Gone Gone Gone…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stress…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Start of Your Ending…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Special…

Quite a bit has happened this season but even more things happened in January.

There were plenty of players which got some eyeballs in their direction and put themselves in position to potentially pick up some trophies, at least of the non-Clark Cup variety, at the end of the year.

So where do certain players stand when it comes to awards like Player of the Year, Forward of the Year and Goaltender of the Year? Let’s find out.

 

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln, forward (Brown): The league’s scoring leader kept up his impressive season in January. He now has 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists) so far this season but it made some wonder how he’d do in the second half with teams now knowing more about him. Roy has been electric since the post-Christmas break scoring 18 points in 11 games. He’s only had one game in January where he didn’t get a point.

-Andy Welinski, Green Bay, defenseman (Minnesota-Duluth/Anaheim): He’s led what’s easily been the best team in the USHL this season to what could be one of the best year’s in this league’s history. Welinski’s true mark on this team could be how he’s spearheaded a defense which has been indomitable. Green Bay still hasn’t surrendered 100 goals on this season we’re more than halfway through the year. Don’t forget about his offensive production scoring 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 33 games. He’s already surpassed his numbers from last season and has a remarkable plus-26 to his name.

-Austin Farley, Fargo, forward (Minnesota-Duluth): Fargo’s nine-game winning streak was powered by many players and Farley was certainly at the top of the list. Farley’s 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) put him on a pace to shatter the franchise mark for most points and possibly most goals in a season. Eighteen of those came during the Force’s nine-game winning streak. Throw in how he’s extremely good at agitating opposing players and it can be argued he serves a dual role making him even more valuable to the Force.

-Jon Gillies, Indiana, goaltender (Northeastern): Gillies is proving month in and month out he’s one of the best – maybe the best – netminder in the league. Indiana, like Fargo, went on a strong stretch winning seven games in a row and Gillies helped his team try to climb what feels like the impossible ladder which is the Eastern Conference. Gillies won his first six straight starts following the Christmas Break and as a result has some of the best numbers of any goalie in the league. He’s 19-6-5 with a 2.56 GAA, a .921 save percentage and has 1,760 minutes too.

-Nolan Zajac, Omaha, defenseman (Denver): Zajac is the name on this not many people expected to see but get familiar with it. Zajac is tied with Green Bay’s Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota) with 25 points, the most among defenseman in the league. Zajac showed last season at Cedar Rapids with his 30 points in 47 games campaign, he could put up points. This year, however, he was traded to an offensively-starved Omaha and has chipped in 24 points in the 31 games he’s played there. He has 12 points in his last seven games and has helped Omaha reclaim first place with a four-point lead over Lincoln.

OUR PICK: It has to be a toss-up between Roy and Welinski. We’ll go with Welinski for now because it’s hard to argue against anything he and the Gamblers are doing right now.

 

FORWARD OF THE YEAR

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln (Brown): See our argument for Roy when it comes to Player of the Year. Dude has been incredible for Lincoln all season and it appears what he’s done to this point is not a fluke.

-Austin Farley, Fargo (Minnesota-Duluth): His season jump started a team and a franchise which didn’t have the greatest start in the world. He hasn’t scored in the last three games and that’s bound to happen because no one in this league scores in every game all the time. Going back to Farley’s role as an agitator, it certainly helps him get into an opponent’s head and it can’t be overlooked how good he is at it.

-Daniil Tarasov, Indiana: Tarasov is having one the best seasons for any player in the USHL as his 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) practically mirrors that of Farley. Tarasov’s numbers aren’t a surprise given the high-octane system Indiana runs. The fact he’s done it with a younger cast is extremely impressive. Aside from Roy and Dubuque’s Zemgus Girgensons, there isn’t another forward who can change a game like this guy.

