No one knows…

Nobody, outside of general managers of course, has an idea of who will be traded in the next week before the United States Hockey League trade deadline.

But that’s not stopping us from playing GM and taking a look at teams that could be making some deals down the stretch run. So here it is, our take on who could be players at the trade deadline.

We’ll start with the Eastern Conference where Green Bay and Cedar Rapids look pretty solid and barring a collapse, those two probably finish 1-2. But as for the 3-4 finish, here’s some contenders that could use a jolt.

-Indiana Ice: Scoring hasn’t been an issue, but defense at times has been. Goalie Casey DeSmith, a New Hampshire commit, has been one of the been one of the better goalies in the league this year but he could use some help up front. A defensive-minded blue liner would work well in this situation.

-Muskegon Lumberjacks: Same thing. A solid, puck-moving defenseman would be needed here. Losing defenseman and Maine commit Sebastien Gingras to another league was a blow because Gingras was that and there’s no telling how well he could have developed if he had stayed in the league.

-USNTDP: They cannot make trades, but we did not want to ignore them because they are fifth in the standings.

-Youngstown Phantoms: This is a decent team that’s a few pieces away from really making a strong run. Easy as it sounds, getting a top-six forward would work wonders because Sekac-Loney and Strang cannot do all the scoring. A guy like Chicago’s Danny Mattson could work well in this situation. He hasn’t scored a lot this season, but Mattson has enough to help Youngstown create some scoring chances and a push for the last two playoff spots.

Notable: Chicago can be a player in this trading deadline for all the wrong reasons while Waterloo has talent, it is just a matter of putting it all together. P.K. O’Handley is the best coach in the league and that guy can get things back in line, it is just a matter of when.

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

Dubuque: There have not been any weaknesses with them at any point. Offensively, they are about as gifted as it gets. Defensively, they’re solid too. At goalie, they probably have the guy who might be the league’s best in Matt Morris, a recent Maine commit. Just sayin’.

Fargo: Injuries to top-six forwards (see Demers, Mullin) have been an annoyance at times, but the Force have found ways to get past it. Picking up another forward could help, but like Dubuque, it appears there would be no reason to add pieces.

Omaha: A scoring forward like Chicago’s Cole Gunner would work wonders here. Omaha is arguably the league’s best team on defense. They just need some scoring. Get a forward like Gunner in there and this is a team that will be dangerous down the stretch.

Des Moines: Top to bottom, pretty solid team. Easy to see them standing still or making a push at the deadline. Maybe they add a defenseman or a forward. Either way, they don’t need much other than to just keep winning games.

Sioux Falls: They’re are tied with Des Moines for the fourth spot and getting St. Cloud commit and defenseman Andrew Prochno was a great move. Perhaps adding another defenseman could be enough. These guys and Des Moines are going to make things really interesting over the stretch.

Sioux City: Talented but not too sure if there’s really a move or two that can be made to put them over the hump because the Western Conference is strong and Sioux Falls has played more games than anyone excluding Fargo in the top five. Not saying it can be done, but things have to change before buying into cracking the top five.

We’ll be around all this week and come Monday’s deadline we will break down the moves that were made. Take care and we’ll see everyone tomorrow.

Sharp’s MVP performance good for the USHL…

If anyone had something to gain from this NHL All-Star Game besides Patrick Sharp, it was the United States Hockey League.

The Chicago Blackhawks forward and former Thunder Bay Flyer star won the MVP Award by picking up a goal and two assists in an 11-10 win for Team Lidstrom. He is also the first USHL alum to win the All-Star Game’s MVP award.

Sharp’s night caps off what was a huge night for the USHL with three of its alums playing in the game. St. Louis Blues forward David Backes, a former Lincoln Star, finished the night with three assists while Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny, a former River City Lancer, picked up a goal and an assist.

This was also the most USHL alums to ever play in the NHL All-Star Game.

Say what you want, but that’s an amazing accomplishment for the USHL and for junior hockey in the United States.

The trio’s performance is proof that not every talented player or All-Star has to play in the Canadian Hockey League.

Chris Peters, of the United States of Hockey, was gracious enough to do an interview with us this week and something he pointed out was how important guys like Backes, Stastny and Sharp are to the growth of the league.

American hockey has made many strides in terms of getting footing in the mainstream over the last year. The Olympics were a huge hit and the Stanley Cup playoff viewing numbers were at a high it hadn’t reached in some time.

Add in this year’s lead-up to the Winter Classic with the HBO documentary along with the potential threat of a looming NFL lockout and it might be safe to say hockey could reach heights it in this nation it has never achieved.

