The Waterloo Black Hawks won their first round series in the United States Hockey League playoffs by a 3-0 series score, ousting the Fargo Force.
By Joshua Boyd
However, they definitely didn’t cruise through the series – it was more like a demolition derby.
“We were fortunate to win. The games were tight. We came from behind in Game 1 to win in overtime, and the score was a little tighter than it looks in the second game, as we scored a couple empty-net goals,” said Black Hawks head coach P.K. O’Handley, the record-holder for most coaching wins in USHL history. “We played the right way. We were fortunate to score and we got good goaltending. It was a good series, but hard. There was not a lot of room to do much out there.”
Now, the stakes are higher and the competition only gets tougher. The Black Hawks enter the Western Conference finals against the Anderson Cup-winning Sioux City Musketeers.
That best-of-five series begins Friday in Sioux City at 7:05 p.m. (Central) All of the USHL playoffs are available to view via subscription on HockeyTV.com.
“They were the regular season champions, and deservedly so. Their goaltender [Matiss Kivlenieks] is exceptional, one of the best I’ve seen in my 20-plus years in the league,” said O’Handley. “They’re great on defense, and offensively, they have a lot of threats with obviously Eeli Tolvanen, Charlie Kelleher, Tarek Baker and Kristian Pospisil.”
It’s a lot to handle, but the Black Hawks feel they have the game plan in place to certainly give the Musketeers a run for their money, and possibly even give the Blackhawks the series win.
“We have to get to the net, that’s our first challenge, then we have to solve [Kivlenieks],” O’Handley. “For us to really have an opportunity to move on, our best players have to be our best players.”
That is a long list of best players, as O’Handley said that this 2016-17 Black Hawks team really is a special group, even in the scope of his history in the league.
“I’m not sure I’ve had a team, maybe a handful of such teams, that have been so strong and that have embraced our culture to a man,” said O’Handley. “They like each other, and they really like being Waterloo Black Hawks, and that translates into success for any team.”
Up front, O’Handley sees a power trio of players he sees being top NCAA hockey performers and “a lot has to happen right, but they can be good pros.” Shane Bowers, Nick Swaney and Alex Limoges all finished with 51 points or better.
“Minnesota-Duluth [Swaney’s next destination], Boston University [Bowers’] and Penn State [Limoges] are getting really good players, and even better people,” said O’Handley.
Another forward, Kevin Charyszyn, posted 30 goals and 50 points for the Black Hawks this year.
“He really did it without a lot of fanfare, and he’ll be going to Clarkson University,” said O’Halloran. “Bailey Conger has come on as well [three points in his three playoff games], and where he is going to school is yet to be seen. Those guys have been our core up front.”
Defenseman Mikey Anderson (Minnesota-Duluth) “could play for me any day, anywhere,” said O’Handley, while Grant Gabriele (Ohio State) played very well early on in the playoffs as well.
Second-year Black Hawk (and third year USHL player and Providence recruit) Jake Ryczek was a key part of the Waterloo defense all year, but has missed the playoffs thus far due to an injury. The team got 2014-15 defenseman Ethan Spaxman back after two seasons at Merrimack College.
Michigan Tech recruit Robbie Beydoun played every minute of the first round, registering a .948 save percentage and a 1.20 goals-against average.
“These are good kids and they’ve logged a lot of minutes. The big thing with my kids is wherever they’ll go from here, they will be successful as college and pro players because they love playing the game.”
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