-Zemgus Girgensons, Dubuque (Vermont): Injuries and international duty took a few games away from the Latvian superstar but let’s face it, he deserves to be in this talk because he’s just one of those players who teams do gameplan around. Girgensons has 31 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 29 games and he’s a four-point game away from being in the Top 15. Getting into the Top 5 might seem improbable but if anyone has the talent to do it, it is him.

-Nolan LaPorte, Green Bay (Western Michigan): LaPorte’s a victim of the whole, “Good team, good system” argument but he shouldn’t be. The talent is there and he’s showing it but there is a difference with him and everyone else on this list. The other four guys need to score for their teams to win. Green Bay’s success doesn’t hinge on just LaPorte but let’s face it. If he’s not there, maybe their first line isn’t so stacked and neither is their power play. He has 10 power play goals and seven helpers on the one-man advantage. Argue all you want but you can’t overlook him.

OUR PICK: Roy yet don’t be surprised if Mr. Girgensons wants to make this interesting. He’s good at that.

 

DEFENSEMAN OF THE YEAR:

-Andy Welinski, Green Bay (Minnesota-Duluth/Anaheim): Same with Roy. He’s an MVP candidate and at least in our eyes, has to be the easiest player to choose for this award Then again, that’s us.

-Nolan Zajac, Omaha (Denver): Zajac is becoming an example of Omaha’s system of “Give us your tired, your hungry, your tradeable and we’ll take those players and beat you and everyone else with them.” Zajac’s offensive injection has helped Omaha comeback into focus. Also, did you see we had him listed as a Player of the Year candidate too?

-Jordan Schmaltz, Green Bay (North Dakota): We had a post here not too long ago talking about how this is when Schmaltz strikes like opponents like they’re the newest piece of meat coming into the state pen. He has 19 points (6 goals, 13 assists) in his 23 games with Green Bay since the trade.

-Brian Cooper, Fargo (Nebraska-Omaha): Cooper’s numbers are starting to get back to the pace he was on last season when he scored 33 (11 goals, 22 assists) in 53 games. He now has 17 (5 goals, 12 assists) in 33 games. What people aren’t really saying about Cooper is how he has become better as a defensive-defenseman. Plus, a few scouts have said he was the best player at the USHL Prospects Game.

-Michael Matheson, Dubuque (Boston College): Matheson and Cooper are so similar in terms of expectations. They haven’t been putting up these glittering offensive numbers but they have been better about adapting to being more complete players. Matheson is anchoring a defense which has only given up 96 goals in the league this season. And yes, if it’s not for Green Bay, this would be the lowest in the league.

OUR PICK: If we’re taking Welinski for Player of the Year, we might want to take him for this one too.

 

GOALTENDER OF THE YEAR:

-Jon Gillies, Indiana (Northeastern): Balls so hard. It’s crazy. Hova lyrics aside, guy really is having one of the best years for any goalie in the league. At 6-5, 190 pound he always had the physical tools but people questioned if he could put it together in regards to the USHL. It appears he has.

-Zane Gothberg, Fargo (North Dakota/Boston): Gothberg’s January was the stuff many goalies dream of winning nine straight starts and in the process climbing into the Top Five in wins, goals against average, shutouts, save percentage, etc. When this season is over, he could hold FIVE franchise records in the two years he’s spent with the Force. Everything from his attitude to his style of play has changed. It’s made him better and life for others a lot more difficult.

-Matthew O’Connor, Youngstown (Boston University): Gillies and Gothberg without doubt had better months, but O’Connor’s season easily ranks up there with anyone. Youngstown has had quite a few reasons for their success but O’Connor is one of the big ones. He’s provided a steady presence in net and that’s why they’re in fourth. They could be higher and they’re going to be, they need this guy who is 18-8-3 this year with a 2.67 GAA.

-Alex Lyon, Omaha (Yale): Like O’Connor, Lyon has been a constant for his team this season. He was great when the Lancers were struggling to score goals and he’s continued to be good helping them reach first in the Western Conference as of Monday. Lyon’s line is 17-8-2 with a 2.78 GAA.

