Escapee…

In John Marks’ mind, none of this makes any sense.

The Fargo Force head coach said Saturday he was surprised defenseman and now-former team captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) only went in the fifth round of the NHL Draft of Saturday.

“It couldn’t have been something off-ice,” Marks said.

Cooper was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks with the 127th pick in the draft, one spot below teammate and forward Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) was taken by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Marks said he was happy the Force had three players – Cooper, Toninato and Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan) – were all drafted tying a franchise record of three players taken in the draft. Hargrove was taken in the seventh round by the Boston Bruins.

Still, it left Marks wondering why teams didn’t take Cooper in the earlier rounds.

“He’s a 4.0 student, did really well from school, did really well away from school too,” Marks said. “He has everything you’d want in a kid.”

Cooper said Saturday he was projected to go anywhere from the third to the seventh round. He said going in the fifth round met that projection.

Though Cooper did fall within those parameters, going in the fifth round did raise some eyebrows considering Chicago Steel defenseman Jaccob Slavin (Colorado College) was taken towards the end of the fourth round by the Carolina Hurricanes.

By comparison, Cooper was a bit more well-known than Slavin coming to the draft.

Cooper’s name might have carried more notoriety given he has been talked about since he came into the league at 15. He also had been talked about as one of three USHL players to watch last April for the 2012 NHL Draft by NHL Central Scouting.

Yet Cooper’s offensive production wasn’t what some were considering. Cooper’s second season with the Force resulted in a 33-point season largely predicated on his ability to lead the rush, buzz the net and use a booming hit when needed to free the puck and create chances at the other end.

This past season saw a different version of Cooper. He was more of a stay-at-home defenseman. Cooper did get points, scoring 24, but those rushes which became synonymous with his game were not frequent. Cooper was still a second-team selection to the all-USHL team.

But choosing Slavin might not be all that surprising considering he had better numbers than Cooper.

Slavin was a integral part of the revival that was the Chicago Steel’s season. The Steel won nine games in the 2010-11 season and bounced back this season to contend for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference before falling short.

At 6-2 and 170 pounds, he put up 30 (three goals, 27 assists) in 60 games for the Steel this season.

Marks was then quick to point out he believes Cooper could make the NHL, it just might not be as a defenseman.

“I could see him making the move to forward,” said Marks, who spent nine NHL seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. “That’s what I did. I was an All-American at defense my last two years of college and when I got to the Blackhawks they moved me to forward. Something like that could definitely happen.”

That Heat…

Just a few minutes ago, I was going through some old notes when I noticed something which happened a year ago today.

What happened was Jason Herter leaving the Fargo Force for Minnesota-Duluth to become an assistant. Herter’s departure opened the door for John Marks, who led the Force to a second-round playoff appearance.

And of course a year to the day, the Indiana Ice hire a new head coach, Ron Gay.

Pretty interesting given what’s gone on in the last year with USHL coaches. Let’s use May 22, 2011 as a starting date. Since then, 12 of the league’s franchises have replaced their head coaches.

No joke. Here’s the proof of what every team has done with its coaching situation.

In the Eastern Conference:

-Green Bay Gamblers: The Gamblers replaced Eric Rud, who left for his alma mater, Colorado College with Denver assistant Derek Lalonde. Lalonde, in his debut season, leads the team to one of the USHL’s greatest ever seasons and a Clark Cup title.

-Indiana Ice: Technically, they’ve gone through three coaches and four coaching changes in the last year. Charlie Skjodt was the team’s head coach when the season ended before he returned to the front office. The Ice hired Yale assistant Kyle Wallack, who was fired shortly before the playoffs. Skjodt returned to the bench and then the team hired Gay.

-Dubuque Fighting Saints: Former Maine great Jim Montgomery remains the team’s head coach. But here’s where it’s really interesting. He just finished his second season and he’s already the third most-tenured coach in the league. Interpret that one however you want.

-Youngstown Phantoms: Curtis Carr left the team late in the summer to become an assistant at Merrimack. Days later the team promoted assistant Anthony Noreen, who led the Phantoms to fourth in Eastern Conference.

-Cedar Rapids RoughRiders: Here’s the second team which hasn’t made a coaching change. It may never look that way either as Carlson has been there for 12 seasons and has a partial stake in the team’s ownership. Carlson, a former Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick, has won everything imaginable from the Clark Cup to the Anderson Cup to the USHL’s Coach of the Year during his time in Cedar Rapids. He also led this year’s team to the playoffs, something he’s done every year he has been in the league.

