United States Hockey League (USHL)

USHL Playoffs: Lincoln, Tri-City Sweep; Dubuque Battles Into Second Round

USHL Playoffs: Lincoln, Tri-City Sweep; Dubuque Battles Into Second Round

USHL writer Ryan Sikes recaps the first round of the Clark Cup Playoffs with notes on each series.

Apr 27, 2023 by Ryan Sikes
Brennan Ali Sends Lincoln to The Second Round

The first round of the USHL’s Clark Cup playoffs went by in a flash, but set the table nicely for what should be a hotly-contested second round. 

The Lincoln Stars and Tri-City Storm swept the Des Moines Buccaneers and Sioux City Musketeers, respectively, while the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and Dubuque Fighting Saints saw each of their series go the distance with both squads winning in a decisive Game 3.

Here’s how it all went down.

Gamache, Depth Shine in Tri-City’s Sweep

Graham Gamache chose another year of seasoning in the USHL prior to departing for NCAA hockey. That decision is proving beneficial to both the player and the team.

The Edmonton native was the story in Game 1, tallying four points, including a hat trick in Tri-City’s lopsided 6-1 win over Sioux City. Gamache also added an assist on Alex Bump’s third-period goal, one of his two helpers in the series.

“He's a guy that's taken advantage of every resource we have here as much as any guy that I've coached in this league,” Storm head coach Anthony Noreen said of Gamache.

Tri-City used a team effort in Game 2 to finish off the Musketeers and advance to the second round. The Storm saw five different skaters up and down their lineup record goals.

Bump opened the scoring at the 1:45 mark of the first period, and Evan Werner tied the game on a power play blast later in the frame. In the second period, Trevor Connelly and Dane Dowiak added tallies. And Kieran Cebrian potted the game-winner with just under five minutes left in regulation.

“We feel like our depth is our strength,” Noreen added. “We might not have the highest scoring or deepest team in the league, but we’re a team that is going to roll four lines, and the way we play is extremely demanding.”

The Storm will turn their attention to the Anderson Cup-winning Fargo Force for a highly anticipated matchup this weekend. Tri-City split their season series, 4-4, with Fargo during the regular season but collected just one win at Scheels Arena.

Noreen knows his club will need to bring their “A” game.

“They finished with the best record in the league for a reason. There's not really a hole in that lineup. They're sitting at home, and we're playing two games, and they're waiting for us,” he said.

Ali Punches Stars’ Ticket To Second Round

Detroit Red Wings draft pick Brennan Ali’s goal at the 7:54 mark of the overtime period on Tuesday secured Lincoln’s spot in the second round of the Clark Cup Playoffs.

In the first game, Lincoln jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Des Moines responded with two quick goals in the third period to cut their deficit in half. However, Doug Grimes’ first goal of the 2023 Clark Cup Playoffs late in the third period put any comeback bid for the Bucs to bed.

The following night, Tanner Ludtke opened the scoring for the Stars, his second goal in as many nights, but Des Moines responded with three straight goals. 

There was no panic on the Lincoln bench. The regular season helped to prepare them for moments like this. They’ve been in this spot before. 

“We scored two goals in 48 seconds two weekends ago. I think we can do it in 12 minutes,” Stars head coach Rocky Russo said during his postgame show.

Mason Marcellus scored his first of the postseason at the halfway point of the third point, and Tyler Dunbar tied the game with under three minutes remaining.

In the extra session, Stars’ netminder and Vegas Golden Knights prospect Cameron Whitehead made a fantastic save on a Des Moines breakaway, setting the stage for Ali’s heroics moments later.

The Stars outscored the Buccaneers 9-5 between the two games. Ludtke led the way with two goals, and five different skaters (Dunbar, Grimes, Jack Larrigan, Mason Marcellus, Boston Buckberger) picked up three points in the two games.

The Stars will face the No. 2 seed Waterloo Black Hawks, a team they dropped five out of six games to during the regular season, including all three games at Young Arena.

“It's a tough challenge. I've been around a lot of hockey teams in my life. I know that Waterloo has a good club, and I respect them, but our team is ready and up for that challenge,” said Russo.

Cedar Rapids Rides Into the Second Round

On Wednesday, the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders topped the NTDP U17 squad in a decisive Game 3 at USA Hockey Arena. 

Martins Lavins, who had 12 goals in 50 regular season games, scored three times in the series, including the first two goals in Game 3. Jack Musa made it a three-goal lead for the Riders, ripping a shot along the left wing and past Team USA netminder Jack Parsons.

The first two games of the series were wild back-and-forth affairs. 

In Game 1, Teddy Stiga opened the scoring on a shorthanded breakaway ten seconds before the first-period horn. 

Cedar Rapids responded with four straight goals to open the middle frame, with Jacob Kraft’s goal off a tic-tac-toe play from Ryan Walsh highlighting the period.

In Game 2, the two teams combined for nine goals and four lead changes over the final two periods. After breaking the franchise record for points in a single season during the regular season, Walsh tallied two goals and an assist in the second game and five points (two goals, three assists) in three games overall. 

“I think Walsh made a big statement. Not only did he have a really good regular season, but he continued to build on his track record,” RoughRiders head coach Mark Carlson said. “He’s been a good playoff player in championships and at nationals.”

Bruno Bruveris started all three games, stopping a combined 70-of-78 (0.897 save percentage) shots on goal, and lost his shutout bid in Game 3 on what was an own goal off Tyson Gross’s skate. 

The No. 6 seed RoughRiders will look to upset the No. 2 Youngstown Phantoms in the second round.

“We’ll just take it one day at a time. (Youngstown) is probably the most experienced team in our division and maybe the entire USHL. We have a tough task ahead, and we’ll do what we can to get ready to work,” Carlson said.

Dubuque Skates Past Gamblers

The Fighting Saints came back from a 1-0 series deficit and won the final two games against Green Bay to advance to the second round. Dubuque will face the No. 1 seed Chicago Steel, a team they went 4-2-0-0 against during the regular season.

Dubuque forward Owen Michaels tallied five points (two goals, three assists) in the three-game series against Green Bay. The Western Michigan commit opened the scoring in the second period of Game 1 but saw Green Bay rattle off four third-period goals, including two empty-netters in the final two minutes.

The Fighting Saints jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Game 2 before Green Bay forward Raimonds Vitolins closed the gap with two goals in the second period, but that would be as close as the Gamblers would get. Dubuque scored two goals to close out the middle frame, including Max Montes’ second of the game, assisted by Michaels.

In Game 3, Green Bay’s Aidan Park opened the scoring with his first career USHL goal off a bang-bang play in the low slot. However, Dubuque responded with the next three goals, including Ryan St. Louis’ first of the series on the power play.

Green Bay made it a one-goal game in the third period after an incredible individual effort by Bodie Nobes’ shorthanded goal, but Dubuque's Marcus Brannman slammed the door shut, including an incredible save with 90 seconds left in regulation.