About a year ago, this could have been a lineup that could have won at the Minnesota state hockey tournament.
These days, however, they’re shooting for something greater. A Western Conference title would be nice. A Clark Cup would be a lot better.
Omaha’s roster has plenty of stories to it. The latest one is its defense and goaltending are spearheaded by five Minnesotans who a year ago weren’t even on a USHL roster.
“First of all, a big part is Alex Lyon (Yale) our goalie,” said Lancers defenseman Kevin Schulze (Wisconsin). “Our defense, we don’t give up a lot of quality chances. We may give up a lot of shots, but they are not quality chances.”
Omaha heads into Friday with the second-best record in the Western Conference and are a point out of first with two games left. Defense is a big reason why. Based on goals allowed, has the fourth-best defense in the USHL and it ranks second in the Western Conference.
The Minnesota-based defense has a lot to do with it. Apple Valley’s Vince Pedrie and Edina’s Ben Ostlie were drafted by the Lancers and have been with the club since Day One.
Ostlie and Pedrie, who were at Edina and Apple Valley last season, have had to adjust to what is a considerably more demanding USHL schedule. Minnesota schools play from 24 to 25 regular season games and assuming a team reaches the state title game, a player can at most play 31 or 32 games.
The USHL season is 60 games and Pedrie has already played 40 games this season while Ostlie has played in 52 games.
“Its a big transition. Teams here are a lot deeper,” said Ostlie, who has scored nine points this season. “Every player out here is skilled. In high school, usually the top two lines are skilled. But with the guys on the team, the season does go by pretty fast.”
Ostlie and Pedrie were both drafted by Omaha. Lyon, who is from Baudette, Minn., was acquired via a trade with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.
It still didn’t stop Omaha from making a few more moves to bolster its already Minnesota-heavy defense.
The Lancers traded for Schluze, who is from White Bear Lake, Minn., and played for Hill-Murray, and about a month ago added high school free agent, Jake Bischoff (Minnesota), who played this season at Grand Rapids, which was knocked out in the second round of this year’s playoffs.
Omaha, in all, has six players on its roster from Minnesota. Forward Tanner Lane (Nebraska-Omaha) is from Detroit Lakes and was acquired earlier this season from the Fargo Force.
Everyone Minnesotan on the team came in with promise based off what they did in high school. Lyon won the Frank Brimsek Senior Goaltender Award last season. Ostlie helped Edina finish fourth at the state tournament while Schulze helped White Bear Lake pull off one of the state’s biggest upsets in the section tournament by beating title contender Hill-Murray in the section finals.
Pedrie, despite missing out on last season’s state tournament, was part of one of the state’s most promising teams in Apple Valley, which featured forwards A.J. Michaelson and Hudson Fasching (both Minnesota). Michaelson is now with Waterloo while Fasching is with the National Team Development Program.
Then there’s Bischoff, who is considered to be one of Minnesota’s best defenseman and he still has another year of high school left.
Oh and as for Lane. Even though he’s not a defenseman, he still scored 90 points as a junior.
“It’s been great,” Schulze said of playing in Omaha. “A lot of the kids we know each other growing up. I didn’t play with them but I knew who they were. Its nice to come out and show what Minnesota does have to offer.”