-Jay Williams, Waterloo (Miami (Ohio): This spot could have also gone to Green Bay’s Ryan McKay, a fellow Miami commit, who once again is having another fantastic season but we go with Williams instead. Everyone talked about Waterloo’s offense but Williams was extremely overlooked and has put up the numbers to get hm noticed. He’s 11-5-4 with a 2.62 GAA. Waterloo is in third by a point over Fargo but they do have some games in hand on everyone else. If he plays big, Waterloo could move up.

OUR PICK: We go with Gilles but if Youngstown, Omaha and Fargo make some late season pushes, this could get fun to watch.

 

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln (Brown): Mama, there goes that man again. Yeah, he’s a rookie. So in one year he could potentially walk off with Player of the Year, Forward of the Year and Rookie of the Year.

-Taylor Cammarata, Waterloo (Minnesota): Aside from the first guy on this list, there hasn’t been a first-year player with no prior junior experience to have the impact on a like Cammarata. His 39 points (18 goals, 21 assists) are eighth in the league and he’s just two points out of being in the Top 5. If it really isn’t for Kevin Roy, Cammarata in many minds would have to be the frontrunner. Maybe he still he is.

-Michael Downing, Dubuque (Michigan): Defenseman are, at times, the biggest project a coach can take on in terms of a rookie. Downing has made Montgomery look extremely smart helping out a defense which lost its starter but still managed to never waiver in the Eastern Conference standings. Downing only has six points in 30 games but he’s achieving consistency.

-Austin Cangelosi, Youngstown (Boston University): He’s like Cammarata. Great season. A major reason why people are taking notice towards his team. He’s a gamer. He’s a baller. Playmaker. Shotcaller. He’s second on his team in points with 36 (16 goals, 20 assists). What hurts him is Kevin Roy. Between Kevin Roy and Green Bay, they’re making a lot of us forget how good others have been.

-Dave Gust, Fargo: Gust was playing midgets back in Chicago and the Force brought him in and since then he’s been everything the Force has needed and more. He has made his line, which also features fellow rookies Alex Iafallo and Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), the second-best line on a team which won nine games in a row. Gust has 16 points in just 21 games. Not bad for such a short amount of time

OUR PICK: Common sense says go with Roy. The side of us which has a heart says Cammarata. In the end, we’ll take Roy.

Relax…

Yes. The rumor is true. Force defenseman Justin Wade will be playing with the NTDP’s U-18 Team.

But only for this weekend. The NTDP called the Force earlier in the week and asked if they could have Wade on loan for this weekend with the U-18′s taking on Minnesota State-Mankato and Wisconsin in exhibition play.

Wade played Friday against MSU-Mankato in a 3-3 tie.

“They asked if Justin could play and we really left it up to him,” said Force assistant and chief scout Jesse Davis. “Justin decided he wanted to do that and we let him go.”

Wade was called up with the NTDP missing defensemen Jacob Trouba (Michigan) and Seth Jones. Both players were called to represent Team USA in what has been a dismal U-20 Tournament campaign. Jones was injured in the U.S.’s training camp and appears to be out for a while. Trouba, however, has been playing for the team, which suffered a 5-2 loss to the Czech Republic on Friday.

Moves like this are commonplace. Last season, the U-18 team got three players on loan from Alexandria in the NAHL with some of its players participating in USA Hockey’s U-20 camp.

Also, having players go on loan or go on international duty is pretty normal for this time of year. The Force play the Dubuque Fighting Saints, which are missing captain and leading scorer Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont), who is playing for Latvia in the U-20 Tournament. They are also missing defenseman Michael Downing (Michigan), who is off playing with the NTDP’s U-17 team in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.

“People thought we lost Justin for the year,” Davis said. “It’s really more of a loan than anything.”

Davis said the coaching staff tinkered with the idea of bringing up players off the affiliates list but decided against it in the hopes of giving more players such as first-year defenseman Neal Goff more playing time.

