Synthetica…

Days later, we’re all still looking back at what happened during the weekend’s NHL Draft trying to process it all.

Last night I was on The Pipeline Show back in Edmonton and we were doing the same thing. A point I made on radio is a point I will make right here. If you’re looking for the end-all, be-all moment for the USHL in the NHL Draft, it is a toss up between Dubuque’s Michael Matheson (Boston College) and Saint-to-be Mark Jankowski (Providence).

Part of it is that they went in the first round. The rest of it is they are Canadians who came/are coming to America and went in the first round.

Crazy as that may sound, it may be the optimal item we can take away from the USHL’s draft results.

The last year has seen the American model come under scrutiny with a massive amount of high-end players bolting to the Major Junior system for one reason or another. To say that practice will stop would be indeed foolish.

But is it foolish to think the USHL model could be a growing option in Canada?

Matheson took a chance on coming to the United States and it turned out to be a good one as he did go in the first round. It can be debated that it was Matheson who got himself into being a first-round pick instead of the USHL. Then again, can’t it be argued as a whole it is all about the kid, not the system, that can be the difference between being a first-rounder or not?

Having Matheson come through the USHL and still end up as a first-round selection was probably the best news the league received all year. Then for Jankowski to say he is coming to Dubuque only helps strengthen the league’s case for not being what Skip Prince said.

“We don’t want to be a fallback school,” Prince said last week.

Take a look around the web or a newspaper and it seems like the USHL is getting its due from large and small media outlets.

People are noticing and the following is a point that has been previously made: If you are a Canadian kid, why wouldn’t you consider the USHL given what happened this season?

Lincoln’s Kevin Roy (Brown) practically had one of the greatest individual seasons in league history and all of junior hockey this year scoring 108 points, winning a Western Conference regular season title, reaching the Western Conference finals, taking the league’s Forward of the Year Award, Player of the Year Award (maybe should have been Rookie of the Year too) and he managed to get taken in the fourth round by the Anaheim Ducks.

Roy did come into the league with talk given his impressive collection of YouTube videos but nonetheless, he still had questions to answer thus that is why he wasn’t drafted in 2011.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to the player and the route he feels is the best for his development.

Its just that the biggest difference from last year is, if you are a Canadian, you might have one more option that might be worth taking a look at.

Gone Gone Gone…

Talking about the people his hockey club put in place, Brad Kwong knew this particular blueprint could work.

He just didn’t see it working out this well.

For a league which promised multiple first-round draft picks, the USHL delivered during last Friday’s first round of the NHL Draft. The league had seven players taken and of those seven, the Dubuque Fighting Saints had three players in forward Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont), defenseman Michael Matheson (Boston College) and forward Mark Jankowski (Providence), a prospect who said repeatedly he would be playing next season in Dubuque.

Three first-round selections comes in Year 2 of a franchise which made its way into the league winning a Clark Cup in its inaugural season. Kwong, one of the team’s principal owners, said there was a plan but even now, what has occurred with the Fighting Saints has gone well beyond what was expected.

“I think it was surprising and we didn’t expect to win Clark Cup in the first year,” Kwong said. “We had a good sense with the hockey people and staff we had that we’d be successful.”

When it comes to those “hockey people” the first place to start should be with Kwong and the rest of the ownership. Kwong was a former hockey player at Harvard while the rest of his fellow owners Philip and Mark Falcone, brothers who are part of the Minnesota Wild’s ownership group along with Peter Chiarelli, the general manager of the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.

The group returned a USHL team to Dubuque following a 10-year hiatus and made hires which they believed could have a major impact. The franchise hired up-and-coming executive Adam Micheletti as its director of hockey and business operations. Former Maine great Jim Montgomery was then hired as head coach along with hiring Bobby Kinsella as an assistant and Joe Coombs, as an assistant and director of scouting.

All four worked together in the franchise’s first year to bring a Clark Cup and this year surpass whatever NHL Draft expectations there might have been.

“If you would have asked (about three first-round selections) four months ago…we had a good sense (Girgensons and Matheson) would go in the first round,” Kwong said. “When all those different names went up we thought Mike was going to go down and when it happened, it wasn’t a total shock. Jankowski was a surprise and we’ve heard a lot of great things and we’ll see what kind of player he is.”

USHL commissioner Skip Prince, who said he has known Kwong for 20 years, said when the two talked about bringing a team to Dubuque, Kwong’s group had an idea.

