Lincoln extended their winning streak to three games with an impressive 4-2 victory over the Fargo Force on Friday night. Here are five things that happened:
1.) KOCSIS LIGHTS THE LAMP TWICE
Christian Kocsis had only appeared in 11 USHL games before tonight, but to him, it seemed like it took forever to score his first USHL goal. The 17-year-old’s time came 7:13 into period one as he deflected a shot from Carter Schade past Force goaltender Hugo Haas. Luc Laylin started the sequence with a great maneuver to get the puck from the far-side circle back to Schade. Laylin’s secondary assist marked his first USHL point.
However, all eyes were on Kocsis, who celebrated accordingly after giving Lincoln a 1-0 lead. The Providence commit waited his turn last season, appearing in six games in a limited capacity with Lincoln. In 2021-22, Kocsis has developed his defensive game, demonstrating his value in all three zones to become an everyday player.
Friday night, the 23rd overall selection in the 2020 USHL Entry Draft showcased how he scored 49 goals in 55 games two seasons ago with the Honeybaked 15U program.
Kocsis’ second goal came from the left circle, a shot that zipped past Haas 11:12 into the second period. Like Luke Johnson last Friday, Kocsis led the Stars with a pair of goals, leading to another Lincoln victory.
2.) POUND FOR POUND
This year's Fargo Force roster is built to wear their opponents out physically. Lincoln accepted their challenge Friday night, dishing out big hits of their own before turning up the tempo and swarming Fargo in the own end.
Jo Lemay’s hit on 6-foot-4 Andre Gausseau after Kocsis’ second goal was a prime example. Lucas Wahlin and Gleb Veremyev threw their body around. Noah Laba and Dalton Norris weren’t afraid to get under the skin of Fargo players.
Instead of Fargo getting Lincoln off their game with their bone-crushing mentality, it seemed like it helped the Stars get to theirs quicker. While engaging in that type of play, it also opened the door for quick-ups and transitions through neutral ice. This was another huge test for Lincoln against an older and bigger team, but the visitors never backed down and controlled the game.
3.) KAIDAN SHUTS THE DOOR
Kaidan Mbereko stopped 26 shots on Friday night in Fargo, collecting his third win of the 2021-22 season. His play in the first period was enormous as Fargo had their fair share of dangerous chances, including a breakaway from Force captain Tyler Rollwagen.
The Aspen, CO native played with a lot of swagger to his game, controlling his angles and challenging shooters. His puck-handling skills were sharp, defusing Fargo’s forecheck by stopping dump-ins and hitting his teammates for easy exits.
When Fargo attempted their push late in the game, Mbereko was spectacular. Arguably his best save of the night came on the penalty kill with under a minute to go in regulation. Rollwagen set up Tyson Gross in between the circles, but Mbereko pushed off the near-side post and made a terrific butterfly stop.
The 18-year-old goaltender improved to 3-1 this season with a goals-against average of 2.26 and a save percentage of .922. With an opportunity to break the brooms out Saturday night in Fargo, it’ll be a tough decision for Lincoln’s coaching staff not to go back to Mbereko in net.
If they go a different direction, Cameron Whitehead’s 0.99 GAA isn’t a bad alternative.
4.) ROCKY TAKES TWO POINTS FROM SCOTT
Stars head coach Rocky Russo has a lot of bragging rights on the line in this series as he faces off against a familiar face: Fargo’s bench boss Scott Langer. Langer is one of the most decorated coaches in junior hockey, amassing 637 wins in 17 years of coaching in the North American Hockey League. In 2019, the two found themselves coaching alongside one another in Sochi, Russia at the Junior Club World Cup.
Following Lincoln’s 4-2 win on Friday night, you can tell the victory had a little extra meaning to it.
“I have more respect for Scott than I do for probably any other coach in junior hockey,” Russo said postgame. “Obviously, he’s a great competitor and a great coach and a good friend. I probably won’t get a Snapchat tonight [from him] because he’s a little salty.”
Round one went to Rocky, but there’s no doubt Scott and Co. will do everything they can to salvage a weekend split Saturday night in Fargo.
5.) WE’RE GOING STREAKING
The Stars have now won three games in a row, accomplishing a feat that didn’t happen often in 2020-21. Lincoln's only three-game winning streak last season was from March 27th to April 1st in 2021. On Saturday night, they have a chance to make it four straight victories.
That hasn’t happened since the 2017-18 season, when the Stars went on an eventual ten-game streak, beginning in late February of 2018.
A big part of their success lately has been the concept of scoring by committee. Griffin Jurecki and Norris each scored their first goals of the season on Friday night. Schade had a multi-point night with two assists.
Antonio Fernandez secured his first USHL point with an assist on Kocsis’ second goal. Henry Nelson added a helper, holding off Lemay for the team lead in points (for now).
It’s a healthy competition among those in the locker room for individual accolades, but the end goal for all of them is directed towards two points for the crest on their sweater. If Kocsis’ shoulder shrug after having his potential hat-trick bid blocked at the final buzzer didn’t tell you that, then I’m not sure what will.
Regardless of whatever result Saturday night brings, it’s clear this year’s Stars team boasts an enormous amount of potential.