Goff, who has played in 14 games this season, played last night in the Force’s 5-2 win over the Chicago Steel. It is the Force’s fifth win in six games and sent them to fifth place in the Western Conference standings.

As for Wade, who Davis said will be with the Force next season, he will return to the team on Monday and be ready for next weekend’s homestand against the Sioux City Musketeers.

“Playing for the NTDP this weekend will also give USA Hockey a chance to look at Justin for future tournaments like the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge,” Davis said.

Wade, 17, is no stranger to playing for USA Hockey. He represented the U.S. this past summer at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and a year prior, represented his nation at the Five Nations Tournament.

The defensive-minded Wade has played in 25 games for the Force this season and has garnered one point, an assist.

He played last season with the Force in a limited role before getting more playing time and was constantly featured in more games. In all, he played in 33 games for the club last season.

Earlier this year, he committed to Notre Dame after having received offers from Cornell and RPI among others. Wade, the son of a chemical engineer and a oil company executive, said he plans to major in engineering.

Brighter…

We might be at the Christmas Break, but it doesn’t mean its too early to talk about postseason awards.

You know the drill. Player of the Year. Forward of the Year. Defenseman of the Year. Goalie of the Year. Rookie of the Year and finally, Coach of the Year. We’ll take a look at four candidates, to this point, explaining what makes the worth considering for these awards.

Let’s start with the most coveted award:

Player of the Year:

-Austin Farley, Fargo Force, forward (Minnesota-Duluth): Yeah, Farley’s team had a really rough start but so far has bounced back winning five of the last six. Fargo’s always had a big-game forward and it appeared to be lacking it this season. Then Farley, stepped up surprising quite a few people. At the break he is either tied for or leads the league in three offensive categories including game-winning goals with four. He also is tied for third in scoring. He’s second in goals and he has nine multi-point games this season including a four-point performance against Omaha in a 7-1 win before the break. In all, he has 17 goals and 13 assists in 24 games.

-Matthew O’Connor, Youngstown Phantoms, goaltender (Boston University): Many things can be said about the resurgence in Youngstown. Of those discussion topics, O’Connor comes up frequently. O’Connor has been the backbone of the Phantoms this year and he’s using his hulking 6-5, 195-pound frame to make the net small and keep his team in games. He’s tied for the league lead in wins with 13. He has a 2.48 GAA, which is third in the USHL. He’s sixth in saves and fourth in save percentage. All of these things has helped the Phantoms be the shock of the season as they headed into the break tied for second in the Eastern Conference.

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln Stars, forward (Brown): Maybe no player has had a greater impact on a team this year than Roy. Lincoln had several solid pieces in place but there was a question of who would be the player to ascend and take control. Roy has done just that and has changed the way people look at Lincoln. Lincoln last year had a solid playmaker in Ryan Dzingel but with Roy they have more. They have a goal-scoring threat. A creator. Someone who is illusive and can draw attention freeing up others. Roy is having the season of the year with 20 goals and 18 assists. He leads the league in points (38), goals, and shots on goal. His best performance and arguably performance of the year to this point was a five-point night against the Force.

-Andy Welinski, Green Bay Gamblers, defenseman (Minnesota-Duluth/Anaheim): Welinski really impressed people last season as a rookie scoring 14 points in 51 games. This year? He’s shattering everything he did last year. Welinski already has 15 points through 21 games this season and he’s in the Top 5 in just about every offensive category for a defenseman this year. His smooth skating and active stick have helped the Gamblers cripple the USHL having given up a league-low 57 goals making them the best defense in the league. He has helped lead Green Bay to a team which went from promising to let’s admit it, historic. They are damn near unbeatable. They are what Ivan Drago should have been: A mean, unrelenting machine who seeks perfection and domination. Welinski is a big, big reason why.

