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.”

Make A Move…

We’ve seen a lot of things go on this summer with Americans leaving for the CHL but here’s a storyline that might not have been discussed a lot depending on where you live.

The situation, not the one from Jersey Shore, has to deal with Americans Adam Erne and Brandon Shea going to The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Some might say what’s the big deal about two more Americans going to the CHL?

What’s so interesting is that Erne and Shea are going to become guinea pigs in regards to how Americans will fare in The Q. Earlier in June, The Q said it will mandate its organizations to draft at least two Americans every year.

Forcing such a mandate does give Americans another option while shattering the feeling that The Q only caters to French Canada and The Maritimes.What it would also do is dissipate the feeling that Americans are not welcomed.

Before that all happens in Summer 2012, we’ll get a chance to see how it works with Erne, a former Boston University commit, and Shea, who was set to go to Boston College. Erne, 16, and Shea, who also born in 1995 with Erne, will show what The Q can do towards building young American talent.

Erne will spend next season with the Quebec Remparts while Shea will play for the Moncton Wildcats.

The question is: Will it all work? The Q has a history of producing amazing talent but it hasn’t really been a place, as of late, that Americans have come to in the hopes of furthering their development.

Depending on how Erne and Shea do, that could play a large role. Erne has experienced the junior hockey life by playing a season with the Indiana Ice. He was a contributor to a team that was among the most offensively gifted in the USHL last season. As for Shea, who was set to play with the National Team Development Program, this will be a chance for him to experience junior hockey for the first time.

With Erne, it will give The Q an opportunity to showcase that it deserves to be in the conversation with The OHL and The WHL in terms of being a legitimate option for Americans who might want to experience life outside of the USHL.

With Shea, however, if he is indeed successful, it can show that the transition of prep players into The Q can be done and could also attract more Americans.

The story with quite a few American hockey fans has been how the OHL has been getting top-end American players to give up the college life to make the trek north. But if people don’t pay attention, The QMJHL could give Americans another option to come to Canada well before an NHL team comes calling.