WATERLOO, Iowa — Tyler Zepeda and his Waterloo Black Hawks teammates did not want to go back to Lincoln, Neb.
As tough as it is to play inside Waterloo’s Young Arena, the one place that is as tough or tougher to play is the Lincoln Stars’ Ice Box.
Zepeda and the Black Hawks made sure Monday that six-hour bus ride didn’t happen.
Dominating from the start, Waterloo captured the United States Hockey League’s Western Division championship with a 6-2 win over the Stars at Young Arena to win the best-of-five series, 3-1.
“No, we did not want to go back,” said Zepeda. “That building is tough to play in, so it was nice to end the series tonight.”
Waterloo advanced to face Anderson Cup champion Green Bay in the Clark Cup finals beginning Saturday at Green Bay’s Resch Center.
“I thought our discipline was good. I thought our effort was really good,” said Black Hawks’ head coach P.K. O’Handley. “We skated, took care of the puck and withstood a pretty good push we knew they would give us in the third.
“I’m proud of our guys.”
Not wanting to give Lincoln any momentum, the Black Hawks seized it early and rolled to a franchise record 15th consecutive home win.
Like each of the first three games of the series, Waterloo scored first Monday on a great pass from behind the net by A.J. Michaelson to pinching defenseman Alex Barron, who buried the one-timer from the slot with 10:43 left.
It appeared that would be the score at the first intermission when Eddie Wittchow kept the puck alive in the Stars’ zone and sent it on net. Hill, stationed in front of the net, whacked home the rebound with 1:11 left to the break.
“It is easy to say now, but that is what we needed,” O’Handley said of the first period. “We thought the first goal and certainly the second goal was huge just in part with the momentum. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”
“I thought we played hard throughout the game, played with that urgency we needed,” Stars’ coach Chad Johnson said. “I thought our character showed through in the third period, got an early goal and made it a two-goal game and kept plugging away.”
Johnson said the early deficit didn’t concern him, but in the end a talented Black Hawks team was too much to overcome.
“I like our fight. We had been in that position before (coming from behind),” Johnson said. “Waterloo is a very good team. They are not just an opportunistic team. They are a good team from top to bottom and a team that deserves to move on.”
The Black Hawks’ Josh Nenadal scored a power-play goal with 2:07 remaining to cap the scoring.
“Honestly, I can’t describe how it feels,” Hill said of advancing to the finals. “Our team came to play in this series and we are not done yet.”
SCORE BY PERIODS
Lincoln 0 0 2 - 2
Waterloo 2 2 2 - 6
FIRST PERIOD - 1. Waterloo, Alex Barron (A.J. Michaelson, Max Edson), 9:17; 2. Waterloo, Jamie Hill (Eddie Wittchow, Tony Cameranesi), 18:49. Penalties - Zach Aston-Reese, Linc (cross checking), 6:44; Max Edson. Wat (high sticking), 9:25; Jared Hanson, Linc (roughing), 11:06.
SECOND PERIOD - 3. Waterloo, Hill (Aaron Pearce, Wittchow), :35; 4. Waterloo, Ian McCoshen (Hill, Edson), 13:08, pp. Penalties - Ralfs Freibergs, Linc (slashing), 3:09; Dominik Shine, Linc (roughing), 6:42; McKee, Linc (roughing), 6:42; Pearce, Wat (roughing), 6:42; Will Suter, Linc (misconduct), 6:42; Paul LaDue, Linc (holding), 11:24; Zach Frye, Linc (delay of game), 13:28; Scott MacDonald, Wat (delay of game), 13:28; James Hansen, Wat (tripping), 15:57.
THIRD PERIOD - 5. Lincoln, Kevin Roy (Luke Johnson), 2:33; 6. Linclon, Roy (Aston-Reese), 11:51; 7. Waterloo, Taylor Cammarata (Hill), 16:56; 8. Waterloo, Josh Nenadal (Wittchow), 17:53, pp.
Penalties - Jimmy McGroarty, Linc (abuse of officials), 16:56; Vladislav Lysenko, Wat (roughing), 19:23; Brad Hawkinson, Linc (roughing), 19:23; Matt Friese, Linc (charging), 19:31; Shine, Linc (roughing), 19:42.
SHOTS ON GOAL
Lincoln 5 16 10 - 31
Waterloo 12 11 8 - 31
Goalies - Lincoln, Jackson Teichroeb (25 saves). Waterloo, Stephon Williams (29 saves). Referees - Chris Pitoscia, Colin Kronforst. Linesmen - Patrick Richardson, Zach Thornton. Att. - 1,875.