The philosophy was to take what had been done in the NHL in terms of the quality of items such as marketing and scouting then applying those ideals to work on a smaller scale to work within the USHL’s parameters.

It has turned into an organization which has used the draft to get players who had an impact with Dubuque and in the case of some, beyond. The Fighting Saints took the promising yet high-risk project that was Vinny Saponari and got him back into college hockey at Northeastern and scored 23 points in 34 games.

They helped John Gaudreau go past being a 5-6 forward into being a Calgary Flames draft pick who might have been the most impressive freshman in the nation last year at Boston College.

Maybe the success wasn’t expected this quickly but Kwong’s ownership has put together a successful model which could continue to have strong results.

“We know it is ultra-competitive and we know going on with only six or seven returnees, we are going to be a new team,” Kwong said. “That first part of the season – in the fall – there is going to be a lot of learning to be done with the talent we have coming. With Jim and his guys coaching, we are confident we can make a good run at it.”

Follow The Leader…

Thunderstorms left USHL commissioner Skip Prince stranded for hours in an airport on Friday until he reached his hotel in Pittsburgh for the NHL Draft.

Prince used every cell phone battery in reach to find out how many players in the USHL had been taken. He was talking about the league’s fruitful exhibition in the first round before talking about the second round, which starts Saturday.

“We have high hopes for those players in the second round,” Prince said. “Like Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota). He’s a guy-”

That’s when Prince was informed Schmaltz, the Green Bay Gamblers defenseman, had been taken in the first round. Prince was blown away admitting he didn’t know Schmaltz had been taken 25th overall.

Prince chalked it up to only checking to the 23rd pick.

It was in that moment where Prince, like many, was surprised yet pleased with the remarkable night had by the USHL. A record seven USHL players/prospects were taken in the first round. Dubuque had the strongest showing of any non-NTDP team as it had three players/prospects selected.

Forward Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) and defenseman Mike Matheson (Boston College) were the bread in the Fighting Saints’ draft sandwich. Prospect forward Ryan Jankowski (Providence) was also taken.

It was then reported by The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy that Jankowski, nephew of Montreal Canadiens scout Ryan Jankowski, would play for the Fighting Saints next year. Jankowski will be the second-ever first-round pick to come into the USHL and play a season.

Blake Wheeler was the first when he was drafted by the Green Bay Gamblers in 2004 when he was the fifth overall selection.

NTDP trio Jacob Trouba (Michigan), Brady Skjei (Minnesota) and Stefan Matteau rounded out the seven picks from the USHL to go in the first round. For those wondering, that’s 23 percent or nearly a quarter of the entire first round having ties to a league constantly jockeying against a Major Junior model which is often billed as the faster track to a NHL future.

It is a dominant figure for the QMJHL, which only had one first-round pick this season after having five last season. Werger said this year’s first round surpasses the previous high of four taken in the opening round.

“It is a lot of hard work,” Prince said. “The programs we are talking about needed to be a lot more soundly promoted and delivered to high-end prospects. We think there were others we lost in the last years or so. And hopefully, one of these players taken tonight can show the next 200 or 300 players out there the USHL isn’t the equivalent of the safe school but a power to be reckoned with.”

Prince said repeatedly he hopes what happened Friday is the latest step in showing that the American development model does have its positives.

Depending upon the source, the American development model has had its critics on both sides of the spectrum. Proponents believe the model can compete because it allows players a chance to develop and spend more time in the weight room along with playing against competition which could be anywhere from three to five years older.

Opponents, on the other hand, have said the model should be used for talents who need longer to develop and that the Major Junior model is a more affective plan given its history of producing major stars and the willingness of NHL teams sending their players to junior programs.

“We knew from the beginning of the year this was going to be a strong round for us,” Prince said.

It appeared the USHL could have a strong year as it had a plethora of players listed on NHL Central Scouting’s pre-season watch list with a number which matched that of the OHL, WHL and QMJHL.

Then there was the profile of existing and arriving players.

Girgensons, Schmaltz and Fargo Force defenseman Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), a likely late second or early third round pick, were billed as the three players to watch in the latter half of the 2010-11 season by NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee.

The NTDP, a hotbed for first-round picks, were already being considered to have numerous picks given its reputation and the players it already possessed.

