We’re back, albeit a few days late, with the weekly USHL Power Rankings.
The playoffs are getting closer and we’re starting to get a feel of who could be a contender or a pretender. Unless you’re Green Bay, which has held a strong grip in the league all season long.
So with this week’s Power Rankings, we’re taking a different approach. We’re going to look at who are playoff contenders and playoff pretenders.
1. Green Bay Gamblers (32-7-2): Simply put, they are the best team in the entire USHL. They have skilled forwards. They have depth at forward. They have skilled defensemen. They have depth at defenseman. They have extremely good goaltending. They have depth with their goaltending. Green Bay has all the qualities needed to win the Clark Cup but dominate in the playoffs. VERDICT: Contender Supreme
2. Omaha Lancers (25-13-3): The Lancers have proved they can win close, low-scoring games which in the playoffs could be a nightly affair. Goaltending has been extremely solid and when you look at the playmakers this team has, it’s safe to say they have more than enough to go a long ways. VERDICT: Contender
3. Indiana Ice (25-10-5): If Green Bay never existed, maybe this would be the team we’d talk about in the same regard. They’ve got all the talent in the world up front. Really, this might be the most skilled team in the league when it comes to the forwards. Having arguably the best goaltender in the league in Jon Gillies (Northeastern) also goes a long way. VERDICT: Contender, but in another world where Green Bay makes State Farm ads, possible champion.
4. Dubuque Fighting Saints (25-13-3): Dubuque has the experience and the talent to challenge Indiana and Green Bay for Eastern Conference supremacy. Yet what’s scary to know is this is a team which might not make it out of the second round. Not saying they won’t, but let’s assume Green Bay and Indiana get the top two seeds. Let’s assume, Green Bay or Indiana beats Dubuque in the second round. Yes, we’ve just imagined a reality where a team featuring Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) and Michael Matheson (Boston College), two likely first-round draft picks, are knocked out in the second round. Wild, isn’t it? VERDICT: Contender.
5. Youngstown Phantoms (24-13-4): No one can take away from what the Phantoms have accomplished this season. It’s why they’ll end up hosting a first-round playoff series for sure. Who knows? Maybe they catch Indiana for the No. 2 seed. Either way, they’ll host a playoff series. We hate to say it, but getting out of the first round could be the furthest they go. We hope we’re wrong on this. We really are. VERDICT: Contender
6. Lincoln Stars (23-13-3): Here’s where it gets tough. Lincoln is one of four teams with a real chance of winning the Western Conference. Now, where they go beyond that is a question. Lincoln can certainly provide enough items to be a tough matchup for many teams, but you can’t help but wonder how they’d do against Green Bay, Indiana or Dubuque if they get that far. VERDICT: Contender for sure but if they reach the finals, it could get interesting.
7. Waterloo Black Hawks (21-12-5): We’ve ran our mouths over here all year long about Waterloo and what they could do. So far, they’re living up to it by being six points out of first with three fewer games played than first-place Omaha. Getting Stephon Williams (Minnesota-Mankato) makes them more dangerous. They’ve got talent everywhere and we’re going to keep running our mouths by saying the following: They’ve got the best chance of beating Omaha for the Western Conference AND pushing any Eastern Conference team to the limit. VERDICT: Contenders and potential (keyword: potential) champs.
8. Fargo Force (21-16-4): When they want to win games, they’re as good as it gets. They’ve shown it against Omaha and Lincoln this year. Yet they’re like Youngstown in the sense, where they could go far but you just get the feeling they could meet a not-so-nice fate in the second round. VERDICT: Will get out of the first round and where they go from there is anybody’s guess.
9. Team USA (18-13-4): This is easily the obvious choice for Wild Card/Darkhorse pick for the playoffs. This U-17 team is one of the most talented and promising classes to come through the program’s history and they’ve proven they can hang. Don’t worry about the Ides of March, beware these guys. VERDICT: They can get out of the first round no problem but the second round really could be a toss up.
10. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (17-15-8): Next year, this will be a team everyone will look to for big things. This just isn’t their year for a deep run but strangers things have happened. Plus, just watch this team to see Dennis Kravchenko (Vermont). He was pointless last weekend, but he could be mad fun to watch in a series. VERDICT: The playoffs will be a good experience, but they won’t make it out the first round.
11. Sioux City Musketeers (18-22-1): Say what you want, but we could see these guys pulling off an upset. We really could. They’ve got the right pieces in place to do it. That and they are good at frustrating a team. They find ways to stick around long enough to force mistakes and in a short series, that could be costly. VERDICT: Will reach the playoffs and despite upset potential, we see a first-round exit.
12. Des Moines Buccaneers (15-21-4): They might be in sixth for now, but we see Tri-City edging them out for the last spot. We could be wrong, but its what we see happening. VERDICT: If they make the playoffs, it could be a short, short stay.
13. Tri-City Storm (16-25-0): We see them winning the fight for sixth in the Western Conference but it could be the only post-season battle they win. VERDICT: A first-round exit seems likely.
14. Sioux Falls Stampede (13-23-3): Barring a miracle comeback, next year. Next year will be better for them. VERDICT: They won’t make the playoffs.
15. Muskegon Lumberjacks (12-20-5): Look at the way they are playing now. If they played this way earlier in the season, then yeah, they’re in the playoff hunt. But for now, we don’t see it happening. VERDICT: No playoffs in their future.
16. Chicago Steel (13-27-1): Strides have been made in the last year and next year, we see them making the playoffs. Laugh now, but they have the right material to be next season’s Youngstown. Chuckle now, but these boys will be laughing later. VERDICT: Not this year, but wait until next year.