Follow The Leader…

Thunderstorms left USHL commissioner Skip Prince stranded for hours in an airport on Friday until he reached his hotel in Pittsburgh for the NHL Draft.

Prince used every cell phone battery in reach to find out how many players in the USHL had been taken. He was talking about the league’s fruitful exhibition in the first round before talking about the second round, which starts Saturday.

“We have high hopes for those players in the second round,” Prince said. “Like Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota). He’s a guy-”

That’s when Prince was informed Schmaltz, the Green Bay Gamblers defenseman, had been taken in the first round. Prince was blown away admitting he didn’t know Schmaltz had been taken 25th overall.

Prince chalked it up to only checking to the 23rd pick.

It was in that moment where Prince, like many, was surprised yet pleased with the remarkable night had by the USHL. A record seven USHL players/prospects were taken in the first round. Dubuque had the strongest showing of any non-NTDP team as it had three players/prospects selected.

Forward Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) and defenseman Mike Matheson (Boston College) were the bread in the Fighting Saints’ draft sandwich. Prospect forward Ryan Jankowski (Providence) was also taken.

It was then reported by The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy that Jankowski, nephew of Montreal Canadiens scout Ryan Jankowski, would play for the Fighting Saints next year. Jankowski will be the second-ever first-round pick to come into the USHL and play a season.

Blake Wheeler was the first when he was drafted by the Green Bay Gamblers in 2004 when he was the fifth overall selection.

NTDP trio Jacob Trouba (Michigan), Brady Skjei (Minnesota) and Stefan Matteau rounded out the seven picks from the USHL to go in the first round. For those wondering, that’s 23 percent or nearly a quarter of the entire first round having ties to a league constantly jockeying against a Major Junior model which is often billed as the faster track to a NHL future.

It is a dominant figure for the QMJHL, which only had one first-round pick this season after having five last season. Werger said this year’s first round surpasses the previous high of four taken in the opening round.

“It is a lot of hard work,” Prince said. “The programs we are talking about needed to be a lot more soundly promoted and delivered to high-end prospects. We think there were others we lost in the last years or so. And hopefully, one of these players taken tonight can show the next 200 or 300 players out there the USHL isn’t the equivalent of the safe school but a power to be reckoned with.”

Prince said repeatedly he hopes what happened Friday is the latest step in showing that the American development model does have its positives.

Depending upon the source, the American development model has had its critics on both sides of the spectrum. Proponents believe the model can compete because it allows players a chance to develop and spend more time in the weight room along with playing against competition which could be anywhere from three to five years older.

Opponents, on the other hand, have said the model should be used for talents who need longer to develop and that the Major Junior model is a more affective plan given its history of producing major stars and the willingness of NHL teams sending their players to junior programs.

“We knew from the beginning of the year this was going to be a strong round for us,” Prince said.

It appeared the USHL could have a strong year as it had a plethora of players listed on NHL Central Scouting’s pre-season watch list with a number which matched that of the OHL, WHL and QMJHL.

Then there was the profile of existing and arriving players.

Girgensons, Schmaltz and Fargo Force defenseman Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), a likely late second or early third round pick, were billed as the three players to watch in the latter half of the 2010-11 season by NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee.

The NTDP, a hotbed for first-round picks, were already being considered to have numerous picks given its reputation and the players it already possessed.

Yet the league received a serious jolt when Matheson, a native of Point-Claire, Que., opted against the QMJHL to come to the USHL, a move which was seen as the American model working its way into French Canada.

And of course, came the story of the season when fellow Quebecois Kevin Roy (Brown) chose the Lincoln Stars and went on to have a 108-point season defying the status of the USHL being a defensive-minded league where a 50-point season was considered a success.

Roy is also slated to be taken on Saturday.

“I love what this league stands for,” Prince said. “But like every good Broadway show you need first-and second-rounders who bring sixth-and seventh-rounders in and kids who won’t get drafted but will sign a free agent contract. Today is one of those good days.”

A.I.M. Fire…

Force forward Pavel Zykov only had two points in 20 games this season but there’s a reason why the team’s coaching staff is so high on him.

As it would appear, so is Metallurg in the KHL. Zykov was drafted by Metallurg a few days ago in the KHL Amateur Draft. He was a second round selection by the program famous for producing Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

Though the 6-1, 175-pound Zykov is still listed as being part of the CSKA Moscow at the time he was drafted, it appears he was actually the highest and potentially only USHL-based player to be taken in the draft.