-NTDP: USA Hockey lost Ron Rolston last season to the Rochester Americans (AHL), which is an affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres. It resulted in the team hiring Don Granato. The NTDP also lost Kurt Kleinendorst and replaced him with Danton Cole. The program made the USHL Playoffs for a second straight season.

-Chicago Steel: The 2010-11 season wasn’t kind to the Steel, as the franchise suffered through a 9-43-8 season, easily one the worst in any realm of junior hockey in the last few years. It’s what led to the dismissal of Jon Waibel and the promotion of Scott McConnell. McConnell was made the team’s full-time head coach last summer. In his first full season, he led the Steel to a 25-31-4 mark and were just three points out of the playoffs.

-Muskegon Lumberjacks: Former Wisconsin assistant Kevin Patrick was among the 2011-12 season’s first coaching casualties. The team hired former NHL toughman Jim McKenzie, who had no previous junior experience. McKenzie and the Lumberjacks, despite improvement, still finished last in the Eastern Conference.

 

In the Western Conference:

-Lincoln Stars: Another weird case of the fluidity of this league. Stars coach Chad Johnson just finished his second year and he’s No. 4 in the league among tenured coaches.

-Omaha Lancers: Omaha got the trend going early in the 2011-12 season when it fired longtime USHL coach Bliss Littler. He was replaced by Mike Aikens, who led the team to a second-place finish during the regular season. Aikens signed an extension during the season.

-Waterloo Black Hawks: Behind Carlson, P.K. O’Handley is No. 2 when it comes to tenured coaches. He just finished this 10th season with the Black Hawks leading them to a Clark Cup Finals appearance. Like Carlson, O’Handley has won virtually every trophy a coach could win and when it comes to wins, ranks in the Top 10 all time.

-Fargo Force: Hiring Marks gave the Force their fourth coach in as many seasons. Marks, who is the sixth-most tenured coach in the league, already said he will stay this season and looks forward to a second year in Fargo.

-Sioux City Musketeers: Larson is technically the man who started the trend. He was hired May 22 by the Musketeers. He was at Minnesota-Duluth as an assistant. His departure resulted in the Bulldogs hiring Herter and the Force hiring Marks.

-Tri-City Storm: The team replaced Drew Schoneck with Josh Hauge during the middle of the year. Hauge led the Storm to a first-round appearance where they lost to eventual Western Conference champs, Waterloo. Even with an early exit, Tri-City returns all but six players and has what could be considered the strongest affiliates list in the USHL.

-Des Moines Buccaneers: Turmoil more or less blanketed the Bucs this season. Off-ice issues coupled with losing is what led to Regg Simon being fired. He was replaced in the off-season by Gamblers assistant Jon Rogger.

-Sioux Falls Stampede: Maybe no team has undergone more changes in the off-season than the Stampede. They fired longtime head coach Kevin Hartzell and in the span of a week, hired former North Dakota assistant Cary Eades. Eades oversaw the team’s Entry Draft and heads into next season with at least 15 returning players from the 2011-12 team.

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.

Air Force Ones…

Life was easy for Chad Demers this time a year ago.

He woke up at 9 a.m. Got some breakfast. Did his workouts. Played some hockey and that was about it.

Demers is still playing hockey and getting in his workouts. Just everything else has changed. Going to the Air Force Academy tends to do that. Demers recently said he is enjoying his freshman year at Air Force but admits its a change when he spent last season in Fargo.

“It’s a full 180,” he said of the change between Fargo and the Air Force Academy. “This year I am up by 6 a.m. and at least three days a week a little bit earlier than that for military duties you have to do. Then you have all-day school at one of the top academic schools in the nation. Homework here isn’t a slouch and there is a benefit to keeping your grades up.”

Demers said school is going well. As for the hockey thing, that’s going pretty well too.

Air Force is enjoying one of the better seasons in college hockey this year having gone 21-10-7 and over the weekend won the Atlantic Hockey Association regular season title with Demers playing a role.

Demers is the team’s fifth-leading scorer with 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists) in 38 games this season.

Air Force opens the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament against No. 1 Boston College on Saturday. He is one of three former Force players – forward Cole Gunner and Dan Weissenhofer – who will play for Air Force this weekend.

“I’d say the biggest adjustment is the strength and physicality of the players,” Demers said about going from the USHL to college hockey. “Here you are playing against older guys. Last year you went up against guys who were 16 to 20 and the guys who are 19 to 24 are built like men.”

Demers showed last season in Fargo he could make the jump.

Coming into his third season with the Force, Demers 66 games – six games more than a full USHL schedule – and was told by the coaching staff if he wanted to be traded to the NAHL to get more exposure they’d do it.

