With the second round of the USHL Playoffs comes another revival of a Fargo Force-Lincoln Stars playoff series.
Lincoln has enjoyed its success against Fargo this season going 5-3. But that’s the regular season. When it comes to the postseason the Force are actually undefeated in five playoff games against the Stars.
Will an old habit die hard or is it time for a change when it comes to the series? Let’s find out.
For the Force: The line which could really make the difference could be that of Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota), Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) and Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan). It was a line which led the team in points during the regular season but was somewhat non-existent to open the first round. That line had two points, which wasn’t a strong showing compared to the six points posted by The High School Musical and the three points by the defensive-minded Minnesota line. PLAYER TO WATCH: We’ll take Chyzyk because his ability to create and destroy on the defensive end could be quite important against one of the USHL’s most potent offenses.
For the Stars: We could go with Mr. You-Know-Who but for now let’s hold off. Lincoln’s strength has been the depth they’ve had at offense this season. The Stars have eight forwards with 20 or more points this season. Altogether the Stars have 10 players with 20 or more points. Offense hasn’t been an issue with this team at any point in the season given the depth they posses. PLAYER TO WATCH: Who else? Kevin Roy (Brown) has done damage against several teams in the league including the Force. He has scored 13 points in seven games this season against the Force. But something to keep in mind is the fact the Force have held Roy pointless on a couple of occasions.
For the Force: Maybe the following statement isn’t a surprise. But defense is where this series will be won or lost for either team. Fargo and Lincoln feature similar defenses in terms of personnel. They each have a do-everything-defenseman (Fargo has Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) while Lincoln has Paul LaDue (North Dakota). They each have that gritty defenseman willing to lay out a hit (Fargo has Justin Wade (Notre Dame) and Lincoln has 6-5, 220-pound freak of nature Mike McKee (Western Michigan) among other similarities. PLAYER TO WATCH: Dominic Racobaldo/Neal Goff. Racobaldo will be important because he has the style of game which should work well in this series. He is a tough, physical defenseman who tries to minimizes his time with the puck. Goff because he will be in that defensive/forward role which could be huge.
For the Stars: People outside of Lincoln may not realize how gifted of a defense this really is and can be in the postseason. They have all the pieces you could need to win games. Its just a matter of they’ll match up against a defense so similar. But this defense’s strongest trait could be what it does on the offensive end. Ladue and Ralfs Freiburgs (Bowling Green) move the puck really well in that system and it could lead to Lincoln generating offense in its end. Though something to keep an eye on is penalty minutes. Lincoln led the league with 1,424 penalty minutes. Of the five Stars players with the most penalty minutes, three of them are defensemen. It could be a difference maker as Lincoln’s penalty kill ranked 11th in the regular season and the Force featured the fifth-best power play in the league. PLAYER TO WATCH: Brandon Carlson is certainly an interesting figure. He’s been on both sides of this rivalry and has been in enough playoff runs to know what it takes. Carlson will add a presence on the ice but his experience can help Lincoln away from the ice too.
For the Force: Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) has been a constant this entire season for the Force. From the rocky start of losing 13 of their first 15 to the nine-game winning streak and beyond, he’s been that constant. That shouldn’t change as Gothberg has looked strong as of late. Whatever challenges he faced against Sioux City, he handled with ease. Gothberg, the leading candidate for the USHL’s Goaltender of the Year, is 2-3 against Lincoln this season. How Gothberg performs will not only shape this season but it will shape how far the Force will go this postseason.
For the Stars: Charles Williams has been the latest to emerge as the No. 1 in what was a two-man system this year. CW3 took over for Jackson Teichroeb down the stretching silencing critics about Lincoln’s woes between the pipes. Williams has been steady in net winning 20 games this season and having a goals against average in the Top 5. He’ll face an offense which has firepower across its three lines but he faces a goalie in Gothberg who will provide a massive challenge. If Williams could get the best of Gothberg in a five-game series, there’s no telling what it will do for his confidence and the Stars’ confidence going forward.