For those not familar with the KHL, it is the premier professional league in Russia. It is a league which has become a fertile and at times, challenging ground for NHL teams to take what is considered to be the top talent in the nation.

There are 26 teams spread across seven nations which compete in the league which has gone through quite a few transformations before making the KHL name and brand concrete back in 2008.

It isn’t a complete surprise for KHL teams to draft USHL-based players as Dubuque’s Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) was drafted last season.

As for Zykov, getting drafted certainly adds to his profile of being what Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis called, “a high-end talent” when the team first acquired him. Davis watched Zykov at a showcase during the season and spoke with his adviser.

It led to both sides entering discussions and Zykov making his way to Fargo where he was the second Russian-born player on the team. Though Zykov’s grasp of English improved, he was typically one of the more quiet players yet well-received players on the team.

Zykov used most to the season to adjust to the league and living in the United States for the first time. He appeared to have a better understanding as he scored his only two points in the Force’s last three games in the regular season.

Davis said via text message the Force will work towards getting Zykov to return next season to team which could feature 15 incumbents and a legitimate shot to capture the Western Conference.

If Zykov does return to the team, it gives the Force another potential “high-end” player on a team which is expected to have quite a few in fellow returners Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth), Gabe Guertler (Minnesota) and Dave Gust (Ohio State).

Yet if Zkyov were to opt for the KHL, he’d be the second player to leave who was expected to return for next season. Forward Jonny Brodzinski’s status had been on the fence until it was determined he was going to be at St. Cloud State next season.

Furthermore, if Zykov were to play in the KHL it would mean he’d become a professional player forgoing his college eligiblity. Davis said when the team first acquired Zykov, that college was an option.

Boom Boom…

If the franchise records were not enough for Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), he received a little something extra on Tuesday.

Gothberg was named the USHL’s co-Goaltender of the Year with Green Bay’s Ryan McKay (Miami (Ohio)), becoming the second player in Fargo Force history to win the award. Former Force star Mike Lee, who recently signed a pro contract with the Phoenix Coyotes, was the first back in the 2008-09 season.

Gothberg, a Boston Bruins draft pick, enjoyed what might have been the best individual season in the Force’s four-year history. Gothberg went 26-16-4 with a 2.22 goals against average, a .921 save percentage and seven shutouts.

Gothberg was second in wins, second in GAA, first in save percentage and first in shutouts.

Add in the fact he set seven franchise records: most wins in a season, most wins in a career, lowest GAA in a season, lowest GAA in a career, most shutouts in a season, most shutouts in a career and highest save percentage in a season.

Winning the goaltender award caps what was a transitional year for Gothberg in many ways.

Gothberg came to the Force last season from Thief River Falls (MN-HS), where he won Frank Brimsek Award for Minnesota’s best senior goaltender in addition to being drafted by the Force.

His first season had mixed results. As a backup, he won 14 games and actually set the franchise records for lowest GAA in a season and a career with a 2.23 GAA.

Despite the numbers, Gothberg was still susceptible to giving up soft goals and going through the complications that come with being a first-year player in the USHL.

Gothberg, while developing as a rookie, was also going through personal strife as his grandmother was suffering through illnesses, which later claimed her life over the summer.

Losing his grandmother, one of his biggest supporters, made Gothberg take a different approach to his life and his future as a hockey player. He abandoned old practices, such as playing video games, to do yoga in the hopes of getting flexible.

The tragedy also turned Gothberg into a leader on a team with several faces new to the USHL. Gothberg, who has been called the team’s “backbone” on several occasions, never showed visible frustration even when the Force lost 13 of its first 15 games to start the season.

When things began to turn around for the Force, Gothberg was at the center of it just like when he helped the team win nine games in a row. The winning streak was the longest in the USHL this season.

Gothberg helped the Force climb back into the Western Conference picture and finish fourth in the regular season. He helped the Force get back to the playoffs for a fourth straight season as they reached the second round.

His playoff performance was one of the better, having gone 3-3 with a  1.78 GAA and a .942 save percentage.

With his Force career over, he will enter North Dakota this fall, where he comes in as one of the jewels of a recruiting class that has been depleted by players opting for Major Junior.

