Stampede…

Sorry for getting such a late start on this but its been a pretty busy day here in the office plus the season starts for some tomorrow.

We have a few more previews left so we will roll those out even throughout the weekend.

Our latest preview features the Sioux Falls Stampede. Here’s a glance:

Sioux Falls Stampede (2010-11: 34-20-6; lost in the Western Conference Finals)

Coach: Kevin Hartzell

Who’s Gone: Christian Isackson (Minnesota), forward; Connor Reilly (playing this year in Penticton/committed to Minnesota), forward; Ryan Reilly (playing this year in Penticton/committed to Minnesota), forward; Kyle Rau (Minnesota), forward; Ryan Jacobson (Brown), forward; Dominic Zombo (Nebraska-Omaha), forward; Andrew Prochno (St. Cloud State), defenseman; Brent Darnell (Michigan State), forward; Zach Kamrass (UMass-Lowell), defenseman; Clark Cristofoli (Ohio State), defenseman; Jordan Oesterle (Western Michigan), defenseman; Juho Olkinuora (Denver), goaltender; Daniel Doremus (Denver), forward; Nolan Youngman (Alaska-Fairbanks), forward; Sam Coatta (Union), forward.

Who’s Back: Austyn Young (Minnesota-Duluth), forward; Stephon Williams (Minnesota State-Mankato), goaltender; Matt Van Voorhis (Denver), defenseman; Bryan Moore, forward; Joseph Lordo, defenseman; Mitch Hughes, forward; Tomas Pastor, defenseman.

Who’s new: Dan Carlson (played last season at NTDP/committed to Minnesota State-Mankato), forward; Kyle Rankin (played last season at Kanata (CHL Tier I)/committed to Princeton); Reed Whiteside (played last season at Trenton (MI-HS)/committed to Bowling Green), defenseman; Justin Selman (played last season at Des Moines/committed to Michigan), forward; Evan Moore (played last season at Green Mountain Glades), defenseman; Charlie Lindgren (played last season at Lakeville North (MN-HS), goaltender; Eric Brenk (played last season at Moorhead (MN-HS)), forward.

What’s Going On: Even though they didn’t make the Clark Cup Finals, Sioux Falls had one of the best seasons in the league last year. They were consistently near the top of the standings and were commonly one of those teams that others did have a hard time. The Stampede got scoring from every line and had the right amount of edge to them to be a power. Then when the playoffs came they were just about lights out until they faced Dubuque and even then, it wasn’t like they just rolled over.

So you can imagine why this wasn’t the greatest off-season. Sioux Falls was set to lose talent like Isackson and Rau to college but was set to replace them with the likes of someone like Mario Lucia along with adding defenseman Mike Reilly. Then all of a sudden, Penticton became the hot spot for a variety of reasons and all three Reilly brothers plus Lucia headed to British Columbia leaving the Stampede without much to rumble about.

How Sioux Falls handles this season will be interesting because this is a team that needs to find scoring. Its top six scorers from last season are gone and altogether it is more like nine of its 10 top have left. Young is going to be the guy who will most likely have to fill that role as he scored 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) for the club last season. Then there’s defense as well. Van Voorhis is one of three returning defenseman, which means they’re going to be pretty young and inexperienced at the blue line too.

But here’s the optimism. Sioux Falls has a lot coming in. For starters, the team acquired Carlson on Wednesday so there’s a sizable, experienced forward that could pay dividends immediately. Another guy is Selman, who spent last season with Des Moines so that’s already two incoming forwards with league experience to bolster a squad with seven returning players. Rankin, a Canadian, could also be a guy to watch as he scored five points (all assists) in the Fall Classic and last season had 73 points (22 goals, 51 assists) playing for Kanata last season. Defensively, the guy for the future should be Whiteside, who was a second-round Futures draft pick. His 2010-11 season numbers could not be found but previous seasons suggest he’s an offensive-minded defenseman, which could come in handy. Then there’s the goaltending situation. Williams should be fine but if not, the Stampede has Lindgren, who if he stayed in high school probably would have won the Frank Brimsek Award for the best senior goaltender in Minnesota. Here’s what you need to know about Lindgren. He steals games like his name is Madoff and if Beyonce is a hustler this kid’s a gangsta.

Sioux Falls will be young but scrappy and should be decent this year. Playoffs are very much possible in what’s shaping up to be a soft Western Conference when compared to the East. Whether or not they return to the Conference Finals, well, that remains to be seen.

 

Friday’s Preview: Tri-City Storm

All For One…

We’re around halfway done with touring the Western Conference and today’s entry will be centered around the Sioux City Musketeers.