He declined and opted to stay in Fargo having one of the better season in the league scoring 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) in 51 games. Demers was also named team captain and led the Force to the second round of the playoffs.

Demers started getting attention from various schools and ultimately committed to Air Force where he’s with former teammates in Weissenhofer and Gunner, who are also having success.

Gunner, who spent last season in Chicago and Tri-City, is tied for third on the team in points with 28 having scored eight goals and 20 assists. Weissenhofer, who’s lone year in the USHL came with the Force, has seven points (1 goal, 6 assists) in 34 games.

“Freshman year is tough to always to put things in perspective because they are restricted as far as leaving base and they are under more scrutiny than everyone else,” said Air Force captain and Fargo native Paul Weisgarber. “Lots of times freshmen go through lulls but he hasn’t and he’s done extremely well. He’s on our top line and was playing right away. He’s made the transition with ease.”

Weisgarber helped recruit Demers to Air Force. Weisgarber’s mother was a teacher at Fargo South which is where many of the Force players attend high school.

Demers said Weisgarber has helped him make the transition into the Air Force Academy.

What has also helped is talking about memories from back home. Demers laughed a little bit when he talked about how he holds it over Weisgarber about Grafton-Park River eliminating Fargo South from the North Dakota state hockey tournament.

Demers, who was the captain at Grafton-Park River, won a state championship. His alma mater was recently in the finals where it lost to Fargo North.

He talked prior to the state tournament and had a feeling the Spoilers could have a good tournament run.

“My little brother, Joey, is captain of the team,” said Demers, who was an all-state selection in football and hockey in high school. “Him and I talk a lot. I listened to their regional game on the radio and about had a heart attack. They won in triple overtime so that was great.”

Lost In The World…

If last week showed us anything with the Power Rankings, it showed us we can be really stupid.

Yes. We admit fault. We sold wolf tickets on some teams only to be disappointed. Some held up their end of the agreement while others just Madoff’d us like we had ‘New York Mets’ written across our foreheads.

So here’s the latest rankings where we hope we look like we know what we’re doing.

1. Green Bay Gamblers (35-7-2): They became the first team this year to clinch a playoff spot which is hardly a surprise. Green Bay is also looking really good when it comes to being tested. The Gamblers won two one-goal games over the weekend with Sam Herr (Notre Dame) coming up big by scoring three goals over both games. Give the defense some credit too. They still haven’t given up 100 goals. OK, so they are at 99, which isn’t bad considering there’s only 16 games left this season. Last Week: No. 1

2. Omaha Lancers (28-15-3): Choosing Omaha or Dubuque for the No. 2 spot would have been easy because both are playing really well. We’re going with Omaha because they swept this weekend. They came to Fargo and won in convincing fashion while getting a shootout win over Sioux Falls. Omaha and Dubuque are extremely similar but one thing is clear. Omaha used two wins and relied upon some help from its Western Conference foes to push out to a one-point lead. Last Week: No. 5

3. Dubuque Fighting Saints (28-14-3): Kind of hard to justify putting this team third but Omaha had the better weekend and that’s really the only fair way to judge. Losing to Youngstown might not be a surprise considering the fight for the No. 2 spot. Yet giving up five goals is a surprise given how solid this defense has been over the year. That said, they stopped Waterloo and that’s saying quite a bit. Last Week: No. 2

4. Lincoln Stars (26-14-4): They won two of three last week including a mid-week game over Tri-City where Kevin Roy (Brown) was, well, Kevin Roy. We know this was a team which was trying to get a goaltender at the USHL Trade Deadline and couldn’t make a deal. It’ll be interesting to see how they do down the stretch and into the playoffs. So far the goaltending is doing OK but it needs to be better for this team to really challenge. Last Week: No. 3

5. Youngstown Phantoms (26-14-5): Winners of two of the last three, the Spirits are doing really well as of late. They’re only two points (or a win) out of second place in what’s been an extremely tough Eastern Conference. Beating Dubuque along with Indiana’s recent slide makes Youngstown extremely likeable when it comes to getting the No. 2 seed. Also take a look at the win over Dubuque, they didn’t need the usual suspects to score goals. Just sayin’. Last Week: No. 8

6. Fargo Force (23-18-4): They are the latest example of how weird things are these days. Indiana has lost three of its last four games and they’ve come against sub-.500 teams but the one win was against Omaha. Go figure. Waterloo has lost three of four including a 6-2 beatdown against the Force. The Force, however, are 3-3 in the last six. They looked bad against Omaha but dominant against Waterloo. Once again, go figure. Last Week: No. 7

