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.”

Portland Song…

Defenseman Seth Jones finally answered the question on the minds of many junior and college hockey fans across North America.

Would it be Portland and the Western Hockey League or North Dakota and the NCAA? Turns out Mr. Jones is headed to the Pacific Northwest after all. The National Team Development Program defenseman said Monday he would be playing in the WHL next season forgoing his college eligibility.

His younger brother, Caleb, was drafted by Portland last week in the WHL’s Bantam Draft with the 64th overall pick.

Jones’ decision, in regards to junior hockey, was a landmark choice for the season given his potential. Many NHL scouts and pundits have projected Jones to either be the No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.

At 6-3, 205 pounds, the 17-year-old Jones has shown in various USHL games and international competitions why he’s so coveted. His smooth skating stride, ability to deliver a heavy check, his crisp passing and powerful slapshot are the qualities he has become known for.

He scored 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) in 20 games for the NTDP’s U-18 team which had a light USHL schedule compared to other teams which play 60 games. The NTDP’s U-18 team faces a schedule comprised of international competition, college exhibition games and the USHL regular season.

Jones’ decision takes him to a Winterhawks franchise which has certainly been dominating the WHL as of late. The Winterhawks have won 40 or more games the last three years and in the process have produced four first round picks since 2010.

This season has also allowed the WHL to continue its reputation of being a league which grooms defensemen as up to six blueliners could go in the first round of this year’s NHL Draft.

Jones’ rights were initially owned by the Everett Silvertips, a struggling franchise also in the WHL. His rights were traded weeks ago further fueling the idea he would bypass North Dakota for a chance to play in what might be the hottest spot for Major Junior.

Losing the shot at Jones adds to what has been a hard year for North Dakota’s recruiting class, which opened the season as arguably one of the best in the nation.

NTDP forward Stefan Matteau, who played alongside Jones this year, announced he was decommitting to play next season in The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where his father is an assistant coach. North Dakota then took another hit two weekends ago with forward Miles Koules declaring his intentions to play in the WHL next season with Medicine Hat.

The two departures combined with losing Jones takes what was an impressive-looking recruiting class and adds a bit of a tarnish even if next year’s incoming class will include up to five players such as Fargo Force goaltender Zane Gothberg (Boston Bruins), who is the frontrunner for the USHL Goaltender of the Year.

One player who is still committed to North Dakota is Green Bay Gamblers defenseman Jordan Schmaltz. Schmaltz, who is expected to be a second-round pick this summer, has been linked several times with a move to the Ontario Hockey League as the Windsor Spitfires have allegedly made aggressive advances towards getting him.

Spitfires general manager and former Colorado Avalanche forward Warren Rychel said in The Windsor Star earlier in the season the team would be making a run for Schmaltz and that going Major Junior would be better for his development.

My Team…

“Nothing good comes easy.”

Those four words have pretty much told the story of Sioux City Musketeers goaltender Matt Skoff over the last year. Skoff used last summer to train and prepare for what was slated to be a promising career at Ohio State.

It didn’t work out leading Skoff to return to Sioux City for a third season where he and defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota) would lead the team back to the USHL Playoffs.

Until Schmaltz was traded to the Green Bay Gamblers resulting in an influx of new pieces trying to find cohesion in a tight Western Conference.

Sioux City used the trade to acquire defensemen Dan Molenaar and Andy Ryan (Notre Dame) along with forward David Goodwin (Penn State) overcoming a tough conference and loss of a superstar. Skoff, now a Penn State commit, was the rock throughout it all and hopes to achieve success in that role looking to lead the Musketeers to a first-round upset over the Force in a best-of-three series starting at 7:05 p.m.

“I think right now we have a quiet confidence,” Skoff said. “When we don’t play our game, it’s not going to be very good and when we do play our game, we feel we can beat anyone.”

Skoff’s convictions do have truth.

Sioux City is 5-3 against the Force this season. Skoff, who played in all eight games, has two shutouts against the Force. The Force aren’t the only team Skoff has frustrated this year as his seven shutouts were the second-most in the league behind the Force’s Zane Gothberg (North Dakota).

Skoff might not have the playoff success like a few of his contemporaries but he has proven to be one of the USHL’s steadier goaltenders in the last three seasons having won 69 times. This was Skoff’s strongest year winning a career-high 25 games while establishing career highs in save percentage (.912) and saves (1283).