The Musketeers had a pretty interesting season to say the least grabbing the final playoff spot down the stretch last season. A good bit of their late season run was fueled by defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, who could be a first-round pick in the upcoming draft.

Here’s a look at this year’s group:

Sioux City Musketeers (31-23-6; was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs)

Coach: Brett Larson

Who’s Gone: Caleb Herbert (Minnesota-Duluth), forward; Ryan Carpenter (Bowling Green), forward; Jake Suter (UMass-Lowell), defenseman; Alex Velischek (Providence), defenseman; Max McCormick (Ohio State), forward; Max Gaede (Minnesota State-Mankato), forward; Adam Krause (Minnesota-Duluth), forward; Matt Paape (Wisconsin), forward; Tommy Olczyk (Penn State), forward.

Who’s Back: Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota), defenseman; Brad Robbins (Bemidji State), forward; Tim O’Brien (Dartmouth), forward; Brett Patterson (Dartmouth), forward; Matt Skoff (Ohio State), goaltender; Jake Hildebrand (Michigan State), goaltender; Sam Piazza (Boston College), defenseman; Jose Delgadillo, defenseman; Larry Smith Jr., defenseman; Maxim Gaudreault (New Hampshire), forward; Noah Nelson, forward.

Who’s New: Geoff Ferguson (played last season at Wenatchee/Aberdeen (NAHL)/committed to Dartmouth), defenseman; Kyle Criscuolo (played last season at Choate Rosemary Hall/committed to Harvard), forward; Cliff Watson (played last season at Appleton United/committed to Ohio State), defenseman; Jackson Leef (played last season at Texas (NAHL)), forward; Josh Erickson (played last season at Roseau (MN-HS)), forward; Kirill Vorobyev (played last season at CSKA Moscow Youth), defenseman.

What’s Going On: Sioux City was one of the seven teams this offseason looking for a new head coach and they hired Larson, who was an assistant at Minnesota-Duluth. His departure, oddly enough, is what led the Bulldogs to hire Fargo’s coach Jason Herter creating another opening.

Sioux City last season was a very tough, physical team that didn’t mind sticking up for one another. But they could also score goals too and they could score them at the right time. In a sense, they were a good representation of what the Western Conference in relation to how tough of a league it was last season.

This season’s big theme, yeah, shocker here, is going to be Schmaltz. The OHL tried prying him away this season but he decided to stay and is now one of the players being talked about in regards to being a first-round draft pick. Offensively, he’s the most gifted defenseman in the league and showed it last year scoring 44 points (13 goals, 41 assists) in 53 games making him the team’s third leading scorer. Expectations suggest that Schmaltz will have another big year and when looking at the roster, that could happen.

Robbins, the team’s fifth leading scorer, and O’Brien, the team’s seventh leading scorer, return from last season so there is some experienced, proven firepower up front. Then there are players like Gaudreault and Patterson who had solid seasons but will be asked to score and do more this season. In all, the Musketeers have 11 returning players with the breakdown being: 5 forwards, 4 defensemen and two goaltenders. That amount of returners places them at the high end when it comes to teams with returning talent.

As for what’s coming in, this should be a group that could complement what’s already there and make Sioux City strong for another year. Criscuolo is the incoming forward that jumps out based on what he’s previously accomplished. For starters, he tore it up at the Fall Classic scoring 5 points (4 goals, 1 assists) in four games. This really isn’t a surprise considering he’s been a consistently good scorer at every level he’s been at. He scored 186 points in 107 AYHL games while scoring 98 points in 48 high school games back in New Jersey, according to Elite Prospects.

Having Schmaltz is a plus. So is having a defenseman like Piazza, who with time will be able to show is offensive skills. But an incoming d-man to look at has to be Vorobyev. The Russian played in the famed CSKA Moscow program and he’s only 16 years old making him one of the youngest players in the league this season. Stats on Vorobyev were hard to find, but usually when a Russian makes their way to the USHL, most times they turn out to be pretty successful. So keep an eye out on Vorobyev to see what he does this season.

The Musketeers have a stud player that can win games, experience that’s gone through a grinding season before and incoming talent that should be able to adjust quickly. Sioux City appears as if it should have no problem getting a playoff spot this season and perhaps make a bit of a run in the postseason.

 

Thursday’s Preview: Sioux Falls Stampede

Omaha…

Our tour of the Western Conference continues today with the Omaha Lancers.

The Lancers, once again, had another solid season finishing second in the Western Conference yet was knocked out in the second round following a first-round bye.

