Synthetica…

Days later, we’re all still looking back at what happened during the weekend’s NHL Draft trying to process it all.

Last night I was on The Pipeline Show back in Edmonton and we were doing the same thing. A point I made on radio is a point I will make right here. If you’re looking for the end-all, be-all moment for the USHL in the NHL Draft, it is a toss up between Dubuque’s Michael Matheson (Boston College) and Saint-to-be Mark Jankowski (Providence).

Part of it is that they went in the first round. The rest of it is they are Canadians who came/are coming to America and went in the first round.

Crazy as that may sound, it may be the optimal item we can take away from the USHL’s draft results.

The last year has seen the American model come under scrutiny with a massive amount of high-end players bolting to the Major Junior system for one reason or another. To say that practice will stop would be indeed foolish.

But is it foolish to think the USHL model could be a growing option in Canada?

Matheson took a chance on coming to the United States and it turned out to be a good one as he did go in the first round. It can be debated that it was Matheson who got himself into being a first-round pick instead of the USHL. Then again, can’t it be argued as a whole it is all about the kid, not the system, that can be the difference between being a first-rounder or not?

Having Matheson come through the USHL and still end up as a first-round selection was probably the best news the league received all year. Then for Jankowski to say he is coming to Dubuque only helps strengthen the league’s case for not being what Skip Prince said.

“We don’t want to be a fallback school,” Prince said last week.

Take a look around the web or a newspaper and it seems like the USHL is getting its due from large and small media outlets.

People are noticing and the following is a point that has been previously made: If you are a Canadian kid, why wouldn’t you consider the USHL given what happened this season?

Lincoln’s Kevin Roy (Brown) practically had one of the greatest individual seasons in league history and all of junior hockey this year scoring 108 points, winning a Western Conference regular season title, reaching the Western Conference finals, taking the league’s Forward of the Year Award, Player of the Year Award (maybe should have been Rookie of the Year too) and he managed to get taken in the fourth round by the Anaheim Ducks.

Roy did come into the league with talk given his impressive collection of YouTube videos but nonetheless, he still had questions to answer thus that is why he wasn’t drafted in 2011.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to the player and the route he feels is the best for his development.

Its just that the biggest difference from last year is, if you are a Canadian, you might have one more option that might be worth taking a look at.

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.

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.

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?

Dr. Feelgood…

We might not realize it now. Or even next year. But we will eventually realize the USHL needed Kevin Roy’s (Brown) season.

Roy scored two points last night in Lincoln’s 4-3 win over Des Moines for his 100th point of the season. With two games left he still has a chance at adding more to his total. Even if Roy goes pointless in the final games against the Fargo Force, it still will not tarnish something the USHL desperately needed.

Fans are good at quite a few things. Freaking out might be at the top of that list. When things are great, the world is perfect. When a team is losing, then fire everyone from the coach to the hotdog vendor.

Same could be said when Mario Lucia and Co. opted out of the USHL for Penticton in the BCHL. The move generated opinions that the USHL was losing high-end players because its a “defensive-minded” league that doesn’t give forwards a chance to shine.

Or there’s how the USHL and College Hockey, as a whole, cannot retain or in some cases, attract, big-time talent from Canada on a consistent basis.

Then there’s the whole thought that maybe the USHL/college model might need to step out of the ring with Major Junior because the two do not compare.

Here’s where Roy’s season puts a major dent in those respective points.

Roy, as a newcomer, came into a league he was not familiar with and scored 100 points something which hasn’t been done since 1999. He scored 50 goals something else which hadn’t been done since 1994.

Roy’s big season is proof a forward can have an explosive year in this league where the profile is said not to be forward friendly. Scoring 100 points led to Roy’s name being retweeted by several people and entities including the College Hockey account during the national championship game.

OK. So Roy’s season proved offense can exist in the USHL. Check.

Now let’s look at the whole Canada thing. We can all agree a vast majority of Canadian kids are probably going to opt for Major Junior for various reasons. We get it. But it isn’t stopping other Canadians from coming to the USHL in the hopes of possibly emulating what Roy has accomplished.