DARK HORSE: Two guys are hard to ignore. One is Indiana’s Daniil Tarasov. The 20-year-old Russian has 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points, making him second in the league in scoring. Don’t be surprised if he make a serious run at this award. Another guy is Green Bay’s Ryan McKay. McKay (Miami (Ohio)) is just having another stellar year in net with an 11-2-1 record and a 2.17 GAA. McKay’s biggest hurdle for winning the award might be his team. They’re playing well and his strong season could get lost in it.

FRONTRUNNER TO THIS POINT: Right now, it has to be O’Connor. Very few people saw Youngstown having this kind of season. O’Connor had a dismal year last season and needed to be good this year for the Phantoms to have a chance. He’s done that and more.

 

Forward of the Year:

-Austin Farley, Fargo: Farley’s case was already made in the Forward of the Year discussion but here’s more to chew on. If Farley just scored goals, he’d still lead the Force in scoring. If you just used his assists, he’d be second on the team. He’s also been deadly on the power play. Farley has a league-high eight power play goals and leads the USHL with 13 power play points. He’s also tied for second in short-handed goals with two.

-Jimmy Murray, Omaha Lancers (St. Cloud State): Murray has just been the lynchpin making everything in Omaha strong. This was a team which had trouble scoring goals and Murray’s been the remedy. The USHL’s assist king has 24 helpers and 30 points this season. He’s helped Omaha overcome a scoring slump and a change at coach to win six of the team’s last seven games.

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln Stars: Like Farley, Roy’s case has been made earlier in this entry. But let’s look at what he does for Lincoln. The Stars last year relied upon Dzingel, an NHL Draft pick, in a playmaking role more than anything. For as good as Dzingel was, he never took over a game quite like Roy. Also, when http://slightlychilled.areavoices.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpthe Quebec Remparts are supposedly interested in you, you can’t be that bad.

-Daniil Tarasov, Indiana Ice: Homeboy is showing he can go from being a supporting cast member to a leading man this season. There were questions about him and whether or not he could replicate last season’s performance without Blake Coleman (now at Nebraska-Omaha) or Brian Ferlin (now at Cornell). So far, Tarasov has been a goal scorer and a facilitator for what might be the most dangerous offense in the USHL.

DARKHORSE: Hard to think that Alex Broadhurst would be a dark horse candidate but so far that’s the position he’s in. Broadhurst (Nebraska-Omaha/Chicago) has been lights out this year scoring 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) for the Gamblers. He’s on pace to smash his 33-point effort from a year ago.

FRONTRUNNER TO THIS POINT: Roy. There’s no question about it. Guy is the best forward in the USHL right now.

 

Defenseman of the Year:

-Seth Jones, NTDP: Go ahead and make this argument about how Jones plays for the NTDP and how the NTDP “doesn’t count.” Doesn’t matter. Guy is the most skilled defenseman in the league and every scout will willingly admit that. Jones has a smooth blend of a powerful shot, punishing body checks and making smooth, easy passes. He may have only played in eight USHL games this season due to the NTDP’s schedule but he’s made the most of it with five points. NTDP players usually don’t win these awards but don’t get it twisted. Jones is the real deal and has to be considered for the award even if he doesn’t win it.

-Paul LaDue, Lincoln Stars (North Dakota): LaDue was a bit of an unknown having spent last season with Alexandria in the NAHL. This year, however, he’s hard to miss. LaDue plays first-line minutes. He’s on the power play. He’s on the penalty kill. LaDue does a lot of things for the Stars and has been part of the success they’ve had this season. One thing his coach Chad Johnson said is LaDue is a smart player. It shows. He has no penalty minutes this season. Yep. None at all. He also has 12 points in 22 games this season too.

-Markus Lauridsen, Green Bay Gamblers (St. Cloud State): Hey look. It’s a Green Bay Gambler on a list for post-season awards. Lauridsen has been absolutely stellar in his second season with the Gamblers. Offensively, he’s been dynamic as it gets. He leads all USHL defensemen with 16 points (4 goals, 12 assists) in 25 games. Lauridsen has also been extremely good on the power play with 10 points. Defensively, he’s been a smart player this year only having six penalty minutes. Lauridsen along with Welinski are anchoring what is the best defense in the USHL.

