This season has been an emotional roller-coaster for the Lincoln Stars and that ride came to an end Thursday with a 3-2 loss to the Waterloo Black Hawks.
The Stars fell to Waterloo 3-1 in the Clark Cup Western Conference semifinals for the second time in three seasons.
“It's going to take some time to see the bright side of this season as a whole,” Stars head coach Cody Chupp said. “Tonight stings and it's frustrating and all the emotions are there, but at the end of the day they did great things as a group.”
Lincoln turned the season around after sitting in last place of the Western Conference before winning 21 of its last 25 regular-season games. The Stars then won their first playoff series since the 2011-12 season when the team was under the helm of Chad Johnson.
“From very early on I liked the group that we had and thought they could be capable of doing special things,” Chupp said. “I feel bad and I feel frustrated, and it's not at them, it's for them.
“Each one of those guys is like a son to me and I wish I could say something to make it better and to change the way they are feeling right now.”
Like the Stars have done for the entire playoffs, the cardiac kids made it a game again Thursday after Casey Dornbach scored with 8:48 remaining in the third period to revitalize the Stars' offense.
Waterloo was able to play keep-away the rest of the way, icing the game after Carter Long was called for tripping with just under two minutes to play.
Garrett Klee scored twice for the Black Hawks, one short-handed in the opening frame. Klee added his second after Waterloo outgunned the Stars 21-5 in shots in the second period.
After Jack Drury gave Waterloo a 3-0 lead at 16:05 in the second as Tomas Vomacka was chased from the Lincoln goal crease, Ashton Calder started the push back on what the Stars had seen so many times before.
Calder would answer Drury's goal 55 seconds later for his third goal of the playoffs.
“There's no quit and we saw it again tonight,” Chupp said. “That's the biggest step we made as a team throughout the season. Early in the year those games were going in the other direction. Our message remained the same 'Put in the work and stay committed' and to create that culture of never say die and never give up.
“I think if you ask (Waterloo) there was no point in the series they felt extremely safe."
Derek Schaedig came in for relief for Vomacka, stopping 16 shots in the next 36 minutes, 5 seconds of regulation. Vomaka finished with 27 saves on 30 shots faced.
Lincoln finished the playoffs 3-3-1 and 38-26-2-1 overall.