Last time the Tri-City Storm were in the Clark Cup Final they were the heavy favorite over Waterloo in 2004. Entering the postseason as Anderson Cup champions, the Storm went into Clark Cup Final having lost only one game. However, future San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski and the Black Hawks had other plans. Tri-City lost the series 3-1.
12 years later the Storm are back in the Clark Cup Final, now up 2-0 in the series. Just one win away from being crowned champions, Tri-City returns home with back-to-back games this weekend.
The Storm’s play has caught the attention of the USHL, including former Tri-City players from the 2003-04 season.
“The only way to get respect is to earn it, and I think Tri-City has definitely done that all year,” said former Tri-City Storm goaltender and current Chicago Steel assistant coach Peter Mannino. “You’re always going to be a part of the organization you were a part of in the past and played for, and I wish them a lot of luck. They should gain that respect, and they can if they get the job done.”
The 2016 Clark Cup Playoffs have been a tale of redemption for the Storm. After losing to the Sioux Falls Stampede in the Western Conference Final last season, Tri-City swept their conference rival in the first round. Next up were the Waterloo Black Hawks, who claimed a Clark Cup championship over the Storm in 2004. After a five-game series, Tri-City defeated Waterloo to advance to the Clark Cup Final.
It has also been a historic run for the Tri-City Storm. Forwards Dan Labosky and Wade Allison set team scoring records after the first two games in the Clark Cup Final. Labosky set records for most career postseason points (20), most career postseason assists (13), most assists in postseason (11) and tied most points scored in the postseason (16). Allison tied most goals in a playoff series (4) and is one goal away from the goals scored team record (8). All records were previously set by Storm forward Bill Thomas.
“The success I had was based on the success the team had. We played incredible hockey at that time. My linemates Ryan Dingle and Mark Van Guilder, we all benefitted from the hard work of each other and our goaltending,” said Thomas. “I’m proud of the stats I had, and I’m absolutely proud somebody else was able to beat that. Hopefully, he’s able to beat it and win the championship. I’m sure that would make it better for him.”
The buzz in Kearney, NE continues to ramp up, as fans are beginning to expect a sellout this weekend. Both Mannino and Thomas were fond of their memories with Storm fans, and are hoping the Viaero Center is packed for Clark Cup Final.
“When I was there they were selling out every night. It was crazy good,” said former head coach Bliss Littler. “At that time it was one of the true special places in the League. It looks like they have that back.”
“Like anything, the fans help support and drive the team anywhere you are,” Thomas added. “It makes it interesting, and it brings the community together in support of one thing, which is obviously a huge goal for that town. When you can instill that passion and get people back into the arena, especially when you have the chance to win at home in front of a full house, it’ll definitely be a great experience.”
“My housing family, Ron and Deb Hendrickson, these are people I talked to this past week,” said Mannino. “This community is so close. It’s just an incredible fan base. We fed off the energy all season long and in the playoffs. The place was rocking. It truly was a storm in there, you know? The guys really appreciated that.”
Tri-City wants to continue the story of redemption. First it was Sioux Falls, then Waterloo, and now the team is focusing on redeeming their Clark Cup Final loss. The locker room knows what is at stake, yet are echoing a similar sentiment that the work isn’t done.
With one win left, and two games at home, the Storm want to ensure they make history this weekend in the Viaero Center. It would be the first time a Nebraska-based team has won a Clark Cup championship since 2008 when the Omaha Lancers won it on home ice, and the first in Storm history.
“I’ve been playing pro hockey for 10 years, and I haven’t been in a Final. To have the opportunity to win something and be a part of something special, it should be embraced at the time,” said Thomas. “Whether it’s their first year or last year, don’t let it slip away because, with my situation, I haven’t had a chance to go back to a Final. I’ve been close, just haven’t been there. To win a championship is special at any level.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.
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