Yet the league received a serious jolt when Matheson, a native of Point-Claire, Que., opted against the QMJHL to come to the USHL, a move which was seen as the American model working its way into French Canada.

And of course, came the story of the season when fellow Quebecois Kevin Roy (Brown) chose the Lincoln Stars and went on to have a 108-point season defying the status of the USHL being a defensive-minded league where a 50-point season was considered a success.

Roy is also slated to be taken on Saturday.

“I love what this league stands for,” Prince said. “But like every good Broadway show you need first-and second-rounders who bring sixth-and seventh-rounders in and kids who won’t get drafted but will sign a free agent contract. Today is one of those good days.”

Stress…

Anyone watching to catch Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) during these playoffs might want to look back at some old highlights.

That’s the closest thing you’ll see of Girgensons in any postseason run. The Dubuque Fighting Saints announced Thursday morning Girgensons would be out for the rest of the Clark Cup Playoffs with a fractured jaw he suffered in a Game 2 playoff win over Team USA on Tuesday.

Girgensons, 18, by many accounts is arguably the best player in the United States Hockey League and is projected to be taken in the first round of this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

The Fighting Saints said Girgensons suffered the injury on his very first shift of the game and continued playing with the injury until it became too much.

Girgensons opened the best-of-three series in dominant form scoring three points (2 goals, 1 assists) in a 6-3 win. His lone assist contributed to Dubuque sweeping the series with a 7-3 win in Game 2.

Playing without Girgensons, though not warranted, shouldn’t be too much of an adjustment for the Fighting Saints.

Girgensons suffered through an injury earlier this year leaving him out of the line-up. He also represented his native Latvia in the U-20 World Junior Championships giving the Fighting Saints another stretch where they had to play without their captain.

Dubuque still posses defenseman Michael Matheson (Boston College), another player projected to go into the first round along with fellow blueliners Matthew Caito (Miami (Ohio)) and Michael Downing (Michigan). The team also still has assist Shane Sooth (Northern Michigan) along with the team’s leading goalscorer in Tyler Lundey (Ohio State).

Girgensons, when healthy, showed why he’s one of the more sought-after players in the upcoming draft. He scored 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists) in 49 games this year along with providing his perfunctory two-way role helping the Fighting Saints, which statistically rank as one of the best defense in the entire USHL.

He was part of last season’s title run playing on a line with now-Winnipeg Jets draft pick and Northeastern forward Vinny Saponari and Calgary Flames draft pick/Boston College hero John Gaudreau.

Dubuque, which finished third in the Eastern Conference in the regular season, will opens the second round at Indiana, which had a first-round bye. The best-of-five series begins Friday.

A Little Deeper…

Now that the playoffs are close, it officially closes the books on the USHL’s regular season.

It now means six teams have to use to the rest of spring and summer to think about what could have been. The rest of the league can still decide its fate but there’s no doubting there will be another four teams who will soon join the ranks of those not playing.

But here’s something we can all agree upon. This season showed us quite a bit and with that, here’s what we learned from each team this season.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

-Green Bay Gamblers: That if Derek Lalonde and that front office is really good at dominating the USHL on and off the ice, we’d sure hate to make them mad in a game of ‘Risk’ and/or ‘Battleship’.

-Indiana Ice: That Daniil Tarasov really DID score 88 points and it won’t be remembered because of what some guy in Lincoln did this year.

-Dubuque Fighting Saints: Two projected first-round picks in Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) and Michael Matheson (Boston College) help. Talent and depth have certainly defined the defending Clark Cup Champs. So did winning the Cowbell Cup. That also helped.

-Youngstown Phantoms: They proved you can recruit to Youngstown and furthermore, you can win there. It also showed a continual theme. Returning experienced players gives you a chance at winning. Youngstown certainly has shown that to be true with how it has been good all long. And its also showed that this Austin Cangelosi (Boston College) might be something special.

-Cedar Rapids RoughRiders: That even without experience or even the best players for his system, Mark Carlson might have had one of his best seasons as a head coach.

-Team USA: They’ve shown this nation’s best hockey talent keeps improving.

-Chicago Steel: They will be next year’s Youngstown. They have a coach in place who wants to work and a ton of returning talent. Next year will be the year in Chicago.

-Muskegon Lumberjacks: Year 1 brought playoffs. Year 2 brought dread. What Year 3 will bring is anyone’s guess.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

-Lincoln Stars: They’ve shown us that between Kevin Roy (Brown) and Ralf Freiburgs (Bowling Green), it might be a good idea for the USHL to open up that import rule to a few more players.