Also, when’s the last time the First Lady of the United States has ever done a commercial about the importance of the game? I can say this because I am black and Hispanic, but for Michelle Obama to give that kind of endorsement is huge because the game is growing and the more people, minorities or not, that can get it into this, the stronger it looks for the future of hockey in this nation.

Sharp winning the MVP isn’t quite on that scale, but it is another additive to how the game in America is making strides.

His performance, however, is proof the USHL is doing something right.

The Spirit of Lincoln…

Physical and defensive are two things Jason Herter and his staff wanted to establish with the Force this year and judging from the 3-2 OT win over Lincoln, it appears this is another growth point.

Forward/toughman Colton Hargrove and defenseman/International Man of Mystery Oleg Yevenko set the tone getting into some fights early before the team fought back from a 2-1 hole to lead.

That leads to the defense. January has been a month where the Force have established strong combinations on the blue line. Brian Cooper has been partnered with Garrett Haar, a Northeastern commit. Colorado College commit Ian Young and Air Force commit Dan Weissenhofer have also looked good but the combo that has been gritty and physical has been Yevenko and Brandon Carlson.

Herter said Saturday morning the defense has looked really strong as of late and it is noticeable because all the lines have looked strong. The Cooper-Haar line has been a good mix of offense and puckmoving skills. Young-Weissenhofer is the most experienced and truthfully, gifted combination the Force have. Weissenhofer-Cooper starts the games but Young-Weissenhofer combines two guys with a solid mix of offensive talent, passing, defense, etc.

Carlson-Yevenko is a line that likes to hit, punch and be dirty.

They can score too. That was evidenced by Carlson scoring the game-winning goal in overtime.

Like we discussed in the last entry, the Force are a team that has been strong on the road this year. They are now 13-7-1 for the best road record in the United States Hockey League.

Winning on the road is important in any league and that’s even truer in a developmental league like the USHL where coaches are dealing with young kids.

Even more impressive when leading scorer Jimmy Mullin, a Miami (Ohio) commit, was held out of the lineup again with an injury missing his second straight game.

That leads to the final point of this post. Say what you want about Herter but the guy knows what he is doing. He’s taken a group, that yes offensive-gifted, really shied away from defensive duties earlier in the season to a team that does focus more on defense.

It raises a question that will be examined later next week: Does Herter deserve consideration for Coach of the Year?

He does, but whether or not he will win it, remains to be seen. We’ll blog about that later.

We’ll hit that one up later. Anyways, hope everyone is having a good weekend and enjoy your Sunday.

No Easy Road…

If it seems like the Force win on the road more than at home, you might be onto to something.

The Force picked up a 2-0 win last night against the Des Moines Buccaneers for their 12th road victory of the season. At 12-7-1, they have the best road record in the United States Hockey League.

Last night’s win was pretty standard. Score a couple early goals, which they got from Colton Hargrove and Chad Demers. Play good defense, which they did by limiting Des Moines to 19 shots setting up Zane Gothberg for the win.

“He only saw 19 shots and had to stop one breakaway and the defense did a good job,” said Force coach Jason Herter. “He didn’t have a very tough night. That being said, stopping a breakaway is a great deal because their goalie played really well.”

Gothberg, who made his first start in the last few weeks, picked up the shutout giving him the second-lowest goals against average in the league at 2.07 behind Dubuque’s Matt Morris, who leads the league at 1.88. By the way, Morris recently committed to the University of Maine. Just sayin’.

Herter talked more about the team’s success on the road. He attributed to the idea that winning on the road is harder than winning at home.

That and the Force, he said, have probably played the most road games of anyone in the league.

“We do the same things at home and on the road, the difference is teams know how hard it is to win on the road and they have that adrenaline rush,” Herter said. “You have a young team and you see kids come in and think when they are playing at home with home ice and the crowds they think they have a better chance. That’s not always true. We’ve been preaching that to them and something they have to figure out. The guys in this league are good. Every team in this league is good.”

The Force were also without leading scorer and Miami (Ohio) commit Jimmy Mullin. Herter said Mullin was not a healthy scratch and declined to discuss how long he would be out of the lineup.

Force have Lincoln tonight, which is coached by former Force assistant Chad Johnson.

The Force are 2-1 against Lincoln this year.

Hey now, there’s no All-Stars…

The NHL’s All-Star weekend is here, which made us wonder when the USHL is going to have its all-star game. They’re not.

Brian Werger, the USHL spokesperson, said this week the league is sitting out this year because the goal is to come up with something new among other things.