7. Indiana Ice (26-12-6): Putting the East’s third-best team (based on record) is a little weird but as previously noted, they’re not playing well as of late. They’ve been seeing a lot of Muskegon and losing to them as well. Not good when second place is on the line every weekend. Last Week: No. 4

8. Waterloo Black Hawks (23-15-6): They only have a two point lead on third and are four points out of second place. They’re now level on games with Lincoln yet have played two fewer than Omaha. Maybe first place is out of the question and second place is a more realistic goal in the interim. They are at Fargo this weekend and either they’ll be chasing two teams or three teams. It is entirely up to them. Last Week: No. 6

9. Des Moines Buccaneers (19-22-4): Des Moines deserves respect. Many people questioned the moves it made at the deadline. So far its paying off considering the team has won four of its last five games and have practically gone from the brink to fifth place with the hopes of possibly going higher. Des Moines now has a four-game homestand and if all goes well, maybe the chance of really making more people take notice. Last Week: No. 12

10. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (19-18-8): Here’s why we look bad now. We had them left for dead like Uma Thurman in a brides dress. We said Chicago had a really good chance of catching them. So what do they do? They win two in a row snapping a six-game losing streak AND beat Chicago in the process. The Iron Machine that is Dennis Kravchenko (Vermont) had two points against the NTDP and now has 15 points in 20 games. Austin Ortega (Nebraska-Omaha) was deadly with four goals this weekend. If this team could improve on their road record, they will become a hard out come playoff time. Last Week: No. 14

11. Sioux City Musketeers (20-25-1): So Des Moines got the better of Sioux City in more ways than you might think. Sioux City not only lost fifth place but Des Moines stole the thunder of a team really making strides. Sioux City is still on the right track, it just has a bit more of an incline on the uphill journey. Last Week: No. 9

12.Tri-City Storm (20-26-0): The Storm won two more games and it now means they’ve won five of their last six. You gotta feel for them. They keep winning. They keep getting closer to .500 but there’s still a feeling they could be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Can’t say it enough. If they get into the playoffs, may God help the offense which has to face Adam Wilcox (Minnesota) and his seven arms. Last Week: No. 13

13. NTDP (19-17-4): Two losses stops momentum but its how they lost. Losing to Green Bay by a goal isn’t bad by any means. Losing by seven to Cedar Rapids is a cause for concern. Or possibly better goaltending. Last Week: No. 11

14. Muskegon Lumberjacks (14-23-6): Break up the Jacks. They’ve won two of the last three and almost made it three in a row over Green Bay. Muskegon has certainly become better with a new head coach. Its a sign which shows things are heading in the right direction albeit maybe a bit too late. Last Week: No. 16

15. Chicago Steel: Here’s why they’ve fallen five spots. Losing to a team with a six-game losing streak cost them. So did the fact Tri-City, Muskegon, Sioux City AND Cedar Rapids made up some serious ground. Maybe this isn’t their year but the future is getting bright in Chicago. Last Week: No. 15

16. Sioux Falls (13-26-4): They’ve lost five in a row. That says it all. Last Week: No. 16

 

Break The Chain…

Last week we took a different approach with the Power Rankings by judging teams based on if they were playoff contenders or pretenders.

We’re back to the old format and there’s been some shakeups. Nothing too major but enough to make some take notice. Or so we hope.

Here’s the list:

1. Green Bay Gamblers (33-7-2): Only one game last weekend but it was a 7-2 win over the NTDP making it four in a row for the Gamblers. Alex Broadhurst (Nebraska-Omaha/Chicago) had a goal and two assists in the game adding to what has been a solid season. He has 48 points (19 goals, 29 assists) in 37 games this year. He also has eight points in his last five games. Broadhurst is another example of the second-or third-year players first-year coach Derek Lalonde has cultivated this season to have this type of season. Last Week: No. 1

2. Dubuque Fighting Saints (27-13-3): They swept their weekend series including a 4-3 OT win over Waterloo. They’re tied with Indiana for second right now and have played one more game than Indiana. Dubuque has won five of six – including a 6-1 win over Indiana – which is enough to give them the edge for the No. 2 spot. Last Week: No. 3

3. Lincoln Stars (25-14-3): Here’s another team playing really well right now. They’ve won three of their last four. The one blemish was a 8-3 beatdown by what’s been a surging Tri-City team. Yet Lincoln rebounded by returning the favor midweek by getting a 6-3 win and it led to another Kevin Roy (Brown) scoring a hat trick and having a clinic on how to score goals and make friends. Last Week: No. 5

