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The Black Hawks are looking for consistency heading into 2022

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HKY Waterloo vs. Sioux City 4

Waterloo's Michael LaStarza moves the puck through the Sioux City defense on Tuesday at Young Arena in Waterloo.

25 games into the 2021-2022 season, it’s hard to figure out what to make of the Waterloo Black Hawks. They’ve never been more than two games above or below .500 this year and while there’s certainly a ton of talent on the roster, it’s difficult to tell which direction the Hawks will head in the new year.

Waterloo had a road game scheduled Wednesday at Dubuque that began after press time. Prior to that, however, they were 12-11-1-1 on the year following their first game after an 11-day break on Tuesday. That game was a 7-3 home loss to the Sioux City Musketeers which was about as up and down as their season has been.

The Hawks fell behind 3-0 and 4-1 before scoring two quick goals in the third period courtesy of Michael LaStarza to make it 4-3. Just 13 seconds later, the Musketeers answered with a goal of their own and added two more goals on empty netters in the last three minutes.

It’s the effort to get back within one goal after being down three, however, that first year head coach Matt Smaby is most proud of.

“Looking back at our last game before the break (against Fargo) we were down two early and came back and won,” he said. “Do we want to do it? No, but we’ve done it a few times this year and that’s good to see.”

Still, the former NHL defenseman acknowledges that the Black Hawks still have some growing to do.

“We’re still learning,” he said. “The learning never stops. We have plenty of stuff to keep teaching and plenty of work to do. We’re still learning and it’s a daily thing. There’s always something for them to get better at and I think that’s the mindset we have to take moving forward.”

There have been plenty of bright spots for Waterloo, who currently sit at fifth place in the Western Conference. LaStarza and John Waldron have led the team so far with 19 points each while Garrett Schifsky has scored a team-high 12 goals on the year. Smaby, however, still knows where he’d like to see his team improve.

“It’s always easier to play in front so I think we can do a better job of getting out to quicker starts,” he said. “It’s tough to chase games. It makes for a long year so I’d like to see us come out to better starts. There are details in our game that I think will allow us to have the puck more and that’s something that I think we can keep working on as well.”

Smaby also acknowledged that having a goal scorer like Schifsky always helps.

“He does a little bit of everything,” said Smaby. “He works every single day. Even in games that he isn’t on the score sheet he still makes an impact with his work and the way he plays. He’s reliable and has been outstanding for us.”

The Black Hawks have relied on a combination of Jack Williams and Emmett Croteau in the net with Williams starting 15 games and Croteau 10. Williams has allowed 2.63 goals per contest this season with a save percentage of .909% while Croteau is averaging 3.07 GAA with an .899% save percentage.

Williams got the start in the net on Tuesday and surrendered five goals while pulling off 31 saves. While far from perfect on the night, Smaby believed execution was the bigger culprit against Sioux City.

“I can’t fault our goalie too much (for Tuesday’s loss),” said Smaby. “I’m sure there’s a couple he’d like to have back, but I think the breakdowns happened well before the puck went in the net. It most often happened either in the offensive zone or on the way out of the offensive zone. Some of that had to do with our decision making. I think some of those mistakes were team mistakes and not ones we could fault our goalie on.”

The Black Hawks will have one more game before turning the calendar to a new year. They’ll be at Young Arena on New Years Eve to host the Des Moises Buccaneers (8-12-2-1) at 6:05 p.m. Smaby knows exactly what he’ll be telling his squad before the puck drops for the last time in 2021.

“No one is going to feel sorry for us,” he said. “We’ve got no choice but to keep grinding away and that’s what I expect us to do.”


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