“We want to find something that is appealing to not only fans but to the media and to scouts,” Werger said from the league office in Chicago. “It is really a showcase for some of these players.”

That’s true. Werger hit the nail because sometimes all-star games can get a little tiresome no matter the sport. The NHL is doing something different this year by voting for captains and having them choose the team. It beats the alternative of East vs. West or the dreaded North America vs. the World.

Everyone wants to see a good game but all-star games can be fluff games. So that’s why the USHL is going back to the drawing board. This is a developmental league that is getting exposure annually so why stunt that growth with a dog and pony show?

Here’s another thing about all-star game. They’re expensive. Werger said hosting an all-star game is such a task that a team basically has to hire another staff to handle that in addition to the team’s normal day-to-day operations.

There’s that and the fact that the game would be played during the week because weekend dates are hard to come by in some places and it takes a weekend away from league play.

Also, the USHL doesn’t work like the NHL or AHL where a city is given an all-star game. Teams have to apply for the all-star game and there were not any teams that applied. One bid was made, but there were some things that fell through, Werger said.

“I hope people do not look at this as a disappointment,” Werger said. “We are trying to find a better alternative and we haven’t come up with a decision. But we have looked into naming something like all-star teams to give kids recognition.”

Whatever the league decides to do, many hope that it works. The USHL has had an all-star game going back to the 1991-92 season and this gives fans a chance to see future college stars.

Take Sioux fans living in the area. North Dakota has seven commits playing in the USHL and that’s not including the players on the USNTDP’s U-17 Team. If the Force were to host an all-star game, people get a chance to see that talent among other players.

Being a former business reporter, think about the finances. Scheels Arena claims it draws 3,373 a game, which is good enough for third in the league. Something says they won’t mind that many people if not more dropping by on Tuesday for a skills competition and Wednesday for a game.

How much a team or city could make off of it is yet to be seen because there is still a stigma that remains about junior hockey in the states. Some say it is a glorified form of high school hockey.

Take that for whatever its worth but there is no denying the USHL has had success. Three players (Patrick Sharp, David Backes, Paul Stastny) are USHL alums playing in this year’s all-star game.

It could take time for the all-star game to re-materialize but it could be well worth the wait.

About last night…

Apparently enough was enough for the Omaha Lancers and it appears that was the team’s mentality in the 5-2 win over the Force last night.

We spoke to Steve Beideck, who covers the Lancers for the Omaha World-Herald, and he said Fargo has always been a bug-a-boo for the team. He said the frustrations with Fargo started when Dean Blais coached team even up to last year when Steve Johnson took over.

“Last night when they broke the 1-1 tie in the third and go those two goals real quick, they were hustling,” Beideck said. “When Fargo got that goal and cut it to 3-2 you could hear a few people in the crowd go ‘Ohh’ like not again. Omaha bounced back and they were determined.”

Beideck added what made the win even more impressive was beating goalie and Nebraska-Omaha commit Ryan Massa. Beideck said Omaha has had “a hell of a time with Massa” going back to last season so getting a win against him helps generate confidence that Fargo is indeed beatable.

Things have changed over the last few weeks for Omaha. The team suffered a pretty bad loss against the Indiana Ice and after the game did some skating a la Mighty Ducks or Miracle, take your pick. The team responded from that by going on to grabbing wins against teams like Fargo and Sioux City, which might be the league’s best defensive team.

Beideck also said the thing that has always impressed him about the Force was the fact they’re relentless. He said Jason Herter pulled Massa with three minutes left to create a 6-on-4 in the chances of winning.

“You never see coaches really do something like that,” Beideck said.

The Force are traveling today and tomorrow they will play Des Moines and they’ll play Lincoln on Saturday against former Force assistant Chad Johnson. This could be an interesting stretch for the Force with eight of their next ten games on the road.

Party in the USofH…

We’ll have something about the game tonight but Wednesdays will be used to profile people rooted in junior or college hockey.

The first Wednesday profile is Chris Peters, an extremely bright individual who might be the most knowledgeable person about American junior hockey out there. Chris use to work for the U.S. National Developmental Team Program’s public relations office. There he got a chance to write about and promote some of the game’s best future talent.

He did that for two years before moving to Iowa where he runs the United States of Hockey blog, a venture that just started. Here’s what our time with Chris was like.

Q: What made you so interested in junior hockey?

A: I don’t think it would have happened if I hadn’t worked at the National Team Developmental Program. I saw the USHL, the NAHL and a couple of eastern junior teams. Having seen it and getting to know these players, you realize they are the future of hockey in this country and it made me want to find a way to shed some light on those players.