4. Indiana Ice (26-11-5): They’ve won three of the last four but it isn’t like this is the indomitable team we’ve seen throughout the year. They didn’t look good in a 4-3 loss against Des Moines and Muskegon stuck with them in what was a 6-5 overtime win two weeks ago. Not exactly what you want out of a club this late in the year. Last Week: No. 6

5. Omaha Lancers (26-15-3): Kind of in the same boat as Indiana. Omaha has lost three of its last four games and convincingly lost this past weekend series. Its the first time all year where the Lancers have lost a weekend series. With two-point edge over Lincoln and five-point edge over Waterloo, this isn’t the time to drop games. Lincoln does get Fargo to start the weekend before going to Sioux Falls. Last Week: No. 2

6. Waterloo Black Hawks (22-13-6): A 4-1 win over Fargo was the only bright spot in a weekend which had two losses. Still, they’re playing pretty well and they’re starting to close in on Omaha and Lincoln. Youth is no longer an issue with them. Just a matter of making a move at the right time to climb the standings. Last Week: No. 7

7. Fargo Force (22-17-4): Black and Blue has won three of its last five games and could have won four but collapsed in a 4-3 loss against Tri-City a few weeks ago. This could be a weekend which tells us everything we need to know about them. They start with Omaha at home and then go on the road and return to Waterloo. Getting four points sends a message but losing four points sends out an SOS in regards to getting a high playoff seed. It’s your move Force. Last Week: No. 8

8. Youngstown Phantoms (25-14-14): They’re getting a taste of what its like to be chased after. Chicago played them tough in a 4-2 loss but they came back to edge out the NTDP with a 5-4 win. Winning one-goal games in February goes a long way to winning them in April. Last Week: No. 4

9. Sioux City Musketeers (20-23-1): Don’t really care if this team is under .500 and the NTDP is over .500. Sioux City won two of three last weekend including a win over conference leader Omaha. They are 5-2 in February and have cut Fargo’s fourth-place lead from double digits to just seven heading into this weekend. With guns blazing, beware the Ides of March. Or Matt Skoff (Penn State). Last Week: No. 10

10. Chicago Steel (16-27-1): We’re jumping on this bandwagon and we’ve been told staying on the bandwagon would result in a playoff appearance. Before you laugh, keep this in mind. Chicago has won 7 of its last 11 games with Cedar Rapids losing six in a row meaning the gap from sixth place to seventh place is only nine points. Chicago gets Cedar Rapids again this weekend and a win would cut it to seven points with 15 games left. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Last Week: No. 13

11. NTDP (19-15-4): If we were the guys at the NTDP, we’d seriously go after Green Bay and Youngstown for treason given what they did this weekend. The NTDP lost two of three but are still in good shape to make the playoffs. Last Week: No. 9

12. Des Moines Buccaneers (17-21-4): Look at who has won four of five? It’s these guys and its making for what could be a very interesting finish for the sixth and final playoff spot versus Tri-City. They have a home and home versus Sioux City. It will literally be one team bringing a knife (OK, a sword) to a gunfight. Last Week: No. 14

13. Tri-City Storm (18-26-0): The Fighting Lappins (both are Brown commits) have won three of their last four and have certainly grabbed goals in bunches. A high-scoring offense plus Adam Wilcox (Minnesota/Tampa Bay) in net makes for a dangerous team down the stretch. Last Week: No. 12

14. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (17-18-8): The loud sound you are hearing is the free fall from losing six games in a row coupled with Chicago getting closer. Paging Dr. Kravchenko, “You’re needed in the emergency room.” Last Week: No. 11

15. Sioux Falls Stampede (13-25-3): They’ve lost two in a row. Last Week: No. 15

16. Muskegon Lumberjacks (12-23-5): They’ve lost three in a row. Last Week: No. 16

 

 

Mr. Telephone Man…

Surely when you were going through the list of players who could make an impact during this time of year Dennis Kravchenko (Vermont) had to be on the list.

Or was it Matthew Weis (Ohio State) or Kirill Lebedev instead?

USHL teams have had its constants in the lineup but a few of them have made a few mid-year call-ups which have paid dividends. Here’s a look at some of the players you might want to get familiar with as the season goes along.

-Rasmus Bengtsson, defenseman, Muskegon: What better way to make a mid-season adjustment than to call up an NHL Draft Pick? It’s what the Lumberjacks did when they brought over the Swede. Bengtsson was taken in the second round last season by the Florida Panthers and is one of the better up and coming talents coming along in Sweden over the next few years. Bengtsson, who is 6-2 and a 190 pounds, has scored seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) in 14 games this season.

