WATERLOO — The start could not have been any better for the Waterloo Black Hawks.
After winning their first seven games, the Black Hawks have gone 1-2-1 in their last four games, all on the road, meaning lessons are coming fast and furious for the United States Hockey League’s Western Conference leader.
“Were we a 7-0 team,” Black Hawks head coach P.K. O’Handley questioned. “Yeah, we were. But we weren’t. The moral of the story is you are not as good as you think and not as bad as you think.”
Fresh off a three-game road swing to Muskegon, Chicago, and Madison, Waterloo sits at 8-2-1-0, leading Lincoln by one point in the West despite playing one fewer game.
But as good as the start has been, O’Handley says the lessons have come in rapid succession in the past 7-10 days.
“I think we have gotten some good lessons,” O’Handley said. “We win 9-1 against Des Moines (Oct. 19 at home), and then we go down there and saw a completely different team, completely different goalie and we got exactly what we earned (the team’s first loss, 4-1). Lesson No. 1.”
The next two lessons came on the first two legs of the road trip. Against Muskegon, Waterloo led 3-1 with 1 minute and 24 seconds left in the game, but surrendered two goals in that time frame and eventually lost in overtime. The next night in Chicago, while O’Handley admits there were strong stretches of play from the Black Hawks, the team trailed from start to finish in a 5-3 loss.
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“We go to Muskegon and a number of factors weigh-in, but two minutes did us in. Lesson No. 2,” O’Handley said. “No response the next day. Lesson No. 3. It’s ... maybe ... you can’t take care of the win until you take care of how you play the game and maybe we are learning that a little bit.”
With that road trip out of the way, Waterloo plays only one more time East of the Mississippi River again this season, Feb. 28 and 29 at Team USA and Youngstown, respectively, O’Handley says his young team needs to continue to evolve.
“It was a long trip. A good trip, though,” O’Handley said. “It could’ve been better. It could’ve been worse. It ended up in the middle. I think our team learned some valuable lessons on what it takes day in, day out. We still have a long way to go, still got to try to get some guys consistent in their roles, but this is a good group.”
Waterloo is at Dubuque tonight, a team O’Handley calls perhaps the best team in the league and a road trip to an equally as dangerous Cedar Rapids team on Saturday.
The Black Hawks will be short-handed in both games. Forwards Griffin Ness, serving the second game of two-game suspension from a checking from behind penalty against Chicago, is out Friday, while Connor Caponi is away for the weekend for a personal matter.
Waterloo’s six-game road swing ends on Nov. 15 when it hosts Omaha at Young Arena.
POWER PLAY KILLERS: Waterloo turned away the first 42 short-handed shifts it had this season before Chicago scored a power-play goal in the first period Saturday against the Black Hawks. Waterloo now has tkilled 49 of 50 power plays to lead the USHL in that category.