Q: What do you think makes junior hockey in this country so different compared to other sports?

A: I think there are a lot of reasons for it. Hockey is the only sport where you have that alternative option of development where you do not have to play hockey for your high school team and you do not have that localized pride. You get kids from all over the country and its not like the local kids you grow up watching. It is hard to explain that these kids are not getting pad, but they are playing for college scholarships. Fact is, it is hard to explain to the sports fan and that’s the reason why it is a little hard to cover and why you maybe have a less interest from certain places.

Q: How has the USHL changed over time?

A: I think it has made tremendous strides over the last few years benefiting from YouTube and social media. It helps right now and in the longer term. The USHL has marketed itself as close to being a pro league as it can get to building a brand and a guy like Skip Prince, who is a good businessman and can direct a league like that. They have a much bigger picture and they think they can make a name for themselves. Having a guy like Brian Werger as a full-time guy promoting the league helps.

Q: If that is the case, then what can the USHL or junior hockey in America do to compete with the Canadian Hockey League?

A: It’s hard. I think the USHL has done a great job of promoting themselves to players by making it an attractive league to come to. The NDTP and EJHL and the NAHL have done a good job of making their brand something players want to come to and that’s the first and foremost thing. The other thing is the Canadian Hockey League has a very long, long tradition that’s highly prized. They’re all in. They are in smaller markets where the the amounts of money driven into it is unbelievable. That is not something the USHL or any league will approach from a business standpoint. It comes down to competition for players and continuing to make themselves an attractive outlet for a place to reach your goals.

Q: Final question. You’re a Chicago guy with a PR background. What did your hometown Hawks do to become relevant again?

A: Really, the thing they did is made decisions early on when Rocky Wirtz took over the team. They drafted Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and within one year they had two players that they could say were their guys. it took them only two years to become amazing players and faces of the franchise. They also hired John McDonough away from the Cubs and it was the biggest thing they could have done. By hiring a guy who knows how to bring people what they want is great for me to see. I had been in Chicago in their lean years of watching the dreadful teams of Alex Zhamnov and Adrian Aucoin and it did not look like NHL hockey. The media needed something positive too. People there love it when their teams have success and it is a fickle fan base. They’re struggling now and it would be sad to see that goodwill washed away a season after they won the Stanley Cup.

As you can read, Chris is a pretty bright guy and make sure you check out his blog. It’s on Slightly Chilled under the important links tab. Next week we’ll be featuring Nathan Fournier of the World of Junior Hockey.

Until then, have a good Wednesday everyone and we’ll have something up later about what happened with the Force tonight at Omaha.

Who’s can it be now?

While taking a look around the USHL last night, there was a tweet regarding a post from the PuckDrawn Web site about a jersey design that is nearly identical to the Cedar Rapids Roughriders third jersey.

PuckDrawn, a site that’s heavily into jersey designs among other things, wrote about this and discussed how the Cedar Rapids design was taken away from Chad Stilson without his permission.

Here’s a link to the article right here if you want to take a look for yourselves: http://www.puckdrawn.com/puckdrawn/2011/01/logo-theft-by-cedar-rapids-roughriders.html

Johnny Griswold, who operates PuckDrawn, got back to the blog and shared his thoughts about the issue. PuckDrawn, which has been around for two years, serves as a place where designers can share their ideas.

Because Griswold knows these artists, it is a serious thing when something like this happens.

“PuckDrawn has been in existence for over two years now, and thankfully logo design theft of the PuckDrawn designers’ work is pretty rare,” Griswold wrote. “But when it does happen, I treat it as a big deal. So do all of the other artists and fans of the blog.”

Oh and if you missed it, scroll down at the bottom and read some of the comments. Those users are pretty peeved this would happen. One even alleged this has happened in the USHL before.

So that’s why we called Cedar Rapids president and CEO Jeff Jauch this afternoon and he’s more than aware of the situation.

And in all fairness, we do have an email out to the guys over at PuckDrawn so this could be updated soon, but here’s what we have from Jauch.

“We actually purchased the logo from a source that had no idea the same logo existed,” Jauch said by phone. “So the real dispute is between the source that we purchased it from and Chad Stilson.”

Jauch added the team didn’t know anything about this until it was brought to their attention but he did say the matter should be quickly resolved.

But he did say that the jersey was debut and it had a pretty nice reaction from fans so at least that was a plus.

These kinds of things happen all the time but it is more common with high schools that get cease and desist letters from the NCAA more than anything.

Seven months ago, there was a school I covered in Texas that had a logo that was resembled the Penn State Nittany Lion.