-Milos Bubela (RPI), forward, Dubuque: Bubela made the Slovakian National Team and played in the World Junior Championships in January. Bubela had a solid tournament five points in six games. He was then acquired by Dubuque and has continued to make an impact. He’s scored nine points (3 goals, 6 assists) in 12 games. Seven of his points have come in the last six games. At 6-2, 186 pounds he’s another sizable scoring threat to add to an offense which is already difficult to deal with.

-Griffin Foulk, defenseman, Tri-City: Foulk has been a player who has kept getting playing time with the Storm and keeps making the most of it. He’s played in 12 games this season picking up two points in the time he’s been with the team. Foulk is one of the few 16 year-olds playing in the league this year. His rights are owned by Everett (WHL) after being traded by Edmonton so he’s already attracted a few eyes. At 6-1, 180 he has the size with the promise of getting bigger. Foulk is making strides this year but next year could be the year where he really does his damage.

-Dylan Gaureau (Maine), forward, Cedar Rapids: If any team needed a jolt midway through the year it was Cedar Rapids. Goals were at a premium playing in the high-octane Eastern Conference where four of the league’s highest scoring teams go at it on a nightly basis. Gaureau is one of three RoughRiders to come in and make an impact. The 6-1, 185-pound Richmond Hill, Ont. native has scored five points in 14 games for Cedar Rapids. He’s just one of two players on this list to keep tabs on as Cedar Rapids looks to stay in the playoff hunt.

-Dave Gust, forward, Fargo: Gust has the most games played of anyone on this list but what he did for the Force this year certainly cannot be downplayed. He was on the team’s affiliate list and was brought up to see what he could do. All Gust did was form the team’s second best line and put up 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists) in 27 games this season. There are many reasons the Force won nine in a row earlier in the year and are currently in the running for a first-round bye or first-round home series. Gust is one of those reasons.

-Dennis Kravchenko (Vermont), forward, Cedar Rapids: Kravchenko certainly made people take notice when he broke into the league by scoring four points in his first six games before exploding for a five-point performance in a overtime loss against Waterloo. He has cooled down a little by not scoring a point in his last five games. But in all, he has scored 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) in 18 games since he arrived to the team. Kravenchenko and Gareau have been of the two reasons why Cedar Rapids has been getting better at this point of the year.

-Kirill Lebedev, forward, Indiana: Sorry if this sounds familiar but Indiana found a Russian forward who can put up points. Lebedev came to the Ice via Stalnie Lisi Magnitogorskin the MHL and was part of the Metallurg Magnitogorsk system which produced Penguins star Evgeni Malkin. Lebedev, 20, has scored eight points (7 goals, 1 assist) in eight games with the Ice. The 6-1, 185 pound Lebedev just had the performance of the weekend scoring a hat trick in a 6-3 win over Omaha.

-Vladisav Lysenko, defenseman, Waterloo: The Ukrainian-born Lysenko came to Waterloo after playing for Mytischi Altanti in the MHL earlier this season. He also represented Russia at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge earlier in the year. The 6-foot, 180-pound 16-year-old has played in six games with Waterloo picking up two points with both points coming over the weekend. He is a plus-3 this season as Waterloo looks to continue its ascension in the Western Conference standings.

-Alex Roos (Colorado College), forward, Chicago: Roos, who is actually from the Chicagoland Area, was playing with Team Illinois in the HPHL before getting the call up to the Steel. Roos has found a way to fit in scoring five points (4 goals, 1 assists) in nine games. His first game on Jan. 28 against Green Bay was a coming out party to be remembered picking up one goal and one assist. After going scoreless in five games he picked up a goal this past weekend against Cedar Rapids.

-Dominic Sacco, forward, Omaha: Perhaps what was lost in Lebedev’s hat trick performance was Sacco. The 16-year-old picked up two goals in the loss adding to what he’s done this season for the Lancers. Sacco has scored eight points (4 goals, 4 assists) in 14 games this season.

-Bradley Shumway (RIT), defenseman, Chicago: He started the season playing with playing with Wichita Falls in the NAHL was was doing quite well. Shumway scored 20 points (3 goals, 17 assists) in 38 games before being called up by Chicago. He has picked up two points (1 goal, 1 assist) in the 11 games he’s played with the Steel, who have won three in a row. Both Roos and Shumway have been part of what has been playing like one of the best teams in the USHL. Chicago has won seven of its last 11 games and these wins have come against Youngstown (3), Indiana, Green Bay, Cedar Rapids and Muskegon. Also, for what its worth, three of Chicago’s losses have come by two goals or less against Indiana and Green Bay.