Here’s a look at this year’s team:

Omaha Lancers (2010-11: 34-19-7; lost in the second round)

Coach: Bliss Littler

Who’s Gone: Ben Marshall (Minnesota), defenseman; Seth Ambroz (Minnesota), forward; Nick Oddo (Ohio State), forward; Stefan Demopoulos (Providence), forward; Michael Chiasson (Michigan), defenseman; Aaron Ave (Princeton), defenseman; Todd Mathews (aged out of league/ineligible for college due to playing in Major Junior), goaltender; Ryan Daugherty (Northern Michigan), forward; Justin Crandall (Minnesota-Duluth), forward; Mike Tabrum (Denver), forward; Colin Markison (Vermont), forward.

Who’s Back: Michael Ferrantino (committed to Michigan State), forward; Anthony Hamburg, forward; Jonathan Liau (Princeton), forward; Ken Babinski (Ferris State), forward; Adam Chlapik, forward; Nathan Widman, defenseman; Dominic Racobaldo, defenseman; John Keeney, goaltender.

Who’s New: Kenny Gillespie (played last season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN-HS)/committed to UMass), forward; Matt Gaudreau (played last season at Team Comcast/committed to Boston College), forward; Alex Lyon (played last season at Lake of the Woods (MN-HS)/committed to Yale), goaltender; Myles McCauley (played last season at Penticton (BCHL)/Peterborough & Sault St. Marie (OHL)), forward; Jimmy Murray (played last season with Texas (NAHL)/Fargo Force); Ben Ostlie (played last season at Edina (MN-HS)), defenseman; Casey Bailey (played last season at Alberni Valley (BCHL)), forward; Peter McMullen (played last season at Delbarton School/committed to Boston College), forward; Greg Gozzo (played last season at Avon Old Farms/committed to Harvard), forward; Victor Newell (played last season at Nanaimo (BCHL)/committed to Harvard), defenseman.

What’s Going On: Omaha enjoyed another strong season fighting off teams like Fargo for the second seed in the West and making the most of it until its second-round exit after getting a first-round bye.

Omaha was loaded with talent last year the most notable names being Marshall, a Red Wings draft pick and Ambroz, a guy who entered the season as a first-rounder and fell to Columbus in the fifth round. Point is, the Lancers had a lot of talent last year up front and on the blue line and as you can see, a lot of it is gone. But then there’s the flip side of all this and noticing that Omaha has a LOT, maybe too damn much, coming into the team. The Lancers have a good number of returners with eight so there’s that. Yet its what they have coming in is what will make this team pretty appealing to watch.

Considering there are so many options, let’s look at one player at forward, defense and goaltender (OK, that’s real easy) to watch for that’s new. At forward, the guy with a lot of talk has been the 17-year-old Gillespie. The UMass commit had 55 points (13 goals, 42 assists) in 49 games last season at S-SM. He’s 6-feet and 201 pounds and could be that explosive forward that could win games for the Lancers. Not to mention, he’s a guy that plenty of UMass fans are excited about. If Gillespie lives up to what’s been promised, the rest of the league will quickly understand why.

Defensively, there are so many options but the spotlight here goes to Newell. At 5-10, 176 pounds, he fits that physical model that Marshall has last season. His numbers last season also suggest he could be a guy that runs the power play as he scored 35 points (12 goals, 23 assists) in 58 games last season. The fact he’s committed to Harvard shows he’s smart but another thing that proves it is his penalty minutes. He only had 12 last season. Having a defenseman that makes smart decisions with and without the puck is never a bad thing.

Finally, there’s this goaltender Lyon, who was kind of, sort of a big deal in Minnesota last year. All he did was win the Frank Brimsek Award for Senior Goaltender. All Lyon did was prove he was the best goaltender in the state by making 743 saves. He just only had a 1.60 GAA and a .945 save percentage through the regular season and playoffs. In a 5-1 loss, he stopped 66 shots. So in short, he’s kind of good.

Omaha has a lot (can’t stress that enough) of good incoming talent and this year they play in a conference that should be easy to win in. That could come in handy because this is a team will be working in players that are new to the league and how it works. But even if this Omaha team played in last year’s Western Conference, something says they’d do well. Expect to see the Lancers in the playoffs again this season.

 

Wednesday’s Preview: Sioux City Musketeers

The Minnesota Rouser…

Fargo Force forward Gabe Guertler has committed to the University of Minnesota, the team said via their Twitter account this afternoon.

Guertler, 16, will become the first Florida-born player to play hockey at Minnesota. The school could not discuss commitments as it involves a future player who has not signed a National Letter of Intent. But the school did say it has had players from Alaska, California, Colorado, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Oh and for those freaking about in regards to “What would Doug Woog say?” Relax. Guertler’s father is a St. Paul native.

At the time of his commitment, Guertler was at the team’s practice facility in north Fargo preparing for the season which starts this weekend as the Force opens on the road against Des Moines. But here’s a video of him from a few weeks ago doing agility drills during a team practice.