The plan is to pick up two more wins and in a perfect world, another shutout or two over the Force which could realistically compete for the Western Conference crown this postseason.

It won’t be easy but Skoff and Co. already know that.

“I would say it matters a little bit,” Skoff said of Sioux City winning the season series over Fargo. “Playoff hockey is a lot different. I know its the same game but if you take out the odds, it (the regular season record) does matter. It is not about math. Odds are playing with heart, passion and will. If you out-heart, out-passion and out-will a team, you can be good and quite frankly, upset a team that should beat you.”

Skoff was blunt when he described his team’s game as being one where it has to rely on defense to generate offense. He’s right as Sioux City’s offense ranked 11th in the 16-team league.

The philosophy could pose some challenges given the Force’s are led by one of the more skilled top lines in the league in Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth), Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota) and Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan), who have combined for 146 points this year.

There’s also the Force’s No. 2 line in Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth) and Dave Gust, which might be the strongest line of any first-year players in the USHL.

Stopping high-end talent is something Skoff has had to do frequently this season.

But it is something he expected to be doing in college. He was set for Columbus, Ohio to attend Ohio State but things didn’t work out. Skoff, however, did commit to his homestate Nittany Lions and it sounds like his new plan couldn’t go any better.

“I don’t want to say I am depended upon more but I will say my workload is more,” said Skoff, who was third in games played among goaltenders in the league this season. “I am a leader people look to to make plays and again, I have worked out all summer. I think whether I was supposed to go to college, I was ready for whatever. Things didn’t work out  and I see it as I am here for a reason.”

Gratisfaction…

Folks, our USHL Awards Tour is at its end as we take a look at the men vying for the USHL Coach of the Year.

Some names such as Green Bay’s Derek Lalonde won’t be a surprise on this list given everything his team has accomplished. Though there will be some names that could raise a few eyebrows.

So let’s get started:

 

-Derek Lalonde, Green Bay Gamblers: All the former Denver assistant has done in his first year was make this team a juggernaut the USHL hasn’t seen in a while. They have skill on just about every line, their defensive corps is extremely sound and they have what might be the best 1-2 punch at goalie in the league. Lalonde came into a situation where he was replacing Eric Rud, who left for his alma mater in Colorado College. The dominating season, the relentless attack and solid defense could easily be Lalonde’s biggest mark on this team. But let’s not forget this. Guy made the moves to grab Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota) adding to an already potent team and parlayed that into getting Nick Schmaltz (North Dakota) and tendering Brendan Lemieux for the future.

-Anthony Noreen, Youngstown Phantoms: Noreen was an assistant and Youngstown becoming the head man in a matter of days after Curtis Carr left for Merrimack. Noreen built off what Youngstown did last season and turned them into an early season surprise for some. Now, however, there’s no surprises with Youngstown who could reach the Eastern Conference finals. Quite a turnaround from last year when the team missed the playoffs by a point.

-Kyle Wallack, Indiana Ice: Wallack has almost become the forgotten man out East this season with what Green Bay, Dubuque and Youngstown are doing. He’s been able to continue the Ice’s familiar high-octane style of offense but he’s done it while implementing younger players. That and he’s also been getting what many had hoped from goaltender Jon Gillies this season. He’s also retooled a defense which at times last season could be an Achilles heel for the Ice.

Mike Aikens, Omaha Lancers: Aikens became the head man early in the season after the team parted ways with Bliss Littler. He took a team which might have had the least USHL experience and they are now in first place by a point. Aikens took a roster with promise and turned into a team which has maybe the best shot at stopping Green Bay for a Clark Cup title. Aikens has also done all this in a Western Conference which has been about as wild as it gets. Aikens brought consistency to the Lancers and it looks like that may continue through the playoffs.

Brett Larson, Sioux City Musketeers: Here’s where there might be some eyebrows raised but give the man credit. Guy had a star in Schmaltz who wanted out of town. He took the pieces in the trade to strengthen a team which did have holes. Larson used what he had to climb out of the Western Conference cellar and into the No. 5 spot. Another move Larson made where should get a lot of credit is how much the Musketeers’ blue line has emerged and getting John Grahame as a goaltending coach. Grahame, before leaving for the NHL last week, made goaltender Matt Skoff (Penn State) a scary man in net as evidenced by six shutouts.