-Matthew Weis (Ohio State), forward, Green Bay: Weis made a bit of news yesterday when it was announced he was committed to Ohio State. Green Bay has certainly had its positives this season with its players but Weis is a guy to keep an eye on for a few reasons. He has scored 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in 17 games this season for a Gamblers squad that appears to be well-prepared for a Clark Cup run. Weis spent two seasons in the AYHL with the New Jersey Hitmen scoring 88 points (34 goals, 54 assists) in 61 games before playing with Corpus Christi in the NAHl this year. He put up 18 points (4 goals, 14 assists) in 25 games before being acquired by Green Bay. Just think, Weis will be in Green Bay next season with Brendan Lemieux and Nick Schmaltz (North Dakota) creating an even brighter future for this team.

Midnight City…

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.

Deja Vu…

We’re back with the latest USHL Power Rankings where this week we might be nice and take what some teams did at the trade deadline into account.

Let’s not waste anymore time. Unleash the rankings.

1. Green Bay Gamblers (30-7-2): Losses are bound to happen and the 3-2 overtime loss to Indiana certainly lived up to the “Game Of The Week” billing. Even with the loss, the fact they took a few days and then handled what’s been a hot Waterloo team with a 3-0 win also says a lot too. Simply, this is the most complete team in the league and what we’re witnessing is history with them. That’s the best way to leave it. History. Last Week: No. 1

2. Omaha Lancers (24-12-3): Really impressive team to watch. What’s more impressive is how they came back from a 3-1 hole against Fargo to win 4-3 in overtime. If they can keep having weekends where they at least grab three points, if not all four, they could pull away with the Western Conference. Maybe. See more later in this post about why they might get chased down. Last Week: No. 2

3. Dubuque Fighting Saints (23-12-2): There’s Captain Obvious but there are other reasons to be afraid of Dubuque. One is Tyler Lundey (Ohio State), who is quietly having a strong season for the Fighting Saints. He has 28 points in 38 games. The other reason is how they bounced back. They lost by two goals to Youngstown and then dropped five on Indiana in the second period for a 6-1 win. Watching this race for the No. 2 spot is going to be good television. Last Week: No. 3

4. Youngstown Phantoms (23-13-3): If Austin Cangelosi (Boston University) and Mike Ambrosia (Princeton) aren’t the best 1-2 punch in the league, then they are right up there in the discussion. Both played a major role in Youngstown winning two over the weekend combining for two goals and six assists. Last Week: No. 6

5. Lincoln Stars (22-13-4): Snowstorms don’t kill people. Kevin Roy (Brown) kills people or pirates. He had three points in his team’s 7-0 beatdown against Des Moines. Lincoln’s game against Waterloo was cancelled by a bad storm in the area. See, something can stop Roy. Just not Des Moines. Last Week: No. 4

6. Indiana Ice (23-10-5): Figuring out Indiana when it comes to the rankings is really hard to do. The talent is there given they went the distance with Green Bay and won. Yet the next night they get hammered by Dubuque. See what we mean? Even with that being said, if we had to bet the farm on a team which has the best chance at stopping Green Bay in a playoff series, we still pick them. Now watch Chicago make the playoffs and run the table. Last Week: No. 5

7. Waterloo Black Hawks (20-12-4): Here’s our bold prediction for the rest of the year. Waterloo will overtake Omaha and win the Western Conference. Waterloo has played three fewer games (and has six fewer potential points) than Omaha. Getting goaltender Stephon Williams (Minnesota-Mankato) will help down the stretch if he can do for Waterloo what he did for Sioux Falls last season. Call us stupid (you’ve done it before) but Waterloo has all the tools needed to challenge Omaha and Lincoln and win the West. Last Week: No. 7

8. Fargo Force (20-15-4): It was a three-point weekend which really should have been a four-point weekend. No one knows if Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) will return this weekend from a lower-body injury, which left the Force shorthanded last weekend. If so, then one thing and one thing only needs to be said, “Paging Dr. Chyzyk….” Last Week: No. 8

9. NTDP (18-13-4): Not a bad weekend, but we like them because of the hypothetical possibilities. They’ve played the fewest games in the East and they have a chance to create some space and get closer to fourth. The U-17s are extremely impressive and they’ve shown it week in and week out. Last Week: No. 9

10. Sioux City Musketeers (17-22-0): They’ve won five of six and four of those wins have come against Conference Powers Omaha and Fargo. Even when he loses, Matt Skoff (Penn State) has been playing extremely well. Keep that in mind. Last Week: No. 11

11. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (16-14-8): Dennis. Kravchenko. Thirteen Points. In. Thirteen Games. Last Week: No. 10