The highly-touted Guertler was the Force’s second overall pick in the 2011 USHL Futures Draft. Fargo managed to get two picks (Nos. 2 and 10) in the Futures Draft following a trade it made a year ago with the Chicago Steel. The Force traded Edmonton Oilers draft pick and former Wisconsin commit Troy Hesketh for the Steel’s Futures Draft pick, which was Guertler.

Fargo’s second pick in the first round was defenseman Charlie Pelnik, a North Dakota commit, who will spent the season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s.

Guertler, who is from Plantation, Fla., played last season with Team Illinois (midget minor) where he torched the league for 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists) in 35 games last season. He played alongside forward J.T. Compher, a Michigan commit.

“Truthfully, I wasn’t exactly sure. I thought I’d go somewhere in the first round but I was not sure if Fargo was going to take me,” is what Guertler said a few months ago when discussing the Futures Draft. “I figured they take me 10th and then they called the night before the draft and I was pretty excited that they were thinking about picking me.”

Force scout Jesse Davis said immediately after the team drafted Guertler that they expected him to be on the team this season. The Force released their official 23-man roster today and the 5-9, 170-pound Guertler will wear No. 8 this season.

He spent the summer playing for Team USA helping it win the Five Nations Tournament. Guertler was on the top line partnered with former Boston University commit turned-QMJHL product Adam Erne and Benilde-St. Margaret’s Daniel Labosky.

Guertler finished the tournament with three goals and two assists putting him in a tie for fifth place in scoring.

A few weeks ago, Guertler took a visit to North Dakota and said that his three finalists were the Gophers, Sioux and Denver. At that time, Guertler said he was going to wait to make a commitment. Yet he said  earlier in the summer that a decision could come before the season started.

Guertler will spend this season most likely trying to fill the void left by forward Jimmy Mullin, a Tampa Bay Lightning Pick, who is now at Miami (Ohio). Mullin was a flashy playmaking forward that scored goals and created chances providing a big offensive spark for the Force.

Though Guertler is younger than Mullin, he will be relied upon heavily to score goals on a team that does return 10 players and overall, has 11 players with USHL experience this season.

Stardust…

Back with Day 2 of our Western Conference previews and today’s focus is on the Lincoln Stars.

The Stars were coached last season by first-year man Chad Johnson, who guided the team to the playoffs. Lincoln’s the kind of team that could be a player in the Western Conference this year with some of the returning and incoming talent it has coming in.

So here’s a glance:

Lincoln Stars (33-22-1; lost in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs)

Coach: Chad Johnson

Who’s Gone: Ryan Dzingel (Ohio State), forward; John McCarron (Cornell), forward; Kevin Murdock (Lake Superior St.), goaltender; Garrett Peterson (Notre Dame), forward; Matt Prapavessis (Bemidji St.), defenseman; Nick Cecere (Michigan Tech), defenseman; Chris Casto (Minnesota-Duluth), defenseman; Andrew Schmit (Nebraska-Omaha), forward; Eric Scheid (Alaska-Anchorage), forward; Colten Martin (playing for the Kelowna (WHL)), defenseman

Who’s Back: Dominik Shine (Ohio State), forward; Zachary Aston-Reese, forward; Richard Coyne, defenseman; Brent Tate (Bowling Green), forward; Teemu Tiitinen, forward; Jared Hanson, forward; Zach Frye, defenseman.

Who’s New: Jackson Teichroeb (played last season at Dubuque), goaltender; Mike McKee (played last season at Kent Prep/committed to Northeastern), defenseman; Brandon Carlson (played last season at Fairbanks (NAHL)), defenseman; Paul Ladue (played last season at Alexandria (NAHL)), defenseman; Dax Lauwers (played last season at Army), defenseman; Kevin Roy (played last season at Deerfield Prep/committed to Brown), defenseman; Jonathan Grebosky (played last season at Pittsburgh (MM)), forward; Matt Friese (played last season at Alaska-Anchorage), defenseman; Ralfs Freibergs (played last season at Texas (NAHL)), defenseman.

What’s Going On: Lincoln enjoyed a strong year under Johnson reaching the playoffs only to be eliminated by rival Fargo in two games. Other than that, it was actually a pretty good year with team being more than solid in the Top 4 of what was the better, stronger Western Conference last year.

Lincoln does lose its fair share of talent though. Dzingel being the big name on that list having led the team in scoring last season with 23 goals and 44 assists. Dzingel might have been one of the more underrated forwards in the league last year. There was a lot of talk, and rightfully so, about Western Conference forwards like Vinny Saponari, John Gaudreau and Jimmy Mullin, but Dzingel played arguably a bigger role for his team. He was the catalyst that made a lot of things happen for the Stars and without him, it would have been a team that could have struggled to score goals.