This is where Roy comes into play again. He’s from Lac Beauport, a suburb of Quebec and went the prep school route in New England before coming to Lincoln. Roy, at the time, was known more for his YouTube prowess than anything. There was something to prove and he proved it. Period.

Roy’s 100 point season isn’t going result in a mass exodus of Canadians coming down and playing in the league. Though what it will do is start the first few steps of making the USHL a viable option.

Roy is one of three Canadians this season to have a profound impact either on the league or one its member clubs. Take what Michael Matheson (Boston College) has done in Dubuque and if he gets drafted in the first round, it shows a Canadian can come to the USHL and still have a chance at nabbing a first-round pick.

Or as we’ve seen here in Fargo, on a bit of a smaller scale, there’s been players such as Bryn Chyzyk. Chyzyk, who played in the MJHL last season, went from unknown to people across this state eagerly awaiting his arrival in Grand Forks with the way he plays.

Canadians have always impacted the USHL but has there ever been a year where the league could point to three kids and say, “See, we know what we’re doing here?”

I may be wrong. But I doubt it.

Lastly, there’s the whole battle between the USHL/NCAA route vs. Major Junior. We’re not going to get into what’s better or worse because its a waste of time. All we’re going to say is Roy had the chance to play in The Q. His hometown Quebec Remparts approached him during the USHL Christmas Break and offered him a chance to play.

He turned it down citing his commitment towards an Ivy League education and the chance to play with his brother, Derek, who will also attend Brown. As we saw this summer, whenever someone accepted an invite to play Major Junior, it was almost a “How dare he!” approach from people.

Get real. None of our lives are really affected if a kid says no to your favorite school/alma mater. Life goes on. Yet with Roy you do have someone who did buck a trend which was strong in the summer.

What Kevin Roy has done this season cannot be forgotten in terms of his stats and everything else.

Yet his biggest impact could letting American hockey fans know the following: Everything is alright.

So just sit back and enjoy the show.

New Lands…

As we promised, we’re back with the candidates for Rookie of the Year.

Figuring out Rookie of the Year can be a bit of a tricky one. Take Taylor Cammarata (Minnesota) and Austin Cangelosi (Boston College) for example. Both players have come in and have really shaped their teams. Cammarata is 16 while Cangelosi is 17.

Then there are the players like Alex Lyon (Yale), who graduated last year from Lake of the Woods (MN-HS) in Baudette before coming to the league.

-Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln (Brown): He has a league-leading 96 points. He has a league-leading 49 goals. He’s helping break the myth the USHL is a challenging league for forwards. He’s a Player of the Year frontrunner. He’s a Forward of the Year frontunner. He just might be the Rookie of the Year frontrunner too. Disagree with the following statement if you want: Kevin Roy is having arguably the best individual season in USHL history.

-Taylor Cammarata, forward, Waterloo (Minnesota): On a team full of draft picks and former Minnesota high school stars, Cammarata has really guided the ship. He’s been consistent with how he’s sculpted this team’s identity. He opened the season creating plays before taking over as a goal-scorer. He and his 62 points (25 goals, 37 assists) have helped Waterloo, which now finds itself in striking distance of a first-round playoff bye with two weeks left in the season.

-Michael Matheson, defenseman, Dubuque (Boston College): Give Matheson some credit. He came into the season with expectations regarding his offense but has shown he certainly has two-way capability. Dubuque’s defense has been tested all year especially when it lost goaltender Matt Morris (Maine) to an injury. Take a look at Dubuque’s defense and you’ll see when it comes to the numbers, they challenge Fargo and Green Bay for the title of the league’s best.

-Austin Cangelosi, forward, Youngstown (Boston College): Similar to Cammarata, except Cangelosi didn’t have to shoulder the burden by himself. He’s had help but he’s certainly managed to have an impact. His 55 points are second on his team and are 10th in the entire USHL. All of this has helped Youngstown have maybe the best season of any team in the USHL that isn’t Green Bay.