John Marks, Fargo Force: Marks has had a wild ride. He started the season with people calling for his head. He ends the season as a relaxed, silver fox wooing fans into why they should renew season tickets. Even when the Force lost 13 of 15 to start the season, players had no problems admitting it was not Marks’ fault. They were clear Marks and his staff were giving them everything needed to succeed. A nine-game winning streak, the longest in the league this year, proved that. So does being the No. 4 seed. But one must wonder, where would the Force be in the standings if they at least won three or four games during that slow start?

 

VERDICT: Let’s narrow the field down the three. The finalists being Lalonde, Noreen and Larson. Lalonde goes to final round leaving it up to Noreen and Larson. Noreen gets a hell of a lot of credit for what he did with Youngstown this year. But we give Larson the edge because he came into a new team, introduced a new system to players he was unfamiliar with and has them looking like a team which could upset someone in a short playoff series. Our final round comes down to Larson vs. Lalonde and yeah, we’re not going against Lalonde. We’d be stupid. The winner (as if there was really a surprise) is Green Bay’s Derek Lalonde.

 

 

When We Ride…

Lost in the Fargo Force’s winning streak coming to an end could be the team which snapped it, the Sioux City Musketeers.

Sioux City picked up the 2-0 win on Thursday night and have now won two games in a row. The two wins came against Omaha, which had a five-game winning streak and of course Fargo, which had been the hottest team in the league.

“You know what, I think it goes the other way,” said Sioux City coach Brett Larson. “We got nothing to lose and sooner or later they have to lose one. They’re not going to win the last 30 games of the year. People expect them to win at home and you just come in, throw everything you have at them and try to steal the two points.”

You really can’t blame Larson and his team for taking the approach they did entering the game.

Winning streak aside, the numbers hinted this could have easily been a Force win. Force goaltender Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), was 7-1-0 lifetime against the Musketeers heading into last night’s game.

The Force had also beaten the Musketeers the last two times they played.

“It was a tough game,” said Musketeers forward Kyle Criscuolo, who scored both goals in the win. “The whole game they were coming at us and I think we did a good job to weather the storm.”

Fargo outshot Sioux City 15-4 in the first period and finished with 31 shots on net and it wasn’t like these were just simple shots from the perimeter either.

Just about every line combination at some point at least had two or three quality chances on net which were turned away by Musketeers goalie Matt Skoff (Penn State) en route to the shutout.

Skoff managed to stop what had been the hottest line in the USHL between Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth), Bryn Chyzyk and Colton Hargrove, all of whom had personal point streaks snapped.

The Force’s No. 2 line featuring Gabe Guertler (Minnesota) had its chances too only to have Skoff turn them away.

Skoff’s biggest save of the night came late in the third period when he got just enough of his left leg pad on a puck to preserve the shutout and annoy what was easily a visibly frustrated group of forwards.

“I was just thinking before the game, let’s just flat out go for it,” Skoff said. “We just said we wanted to compete no matter who we were playing against.”

Larson laughed when he was asked about the “insider information” he had on Farley coming into the game.

After all, it was Larson who recruited Farley to Minnesota-Duluth when he was an assistant there before taking the Musketeers job in the summer. His departure, in turn, led to the Force losing their third head coach in as many years with Jason Herter replacing Larson at UMD.

Larson said he had nothing special planned with Farley and his line and gave all the credit to his team.

“Against Farley’s line you have to be disciplined and play defense as much as you can,” Larson said. “We wanted to make sure we had our best defensemen out there and it was hard to get our best forwards out there when we could. For the most part, we thought we competed with that line.”

Getting shutout against a team featuring the USHL’s second-leading scorer and two players in the Top 5 in goals could easily instill confidence in a young defense trying to establish a foundation.

Sioux City’s defense has allowed 127 goals, the second-most in the entire USHL.

It is a defense which has been under some pressure ever since star Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota) asked for a trade out of town and eventually landed in Green Bay. The trade resulted in Sioux City getting a few pieces most notably Andy Ryan (Notre Dame) to add experience to what was a defense featuring four players who entered the year with no more than five games between them.

The defense against the Force, however, did more than just assist Skoff with the shutout by doing a variety of things. Alex Kuqali (RIT) broke up the Force’s attempt at getting some rhythm and it turned into his team getting a 2-on-1 and an eventual 1-0 lead.

Dane Cooper, a first-year defenseman, had no problem going up against Dominic Racobaldo, one of the league’s heavyweights, in a fight. Cooper held is own until Racobaldo got some leverage and ultimately won the fight.

