• Box Score: Waterloo 5, Omaha 1
* * *
WATERLOO, Iowa — Omaha's season ended Saturday the same way it started — with a loss to the Waterloo Black Hawks.
Ian McCoshen and Aaron Pearce both scored two goals, and goaltender Stephon Williams stopped 31 of Omaha's 32 shots to lead Waterloo to a 5-1 victory that gave the Black Hawks a 3-1 series victory in the USHL Western Conference semifinals.
Waterloo will face the Lincoln Stars in the Western Conference finals beginning Wednesday in Lincoln. The winner of that best-of-five series will play the winner of the Eastern Conference finals series between Green Bay and Indiana in the USHL's Clark Cup championship series.
The outcome of the Omaha-Waterloo playoffs mirrored the results of the regular season series. The Black Hawks defeated Omaha in three of those four matchups.
“They're a hard team to play against,” Lancers coach Mike Aikens said. “Their forwards are fast, and they make it tough to get through the neutral zone. They do a really good job of pressuring you.”
The Lancers' second shot produced the first goal of the game, but the Black Hawks erased that advantage in a span of 59 seconds late in the first period.
Omaha's Ken Babinski made the Black Hawks pay for a turnover in their defensive end and blasted a shot from the right wing past Williams at 4:17. Greg Gozzo forced the turnover that led to Babinski's second goal of the playoffs.
That was the only goal Williams surrendered in front of the Young Arena crowd of 2,263. Williams, who will play next season for Minnesota State-Mankato under former Lancers coach Mike Hastings, has been the goalie who ended the past two Omaha seasons.
Playing last season for Sioux Falls, Williams was in net for two of the Stampede's three victories in that series sweep. He was in goal all four games in this series, giving him an all-time playoff record of 5-1 against the Lancers.
Waterloo continued to battle and kept the pressure on the Lancers until finally breaking through with 2:23 to play before the first intermission. McCoshen sent a shot to the Lancers' net from the far left edge of the blue line to tie the score 1-1.
Then, at 18:36, a Lancers turnover at neutral ice was converted into what turned out to be the game-winning goal by Pearce. Eddie Wittchow got the puck to Tony Cameranesi, who slipped it to Pearce for a backhand finish that successfully concluded the 3-on-2 rush.
The second period was scoreless until Waterloo came up with the first power play goal of the series by either team, but it took a four-minute double minor called against Kenny Gillespie to make that happen.
It came on McCoshen's second goal of the game just 2:39 before the end of the second period. That turned out to be the only power play goal in 26 chances by either team in the four games.
Neither team was able to develop much of an offensive flow during the first half of the third period. The Lancers had the best chance at a goal just more than three minutes in, but that shot brought back bad memories from Game 2.
The blast by Casey Bailey clanked off the crossbar, costing the Lancers some much-needed momentum with a goal that would have cut Waterloo's lead to 3-2.
Omaha had another chance at a deficit-reducing goal with just less than seven minutes to go, but another bad bounce from a shot by Tanner Lane spared Williams — who was out of the goal crease.
The Black Hawks doused any hope of a late Omaha comeback with an empty-net goal by Pearce at 18:18 after Omaha pulled goalie Alex Lyon for an extra attacker. Mike Huntebrinker scored the final goal of the game with just 14 seconds to play.
This was the final game for 11 Lancers who battled through a tough campaign that saw a coaching change one-third of the way through the season but still was a success on many levels.
“They've been through a lot of adversity this year,” Aikens said. “Things could have gone south when we took over. I'm really proud of these guys and the effort they gave all season. They won a lot of hockey games together.”
Contact the writer: