Last night’s USHL Entry Draft and tonight’s Clark Cup Finals are the only items left before this season comes to an end.
It’s been a season which has seen quite a bit. Some good. Some bad.
Yet what you can’t help but look at is next season. Let’s rephrase that. You can’t help but look at what Sioux Falls will be next season.
Here’s a team which a month ago was finishing one of the worst seasons in franchise history finishing a dismal last in both the USHL and the Western Conference. It led to a myriad of changes including dismissing longtime head coach Kevin Hartzell.
But when you look at what’s happened since the firing, this already looks like a different team.
Sioux Falls went out and hired former North Dakota associate coach Cary Eades to become the team’s general manager and head coach. Getting Eades already put the Stampede in a position to make the playoffs in some minds.
And then throw in what happened yesterday during the Entry Draft.
Sioux Falls used the first pick to select Victory Honda forward Tony Calderone (Princeton), who dropped 65 points (38 goals, 27 assists) in 40 games. He was part of a blueprint which involved the team investing heavily at forward but getting strong pieces everywhere else like taking NTDP defenseman Gage Ausmus (Denver), who will join the team when he ages out of Ann Arbor.
Yet the biggest moves Eades made might have come before the draft. He traded for Cedar Rapids duo Dennis Kravchenko and Tom Forgione (both Vermont) giving him two players who certainly had their dominant moments last year.
Kravchenko, despite playing in 34 games, put up 21 points providing a much-needed shot in the arm for a RoughRiders team which nearly played themselves out of the playoffs. Forgione had 16 points in 40 games last season. And as we’ve seen, this is a league where second-year players make a significant adjustment.
It adds to what could be a promising situation with the Stampede returning up to 16 players with the biggest one being goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Lindgren, a former prep star in Minnesota, showed flashes of what made him so coveted at draft time a year ago.
Not many teams can boast having double-digit returners and the ones that do, usually make strides. Youngstown, which had 14 returning players to start this season, showed it can be done as it reached the second round of the playoffs.
When you think about it all, it’s almost the perfect storm for a team which was indeed shipwrecked not too long ago.
A new head coach with a track record of recruiting, drafting what might be one of the nation’s top midget players, trading for two experienced forwards, a roster full of returning pieces along with a Futures Draft which saw Sioux Falls take Cody Milan with its first pick makes for a pretty good mix.
It also is going make next season worth watching.