-Andy Welinski, Green Bay Gamblers: What do you know? There’s another Gambler on this list. When you have the league’s most dominant defense, it tends to happen. Welinski is having a standout year. It’s why we think he should be a Player of the Year candidate as well. Numbers aside, Welinski’s leadership has been tested this year and he’s passed every time. He watched as the team brought in Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota) and helped make losing three players appear to be seamless. In fact, he and Lauridsen have played so well, it almost makes Schmaltz an afterthought. Now watch Schmaltz put up explosive numbers and get into this argument.

DARKHORSE:  Indiana’s Alex Barron (Quinnipiac) has moved into the offensive-defenseman role, which has become such a mainstay with the Ice. He’s improved on last year’s 14-point effort in 51 games scoring 13 points (2 goals, 11 assists) through 25 games this year.

FRONTRUNNER TO THIS POINT: Should be Jones. But for the sake of being accurate, we’ll go with Welinski. He’s the safe bet. Not that we’re betting. Or Bettman.

 

Goaltender of the Year:

-Jon Gillies, Indiana Ice (Northeastern): Defense, at least last season, was such a concern for the Ice. Gillies has managed to take those worries and erode whatever thoughts people may have had about Indiana at the back. He’s been amazing for the Ice putting up a 13-5-4 record with a 2.47 GAA. His wins are tied for first. His GAA is the second-best in the league. Now here’s where it gets really interested. Gillies leads the league in minutes played with 1265:32 and has faced more shots (526) than anyone in the league. Gillies even leads the league in save percentage with a .923 clip AND he’s played in 23 games. Indiana has had 25 games so far this season. He’s been a workhorse. Or a Jawhorse. Take your pick.

-Ryan McKay, Green Bay Gamblers: McKay just continues to win games and put up awesome numbers in the process. The third-year vet has a 2.17 GAA, which is tops in the entire USHL. Not to mention he’s backstopping the league’s best team. All McKay does is win games and he’s won 11 of them so far. We have him listed as a darkhorse candidate for Player of the Year because he’s been that good. But he does have competition for Goaltender of the Year.

-Matthew O’Connor, Youngstown: He’s our pick to win Player of the Year to this point. That says it all.

-Jackson Teichroeb, Lincoln Stars: Teichroeb is finally showing people what made Lincoln go out and trade for him. Teichroeb always had the skills. He was set to be Dubuque’s No. 1 goalie last season but Morris emerged and the rest is history. With Teichroeb getting more minutes, he’s been a rock for the Stars. He’s gone 11-7-1 with a 2.51 GAA and a .903 save percentage to boot. Teichroeb will really get tested after the break with Lincoln fighting it out with Omaha for Western Conference supremacy.

DARKHORSE: Waterloo’s Jay Williams gets overlooked because of the firepower on his team. Williams (Miami (Ohio)) has gone 9-4-4 this year and has managed to keep the Black Hawks in games in case the offense has an off night.

FRONTRUNNER TO THIS POINT: It really does come down to Gillies vs. O’Connor. That being said, we take O’Connor.

 

Rookie of the Year:

-Taylor Cammarata, Waterloo Black Hawks, forward (Minnesota): Cammarata came into the USHL with quite a bit of hype and so far he’s been living up to expectations. He opened the season setting up goals and now he’s scoring them. He has 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) and it has helped the Black Hawks to third place in the Western Conference heading into the Christmas Break. Waterloo was expected to do well with all the firepower it has on the team. How Cammarata would do was a question. So far he’s answered the question with ease.

-Austin Cangelosi, Youngstown Phantoms, forward (Boston College): Kind of like Cammarata, Cangelosi has played a major role in how his team is doing this season. Youngstown had plenty of experienced players on the roster. But having a player jump out as a surprise, in a good way, is never a bad thing. Cangelosi has been an extremely pleasant surprise for Youngstown this year. He gives them a consistent offensive threat as he’s second on the team in scoring with 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in just 17 games. He’s also a plus-15, which is a team high.