-Omaha Lancers: That if you make the right moves and draft smart, you can rebuild and reload in one season.

-Waterloo Black Hawks: We saw this on a message board, so there’s a chance it could be wrong. The post said Taylor Cammarata (Minnesota) was the first 16-year-old in league history to score 60 or more points in a season. If that’s true, what he does next year could be scary. If its not true, what he could do next year could be scary.

-Fargo Force: Losing 13 of your first 15 is no need for people to panic about a coach and blaming it on the fact he’s 64 years old. Its proof things really can turn around if given a chance. Oh and as for that coach he feels its, “letting people know Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) is the best goaltender in the USHL.”

-Sioux City Musketeers: You don’t need a superstar, first-round projected defenseman to go far. That you can parlay that into getting more pieces, fighting in a tough division and then coming out with equally or even maybe a better chance at going far in the playoffs.

-Tri-City Storm: That if its possible, clone Adam Wilcox (Minnesota) for next season and pair him with the incoming talent to make them the deadliest force imaginable.

-Des Moines Buccaneers: You can’t go home again as Regg Simon learned the hard way. Oh and toilets are the new pink slip.

-Sioux Falls Stampede: Remember what your team did to them this year. Because next year, it’s not happening. They’ll be more experienced and with Charlie Lindgren in net, it won’t be easy.

The Start of Your Ending…

Just in case you needed a reminder, the USHL Playoffs are here.

First-round action kicks off tonight while the second round will start later this week.

Playoff runs are dictated by the best team but having one player could make the difference between your team trying to grow a patchy playoff beard or your team taking an earlier-than-expected team golf trip.

Here’s the list of the 10 players to watch this postseason:

-Nolan LaPorte, forward, Green Bay (Western Michigan): LaPorte was extremely good for the Gamblers when they reached the Clark Cup Finals last year. He scored eight points in 11 games and has continued to prove his postseason performance was not a fluke. LaPorte and the phalanx that is Green Bay have just hammered opponents up front. He’s led the way scoring 70 points (36 goals, 34 assists) this season. Add LaPorte to the list that reads “Embarrassment of Riches” that someone is probably jotting down about the Gamblers.

-Jon Gillies, goaltender, Indiana: Gillies with his large frame (6-5, 215 pounds) and 31 wins this season has been a wall at so many points and it should continue to be that way. Maybe we’re over analyzing here but getting the No. 2 seed could benefit Gillies quite a bit. He’ll get some days off to rest while others have one day off between the end of the regular season and start of the playoffs. Maybe that gives Gillies an edge of what could be some weary forwards and if that’s the case, good luck. Remember. Gillies did lead the league in minutes played and saves. Time off could help him and possibly make him harder to beat.

-Matthew Caito, defenseman, Dubuque (Miami (Ohio)): For one, Caito has been on fire lately scoring five points in his last eight games. Caito has been a major part of Dubuque’s defense which ranks third in the USHL in goals allowed and ranks first in the penalty kill. This defense has been consistent all year long and there’s no reason to think that would change. And one more note on Caito. Scoring five points in five games isn’t a fluke. He’s been chipping in on that end too scoring 26 points in 59 games. Between Caito, Michael Matheson (Boston College) and both Downing boys, this defense is nothing nice.

-Mike Ambrosia, forward, Youngstown (Princeton): Youngstown has quite a bit of talent but Ambrosia stands out because of his vision. He finished third in the USHL in assists with 47 helpers. Ambrosia plays on arguably one of the best lines in the league with Austin Cangelosi (Boston College) and J.T. Steinglein (UMass-Lowell) who each had 50 or more points this season. That’s a line that could do some serious damage. If it does, expect Ambrosia to be the one setting it all up.

-Ian Brady, defenseman, Cedar Rapids (Nebraska-Omaha): Brady has already turned things around from last season. He had five points in 46 games last year and finished this season with 25 points. Offense aside, he’s helping Cedar Rapids get hot at the right time having won four of its last five games. That and he’s been solid on the power play with 12 assists on the one-man advantage. This was a young team who earlier in the year struggled on offense and even lost six in a row. But things have turned around as of late. Question is: How will that momentum carry over into the playoffs?

