena in Urbandale, Iowa, defeating the hometown Buccaneers by a 4-1 score. Joseph Sova scored two goals and Matt White had two assists while goaltender Shane Madolora made 16 saves for the win.

The Lancers finished the three-game weekend on a high note, returning home to defeat the Indiana Ice, 3-1. Chris Connolly scored twice and goaltender Drew Palmisaro made 29 of 30 saves in his first appearance since suffering his and his team’s only defeat of the young season. Palmisaro finished the weekend with a 1-1 record, a 2.00 GAA and a .936 save percentage in his two games.

Leading the way offensively for the Lancers was Connolly, with three goals and four points on the weekend, and Barry Almeida, who had two goals and two assists to go along with a plus-1 rating and 12 shots on goal.

Connolly and Almeida will be counted on to provide offense throughout the season. The two players, who will be bitter rivals next season as Almeida attends Boston College and Connolly attends Boston University, will be a big part of any championship run attempted by the Lancers.

But they aren’t the only pieces of the puzzle.

The Lancers have used an balanced approach to sprint to an early season lead, with a mind to avenge their 0-2 record in the second round robin a year ago.

NHL Central Scouting recently released its Fall 2007 “Players to Watch” list, which included Almeida as a mid-round prospect. Fellow Lancers joining him on the list are forward Matthew Thurber and defensemen Patrick Wiercioch and Ross Keir. Wiercioch was targeted as an ‘A Player,’ which means he is projected as a top-end prospect for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

In addition, the Lancers have a strong leadership group headed up by fourth-year Lancer and team captain Chris Hepp. Hepp's name may not appear on the scoresheet at the end of every game, but his impact is felt in the locker room, on the ice, and especially, on opposing forwards.

With top-end offense, a dynamic goaltending duo and more than enough depth to go around, these Lancers have the horses necessary for a deep playoff push come springtime.

Around the USHL -- USA Hockey released the roster for the 2007 United States Junior Select Team that will compete in the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge in British Columbia next month. The roster is comprised entirely of current USHL players save one: Jimmy Hayes, who skates for the USA NTDP, based out of Ann Arbor, Mich. Waterloo Blackhawks coach P.K. O’Handley will coach the team, while Des Moines Buccaneers coach Regg Simon will serve as his assistant. … Along with Patrick Wiercioch, a total of six other players were targeted by NHL Central Scouting as "A" players. Defenseman John Carlson of the Indiana Ice (committed to the University of Massachusetts for 2008); forward Jared Festler of the Lincoln Stars (St. Cloud State, 2008); and Waterloo Blackhawks forwards Michael Fink (North Dakota, 2008), Nick Larson and Jordan Samuels-Thomas, and defenseman Max Nicastro (Boston University, 2008).

Ontario Hockey League

Say what you want about clichés, but the Kitchener Rangers are not about to back into the Memorial Cup.

The host city for the 2008 CHL Memorial Cup, the Kitchener Rangers are guaranteed a berth. If they win the OHL championship this season, the runner-up team will be granted entry as the OHL representative. However, like the Vancouver Giants last season – who made it all the way to Game 7 of the WHL final before losing in double-overtime to the Medicine Hat Tigers – the Rangers want to go in with some confidence, a little momentum, and the feeling that they belong.

Currently riding a five-game winning streak and sitting atop the Midwest Division with an 11-2 record and an eight-point lead over the London Knights, the Rangers are well on their way to doing just that.

Pushing that five-game winning streak are some of the OHL’s hottest skaters, on both the offensive and defensive side of the puck.

Justin Azevedo, a first-round CHL draft pick from 2004, sits third in the OHL scoring race, riding his own streak: A 10-game assist and point streak that has seen him collect seven goals and 24 points along the way.

Yannick Weber, a third round selection of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2007 Draft, has six goals and 11 points during the win streak. The offensive-minded defenseman also scored five goals in three wins over the past week.

Josh Unice, a third-round selection of the Chicago Blackhawks last season, has posted back-to-back shutouts in his last two starts, and has won three of four overall. His recent play has propelled him up the OHL goaltending leaderboard, and currently he sits fourth in goals-against average for all goaltenders with five or more starts.