-Michael Downing, Dubuque Fighting Saints, defenseman (Michigan): Dubuque with a first-year defenseman for a ROY candidate. Not a shocker. His first name is Michael. Once again, not a shocker. Michael Downing? Yep. That’s the surprise for some. People expected Michael Matheson to have a good year and he has. Matheson will probably be a first-round pick in the draft and could still win this award. But for now, you have to take notice with what Downing is doing. He’s come in and has been a steady force at the back for Dubuque, which lost starting goaltender Matt Morris (Maine) for more than a month due to injury. Downing doesn’t have great numbers (5 points in 22 games) but he’s bringing consistency to a team which could do some damage in the second half.

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln Stars: Yeah, he’s a rookie. Makes what he’s doing even more impressive.

-Alex Lyon, Omaha Lancers, goaltender (Yale): Lyon has been able to transfer what he did at Lake of the Woods (MN-HS) last season into the USHL. He’s getting a lot more help offensively but is still finding ways to keep games close for his team. The 6-1, 200-pounder might not jump out as a ROY candidate right away but look at the numbers. His 11 wins are tied for third in the USHL. His 2.93 GAA is kind of high but knowing Lyon, he’ll find a way to lower it. He’ll have to if Omaha wants to stay atop the Western Conference standings.

DARKHORSE: Calling Matheson (Boston College) a darkhorse sounds weird but for now, he’s in the spot. Matheson has been getting warm as of late with three points in his last five games. He has eight points in 24 games this season. He’s been playing a more defensive role and not getting the points people expected. We have seen defenseman (i.e. 2010-11 Schmaltz) go off on a late-season tear and shock the masses. Matheson could do it.

FRONTRUNNER TO THIS POINT: Cammarata looks very good but at the same time Roy is just killing people. Roy for ROY just looks cool. We’ll take Roy.

 

 

Coach of the Year:

-Chad Johnson, Lincoln Stars: Ocho Cinco, Wait. Steve Johnson’s brother. Wait. Luke’s uncle. Wait. Chad Johnson made a name for himself last year leading the Stars back to relevance. This year. He’s taking them to new heights. Between having players like Roy, Ladue and Teichroeb, he and his staff have found the right group to really build in their image. What Johnson is doing in his second year with the team cannot be overlooked.

-Derek Lalonde, Green Bay: The former Denver assistant has pretty much been rocking out in Green Bay. He and his NHL Draft Picks pretty much cruise around the Midwest shattering dreams and ruining hopes like they’re a natural disaster. They lost to the Phantoms the other day showing they’re human. Soon, they’ll look like a machine again with the inhumane way they beat people. And by inhumane, we mean they don’t give anyone a chance.

-Brett Larson, Sioux City Musketeers: When Schmaltz high-tailed it out of town many left Sioux City for dead. The Musketeers are very much alive these days. They went on a tear following the trade and are now third place in the Western Conference. Once they get over .500, more people will probably take notice with the job the first-year coach has done. When you think about it what the former Minnesota-Duluth assistant has done in the last month has been impressive. His superstar left town, he got other players in return and is winning more now than he did with his previous roster.

-Anthony Noreen, Youngstown: Noreen, who was an assistant last season, has taken over the Phantoms and has made them scary. His knowledge of the personnel and the system has them playing really well. The Phantoms missed the playoffs by a point last season. Thanks to Noreen, they are tied for second place in the Eastern Conference and should be on point by the time the playoffs roll around.

DARKHORSE: Jim Montgomery has to be considered. The other day we compared his team to Cobra Kai. They’re waiting to strike hard and strike fast. Guy thrives in the second half of the season. Ask teams in the Western Conference. He walked in a trail of their blood on the way to getting the Clark Cup.

FRONTRUNNER TO THIS POINT: It’s Lalonde. He took a team with high expectations and made them even higher. That being said, Noreen and others are still in this race.