-Bryn Chyzyk, forward, Fargo (North Dakota): Chyzyk might be one of the more complete forwards in the league. When it comes to the penalty kill, he’s one of the reason’s why the Force are No. 2 in the league. Chyzyk, on multiple occasions, has pilfered the puck when it gets to the point on the opposition’s power play turning it into a breakaway chance. Not too many guys can turn defense into offense that quickly. And when he does get on the offensive side, be careful. He has 28 goals this season and has scored five points in his last five games.

-Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln (Brown): When you score 100 points, score 52 goals, dish out 48 assists and lead the league in points, goals, assists, plus/minus and domination, you’d be on a FBI-like watchlist let alone a USHL Playoff watchlist. Kevin Roy doesn’t just beat people, he destroys them.

-Jimmy Murray, forward, Omaha (St. Cloud State): Take Roy away from this for just one minute. Maybe no forward has impacted a team in the Western Conference this season like Murray has with Omaha. He was told he could be the guy in an offense needing a playmaker and has lived up to it. Murray, who finished second in assists, finds ways to get open and pick apart a defense. But there are times where he can take over a game. Just ask his old mates, the Force. They’ve seen it happen…twice.

-Taylor Cammarata, forward, Waterloo (Minnesota): Anyone wondering if Cammarata, a rookie, would be slowing down doesn’t need to ponder. He’s scored four points in his last two games and appears ready to take on the postseason. Cammarata has lived up to the billing that has come with being the first overall pick in last season’s USHL Futures Draft. Most guys in the Entry Draft either have a bit role or aren’t even playing in the league yet. Then there are some guys like Fargo’s Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), who was No. 2 last season, who have played a whole year and have contributed. Then there’s Cammarata who makes every defense aware of what he can do, how he can do it and how you might not be able to do anything about it. Nabbing 69 points in as a 5-6, 145-pound rookie is pretty special. Cammarata can only enhance his reputation with a solid playoff performance.

-Adam Wilcox, goaltender, Tri-City (Minnesota): There’s debate to whether you could choose Wilcox or Fargo’s Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) for the USHL Goaltender of the Year. What cannot be debated is how Wilcox isn’t exactly someone you want to face in a short series. Wilcox has the tools needed to steal not just a game but maybe even a series. If a team were to make a mistake leading to a goal, it makes getting past Wilcox an even more daunting task. But he has looked shaky have only grabbed one win in his last five starts. Which Wilcox will show up? The one we’ve seen lately or the one most teams don’t want to see?

Ring My Bell…

Let’s think about this one for a second.

The Dubuque Fighting Saints are in their second season and have accomplished quite a bit in that time. There’s winning last season’s Clark Cup title. There’s last season’s phenom John Gaudreau, who in a year picked up several trophies, was drafted by the Calgary Flames and is now at Boston College playing in the Frozen Four.

And then there’s players like Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) and Michael Matheson (Boston College), who could be the USHL’s first set of non-NTDP teammates to go in the first round in quite a while.

You might think that’d be enough but you’re dead wrong. There’s another accolade this franchise is gunning for and that’s the Cowbell Cup.

No. We’re not joking. It really is called the Cowbell Cup.

We’ve seen a season where coaches have had toilets placed in their parking spots a day before they were fired by the team. So why can’t there be a team trying to become the first-ever Cowbell Cup Champs?

Dubuque sent out a release late Wednesday explaining how a win on Friday over the Waterloo Black Hawks would give them the trophy-clinching win.

“The Black Hawks and Rough Riders are our two closest rivals,” said Dubuque coach and Maine legend Jim Montgomery in a release. “Their fans come to our games, and our fans go to Waterloo and Cedar Rapids in droves when we play there.  It’s an opportunity for us to stake a claim to being the best team in Eastern Iowa.”

The Cowbell Cup Series (yeah, that thing needs a dairy farm as a sponsor) is a three-team series between Dubuque, Waterloo and the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Whoever finishes first between the three teams, of course, takes the cup.

For as cool as this is, it makes us wonder why aren’t there more rivalry trophies in the USHL? Just saying. If a life-sized bust of Tom Osborne went to the winner of the Lincoln/Omaha/Tri-City series, we could see some classic games.

Or not.

Either way, we’ll be back later today with a few items such as the USHL Coach of the Year candidates and some insightful stories from Popeye Jones on his son, Seth, who by all accounts could be the No. 1 pick in next season’s NHL Draft.

Until then, have a good one.