Replacing Dzingel along with McCarron, Schmit and Scheid – the team’s top-four leading scorers – will be the big challenge the Stars face this season. This is where a guy like Shine, who scored 28 points last season, is going to have to take on a bigger role. Shine’s a player that has been talked about in the league as a potential impact guy. Here’s his chance to prove that he is. Another guy to watch is Aston-Reese. Aston-Reese, who is in his draft year, is another guy that went through first-year struggles and will be relied upon to do some scoring among other things in Lincoln. A newcomers to look at is Grebosky. The 5-11, 180-pound forward had 37 points (19 goals, 18 assists) in 39 games last season playing midgets for Pittsburgh. So if he can transfer that kind of scoring touch to the USHL, it could help Lincoln quite a bit this season.

Then there’s defense and actually this is where things look pretty solid for Lincoln. Coyne and Frye are the only returning defensemen, but they are not the only ones with USHL experience. Lincoln got Carlson in a trade from Fargo and he’s a guy that did eat up minutes while he was here. Carlson’s a pretty physical defenseman who won’t put up a lot of points, but he’s the kind that will do whatever is asked of him. The big name coming in is McKee. For starters he’s a massive man at 6-4, 230 pounds and scored 23 points in 27 goals last season. It surprised some that the Northeastern commit wasn’t drafted. Either way, he should be a physical presence in the lineup and someone that can distribute and score. A guy that’s worth watching is Freibergs, who was the NAHL Defenseman of the Year putting up 55 points in 53 games. So yeah, the Latvian could be a guy to seriously pay attention on the power play. Finally, the last guy to highlight would be Lauwers, who actually played in the USHL with the Stars a few years ago before spending last season at Army.

Lincoln is a team that has a lot of nice parts to it especially in the back. The move they made in the offseason that could pay off big time was getting Teichroeb from Dubuque. Teichroeb was only relegated to backup because Matt Morris (Maine) emerged into one of the league’s best goaltenders out of nowhere. If Teichroeb plays well and Lincoln can mesh, expect another good year from the Stars. And by good year, try another year where it finishes in The Top 4 and should go past the first round of the playoffs.

 

Tuesday’s Preview: Omaha Lancers

Jolly Roger…

Now that we’re done with the Eastern Conference, its time to start looking at the teams out west starting with the Des Moines Buccaneers.

Des Moines was the victim of what was a tough Western Conference last season. The Bucs finished over .500 and made a late chase for the last playoff spot. They missed out by four points having to settle for seventh.

So here’s a look at this year’s group.

Des Moines Buccaneers (29-25-6; finished seventh in the Western Conference)

Coach: Regg Simon

Who’s Gone: Dajon Mingo (Bowling Green), forward; Dan DeSalvo (Bowling Green), forward; Austin Coldwell (Alaska-Anchorage), defenseman; Michael Shiborowski (Minnesota), goaltender; Doug Clifford (Niagara), forward; Tyler Bruggeman (playing this season in Austin (NAHL)), goaltender.

Who’s Back: Cal Decowski (Minnesota-Duluth), forward; Gaspar Kopitar, forward; Ethan Prow (St. Cloud State), defenseman; Tyler Deresky, forward; Kevin Irwin (Ohio State), forward; Ray Pignozzi (Denver), forward.

Who’s New: Jason Kasdorf (played last season at Portage (MJHL)/committed to RPI), goaltender; Zach Dorer (played last season at Traverse City (NAHL)/committed to Ferris State), defenseman; Connor Schmidt (played last season with Green Bay/committed to Ferris State), defenseman; Connor Varley (played last season at Alberni Valley/committed to Penn State), defenseman; Wayland Williams (played last season at Honeybaked), defenseman.

What’s Going On: As was mentioned earlier, this was not a bad team last year. They just happened to play in a really, really tough conference last year where it felt like everyone was on high alert for either a playoff spot or just a seed during the last portion of the season.

The tough luck, so to say, continued this year when they were able to get Mario Lucia’s rights only to see the Wild draft pick say adios and head to Penticton in the BCHL with what felt like the rest of Minnesota.

How Des Moines does this year will remain to be seen. They lose a lot of scoring up front and the guy they lose has to be Coldwell, who was actually the team’s fourth-leading scorer. Coldwell was able to create chances while giving Simon a defenseman at the back who could control a game whether it be with his play in either end or the neutral zone.

