Blake Winiecki was one of the Waterloo Black Hawks players who suffered through a disappointing end to the 2013 Clark Cup playoffs.
Now Winiecki is busy at work trying to help the Black Hawks create a different result this time around.
After one round of the 2014 Clark Cup — the tournament that determines the United States Hockey League postseason champion and the USA Hockey Tier I junior national championship — Winiecki shares the lead in playoff scoring. He is also one of the big reasons Waterloo, the USHL’s Western Conference and overall regular-season champion, is the only team to make it to the conference finals without a loss.
The best-of-five conference finals begin Friday. The Black Hawks have home-ice advantage over the Sioux City Musketeers in the Western Conference finals.
“I think last year we were a little disappointed with how it turned out, losing in the first round,” Winiecki said.
Last year, the Black Hawks and Fargo Force went into a deciding fifth game of their first-round series. Waterloo carried a lead into the final four minutes only to lose 4-3 in overtime.
“This year, the guys who returned and came back to Waterloo knew we needed some redemption,” Winiecki said. “In playoffs, the intensity ramps up.
“I’ve tried to pick up my game a little, and it has worked out so far.”
Winiecki was part of a dominant Black Hawks’ first-round effort as the team swept the Sioux Falls Stampede in three games. He shares the USHL playoff scoring lead with Black Hawks defenseman Brandon Montour at four goals and five assists in just three games. Linemate Tyler Sheehy is third in the league in playoff scoring with two goals and five assists.
After producing 24 goals and 26 assists while playing in all 60 regular-season games for Waterloo, Winiecki has goals in each playoff game. The 20-year-old from Lakeville, Minn., who is committed to St. Cloud State University for the fall, opened the postseason with two goals in a 7-4 win over the Stampede.
Winiecki followed up with a goal and three assists in a 6-3 win in Game 2. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward then scored on his only shot of Game 3 while adding two assists in a 7-2 victory.
“I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Waterloo coach P.K. O’Handley said. “In the offensive zone, he’s using his body and his physicality to get opportunities offensively for himself and his teammates."
Winiecki, Sheehy and Drew Melanson formed a productive forward line in time for the playoffs.
“I’ve skated with Tyler in summers in the past at camps that we went to,” Winiecki said. “And our senior year of high school, we played in the Minnesota Elite League together.
“We’ve had a little experience together. At this stage, everyone can kind of play with everyone, but it’s nice knowing him and knowing some of his tendencies. He’s a great player.”
After the Black Hawks scored 20 goals in their three first-round games, O’Handley wants to make sure his team does not slow down now as it prepares to face the Musketeers in a best-of-five Clark Cup semifinal series that starts Friday in Waterloo.
“We have to do everything better,” O’Handley said. “As you move through the playoffs, the intensity and the precision needed to keep going ramps up.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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