When The Saints Go Marching In…

Today’s third installment of the 2011-12 season previews is none other than the defending Clark Cup Champions, the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Previous previews on Cedar Rapids and Chicago can be found by clicking the links if you want to take a look. Now here’s what’s going on with the Fighting Saints:

Dubuque Fighting Saints (2010-11: 37-14-9; won Clark Cup Championship)

Coach: Jim Montgomery

Who’s gone: John Gaudreau (Boston College), forward; Vinny Saponari (Northeastern), forward; Riley Barber (NTDP), forward; Joakim Ryan (Cornell), defenseman.

Who’s back: Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont), forward; Matt Morris (Maine), goaltender; Shane Walsh (UMass), forward; Shane Sooth (Northern Michigan), forward.

Who’s new: Michael Matheson (played last season at Lac St. Louis/committed to Boston College), defenseman; Max Gardiner (played last season at Minnesota); Michael Downing (played last season at Detroit Catholic/committed to Michigan)

What’s going on: Remember Ducktales and how Scrooge McDuck would swim laps in his pool of gold coins because he had so many riches? Well, now you know what Jim Montgomery and the rest of the Fighting Saints front office has been doing this offseason. OK, not really, but the point is the defending champs are looking good again this season. Dubuque, to a degree, came out of nowhere early on and managed to win the Clark Cup in the team’s first season. This year, Dubuque will be in the Eastern Conference switching places with Waterloo, which is heading to the Western Conference. Dubuque only played in the Western Conference last year because the league did not want one conference to have the two expansion franchises in Dubuque and Muskegon.

The Fighting Saints lose a lot of scoring power from last season with Gaudreau and Saponari both leaving for college. They were paired with Girgensons, a potential first-round pick for the upcoming draft, and if it isn’t for the Ice’s line of Blake Coleman, Daniil Tarasov and Brian Ferlin, an argument could be made it was the best line in the league last season. Another loss for the Fighting Saints was forward Riley Barber, who went to the NTDP this season. What could be considered an alarming departure could be the defense. The Fighting Saints only return one defenseman from last season’s team in Tyler Amburgey. In all, the Fighting Saints have eight returning players. One of those eight is Maine commit Morris, who put up one of the best seasons a goaltender could have last year in the league.

Now here’s where people may not need to feel so bad for Dubuque. They’re loaded. Like Scrooge McDuck. The big name coming in this year is Matheson, who opted to not play in the beloved QMJHL and head south to Dubuque. Matheson was the crown jewel among Quebec midget players last season and is being considered to be a first-round pick along with Girgensons in the upcoming NHL Draft. Having Matheson, who is offensive-minded, will give the Fighting Saints a quarterback and a trigger man on the power play. Downing is another defenseman, who could complement Matheson. The 6-3, 180-pounder had 23 points (7 goals, 16 assists) in 26 games for Detroit Catholic. He was the Fighting Saints’ third overall pick in the Futures Draft and he’s also a Sarnia Sting (OHL) draft pick too. Should Matheson and Downing mesh, it could result in one of the league’s best defensive partnerships.  Another guy to watch is Gardiner, who could very well be like Saponari in regards to being an older guy who could mentor some of the younger players. That and the St. Louis Blues draft pick could also be one of the league’s best threats. Speaking of offense, the Fighting Saints took a chance on former Force/Steel forward Garrett Allen but on Sunday, a source confirmed that Allen was released by the team. Allen suffered some injuries last season and was going to use this season to rehab until Montgomery and his staff invited him to camp. The plan was to get him into shape and see if he can return to the form of his rookie year. Now, it remains to be seen what will happen with Allen.

All that being said, look for the Fighting Saints to compete in the east against perennial powers like Green Bay, Indiana and Cedar Rapids. Also, don’t be too shocked if they have another deep playoff run that ends with getting a heavy trophy at the end.

Monday’s preview: Green Bay Gamblers