But defense could be something to look at with the Bucs this season. For starters, it will be a young group as they only return Prow from last season’s team and Schmidt, who spent last season at Green Bay. There’s still a talented group coming in. There’s Varley, who’s become one of the cornerstone guys of Penn State’s first class, who comes in as an offensive defenseman. He had 29 points (9 goals, 20 assists) last season playing in the BCHL, which of course has been describe as an offensive league. Then there’s Williams, who was a guy that was in the Fargo Force’s system for a bit. Williams is another offensive-minded d-man who scored 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists) in 33 games last season at Honeybaked.

Speaking of defense, there’s what’s going on at goaltender. Initially, the plan was for Colby Drost to come to Des Moines but he was traded and eventually went to Niagara this season. It leaves the Bucs with Kasdorf, a Winnipeg Jets draft pick, as the guy at the back. He’s been one of the best netminders in the MJHL the past few seasons so he will be a guy that Des Moines will count on heavily this season. He should also get some support from Christian Frey, who played midget with the Dallas Stars and had a 2.19 GAA last season.

Kind of hard to tell how the Bucs will do considering how many new players they have coming in. Don’t be too shocked if this year repeats last season a bit in terms of the team fighting at the very end to make the playoffs.

 

Monday’s feature: Lincoln Stars (because I cover Fargo, we’ll save them for last.)

The Phantom Menace…

We’ve finally reached the last stop on our Eastern Conference previews and it just happens to be the Youngstown Phantoms.

People paid attention last season to the Phantoms to see how defenseman Scott Mayfield (Denver) would do in his draft year. He did pretty good considering he was a second-round pick of the New York Islanders.

But what about life after Mayfield? Well, let’s find out.

Youngstown Phantoms: (2010-11: 23-30-7; finished seventh in the Eastern Conference)

Coach: Anthony Noreen

Who’s Gone: Scott Mayfield (Denver), defenseman; Quinn Smith (Boston College), forward; Stuart Higgins (Maine), forward; Adam Berkle (Bowling Green), forward; Ben Paulides (Miami (Ohio)), defenseman; Ty Loney (Denver), forward; Jiri Sekac (left for the KHL), forward.

Who’s Back: Matthew O’ Connor (Boston University), goaltender; Michael Ambrosia (Princeton), forward; Chris Bradley (RPI), defenseman; Alex Gacek (Miami (Ohio)), forward; Dylan Margonari (Minnesota State-Mankato), forward; Justin Stevens (Mercyhurst), defenseman; Ryan Belonger, forward.

Who’s New: Daniel Renouf (played last season at Hill Academy/committed to Maine), defenseman; Pat Conte (played last season at Buffalo Jr. Sabres/Niagara), forward; Greg Gibson (played last season at Huntsville Otters/Robert Morris), forward; Michael Gunn (played last season for the Chicago Steel/committed to Michigan State), defenseman; Ryan Lowney (played last season at Detroit Compuware/committed to Ferris State), defenseman; Alexander Dahl (played last season at Eau Claire (WI-HS), forward

What’s Going On: Youngstown was one of the seven teams this offseason that had to find a new coach when Curtis Carr opted to leave for Merrimack. The team just went across the hall and hired assistant Anthony Noreen, who takes over a team that really could surprise a lot of people.

As was stated earlier, yes, they lost Mayfield. But they also lost some scoring up front as forwards like Sekac and Loney so that could set them back. The team’s leading returning scorer is Belonger, who had 35 points (21 goals, 14 assists) in 59 games last season.

Considering we’re discussing numbers, here is a little bit of a factoid that some may find surprising. The Phantoms return 11 players from last season’s team and including Gunn, it totals out to 12 with USHL experience. Having that many players with experience is never a bad thing considering this was a team that just missed out on the postseason by two points. Not to put Youngstown in the same pedigree as Indiana, Green Bay or Fargo – all teams with a ton of returning talent -but there is something to be said for having this many kids coming back. If they can get it together, there is no telling what could happen.

Now for the players that could be counted on, the No. 1 guy in this case has to be O’Connor. The 6-5, 193-pound goaltender was 10-16-2 last season and if this is a team that has any chance of making the postseason, they need for him to be rock solid. But that also means getting help from the blueline and this is where having a presence like Gunn and Bradley could come in handy considering what they’ve seen in the league. Once again, another number to consider. Youngstown has five, yep, count them, five defensemen with USHL experience.

Having that kind of experience in the back can only create optimism. When it comes to scoring, that’s where things could get a little interesting. Conte, who has played the last three seasons in the OJHL, was a scorer for sure scoring 31 goals and 28 assists last season so it is apparent that he’s got the ability to also create chances. Gibson is another forward the Phantoms got from the OJHL, who between Hamilton and Huntsville scored 67 points (31 goals, 36 assists) last season. Another young guy to watch is Dahl, who scored 61 points playing prep hockey in Wisconsin last season.