So the school was fortunate enough to find a design thanks to a graphic design firm in Idaho and have the season, among other things, salvaged.

How does it feel…

Hope everyone had a good weekend but let’s look back at what happened.

FORCE SNAP SKID

The Force got back on the winning side of things with a 4-1 win against Tri-City in front of the largest home crowd all season. Aside from the win, the other thing worth noting from the game was the was goaltender Adam Eno, who sat the bench in the win.

Eno filled in for North Dakota commit Zane Gothberg, who was unable to play because he was with an ill family member. Zane is usually a guy that’s very easy to find after the games and he was on his cell phone talking to someone and he appeared to be pretty somber. That’s not Zane and one could tell something was up and in that situation, it is no one’s place to ask what happened.

Team spokeswoman Whitney Baumgartner said this afternoon Eno was called up for the weekend and she is unsure of Zane is back with the team and could be at home in Thief River Falls. Either way, one can only hope that the illness in the family isn’t too serious.

Thanks to a reader, I went back and checked Pointstreak, which is the league’s stat database, and saw Massa played instead of Eno making 17 saves in the win. I missed the game because I was at Moorhead-Warroad for Minnesota High School hockey. Initially, Pointstreak had Eno in net during the game. Weird, right?

The Force still ended a three-game home slide and a three-game losing streak to Tri-City, which is odd because Tri-City was 0-12-1 all-time against the Force prior to this season.

HERTER, TARANTO ON THE RADIO

Jason Herter did a segment on the USHL’s weekly radio show. He spoke for 15 minutes about the season and a bit about the role he played when the Force were trying to get established before their first season three years ago. It was a 15-minute segment, which isn’t bad to listen to if you have the time.

The second segment featured former Force forward Andy Taranto. He was part of that first team Herter helped cultivate and is now playing at the University of Alaska.

Here is the link to the interviews: http://ushl.com/news/story.cfm?id=3724

LEE, OLIVER LOOK BACK ON ROSEAU-MOORHEAD RIVALRY

When I am not writing about the Force, I am writing about MN High School Hockey and this week features one of the state’s top rivalries, Roseau vs. Moorhead.

Roseau and Moorhead usually face each other in the Section 8AA finals for the chance to play in the state tournament. This year, is a bit different with Roseau struggling and Bemidji looking strong.

Because we’re always writing about the rivalry from the Moorhead end, I decided to take a different approach and look at the rivalry through Roseau’s eyes. That included talking to former Force goalie and St. Cloud State star Mike Lee and current Force forward Nick Oliver.

Both agreed the rivalry is amazing but when they were growing up, it was one-sided because Moorhead was going through an era of dominance while Roseau was struggling to keep up.

That’ll be in Tuesday’s paper and until then, enjoy your Monday.

Miami Vice…

Ok. So more like Miami (Ohio) Vice but still it looks like the Redhawks have a pretty good incoming class evidenced by last night’s game between the Force and Tri-City.

Anyone who has read Slightly Chilled this month knows and has probably seen what Force forward Jimmy Mullin can do and we’ll get to him later. We’re going to focus on his future Miami teammate and Tri-City forward Cody Murphy.

Murphy for sure is going to Miami next season and it appears Mullin might be on the same route though he hasn’t indicated he’s leaving. But if he does leave, Miami gets two players who are similar in build but are different in doing things.

Murphy is more of a two-way forward. He’s a guy that can score goals but excels with the defensive side of the game.

“He does a lot of things well,” Mullin said after Friday’s 2-0 loss to Tri-City. “I look forward to playing with him but for now, it’d be nice to beat him.”

Murphy feels the same away about Mullin and the same away about getting a win to help Tri-City climb out the Western Conference cellar. He described Mullin as a quick forward who cuts really well that can always find the net.

Pretty sound analysis from two guys who have not had a chance to really sit down and talk. Fans don’t really get a chance to see a lot of the back story, but these players have some pretty interesting relationships.

When I interviewed Mullin last night he had a Tri-City player blow him a kiss.

“Yeah, him and I know each other and he’s just goofing around,” is what Mullin said.

Facebook, Mullin said, has been a away he’s been talking with his future teammates. He said Facebook allows him a chance to know more about the guys he’s going to be playing with. Murphy said he’s had a chance to talk to a few guys but not many because of the schedule.

Murphy, whose two brothers also played at Miami said, he’s looking forward to when he can finally get some time to hang out with Mullin instead of playing against him.

“I know in the summer, the coaches get everyone together and it gives you a chance to know the guys better,” Murphy said. “That will be fun.”