12. Tri-City Storm (15-24-0): The trade deadline gave Tri-City a lot to look to for future seasons, but by not trading its stars like Nick Lappin (Brown), it shows there is confidence in this team. Oh and here’s another reason, Josh Hauge. Since guy has taken over, this team has gone from cellar to relevant. It’s not by accident. They’ve only beaten Fargo three times in team history. Could that number grow by Sunday? Last Week: No. 14

13. Chicago Steel (13-24-1): Steel coach Scott McConnell has done a damn good job with the team there. It was hard for them to get players to be part of a team which only won nine games a season ago. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, this was a building year for sure. Last Week: No. 12

14. Des Moines Buccaneers (13-19-4): You’ve read our thoughts on their Deadline Day. They are clearly going full steam ahead for the Western Conference Playoffs. All hands on deck. Last Week: No. 13

15. Sioux Falls Stampede (12-21-3): At least they’re in the running for a playoff spot…for now. Last Week: No. 15

16. Muskegon Lumberjacks (11-19-4): They’ve been looking better as of late but it might be too late for the Lumberjacks.

The Fix…

Here it is. USHL Trade Deadline Day.

This is a day where USHL coaches and their staffs are able to make those few moves needed to push for the playoffs or perhaps further. Or if you’re some teams, it’s a day to officially wave the white flag and look forward to the future.

Before the trading commences, here’s a look at a few teams from each conference and what they can do to get better right away or down the road.

Whatever they do, the deadline is 3 p.m. Central Time.

Let the games begin.

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

MOVING FORWARD:

-Youngstown: It’s time for this year’s Cinderella to turn into Beyonce: A diva and a hustler. The Phantoms are tied for third this season and are only two points out of second. Scoring hasn’t been the issue for the Phantoms and neither has defense but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to go out and get a defenseman with some playoff experience. Youngstown has guys who were there last year when they missed out by one point. It doesn’t appear they’ll miss out this year. But having a veteran could help be the difference between a first-round bye or a first-round playoff series.

-Cedar Rapids: ¬†They are in a really interesting spot. Maybe the most interesting of any team in the Eastern Conference. Unless Chicago makes the comeback from hell (you never know), there’s a feeling Cedar Rapids has wrapped this thing up. When it comes to what moves this team could make, take your pick. It can be argued they would need help at front or even in the back. Either one wouldn’t be a bad thing given how tight things are in the Eastern Conference. We’ve seen nine-point leads shrink before and if it shrinks enough for Cedar Rapids to make a run, having a scoring punch might not be a bad thing.

MOVING BACK:

-Muskegon Lumberjacks: Face it. This isn’t Muskegon’s year and they know it. That’s why they’ve already made trades and word has gone around for a while now if things haven’t changed, they could be a seller at the deadline. You’d have to think there are a few attractive pieces some teams would be interested in. Trading Nick Seeler (Nebraska-Omaha) in exchange for another defenseman in Michael Brodzinski (Blaine/MN-HS) says they’re willing to build for next year. They already have three first-round draft picks so why not add up on more

-Chicago Steel: Don’t see them being sellers but stranger things have happened. They’ve got a decent nucleus there to build from heading into the future but there could be a player or two a team could want for a late season run.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

MOVING FORWARD:

-Lincoln Stars: OK. So this might be a surprise but if they’re serious about catching Omaha getting another piece to go with USHL scoring leader Kevin Roy (Brown) could help. Not to mention, Waterloo and Fargo aren’t too far behind. Getting another player – particularly a forward – could help.

-Waterloo Black Hawks: So far they’ve been really busy with a few trades here and there. They got Stephon Williams and Alex Barron (Quinnipiac) for some experience on defense and in the net but a forward with experience could certainly help given they’re trying to make a run in the top two.

-Des Moines Buccaneers: Getting Seeler was certainly a sign in the right direction. This is just a team which needs more up front. They need a scorer who can come in and really get things going whether it be as a playmaker or a player who can just be a sniper. Offense has been an issue in Des Moines all year long. Maybe this is where the remedy happens.

MOVING BACK:

-Sioux Falls Stampede: Getting Jay WIlliams back from Waterloo is a sign they’re not going to give up quality players without something in return. Sioux Falls does have some experienced players from last season’s playoff run which wouldn’t be bad to acquire right now. You just don’t know because they are very much alive in the chase for sixth place.

NEUTRAL:

-Tri-City Storm: There are plenty of teams who would be fond of having a forward like Nick Lappin (Brown) on their roster. Tri-City is one of them so for anyone thinking he could be moved, don’t be too shocked if he stays. Tri-City is very much alive in the No. 6 spot race and have all the reason in the world to maybe be a seller as they were with Dubuque in hopes of getting an extra piece to make a difference.