With all that being said, we’re going to go out on a limb and pick the Phantoms as the “Dark Horse” in the Eastern Conference. The experience, especially at the back, is really likeable along with the fact they have some forwards in Conte and Gibson, who could provide a jolt of offense here and there. Youngstown fell two points short last season and though it might be another tough year, it could be a year where this team makes the playoffs.

 

Once again, that’s it for our Eastern Conference previews. We’ll start up with the Western Conference where our first victim, err, preview will be none other than the Des Moines Buccaneers.

That’s What I Want…

Know its late but for all you Force (or really hockey) fans, the USHL is allowing fans to watch the team online for free tomorrow when they play at 2 p.m.

The Force are currently at the USHL Fall Classic, which is the pre-season tournament before the season starts next week. The Black and Blue are 1-1 after two games following a 4-1 loss on Thursday against Waterloo.

Friday’s game against Cedar Rapids is the Force’s final pre-season game. Below are the instructions, per a release from the USHL, on how to watch the game.

Here are the instructions:

“To view the USHL free game broadcast, fans must first register with FASTHockey http://ushl.fasthockey.com (registration is free) and then press “Like” on the USHL Facebook page to watch the game via the “USHL on FASTHockey App.”

Yeah, it is just that simple. So there you go. Have a good one.

 

Yankee Doodle Dandy…

Today’s preview is actually different than most and that’s because the focus is on USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.

USA Hockey’s program or The NTDP, for short, basically houses, trains and cultivates what is said to be this nation’s top talent. It has two teams – a U-17 and a U-18 – that both play in the USHL and if the program makes the playoffs, it is the U-17 team that will compete in the postseason.

They also play in international competitions as well. Bear with me but here’s what makes this preview different. The players from last year’s U-18 team are either in college or playing juniors somewhere else because they have aged out. The players from last season’s U-17 team just moved up to the U-18 team while new players were brought into the program to comprise this year’s U-17 team.

Although different than the rest - Cedar Rapids, Chicago, Dubuque, Green Bay, Indiana and Muskegon – here is a preview for the NTDP for the upcoming season.

Team USA (2010-11: 30-25-5; lost in the first round of the playoffs)

Coach: Danton Cole (U-18) and Don Granato (U-17)

Who’s New (U-18): Seth Jones, defenseman; Jacob Trouba, defenseman; Miles Koules (North Dakota), forward; Brady Skjei (Minnesota), defenseman; Nick Kerdiles (Wisconsin), forward; Stefan Matteau (North Dakota), forward; Quentin Shore (Denver), forward; Riley Barber (played last season at Dubuque/committed to Miami (Ohio)); Collin Olson (Ohio State), goaltender; Jared Rutledge, goaltender.

Who’s New (U-17): Gage Ausmus (Denver), defenseman; Keaton Thompson (North Dakota), defenseman; J.T. Compher (Michigan), forward; Trevor Hamilton (Miami (Ohio)), defenseman; Mike McCarron (Michigan State), forward; Will Butcher (Denver), defenseman; Hudson Fasching, forward.

What’s Going On: The NTDP got a bit of a shake up over the summer when coach Ron Rolston left the program to become the head coach of the Rochester Americans, the AHL affliate of the Buffalo Sabres. That resulted in the program hiring Don Granato to replace him. Here’s how it all works, per Chris Peters over at the United States of Hockey blog.

Cole will coach players with even-numbered birth years (i.e. 1994, 1996) while Granato has the players with the odd-numbered birth years (i.e. 1995, 1997) so that way both stay with their group and coach at the U-17 and U-18 level.

Another significant change to the NTDP this season was goaltending coach Joe Exter leaving to take the same position at Ohio State. Exter was responsible for developing talent like former first-rounder Jack Campbell (Dallas Stars) and John Gibson, who was drafted last season by the Anaheim Ducks. The program went with former New Hampshire star Mike Ayers, who will look to foster the next crop of high-end American goaltenders.

As for the talent, well, they’re obviously pretty good. There are many names to watch out for in regards to the coming draft. Trouba and Kerdiles have been the two most talked about players on the U-18 team. Jones, who’s father, Popeye, played in the NBA, is a guy that many are high on for his poise and maturity. So basically expect another year of hearing Gary Bettman say (insert team name) selects (insert player) from the Team USA National Team Development Program.