“The amount of goals we’ve given up has been through no fault of Matt,” Criscuolo said. “But we’ve had a really young defense and we were just trying to work things out.”

If Sioux City has worked things out, it appears this could be the time to do it.

The Western Conference is getting tighter by the weekend and it won’t be long before a bad weekend here and there could take a serious blow at a team’s playoff seeding or even playoff chances.

With Sioux City currently in sixth (the last playoff spot), it is pretty clear what must be done from here on out.

“We know we’re in a certain position,” said Criscuolo, a Harvard commit. “We’re chasing people and we’re also being chased too. We just have to keep winning games.”

 

Ready Or Not…

With the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game just being a few hours away, this seems like the right time to put out a list of players to watch for.

This is the first year the USHL has done a Top Prospects Game in the hopes of raising visibility for its players along with the league itself. So without any more delay, here’s a list of a few guys to watch out for come Tuesday.

Some players such as Dubuque duo Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) and Michael Matheson (Boston College) will be missing out on the game due to injuries.

Now here is the list:

EAST ROSTER:

-Robert Polesello, forward, Indiana (Boston University): Polesello came into the league with a lot of high hopes and has certainly lived up them. He and the guy listed next have added to the offensive firepower to make the Ice one of the few teams who potentially have a chance at challenging Green Bay for the Eastern Conference title and a shot at the Clark Cup.

-Robbie Baillargeon, forward, Indiana (Boston University): He’s been part of this impressive season the Ice are having. Baillargeon was expected to be a high-end forward but even he’s surpassed expectations in his first year with the team. Baillargeon has 31 points in 31 games and has been a playmaker for a team with plenty of goal scoring threats. Don’t be too shocked if he has a few nice passes here and there.

-Matt DeBlouw, forward, Muskegon (Michigan State): DeBlouw has attracted a bit of attention after he was rated pretty highly by NHL Central Scouting on its mid-term rankings. The belief is DeBlouw has the skill and its one of the reasons some scouts and CSS are interested in what he can do. But he has 14 points in 27 games for a team struggling in the Eastern Conference. Maybe this game is a wake-up call for any DeBlouw doubters out there. He’ll also be doing it in front of his hometown crowd.

-Austin Cangelosi, forward, Youngstown (Boston University): If its not for goaltender and future Terrier teammate, Matthew O’Connor, an argument could be made this is the Phantoms’ MVP. Youngstown already had experience back but needed a high-end player create and Cangelosi has fulfilled this role. He’s already on the Quebec Remparts radar but has said no to Major Junior.

-Jordan Schmaltz, defenseman, Green Bay (North Dakota): With Girgensons being out this will turn into the Jordan Schmaltz Show and with good reason. His offensive-prowess has been enhanced by the fact he’s adjusting to Green Bay’s defensive-minded system. Schmaltz’s defense had been talked about last year, but there haven’t been many whispers on it this year. Like Girgensons, the feeling is he’ll be a first-round pick.

-Jon Gillies, goaltender, Indiana (Northeastern): Gillies without question has been outperforming any other draft-eligible goaltender in the league this year. He had all the physical tools needed to be good but has now backed it up in a starting role where he rarely gets any rest. He’s also been identified by Central Scouting to be one of the better North American netminders in this year’s draft.

WEST ROSTER:

-Zach Saar, forward, Des Moines (Penn State): Saar was traded not too long ago from Chicago and this is the right time for him to strike. He’s now with a team, which has a legit playoff shot. He’s got a lot of things people could be interested considering he has size and has shown he could be a high-end forward. If he can do well at this and be a relevant force for Des Moines, anything is possible.

-Austin Farley, forward, Fargo (Minnesota-Duluth): Um, click this link for everything you want to know about Farley. He’s chronicled on this blog a lot, so there you go.

-Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln (Brown): Roy has been proving to people he could do it on the USHL level as he’s leading the league in scorer and could conceivably score more than 100 points this year. He’s been that good this year for Lincoln, who is in the ever-growing dogfight which is the Western Conference.

-Luke Johnson, forward, Lincoln (North Dakota): With everything going on with Roy, it might be easy to forget about Johnson, but it shouldn’t. He’s handling his business extremely well assisting Roy in a playmaking role. Johnson will be counted on down the stretch. Point to Roy, but don’t be surprised if its a guy like Johnson who plays a major role in helping Lincoln win the Western Conference.