 

New Lands…

As we promised, we’re back with the candidates for Rookie of the Year.

Figuring out Rookie of the Year can be a bit of a tricky one. Take Taylor Cammarata (Minnesota) and Austin Cangelosi (Boston College) for example. Both players have come in and have really shaped their teams. Cammarata is 16 while Cangelosi is 17.

Then there are the players like Alex Lyon (Yale), who graduated last year from Lake of the Woods (MN-HS) in Baudette before coming to the league.

-Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln (Brown): He has a league-leading 96 points. He has a league-leading 49 goals. He’s helping break the myth the USHL is a challenging league for forwards. He’s a Player of the Year frontrunner. He’s a Forward of the Year frontunner. He just might be the Rookie of the Year frontrunner too. Disagree with the following statement if you want: Kevin Roy is having arguably the best individual season in USHL history.

-Taylor Cammarata, forward, Waterloo (Minnesota): On a team full of draft picks and former Minnesota high school stars, Cammarata has really guided the ship. He’s been consistent with how he’s sculpted this team’s identity. He opened the season creating plays before taking over as a goal-scorer. He and his 62 points (25 goals, 37 assists) have helped Waterloo, which now finds itself in striking distance of a first-round playoff bye with two weeks left in the season.

-Michael Matheson, defenseman, Dubuque (Boston College): Give Matheson some credit. He came into the season with expectations regarding his offense but has shown he certainly has two-way capability. Dubuque’s defense has been tested all year especially when it lost goaltender Matt Morris (Maine) to an injury. Take a look at Dubuque’s defense and you’ll see when it comes to the numbers, they challenge Fargo and Green Bay for the title of the league’s best.

-Austin Cangelosi, forward, Youngstown (Boston College): Similar to Cammarata, except Cangelosi didn’t have to shoulder the burden by himself. He’s had help but he’s certainly managed to have an impact. His 55 points are second on his team and are 10th in the entire USHL. All of this has helped Youngstown have maybe the best season of any team in the USHL that isn’t Green Bay.

-Robbie Baillargeon, forward, Indiana (Boston University): Ball So Hard has been incredible on a team which has been defined by its more experienced players. He’s made people realize there’s more to Indiana than just Daniil Tarasov, Sean Kuraly (Miami (Ohio)) and Jacob Fallon (Vermont) up front. He’s added another scoring punch especially on the power play. He’s scored 20 points (4 goals, 16 assists) on the one-man advantage this season.

-Michael Downing, defenseman, Dubuque (Michigan): Remember what we were saying about the Fighting Saints’ defense being one of the best in the league? Downing is a reason why. Dubuque has the top penalty killing unit in the USHL. It is third in goals allowed and has no issue suppressing a team in one-goal games. Downing has been Captain Consistency given that he’s played in 50 of his team’s 56 games which is quite a bit for a rookie. Especially a rookie defenseman.

-Alex Lyon, goaltender, Omaha (Yale): Take a look around Omaha’s roster and it cane be argued there’s four or five Rookie of the Year candidates in general. We’re going with Lyon because he’s been solid for them all year even when the offense was sputtering. Lyon has that ability to make just about every game close and has established himself in a goalie-heavy conference. Lyon, in the course of a month, could face Tri-City’s Adam Wilcox (Minnesota), Fargo’s Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), Waterloo’s Stephon Williams (Minnesota-Mankato) and a bonafide stud in Sioux City’s Matt Skoff (Penn State), who is second in the USHL in shutouts. Lyon is 25-15-3 with a 2.80 GAA and a .909 save percentage. Oh and then there’s this little note, he’s doing all this while playing for a first-place team.

-Bryn Chyzyk, forward, Fargo (North Dakota): We’ve watched Chyzyk get severe back spasms with the way he carried the Force at certain times this year. Guy was the best forward to open the season and has continued to be that during injuries, losing streaks, nine-game winning streaks and everything else. Chyzyk’s 26 goals are tied for 10th in the USHL. But he does more than score. Chyzyk has the ability to stop a power play dead in its tracks by stealing the puck at the point and turning it into a shorthanded breakaway chance.