Around the OHL -- Steven Stamkos has rocketed up the OHL scoring race, and now sits tied for eighth overall with 24 points. In addition, his 13 goals are good for a tie with Ryan McDonough of the Saginaw Spirit for third in the league. During a recent three-game win streak, Stamkos registered four goals and eight assists in wins over Plymouth, Saginaw and Mississauga. … The OHL’s leading defenseman, New York Rangers’ draft choice Bobby Sanguinetti, has six points during the Brampton Battalion’s recent four-game win streak. He now leads the OHL in defensive scoring with nine goals and 23 points in only 15 games. The Battalion now are tied with the Niagara IceDogs for the Central Division lead.

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

If not for an explosive offensive attack, one might wonder what would become of the Gatineau Olympiques.

Despite the third-worst goals-against average in the QMJHL, the Olympiques boast a 12-7 record and sit third in the overall standings, behind only Cape Breton and Baie-Comeau, both teams which sit among the CHL’s best.

How is Gatineau able to compete despite giving up so many goals? Simple - they fill their opponents’ nets at just a slightly quicker rate.

The young Olympiques have scored a league-best 76 goals in 21 games, or just under 4.0 per contest. While their goals-against average is somewhat of a cause for alarm, their position in the standings is not, and they’ll have plenty of time to work out the kinks in their defensive game before the playoffs.

Around the QMJHL -- Rimouski forward and Florida Panthers 2007 second-round draft choice Michael Frolik won the TELUS Offensive Player of the Week for the period extending from Oct. 22-28. In three games, Frolik scored six goals and added an assist as the Oceanic won two of three games. He enjoyed his best game of the week with a hat trick in a 7-2 defeat of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. Frolik has been limited to only six games this season due to an early injury, but already has six goals and seven points on the season. … St. John’s Fog Devils goaltender Timo Pielmeier was awarded the TELUS Defensive Player of the Week for the same period. He registered two road wins - one by shutout - while maintaining a .975 save percentage overall. Pielmeier, a San Jose Sharks third-round draft choice in 2007, made 42 saves in the shutout.

Western Hockey League

The CHL and WHL announced Team WHL roster for ADT Canada-Russia Challenge this past Friday, for games against the Russian team to be played in Cranbrook, B.C., on Wednesday Nov. 28, and in Medicine Hat, Alberta on Thursday, Nov. 29.

Curtis Hunt of the Regina Pats will coach Team WHL while Don Hay of the Vancouver Giants and Wil Desjardins of the Medicine Hat Tigers will serve as his assistants.

Goaltenders Leland Irving and Tyson Sexsmith will participate in both games, while the defense and forward corps will be slightly different for each of the two games.

Team WHL’s defense will be highlighted by 2007 first-round NHL Draft choices Thomas Hickey (fourth, Los Angeles), Karl Alzner (fifth, Washington), Keaton Ellerby (10th, Florida), and Nick Ross (30th, Phoenix), who each will play in at least one game.

Team WHL’s offense is highlighted by 2007 first-round NHL Draft choices Zach Hamill (eighth, Boston) Brandon Sutter (12th, Carolina), and Colton Gillies (15th, Minnesota), each of whom also will see at least one gave against the Russians.

Around the WHL -- The Moose Jaw Warriors and Spokane Chiefs both are riding winning streaks of at least eight games. The Chiefs have ridden their eight-game stretch of hot play to the top spot of the U.S. Division. The Warriors, meanwhile, have taken their 10-game unbeaten run (8-0-1-1) to third place in the WHL’s most competitive division, the East Division of the Eastern Conference. … For the first time this season, the Calgary Hitmen are looking up at the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Central Division. Medicine Hat, on the back of a 3-0-0-1 stretch, now boasts an 11-3-2-0 overall record for 24 points, one better than the Hitmen with one game in hand. The teams will next face one another in Calgary on Dec. 16. ... Jordan Eberle, a 2008 NHL draft-eligible forward, has six goals and 13 points in his past six games, placing him atop the league’s goal-scorers and second in the league in overall points.


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