-AJ Michaelson, forward, Waterloo (Minnesota): Where do you go with him? Guy has the talent and everyone knows it. He should be doing better than the 10 points in 29 games he already has. Maybe the second half of the season has something more in store for Michaelson, who when he’s on, is hard for many defenses with the talent he possesses.

-Brian Cooper, defenseman, Fargo (Nebraska-Omaha): Yeah, he’s like Farley. Click this link for what you want to know about Cooper. He joins Schmaltz as the two biggest names slated to play in the game.

-Stephon Williams, goaltender, Sioux Falls (Minnesota-Mankato): Another guy who was ranked pretty high by Central Scouting’s list for North American goaltenders. Williams has been part of a two-goalie system to help steady Sioux Falls, which hasn’t been scoring a lot of goals this season.

Running Wild…

Another game. Another win.

Pretty much that’s been what its like for the Fargo Force these days. They’ve won 10 of their last 12 games and are two games over .500 for the first time all season following Saturday’s 4-2 win over Tri-City.

It’s becoming a bit of a custom around here to look back at how they did over the weekend with some statistical analysis. So far, there haven’t been any complaints so here’s a look at the weekend some players had and how it’s been a reflection of the way these last 12 or so games have gone for them.

-Zane Gothberg, goaltender (North Dakota): Two months ago, he was on a team with one of the worst statistical defenses in the league. Now, it’s different. He’s fourth in the league in goals against average with a 2.52 mark. He’s ninth in saves with 578 stops. His .912 save percentage is fifth in the league and he’s just .003 percentage points out of being third in the league in that category. He’s tied for third in shutouts with two and finally, his 12 wins are the fourth-best in the USHL. OK. So we have one more stat. Think about goalies like Omaha’s Alex Lyon (Yale), Indiana’s Jon Gillies (Northeastern) and Youngstown’s Matthew O’Connor (Boston University). None of them have won six games in a row this year. Gothberg HAS won six games in a row. Only Green Bay’s Ryan McKay (Miami (Ohio)) has won six games in a row this year and if Gothberg wins his next start, he will have won the most consecutive games of any goaltender in the league this season.

-Justin Wade, defenseman (Notre Dame): Wade now has 64 regular season games under his belt and that’s a little more than a full USHL season. He only has two points (both assists) so we all know he’s a stay-at-home, defensive-minded defenseman. But here’s the stat which is really sticking out about Wade, his plus-minus. Right now, he’s listed as a plus-4 but take a look back at what he’s done as of late. Wade is a plus-11 in the last six games and last night was the first time in three games he wasn’t in the positive side of things. He was an even, which still isn’t bad. Who knows? He might be scoring a goal sometime this season. If not, if he keeps up the growing plus/minus rate, something says the coaching staff will be happy about that.

-Brian Cooper, defenseman (Nebraska-Omaha): Remember the analysis we did looking at Green Bay defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota) and how he starts heating up around this time of year? It appears the same can be said for the Force’s third-year captain. Cooper has a three game point streak going where he’s scored five points for two goals and three assists. Basically in the last three games, he’s scored a third (15 points) of his points this season. History shows us after Jan. 1 is when Cooper starts putting points on the board. He scored 19 points after New Year’s last season en route to finishing with 33 on the season. So far its looking like he could be on that kind of stretch again because he’s taking more chances. Cooper in his last five games has taken three shots a game. He’s now in the Top 10 among defensemen in points and is fourth in shots taken by defensemen in the league.

-Colton Hargrove, forward: On Saturday we said Hargrove is tied with Austin Farley in terms of them both having a five-game point streak going. Make it six. Hargrove actually picked up a helper on a goal by Farley and it now gives him 20 points in 29 games this season. Hargrove is just nine points away from matching what he did last season in 56 games with the Force. Don’t think colleges aren’t taking notice. Sources have told us (trust us, we have plenty of them) that Hargrove’s stock is really starting to increase. His blend of physicality and offense has enough college coaches thinking he could add something extra to their program.

-Austin Farley, forward (Minnesota-Duluth): What would an analysis be if there wasn’t some mention of Farley? When he’s not getting bothered about passing an English final, he’s showing he has studied his opponents. Farley picked up another two points last night and that’s 12 points in four games against Tri-City. He’ll see the Storm a few more times this season and could add to that total. Put it to you like this. Farley has 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) this season and it’s tied for second in the league with Indiana’s Daniil Tarasov, a man some regard to be the best scorer in the league. Farley is second in goals and third in assists this season. Once again, we cannot stress this enough: He’s. Having. A. Good. Season.