-Robbie Baillargeon, forward, Indiana (Boston University): Ball So Hard has been incredible on a team which has been defined by its more experienced players. He’s made people realize there’s more to Indiana than just Daniil Tarasov, Sean Kuraly (Miami (Ohio)) and Jacob Fallon (Vermont) up front. He’s added another scoring punch especially on the power play. He’s scored 20 points (4 goals, 16 assists) on the one-man advantage this season.

-Michael Downing, defenseman, Dubuque (Michigan): Remember what we were saying about the Fighting Saints’ defense being one of the best in the league? Downing is a reason why. Dubuque has the top penalty killing unit in the USHL. It is third in goals allowed and has no issue suppressing a team in one-goal games. Downing has been Captain Consistency given that he’s played in 50 of his team’s 56 games which is quite a bit for a rookie. Especially a rookie defenseman.

-Alex Lyon, goaltender, Omaha (Yale): Take a look around Omaha’s roster and it cane be argued there’s four or five Rookie of the Year candidates in general. We’re going with Lyon because he’s been solid for them all year even when the offense was sputtering. Lyon has that ability to make just about every game close and has established himself in a goalie-heavy conference. Lyon, in the course of a month, could face Tri-City’s Adam Wilcox (Minnesota), Fargo’s Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), Waterloo’s Stephon Williams (Minnesota-Mankato) and a bonafide stud in Sioux City’s Matt Skoff (Penn State), who is second in the USHL in shutouts. Lyon is 25-15-3 with a 2.80 GAA and a .909 save percentage. Oh and then there’s this little note, he’s doing all this while playing for a first-place team.

-Bryn Chyzyk, forward, Fargo (North Dakota): We’ve watched Chyzyk get severe back spasms with the way he carried the Force at certain times this year. Guy was the best forward to open the season and has continued to be that during injuries, losing streaks, nine-game winning streaks and everything else. Chyzyk’s 26 goals are tied for 10th in the USHL. But he does more than score. Chyzyk has the ability to stop a power play dead in its tracks by stealing the puck at the point and turning it into a shorthanded breakaway chance.

VERDICT: Quite a bit of names. Lot of deserving names at that. If we narrow it down to four, we’ll take Roy, Lyon, Matheson and Cangelosi. And from those four, we’ll narrow down the final two to Roy and Matheson. Roy has certainly been the engine that makes Lincoln run. Though Matheson has helped anchor a defense which has withstood the likes of Green Bay, Indiana, Youngstown and a young, but mad gifted U-17 and U-18 team out East. Roy is the Everything of the Year and it is hard to argue against anything he is done. Matheson’s been great but where would Lincoln be without Roy? They’d be playoff-bound for sure but would the this much of a threat to challenge for a Clark Cup? We’re not so sure. Our winner for Rookie of the Year is Roy.

 

NEXT: Coach of the Year

There’s Nothing…

We interrupt your Tuesday to say we are going to delay our list for Forward of the Year.

Why? While we were going through the list we were looking at Dubuque forward Zemgus Girgensons and got into a whole list of reasons which has made his season so successful and in truth, more demanding than anyone else’s in the entire USHL.

So here it is, the Top 10 reasons why no player can match the expectations laid upon Girgensons.

1. Be a first-round pick because that’s easy. An Eastern Conference scout told NHL.com he predicts you to go No. 26 to the Flyers. Oh and its not like you’re on NHL.com’s Draft Page, but wait…

2. Be the two-way player pundits have hyped you to be because, you know, that’s easy too. Then again, you do have 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists) in 43 games while taking the responsibility of making sure your team has given up 150 goals in 54 games, the third-lowest amount in the entire USHL.

3. Choose between Dubuque/Vermont or go to the Major Junior route or go play in the KHL near your beloved Latvia. Choosing Option No. 1 means you’ve kept your word and you are serious about honoring your father’s wishes of getting an American education. Choosing Option No. 2 means, at least to some, you are serious about your development. Choosing Option No. 3 means you are choosing to show the world that in a league of grown-ass men you are indeed, a grown-ass man.

4. You ended the speculation by saying you plan on going to college and saying you don’t see yourself playing Major Junior at all.

5. Speaking of Latvia, they needed you to play in the U-20 championships. You did that and you were even more impressive than what most thought possible.

6. Speaking of championships, Dubuque needs you to help them repeat as Clark Cup champs. Dubuque is sitting in fourth place in an Eastern Conference which is being dominated by a Green Bay team considered to be one of the best in league history, an Indiana team with maybe the best forward corps and arguably best goaltender in the league and a Youngstown team ready to proverbially punch anyone in the mouth come playoff time. Once again, no big deal.

7. Dubuque picked you as its team captain. You’ve had to serve in that role while fighting off injuries, international duty and you’ve done it as a second-year player in a league where the biggest enemy is turnover. Oh and you’ve done it for a franchise that’s probably not as old as your skates.

8. You are one of the faces of a league trying to show it can compete with Major Junior. Somewhere USHL commissioner Skip Prince is building an altar with your image because of the fact you could get taken in the first round and then go to college living up to the message the USHL often sells kids with.

9. No one else has the pressure of being on a non-NTDP team with TWO potential first-rounders in you and Mike Matheson (Boston College). Everyone kept talking about if these two could make it into the first round. The same Eastern Conference scout we mentioned earlier has Matheson going No 27, after Girgensons, to the Vancouver Canucks.

10. You’ve been compared to players such as Rod Brind’Amour and Paul Kariya…by your own coach. Dubuque head coach Jim Montgomery said over the summer Girgensons prepares like Brind’Amour and thinks about the game like Kariya. Brind’Amour, after all, was one of the NHL’s most devout athletes when it came to working out. When Brind’Amour was at Michigan State they had to turn the lights out on him to get him to leave the gym because he worked out that much. Oh and as for Kariya, all he did was go on to be one of the most dominant players for an entire decade. That and your coach just happened to play with Kariya to form arguably the greatest college hockey team of all time when Maine went 42-1-2 back in 1993.

11. Going back to the whole Latvia thing, you’re the only player in the USHL who can say, “I am the hope of a nation.” That’s no joke. People have given props to the NTDP’s Seth Jones for being a figure who could help elevate the game. But nowhere has anyone said or at least hinted Jones could be the hope of a nation, at least not yet.

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.

Taken For A Fool…

Back again with the latest set of USHL Power Rankings and it was certainly confusing trying to figure this one out.

You’ll see what we mean.

 

1. Green Bay Gamblers (29-7-1): So they wax an improved Cedar Rapids 4-0 to open the weekend. They get a bookend 6-2 win against second-place Indiana though they lose 5-2 to then last place Chicago in the middle of all of this. Confused? Yeah, us too. Green Bay still without question is the best team in the USHL but the loss to Chicago was a bit surprising. Chicago (we’ll get to them later) is on a nice little run but we just didn’t see this coming. Last Week: No. 1

2. Omaha Lancers (23-12-2): They won two of three this weekend. Could have been all three games but they bounced back nicely after a 3-2 loss against Tri-City to dominate Fargo and Des Moines. For now, they are really starting to pull away in the West and when it comes to talent, this is the most talented roster in the Western Conference. There’s strength all around the board. LW: No. 3

3. Dubuque Fighting Saints (22-11-3): Extremely impressive over the weekend taking two out of three. What is even more impressive is they did it without Michael Matheson (Boston College), who is on the shelf and Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) who is still coming back from injuries. Eliot Grauer, who had three points in the two wins, was big for the Fighting Saints. LW: No. 5

4. Lincoln Stars (21-13-2): Only one game last weekend and it was a 5-2 win but if you look at what they’ve done lately, they’ve won three of the last four. The lone loss came against Omaha. Not good if you’re shooting for first but certainly not bad if they’re trying to lock down the No. 2 spot. LW: No. 6

5. Indiana Ice (22-9-5): Losing to Green Bay can be understood but Chicago? Nothing against Chicago but you’d think Indiana could put them away. They beat Muskegon but, outside of that, it certainly was not a good week in Indianapolis. Maybe they’re worried about hosting the Super Bowl? LW: No. 2

6. Youngstown Phantoms (21-12-3): Great way to bounce back given what happened to them a few weeks prior. They swept quality opponents in Dubuque and Waterloo and have now won three of the last four games. Give quite a bit of credit to forward Mike Ambrosia (Princeton) who is on a seven-game point streak. He has 12 points in that stretch. LW: No. 7

7. Waterloo Black Hawks (19-11-4): Before we get into the team, we’re going to get into AJ Michaelson (Minnesota) by stating this is what people have been waiting for. He has four points in his last three games including two goals in his last game. When this guy wants to be, he can easily be one of the most dangerous forwards to play against. That’s just fact. If Michaelson can continue this, Waterloo will be one of the hardest teams to face by the end of the year. The Black Hawks won two of three this weekend thanks to Michaelson. We can’t stress enough when Michaelson wants to be good, he can be more killer than an airborne virus. Oh and they won after having FIVE players in the USHL Prospects Game. LW: No. 10

8. Fargo Force (19-15-3): Things went back to normal for Black and Blue with the nine-game winning streak being snapped by Sioux City. What becomes the next priority for them is chasing down teams in front of them. Right now might not be a bad time for them to watch ‘Kill Bill’ on some road trips. LW: No. 3

9. NTDP (18-13-4): A split isn’t a bad way to celebrate being done with finals. Neither is knowing you’re in prime position to make another run at the playoffs. Not sure how high they’ll go but they can make things interesting in the middle of the pack out East. LW: No. 8

10. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (15-13-8): If you’ve never heard of Dennis Kravchenko (Vermont) then that’s your own damn fault. He had FIVE points last game against Waterloo. It was one goal and four assists. We’ve said all year long Cedar Rapids needed someone to get things going, they’ve found it in Kravchenko. By the way, he has 11 points in 11 games this year. Once again, it is your own damn fault if you don’t know the guy.

11. Sioux City Musketeers (15-22-0): They get the Ball So Hard Award for the week because they snapped Fargo’s nine-game winning streak, they won two of three and they are appearing they’re going to be the team in the bottom half who wants to challenge teams up top. They’ve got an 11-point barrier between them and Fargo for fourth. LW: 12

12. Chicago Steel (12-23-1): Damn it. When you beat Green Bay AND Indiana in the same weekend, you deserve to move up the ladder. They’ve won three in a row with the first coming against Youngstown. If they can beat three of the four best teams in the East, then they should be able to beat everybody. Compared to last year, they’ve done worlds better in Chicago. Though this tells us they can still shoot for more. LW: No. 16

13. Des Moines Buccaneers (13-18-3): Someone broke out the brooms against Des Moines by beating them in all three games last week. Argh. LW: No. 11

14. Tri-City Storm (14-23-0): The Storm got a nice little sweep this weekend and they’re only a point out of the playoff race. It’ll be interesting to see what or if they do anything during next week’s trade deadline. LW: No. 13

15. Sioux Falls Stampede (12-20-2): Stephon Williams (Minnesota State-Mankato) and Charlie Lindgren can’t win games by themselves. They need help. And fast. LW: No. 14

16. Muskegon Lumberjacks (10-18-4): They were close against Team USA, Indiana and Dubuque. But close only counts in hand grenades, horseshoes and global thermonuclear war. LW: 16

Rough Draft…

Great thing about the Internet. Everyone is an expert.

From iPhones to airlines, the web is never short of opinions and the same can be said for hockey. Or in this case, the NHL Draft. The NHL Draft is still six months away but there are quite a few sites and people dedicated to the draft and those who could get selected.

With the USHL resuming its second half tomorrow, here’s a look at a few players in the league who are either draft-eligible or in their second draft year and where some people see them going in their mock drafts.

Don’t worry Force fans. We’ll include a few of your guys too.

-Zemgus Girgensons, forward, Dubuque (Vermont): Just about every website has Girgensons as the top USHL-based pick going in the draft. Some sites have him going as high as sixth. Others have him going anywhere in the middle of the first round. Girgensons, who is Dubuque’s captain, has helped the Clark Cup Champs to second in the Eastern Conference standings. Right now, he’s off on international representing Latvia in the U-20 Tournament. The 6-1 Girgensons has 12 goals and 14 assists through 22 games this season.

-Jacob Trouba, defenseman, NTDP (Michigan): Here’s the other guy extremely high on a lot of lists right now. The 6-1 Trouba will for certain be a first-round pick by the looks of things and like Girgensons he’s getting the Web’s seal of approval. Many mock drafts have him going either in the Top 10 and a few, not many, have him being a middle-round selection. Like Girgensons, he’s is playing at the U-20 Tournament and is the youngest player on Team USA’s roster. Trouba is the team’s only 17-year-old. With the NTDP playing a mix of USHL teams, international competitions and college teams, his USHL stats might be deceiving. He has three points in eight games.

-Jordan Schmaltz, defenseman, Green Bay (North Dakota): The opinions on Schmaltz suggest he’ll be another first-round pick and could anywhere in the teens into the 20s. The offensive-defenseman made news earlier in the year when he was traded from Sioux City to Green Bay. He’s been part of the league’s best defense and could very well be a major part of why the Gamblers could return to another Clark Cup Finals. He has 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) in 21 games, which is tenth among USHL defensemen.

-Nic Kerdiles, forward, NTDP (Wisconsin): It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Kerdiles the most talent forward the NTDP has at the moment. He has size, stickhandling and knows where to be on the ice. Those merits are why he’s been touted as another first-rounder the USHL and NTDP could have come the summer. He only has two points in eight USHL games. Those two points came here in Fargo where he absolutely stole the show helping the NTDP take the to a shootout before losing. The projection is Kerdiles will go mid-to-late first round.

-Michael Matheson, defenseman, Dubuque (Boston College): Feeling is Matheson could go late first or early second, which isn’t bad by any stretch. Right now he’s helping keep Dubuque very much in the picture for who can challenge Green Bay for first place in the East and a team which could make a run for a Clark Cup repeat. Matheson’s stock could rise in the second half if he scores more. He came into the league touted as an offensive-defenseman. His eight points don’t even register in the Top 20 among league blue liners.

-Stefan Matteau, forward, NTDP (North Dakota): The 6-1 winger has been talked about as a player with quite a bit of upside. Sites are suggesting he could be a third-round pick. He has four points in nine games and is a bit edgy with 57 penalty minutes – the most of any player in the NTDP.

-Jon Gillies, goaltender, Indiana (Northeastern): Gillies is practically fighting it out for Youngstown’s Matthew O’Connor (Boston University) for the league’s best netminder this season. Gillies has been a constant presence for the Ice this season with 13 wins and has logged more minutes and saves than any goalie in the USHL. Very few sites go past the second or third round so it is a bit harder to get a feeling for where he could go. A site called draftsite.com has him being a fifth-round selection.

-Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln (Brown): Roy was draft eligible last season but no team took a pass at him. Given his season, something says no one will be passing him by. Roy, who played at Deerfield Academy (MA-HS) last season has taken the league by storm topping the scoring charts. Draftsite has Roy going in the sixth round.

-Mike McKee, defenseman, Lincoln (Western Michigan): Similar to Roy, was draft eligible last season. He got a lot of press but in the end, he went unselected. McKee could get taken anywhere past the third round. Draftsite actually has McKee going as a third-rounder.

-Brian Cooper, defenseman, Fargo (Nebraska-Omaha): Where Cooper ends up in the draft could be anyone’s guess. A year ago, he was decently high on a few mock drafts and could have gone in the third round. He still could. Draftsite has him going in the fourth round.

-Justin Wade, defenseman, Fargo (Notre Dame): Draftsite actually has Wade going a few spots before Cooper in the fourth round. Wade’s height and size are why so many scouts like him. They also like his defensive-minded approach.

-Austin Farley, forward, Fargo (Minnesota-Duluth): Believe it or not, there really isn’t much to find on Farley in regards to the NHL Draft. It’s pretty surprising given he’s been one of the most offensively-dynamic players in the USHL. He headed into the Christmas break in fourth place in the points race, second in the scoring race and either leads the league or is tied for the league in at least three offensive categories.