VERDICT: Quite a bit of names. Lot of deserving names at that. If we narrow it down to four, we’ll take Roy, Lyon, Matheson and Cangelosi. And from those four, we’ll narrow down the final two to Roy and Matheson. Roy has certainly been the engine that makes Lincoln run. Though Matheson has helped anchor a defense which has withstood the likes of Green Bay, Indiana, Youngstown and a young, but mad gifted U-17 and U-18 team out East. Roy is the Everything of the Year and it is hard to argue against anything he is done. Matheson’s been great but where would Lincoln be without Roy? They’d be playoff-bound for sure but would the this much of a threat to challenge for a Clark Cup? We’re not so sure. Our winner for Rookie of the Year is Roy.

 

NEXT: Coach of the Year

There’s Nothing…

We interrupt your Tuesday to say we are going to delay our list for Forward of the Year.

Why? While we were going through the list we were looking at Dubuque forward Zemgus Girgensons and got into a whole list of reasons which has made his season so successful and in truth, more demanding than anyone else’s in the entire USHL.

So here it is, the Top 10 reasons why no player can match the expectations laid upon Girgensons.

1. Be a first-round pick because that’s easy. An Eastern Conference scout told NHL.com he predicts you to go No. 26 to the Flyers. Oh and its not like you’re on NHL.com’s Draft Page, but wait…

2. Be the two-way player pundits have hyped you to be because, you know, that’s easy too. Then again, you do have 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists) in 43 games while taking the responsibility of making sure your team has given up 150 goals in 54 games, the third-lowest amount in the entire USHL.

3. Choose between Dubuque/Vermont or go to the Major Junior route or go play in the KHL near your beloved Latvia. Choosing Option No. 1 means you’ve kept your word and you are serious about honoring your father’s wishes of getting an American education. Choosing Option No. 2 means, at least to some, you are serious about your development. Choosing Option No. 3 means you are choosing to show the world that in a league of grown-ass men you are indeed, a grown-ass man.

4. You ended the speculation by saying you plan on going to college and saying you don’t see yourself playing Major Junior at all.

5. Speaking of Latvia, they needed you to play in the U-20 championships. You did that and you were even more impressive than what most thought possible.

6. Speaking of championships, Dubuque needs you to help them repeat as Clark Cup champs. Dubuque is sitting in fourth place in an Eastern Conference which is being dominated by a Green Bay team considered to be one of the best in league history, an Indiana team with maybe the best forward corps and arguably best goaltender in the league and a Youngstown team ready to proverbially punch anyone in the mouth come playoff time. Once again, no big deal.

7. Dubuque picked you as its team captain. You’ve had to serve in that role while fighting off injuries, international duty and you’ve done it as a second-year player in a league where the biggest enemy is turnover. Oh and you’ve done it for a franchise that’s probably not as old as your skates.

8. You are one of the faces of a league trying to show it can compete with Major Junior. Somewhere USHL commissioner Skip Prince is building an altar with your image because of the fact you could get taken in the first round and then go to college living up to the message the USHL often sells kids with.

9. No one else has the pressure of being on a non-NTDP team with TWO potential first-rounders in you and Mike Matheson (Boston College). Everyone kept talking about if these two could make it into the first round. The same Eastern Conference scout we mentioned earlier has Matheson going No 27, after Girgensons, to the Vancouver Canucks.

10. You’ve been compared to players such as Rod Brind’Amour and Paul Kariya…by your own coach. Dubuque head coach Jim Montgomery said over the summer Girgensons prepares like Brind’Amour and thinks about the game like Kariya. Brind’Amour, after all, was one of the NHL’s most devout athletes when it came to working out. When Brind’Amour was at Michigan State they had to turn the lights out on him to get him to leave the gym because he worked out that much. Oh and as for Kariya, all he did was go on to be one of the most dominant players for an entire decade. That and your coach just happened to play with Kariya to form arguably the greatest college hockey team of all time when Maine went 42-1-2 back in 1993.

11. Going back to the whole Latvia thing, you’re the only player in the USHL who can say, “I am the hope of a nation.” That’s no joke. People have given props to the NTDP’s Seth Jones for being a figure who could help elevate the game. But nowhere has anyone said or at least hinted Jones could be the hope of a nation, at least not yet.

I Got You…

A lot has changed the last time we looked at the favorites for specific USHL Awards but we’re back one more time before the regular season has come to an end.

There are still the usual faces you’d expect in the Player of the Year race but there are some who have made strides over the last month or so and have earned consideration. Same can be said for other awards as well.

We’ll take a look at the other awards later in the week but for now let’s look at the candidates for Player of the Year.