Look What You’ve Done…

Now it’s time for the feature that’s taken America (or at least the ones with USHL teams and fans) by storm, the Slightly Chilled Power Rankings.

Pretty much this bad boy looks at who’s done what over the last week and takes into account what they’ve done over the course of the season. So don’t be surprised by what you may find on the rankings this week.

Here it is:

1. Green Bay Gamblers (24-5-1): It seems like they made more noise away from the rink last week. The world realized Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota) leads all league defenseman in scoring. Russian winger Grigory Dikushin who has 10 points in 19 games by the way, was a freaking stud for his native nation helping them beat the United States en route to winning the 2012 U-17 World Hockey Challenge. Then backup goalie Michael Ritolo worked the weekend and won the league’s goaltender of the week award. They take people apart and break their Kevin Harts. Oh and they won both games in convincing fashion. Last Week: No. 1

2. Indiana Ice (17-7-4): They beat what will be two playoff-bound teams in Waterloo and Youngstown too. Indiana picked up the win over Waterloo without star goaltender Jon Gillies (Northeastern) too. The Ice are playing extremely well. They’re doing everything right on both ends. By no means is this a slight to Green Bay, but if its not for them, more people would be marveling at what first-year coach Kyle Wallack has done with this team. LW: No. 2

3. Youngstown Phantoms (18-9-2): Kind of hard to choose who could be in third because there are a number of teams (Omaha, Lincoln and Dubuque) who are all deserving. We take Youngstown for the simple reasons of they had three games in as many nights and won two of them. The team they lost to was the No. 2 team on this list. We can respect that. LW: No. 5

4. Omaha Lancers (18-10-2): Omaha and Lincoln are going to flip-flop more than John Kerry during a debate this year. Omaha certainly looked sharp this past weekend picking up two wins against Des Moines and oh yeah, Lincoln. That’s why they’re No. 1 in the west…for now. LW: No. 6

5. Dubuque Fighting Saints (18-9-2): They split last weekend which isn’t bad by any means. Just hard to justify putting them above Youngstown and Omaha who we believe had better weekends. Don’t worry, that leg is still going to sweep and when it does… LW: No. 4.

6. Lincoln Stars (18-10-2): Record-wise they are tied for first place in the Western Conference are in a good place to be right now. They’ve got the talent to be the top in the West and one of the best in the league. Lately, the issue has been consistency. They’re 2-2 in the last four. Not what you want when you’re looking to stay atop the conference. LW: No. 3

7. Waterloo Black Hawks (14-9-4): They had a “big boy plate” this weekend with a serving of Indiana followed by a another serving of Dubuque. They split that series and it says a lot about a young team hitting their stride this time of year. LW: No. 7

8. Fargo Force (13-13-3): Whadda know? They’re AT .500 for the first time since October and they’ve won eight of the last 10 games. Right now, the Force are on a roll and we all know this is a second-half franchise. That’s when they do their most damage. Let’s say Waterloo loses next weekend and the Force sweep, the Force are in third place. How many of us saw that coming a few months ago? Give you a hint. Not many. LW: No. 8

9. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (12-11-7): Young teams tend to get better around this time of year and the RoughRiders didn’t look that bad against Dubuque and had a strong game against Tri-City.  LW: No. 10

10. NTDP (11-10-3): Um, so they have bye weeks? Just kidding. They return to action this weekend after a two-week hiatus due to international commitments and college exhibition games. LW: No. 9

11. Des Moines Buccaneers (11-13-3): They kept it close against co-league leader Omaha and won the battle of defensive-minded teams against Sioux Falls too. Though the thing to like here is they are scoring. If they can keep that up, they’ll be in the playoff mix for sure. LW: No. 13

12. Sioux City Musketeers (12-18-0): So it wasn’t the best weekend. They lost both games against Fargo but they were hanging on tough in the second game, which is an improvement from the 5-0 loss they took on Friday. LW: No. 12

13. Sioux Falls Stampede (11-15-1): They’ve been scoring and looking better offensively as of late. Got a chance to talk with some Stampede players and they’ve made it clear, they’re young but are getting the hang of things. If they can add offense to what goalies Stephon Williams (Minnesota State-Mankato) and Charlie Lindgren are doing, they’re going to be fun to watch. LW: No. 14

