For Lancer head coach Mike Hastings, it's not exactly unfamiliar territory. Despite not advancing to the second round of the playoffs since 2004, Hastings does have two Clark Cup championships on his resume and significant postseason experience.
"I think these guys have kind of had a sole purpose this year and it's been to try to accomplish as much as they can and that started in August," Hastings said. "It's been a process that's taken a while. Now we have step one done and now we're moving on to the Western Conference Finals against, I think, one of the best teams that remain in the league."
Lincoln earned its trip to the second round of the playoffs by sweeping the Sioux Falls Stampede in three games. Forwards Jared Festler and Danny Baco led the Stars, scoring three goals apiece in the series. Another forward, J.J. Crew, added four assists in the series.
Perhaps the Stars' most gifted offensive weapon is the reigning USHL Player of the Year, Jason Gregoire. A third round selection of the New York Islanders in the National Hockey League draft, Gregoire tallied two goals and three assists against Sioux Falls.
The Stars also have benefited from solid goaltending throughout the year. David Reekie, the reigning USHL goaltender of the year, proved critical in the Stars' opening round sweep, giving up only 2.38 goals per game in the series.
"They've got the goalie of the year, the forward of the year and a defenseman in Matt Bartkowski who was first team all-USHL," Hastings said. "That's not a bad start."
The Lancers had success against the Stars during the regular season, going 5-2; however, of their five victories, one game was decided in overtime (which the Lancers won), and one came down to a shootout (which the Lancers also won).
The Lancers have been playing well recently. They knocked off Sioux City 3-1 in a best-of-five game series. After playing even with the Musketeers after the first two games of the series, the Lacers pulled off impressive 5-4 and 3-2 wins in games three and four of the series, respectively.
The Lancers needed overtime to earn its game three victory and overcame a two-goal third-period deficit to clinch the series in game four.
"You look at those two games and we just kind of stayed on course," Hastings said. "If we did get off course, we didn't stay off for long periods of time."
Beyond the importance of the upcoming series, the Lancers-Stars match up is one of the most well-known in USHL play. Crowds at the Mid-America Center and The Icebox (Lincoln's home ice) know the significance of the in-state rivalry between the two teams and typically make themselves heard.
"This rivalry, at the junior level, is second to none," Hastings said. "When you play a Friday night in Omaha or a Friday night in Lincoln and the Saturday night in the other building, you're looking anywhere in those two games between probably 7,000 to 10,000 people watching two junior teams play.
"I think that says a lot about those two programs... I think it's great entertainment and hopefully we'll have a lot of people out there for Tuesday's game."
Game one will take place Tuesday at the Mid-America Center. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m.