Wanna know one of the coolest feelings in the world…?
In Central Nebraska, you wouldn’t think the sport of hockey would have a very big following. Football, like everywhere, is the sport of choice for many, especially Husker football. But what a lot of people don’t realize is we Nebraska are spoiled when it comes to hockey. Sure we don’t have an NHL team and the closest one is just over a 5 hour trip into Colorado, but we do have plenty of options when it comes to development leagues. Hockey passion definitely exists.
In Lincoln, they have the USHLs Lincoln Stars. In Omaha, they have the USHLs Omaha Lancers and a NCAA Division 1 college hockey team in the UNO Mavericks. These three hockey programs alone have helped produced NHL players like Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr (UNO), journeyman defenseman Keith Ballard (Lancers), and St. Louis Blues captain David Backes (Stars). There’s also another Nebraskan USHL team, that team is the Tri-City Storm.
The Tri-City Storm is located in Kearney, Nebraska. Kearney is not near the size of Lincoln or Omaha so that means there isn’t a whole lot of things to do or talk about, especially sports wise. That’s where the Storm comes in. When it’s not Husker season, it’s typically Storm season. For many, it’s both.
That’s the case when it comes to my friends and I. Year after year, we have been going to Storm games on Friday and Saturday nights when others of our age group are going to bars. Instead of going downtown to hit the bars and take shots, we pile into Section B and watch slap shots and open ice hits. We still drink our fair share of cold ones, but we do so while watching this amazing sport and all these amazing young hockey players with bright hockey futures ahead of them. You start to become part of a hockey family with all the people you attend games with.
The last few hockey years have been exciting for Storm fans. We’ve seen former Storm forward Jaden Schwartz take his talents to the NHL and become an outstanding hockey player with the St. Louis Blues. We’ve seen Chris Wilkie score a franchise tying 35 goals for the Storm while the team had a record high 10 wins in a row on home ice. We’ve seen a sweep of our rivals to the East in the playoffs, and so many talented players up and down the roster. This year was setting up to be another exciting year for Tri-City, but I’m not sure anyone really knew what they were about to experience.
The year started out good, after a disappointing exit in the Conference Finals last year, the Storm won 3 straight games to open the 2015-2016 year. With returning players such as Dan Labosky, Jake Wahlin, Tory Dello, Mattias Goransson and Wade Allison, things were pointing in the right direction. But after the three game winning streak, the Storm would drop 13 out of the next 17 games, going into December looking up at the rest of the league. During December, they traded twofers; winning two games and then losing two games throughout the month. When the calendar turned to 2016 however, the Storm turned the page on their season and they wouldn’t look back. The rest of the regular season the Storm caught fire and failed to get a least a point in only 5 games. They ended the regular season as the top seed in the Western Conference and were on a collision course to match up against the Sioux Falls Stampede in the first round of the Clark Cup Playoffs, the team that had eliminated them the year before in the Conference Finals and eventually won the Clark Cup.
The rematch was short, as the Storm got revenge and swept the Stampede in 3 games. Next up was the Waterloo Blackhawks in the Conference Finals. After alternating wins the first four games, the series would be decided in a winner take all Game 5 match up in Kearney, on home ice.
Going into Game 5, you could feel the tension throughout Kearney. All we talked about during work were the ‘what if’s’ and ‘what could happen this time.’ When it finally got to game time, the arena was one of the loudest I have ever heard it. We in Section B did all we could to start chants and make it loud in there, and the rest of the crowd did too. The whole game we were on our feet, being rowdy and making as much noise as possible. The Storm players seemed to feed off of it, as they ended up winning the game 5-3. At that time it was the most exciting Storm game we had ever been apart of. All of our hands and arms were tired from high fives and making noise, but we were going to the Clark Cup Finals. This could actually happen…
The wait to the Clark Cup Finals wasn’t all that long, but it seemed like it took months. The series would open in Dubuque against the Fighting Saints which was a little bit too far for a road trip so we bought the games on Fast Hockey. Then we watched the Storm do the unthinkable, win the first two games in Dubuque 5-1 and 4-2. They could now win the Clark Cup in Game 3, in Kearney, on home ice….
The whole week was a craze of making sure everyone got their tickets. The whole week was another week of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘this could ACTUALLY happen.’ Then it arrived. Friday was one of the longest most exciting days in memory. Storm hockey was all that everyone was talking about and wearing proudly. There was no way they could lose this now….
All of us met in the parking lot hours before the game to tailgate and get prepared for what might occur. There was so many people there doing the same thing and it was a really awesome thing to see. We all piled into Section B and proceeded to try to one up ourselves for the Game 5 weeks before. The crowd definitely did just that and the sold out arena was unbelievable. Even more unbelievable was the team on the ice. The Storm boys were a team on a mission. They could all feel it like everyone else could feel it; that this was meant to be on this night, we were going to win the cup.
So do you wanna know one of the coolest feelings in the world? Completely losing your mind with 4,000 plus hockey crazed fans. Watching the local hockey team you and your hockey family have spent so much time watching and cheering on throw all their equipment into the air and doggy pile on top of each other. Seeing all these young men accomplish something they have only dreamed about. Seeing them hoist the Clark Cup. That, is one of the coolest feelings in the world.
— Jessa Vohland (@GreenBayGirl82) May 21, 2016
We fucking won the whole thing!! pic.twitter.com/SqqiGdYgQW
— Tyson (@Siber170) May 21, 2016
Congratulations to the 2015/2016 Tri-City Storm
Clark Cup Champions