CHICAGO – It has been a year in the making but the Omaha Lancers and Lincoln Stars are set to take their rivalry outside when they meet on Saturday, February 9th for the first-ever USHL game played outdoors. The matchup is part of a doubleheader in the Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice that also features a college hockey game between the University of Nebraska-Omaha and University of North Dakota.
The outdoor hockey games, presented by the Omaha Sports Commission, will be at the TD Ameritrade Ballpark in Omaha, the baseball stadium which is the site of the College World Series – NCAA Baseball Division I Championship. With a capacity of 24,000 at the ballpark, the event has the opportunity to set a new USHL single-game attendance record. The current record of 14,892 fans was set by the Indiana Ice on February 12th, 2005 for their annual “Pack the House” game.
The matchup between the Omaha Lancers and Lincoln Stars, which begins at 12:35 PM (CST), marks the 117th all-time regular season meeting between the USHL rivals that are based only 60 miles apart. Omaha has won 68 of the previous contests, including five of six this season, while Lincoln has earned 48 victories in the series. Currently, they are separated by a single point in the USHL Western Conference standings as Omaha holds fourth place with a 25-17-0 record (50 points) and Lincoln is in the fifth position with a 23-14-3 mark (49 points).
There will be a heavy influence of USHL connections in the second game of the Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice as nearly 60% of the players are USHL alumni. The University of Nebraska-Omaha has 18 USHL graduates on their roster and the University of North Dakota has 12. Both schools also feature alumni of the USHL teams who will play in the game before them. Matt White is one of the top scorers for UNO after playing his junior hockey across town with the Omaha Lancers and capturing honors as the 2009-10 USHL Player of the Year. White’s teammate Andrew Schmit played all 60 regular season games during the 2010-11 season with the Lincoln Stars. The game also marks a bit of a homecoming for University of North Dakota top goal-scorer Danny Kristo who spent the 2008-09 USHL season in an Omaha Lancers uniform.
Coaching staffs at both schools also feature USHL ties. UNO head coach Dean Blais led the Fargo Force to the Clark Cup Final series during the team’s inaugural season (2008-09). Assistant coach Steve Johnson was behind the bench for the Lincoln Stars for their first 11 seasons (1996-2007) in the USHL and compiled 470 victories, fifth most all-time among USHL coaches. His brother, Chad Johnson , is now the coach of the Stars and his son, Luke Johnson , is one of the League’s top forwards with the Stars. University of North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol began his coaching career in the USHL and spent four seasons with the Sioux City Musketeers (1996-2000), winning 101 games over that span and earning 1997-98 USHL Coach of the Year honors. He would then go on to North Dakota to join the staff of Blais who was head coach at the time.
Both USHL teams have players committed to play hockey at the two schools competing in the Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice, including a pair of cousins on the Lincoln Stars. Defenseman Paul LaDue , a 2012 NHL Draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings, and forward Luke Johnson will return to their hometown of Grand Forks to begin their collegiate careers at the University of North Dakota. The Omaha Lancers have a duo that will be on the opposite ends of the college rivalry as the team’s leading scorer Jake Randolph will play college hockey across town at UNO and defenseman Tucker Poolman heads to North Dakota following their USHL careers.
Construction of the outdoor rink at TD Ameritrade Ballpark is currently being completed and the “home” teams – Omaha Lancers and UNO – for both games of the Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice will get a chance to practice on the surface this Thursday.
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