There is a good chance the Waterloo Black Hawks would be preparing to play a Clark Cup playoff today.
The Black Hawks were leading the United States Hockey League’s Western Conference when the league canceled the remainder of its season and the 2020 Clark Cup playoffs on March 18 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the last two decades, Waterloo has appeared in the Clark Cup playoffs 16 times and have appeared in five Clark Cup championship series all under head coach P.K. O’Handley, who has missed the playoffs only twice in his 18 seasons with the Black Hawks.
With no playoffs to the cover, Courier writer Jim Nelson, who has been the paper’s primary beat writer for the Black Hawks since 2001 breaks down his Top-Five Clark Cup moments with help and commentary from O’Handley, who has won 63 playoff games as the Black Hawks’ head coach.
1. May 5, 2004 – Joel Hanson lifts roof off Young Arena
- Waterloo had won exactly three playoff series since 1980 and now was on the precipice of winning the franchise’s first Clark Cup in more than three decades holding a 2-1 lead over Tri-City. In front of a sellout crowd on May 4, the Storm extended the series with a 4-3 win in Game 3. But with 3,500 plus one night later, history is made. Joel Hanson, playing with a broken jaw suffered in the second game of a first-round series against Chicago, scores with 8 minutes and 48 seconds left on an assist from Joe Pavelski, the game and championship-winning goal in a 2-1 victory. It was Hanson’s only goal of the playoffs.
O’Handley on the Hanson: “The best way to put it is to say ‘Herculean’. The effort he put forth with a broken jaw and the minutes he played … it was a pretty special performance. Joel Hanson’s effort in those playoffs, overcoming a lot of challenges, teams knowing he was hurt and coming after him … there are a lot of great championship game stories all over sports in all of time and that one is ours.”
2. May 7, 2012 – Jamie Hill smiles
- The future New Hampshire product scores his fourth and fifth goals of the playoffs, including the game-winner in a 6-2 victory over the Lincoln Stars in Game 5 of Western Conference finals to send Waterloo to the Clark Cup finals. The performance comes exactly 10 days after Hill, in game two of a conference semifinal against Omaha, went down to block a shot on a penalty kill in the second period and took a direct hit to the face with the puck, suffering an injury that cost him 10 teeth and needed 32 stitches to close. Remarkably, Hill returned to play in the third period of that game and finished the playoffs with nine goals and six assists in 15 games.
O’Handley on Hill: “That is quite a story. You talk about a guy who changed over the course of his junior hockey career from where he started. He’d laugh if you asked him, but when he started he wouldn’t have played with a broken nail. Incredible … he was so determined to play in that game again. Looking back, that might not have been the right decision. But he thought it was the right decision and so did his dad. I haven’t seen anything like it since.”
3. April 11, 2014 — Brandon Montour with the hat trick
- In a preview of what to come, Montour, the future second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, registers just the second hat trick by a Waterloo defensemen in Black Hawk playoff history. In the Clark Cup playoff opening series, Montour scores just 4 minutes and 49 seconds into first period. He scores twice more in the third period and also has an assist in a 7-4 win over Sioux Falls. Montour continued to dominate throughout the playoffs leading the USHL in playoff points with six goals and 10 assists in 12 games.
O’Handley on Montour: “He was just so special. His skating was so effortless and his ability to change speeds and surprise opponents was amazing. His legs got him to a lot of areas to score and man, oh man he was fun to watch … still is. As a coach, he kept you on the edge of your seat because he was a defenseman, but always ways leading the rush.”
4. April 10, 2004 – Regan bends the Steel
- It is hard to forget Waterloo’s Clark Cup championship in 2004, but it doesn’t happen if the Black Hawks, the playoff eight-seed, don’t knock off East Division champion Chicago in the first round. With the best-of-five series knotted at 2-all, and each team having won twice on home ice, Waterloo headed to the Edge Ice Arena in Bensonville, Ill., for a series deciding Game 5, in an arena, including the playoffs, it was 0-4 inside that year. In a penalty-filled game, the Black Hawks kill off five Chicago power-plays and Regan, who would go onto win MVP honors, makes 23 saves to hold up Joe Pavelski’s first period goal in a 1-0 victory.
O’Handley on Regan: “There is so many memories from that game. Our assistant at the time Chris Tok, got sick on the way, and wasn’t on the bench. But there were so many heroes on that team, guys like Pavelski, Peter MacArthur, Garrett Regan, Mike Radja and Matt Fornataro got a lot of credit for that team’s success, but Kevin doesn’t get nearly enough of it. We don’t do anything that year without ‘Beans’.”
5. May 12, 2007 – Podge scores game winner
- In an one-and-done playoff format used by the USHL in 2007, Waterloo by virtue of winning the Anderson Cup championship for producing the best regular-season record hosted a Final Four at Young Arena. The game pitted two of the top goalies in the league that season, Waterloo’s Ryan Rondeau and Des Moines’ Matt Dalton. The game goes as expected as Rondeau and Dalton combined for 41 saves through regulation. But 1 minute and 29 seconds into overtime, the Black Hawks Josh ‘Podge’ Turnbull scores on assists from James Marcou and Ryan Cramer to advance Waterloo to the championship final as it dethroned the defending Clark Cup champion. Less than 16 hours later, Waterloo would fall in the final to Sioux Falls, 3-0.
O’Handley on Turnbull: “That one sticks out. A lot of the losses stick out as much as the ones we won. Those were two great teams and you could argue that should’ve been the final. If there had been a day in-between the semifinal games and the final, and no offense to the team that won they played a great final, but if there is a day in-between maybe there is a different ending. But that semifinal game, that was one of the best games probably ever played on the Young Arena Ice sheet. It was one heck of a hockey game.”