On the U-17 level, there’s also a lot to be excited about. Fasching is a name that stands out for many as he was one of the most gifted forwards last season in Minnesota while playing for Apple Valley.  He scored 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) in 28 games last season. He also has a hulking and still growing frame as he’s 6-2 and a 190 pounds. Another player to watch is Thompson, who actually spent last season with the Fargo Force before accepting an invite to play with the NTDP. He’s the second North Dakotan-born player to ever play for the NTDP and earlier this summer he committed to the Sioux. He started for Devils Lake, his high school team, as an eighth grader and last season led the state’s defensemen in scoring before jumping to the Force. Thompson might be the only U-17 player with USHL experience but in truth, this will be his first full season with the team.

The NTDP made the playoffs last year and there’s a good chance that the same thing could happen this year. There’s obviously enough talent that lends itself to grabbing one of the Top 6 spots in the East. How far they go in the playoffs, however, that remains to be seen.

 

Friday’s Preview: Youngstown Phantoms

The Lumberjack Song…

Today is the start of the USHL Fall Classic, which is the big pre-season showcase to kick things off before the regular season starts next week.

In the meantime, here’s another Eastern Conference preview. This time, it is on the Muskegon Lumberjacks, a second-year franchise. You can find earlier previews – Cedar Rapids, Chicago, Dubuque, Green Bay and Indiana – here.

Here’s a view at what’s going on.

Muskegon Lumberjacks: (2010-11: 24-28-8; lost in the second round of the playoffs)

Coach: Kevin Patrick

Who’s Gone: Alexx Privitera (Boston University), defenseman; Ryan Misiak (Mercyhurst), forward; Matt Berry (Michigan State), forward; Jaycob Megna (Nebraska-Omaha), defenseman; Joel Vienneau (left for OHL), goaltender.

Who’s Back: Jordan Masters (New Hampshire), forward; Lance Fredrickson (Miami (Ohio)); Travis Walsh (Michigan State), defenseman; Mark Yanis (Penn State), defenseman; Max Shuart (Michigan), forward; Travis Belohrad, forward.

Who’s new: Ryan Lomberg (played last season at Hill Academy/committed to Maine), forward; Mike McNicholas (played last season at Victory Honda/committed to New Hampshire), forward; Ryan Bullock (played last season at Blake (MN-HS)/committed to Dartmouth), defenseman; Joe Cox (played last season at Detroit Compuware/committed to Michigan State), forward; Nick Seeler (played last season at Eden Prairie (MN-HS)/committed to Nebraska-Omaha), defenseman; Tyler Heinonen (played last season at Delano (MN-HS)/committed to Michigan Tech), forward; Blake Voth (played last season at Vernon (BCHL), goaltender.

What’s going on: There was a lot of talk about Dubuque bursting onto the scene as an expansion surprise and rightfully so. But people might have forgot about the Lumberjacks. They did grab one game in what was a second-round series dominated by Cedar Rapids and had a better year than most would have expected by grabbing a playoff spot in what was a tight race in the lower portion of the Eastern Conference during the stretch.

Like many teams this season, really just about every season, the Lumberjacks lost a lot of scoring up front with their top three scorers – Misiak, Berry and Kohls – all going off to college. Belohrad, who was fourth on the team in points, returns so that should give the Lumberjacks a scoring threat with familiarity in the league. But Muskegon’s big weakness last season was defense as it gave up the second-most goals of any team in the league. Then with Vienneau, a former Minnesota commit, going to The OHL following a falling out with the coaching staff, it appears that goaltending will be essential to the team’s success this season.

Muskegon returns 10 players from last year’s team and has a heavy influx of new players from Minnesota high school programs and top midget programs such as Detroit Compuware to name a few. One of the new guys to watch is Seeler, who helped Eden Prairie win the Class 2A title in Minnesota. He brings a steady presence to a blue line and could be one of the new guys that helps tighten the defense. He’s one of five incoming defensemen the Lumberjacks will have this season so it could be interesting to see how that plays out. Another name to look for is Heinonen, who was a Minnesota scoring champ in high school. He scored 80-plus points last year and if he can have a decent year, it could go a long way. The last player to keep tabs on Voth. Defense and goaltending, considering how poreous it was last season, cannot be stressed enough. Voth could certainly be the guy who could make Muskegon better in the back. Last season he went 25-11-3 with a 2.12 GAA and a .905 save percentage. His first year in Vernon he went an astonishing 21-2 with a 1.79 GAA and .929 save percentage. Should Voth be able to put up numbers even similar this season in Muskegon, this could be a team that could make life challenging for many.

There’s experience and a lot of talented youth in Muskegon this year and when you think about a player like Voth, it gives a feeling that something good could happen there this year. Can’t exactly give Muskegon the Dark Horse title yet (only because that’s coming later) but don’t be too shocked if they lurk from the shadows into the spotlight at some point this season.

 

Thursday’s Preview: Team USA