14. Tri-City Storm (11-19-0): That new high-powered offense got slowed down a little bit in two losses to Green Bay and Cedar Rapids. It’ll be interesting to see how they play against Fargo, a team they’ve historically had trouble against. LW: No. 11

15. Chicago Steel (9-19-1): They beat Muskegon so there’s that. And they earned a split last weekend so there is that too. Yeah, that’s all that needs to be said. LW: No. 16

16. Muskegon Lumberjacks (9-14-2): Matt DeBlouw (Michigan State), you’ve been identified by NHL Central Scouting as one of the best draft-eligible players in this league. If you really want to boost your stock, help this team win games. LW: No. 15

The Turn…

NHL Central Scouting released its mid-term rankings on Wednesday morning and there are a few surprises on the list.

NTDP defenseman Jacob Trouba (Michigan) is the highest-rated blueliner in the USHL on the list while Dubuque forward Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) is the highest-rated forward. None of this comes as a surprise.

Indiana’s Jon Gillies (Northeastern) is having the best season of any draft-eligible goaltender in the league and he’s rated as the fourth-best goalie among all North American skaters.

Below is a list of the Top 25 USHL players and where they were ranked:

Skaters:

-Jacob Trouba, NTDP (Michigan), defenseman: No. 9 overall

-Zemgus Girgensons, Dubuque (Vermont), forward: No. 12 overall

-Stefan Matteau, NTDP, forward: No. 13 overall

-Brady Skjei, NTDP (Minnesota), defenseman: No. 18 overall

-Nic Kerdiles, NTDP (Wisconsin), forward: No. 27 overall.

-Michael Matheson, Dubuque (Boston College), defenseman: No. 29 overall

-Patrick Sieloff, NTDP (Miami (Ohio)), forward, No. 34 overall

-Jordan Schmaltz, Green Bay (North Dakota), defenseman: No. 35 overall

-Matt DeBlouw, Muskegon (Michigan State), forward: No. 37 overall

-Robbie Baillargeon, Indiana (Boston University), forward: No. 43 overall

-Brian Cooper, Fargo (Nebraska-Omaha), defenseman: No. 51 overall

-Thomas Di Pauli, NTDP (Notre Dame), forward: No. 72 overall

-Zach Aston-Reese, Lincoln (Northeastern), forward: No. 76 overall

-Dakota Mermis, Green Bay (Denver), defenseman: No. 77 overall

-Alex Kile, Green Bay (Michigan), forward: No. 82 overall

-AJ Michaelson, Waterloo (Minnesota), forward: No. 83 overall

-Austyn Young, Sioux Falls (Minnesota-Duluth), forward: No. 100 overall

-Gavin Stoick, NTDP (Cornell), defenseman: No. 101 overall

-Cameron Darcy, NTDP (Northeastern), forward: No. 103 overall

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln (Brown), forward: No. 106 overall

-Quentin Shore, NTDP (Denver), forward: No. 109 overall

-Frank Vatrano, NTDP (Boston College), forward: No. 118 overall

-Matthew Lane, NTDP (Boston University), forward: No. 133 overall

-Nikolas Olsson, NTDP (Northeastern), forward: No. 136 overall

-Vince Hinostroza, Waterloo (Notre Dame), forward: No. 137 overall

 

Goalies:

-Jon Gillies, Indiana (Northeastern): No. 4 overall

-Collin Olson, NTDP (Ohio State): No. 9 overall

-Alex Lyon, Omaha (Yale): No. No. 19 overall

-Stephon Williams, Sioux Falls (Minnesota State-Mankato): No. 23 overall

-Matt Morris, Dubuque (Maine): No. 28 overall

Congratulations…

As expected the USHL released its roster for its first-ever Prospects Game which will be held Jan. 24 in Muskegon.

The list has the usual suspects in Dubuque’s Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont), Green Bay’s Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota), Fargo’s Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) and Indiana’s Jon Gillies (Northeastern), which were expected to make the team.

And for you Force fans, joining Cooper will be forwards Nate Arentz and Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) along with defenseman Justin Wade (Notre Dame).

The goal of the game is to draw more attention to draft-eligible players in the league and there were some other players who were added who aren’t eligible until next season.

Here’s a link to the roster.