 

-Player of the Year:

Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln Stars (Brown): With 90 points (47 goals, 43 assists) in 53 games, there’s no doubt he’s having the best individual campaign this year and maybe one of the best in the history of the league. With seven games left, he has to score 10 points to reach the century mark. Given the year Roy’s had it is extremely possible he could pull that off. He’s also helped the Stars to the third best record in the USHL and one point within first place in the Western Conference. Let’s take away what his season has done in context to his team’s performances. Roy is having the kind of year that will go down in USHL record books. It is also the kind of season that could perhaps dissipate a few myths and beliefs about the USHL not being enough of a high-scoring league.

Mike Ambrosia, forward, Youngstown Phantoms (Princeton): Youngstown has had points this year where it has teetered between being a top team in the East or a solid team in the East. The Phantoms are tied for second in the Eastern Conference and barring an epic collapse, will host at least one playoff round. Ambrosia’s role in this has been that of a playmaker. His 44 assists – second in the league – have helped scorers like Austin Cangelosi (Boston College) and J.T. Steinglein (UMass-Lowell) to having solid seasons. What Ambrosia has done in this comeback season cannot be overlooked. It might be easy to forget but Youngstown was fighting for a playoff spot this time last year. Youngstown fell a point short of qualifying but was bringing back 14 players plus most of its coaching staff and has proven what experience can do for a team. Ambrosia, a second-year player, has been an embodiment of how the experience can pay off.

Andy Welinski, defenseman, Green Bay Gambers (Minnesota-Duluth): A historic season for his team, an extremely high plus/minus total (+35), he’s fourth among USHL defensemen in scoring and he’s captaining a team which appears it hasn’t lost focus despite its dominance. That is what Welinski has accomplished this season and don’t think he can’t accomplish more when the season ends. And by that we mean a Clark Cup along with a few individual accolades. The superlatives could continue with Welinski as there’s a real debate among scouts and league pundits regarding if he is the best player in the league right now. He has the tools, the size, the talent and everything else that comes with a dominant player. Or, in truth, a complete player.

Daniil Tarasov, forward, Indiana Ice: Before we get into why he’s on this list, let’s get into why he’s just now getting on the list. Indiana is certainly a Jekyll-Hyde team where one week, it can be the most dominant force on skates. The kind of team that appears to be so balanced it could pose problems for just about anyone in the league. Then there are weeks where they’ll look lost against teams it should be beating. That said, the one constant in all of this has been Tarasov. Tarasov has withstanded inconsistency, younger teammates and the expectations of being a top-flight player to prove last season was not a fluke. His 76 points (41 goals, 35 assists) in 54 games is second in the USHL only to Roy, who is just having the season of a lifetime. Tarasov had 75 points in 57 games playing with high-end teammates in Blake Coleman (now at Miami (Ohio)) and Brian Ferlin (now at Cornell). He’s been that leader on offense this year and has proved he can be the centerpiece of an attack.

Adam Wilcox, goaltender, Tri-City Storm (Minnesota): There have been a few goaltenders put in this spot. Youngstown’s Matthew O’Connor (Boston University) was once here. So was Indiana’s Jon Gillies (Northeastern), who could end up back in this spot. There’s even a legitimate argument one can make about Green Bay’s Ryan McKay or Fargo’s Zane Gothberg (North Dakota). Yet when you look at Wilcox, you can’t help but realize he could mean more to his team’s playoff chances than anyone else in the league right now. Tri-City is two points clear – or one game – of the sixth and final playoff spot over Des Moines. Wilcox has had his ups and downs since being traded to Tri-City going 15-15 with a 2.89 GAA but we all saw during his time in Green Bay, scoring on him isn’t easy. Wilcox has won three of his last four starts and those have come against Omaha and Fargo, two of the better teams in the Western Conference. Face it. Tri-City’s playoff possibilities hinge on Wilcox. If they get in, there’s a strong chance they could upset someone because if that guy needs to win two games, he can do it. He’s been through a playoff race before albeit under different circumstances with Green Bay last season.

 

VERDICT: It’s tough. Roy is having the best season. Ambrosia is the best example of what his team has stood for. Welinski is the best player on the best team. Tarasov is having one of the best seasons in the league while Wilcox is his team’s best chance at making the playoffs this season.

We will go with Roy, for now, because what he’s doing hasn’t been done in this league in a long time.

 

TOMORROW’S AWARD: Forward of the Year