Hell Of A Life…

Regardless of what league it is, you never really get ample opportunities to speak with a commissioner.

Fortunately, I caught USHL commissioner Skip Prince at the right time. He was driving back from Dallas where he was speaking to area youth about the option which exists in the USHL/college model.

We talked about Texas, a place dear to both of us because each of us lived there. We spoke on a subject for a story that’s coming out a little bit later. We then talked about Seth Jones.

If you’ve read or not read this blog or any hockey blog as of late, Seth Jones is a 6-3, 205-pound defenseman who could screw around and be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

Or as Prince put it, “I’ve had people involved in hockey tell me he could be one of the 25 greatest players over the last 50 years by the time he’s done.”

The conversation continued about Jones and Prince brought up how he hopes it all doesn’t become too much for Jones. By too much, he means the media exposure, the talk about being No. 1 overall and being the face of a movement.

Movement, in this case, being the black face of a sport which has been predominantly white.

Or as I put it to Prince, “You mean trying to be the Tiger Woods of hockey?”

Seth Jones hasn’t been drafted. He hasn’t played in the NHL. He hasn’t even played in the WHL yet these are the questions so many have slightly discussed but it seems like no one ever outright wants to say it.

Can Seth Jones bring about an entire change? Can this kid be the one who goes from being a “black” hockey player to just a hockey player?

Even while writing this, I realize it is a hell of a thing to ask of anyone let alone someone who is still a teenager. But let’s face it. That’s the situation he and the rest of us are all looking at.

Let’s assume, even for a minute, Seth Jones is everything we all think he is going to be and more.

He’s going to be that player fans – regardless of race -are going to want to see. He’s going to be the player kids are going to annoy their parents about and eventually bug them into submission into playing hockey.

Call me or this column far-fetched, but that’s the exact impact Woods had on golf when he broke into the PGA what’s been 16 years ago. Golf, for anyone who played it before Woods, was seen as a game for the rich, the stuffy, the privileged and rarely did you see anyone outside the country club crowd playing the game.

Films such as “Caddyshack” and “Happy Gilmore” are proof of how restricted the sport was with its fan base.

Yet when Woods broke in, he attracted everyone to the point where anyone who wanted to play golf could play golf and when it came to youth, his First Tee program gave them options.

To even suggest Jones could have that impact is taking a big gamble, but what if we’re right?

Say what you want but, for now, it appears Seth Jones has all the tools needed to pull this off and bridge the gap. When he was deciding between the WHL and the NCAA, he made it clear to both sides what his intentions were. That alone made many people achieve a respect for him because he was honest with what he was doing and didn’t commit only to decommit, leaving a school in peril.

Covering this league, you hear things about players and no one has ever said a negative thing about him. The only negative I’ve heard even remotely close is, “You wish there were more like him.”

Maybe if there were more like him we’d already be at a point where this discussion wouldn’t need to happen. Where we wouldn’t see hockey try to prove time in and time out it has evolved with diversity only to have incidents such as the one with Joel Ward happen.

But because there is one Seth Jones, it could make what we see even that more impressive.

 

Summer In The Studio…

USHL teams have been talking with Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer leading up to this month’s Entry Draft.

Bitzer said as of a week ago, the Fargo Force isn’t one of those teams.

“I have not talked to Fargo,” Bitzer said. “But I have talked to teams from both conferences.”

Bitzer, 18, is expected to be taken in next Tuesday’s Entry Draft, which serves as a way for teams to rebuild their rosters for the upcoming season. Goaltenders are always a popular commodity and Bitzer has worked himself into be one who could get drafted.

He took Moorhead to the Minnesota state hockey tournament in March and in the process was one of the event’s stars. He was a first-team all-state selection and a first-team all-tournament selection after leading Moorhead to a fourth place finish.

Bitzer was also named the Herb Brooks Award Winner for Class 2A and won the Frank Brimsek Award for Minnesota’s best senior goaltender. Having already signed a tender with Alexandria (NAHL), he got a chance to play juniors going 3-0 with a 2.00 goals against average.

“It was a great time,” Bitzer said of his NAHL experience. “Bunch of great guys and they made it easy to come in and play right away. I went down there to get a couple starts but I got to play right away.”

The three wins surely helped Bitzer improve his stock and has possibly added to what could be a murky future.

Alexandria announced weeks ago it was moving to Brookings, S.D. for next season. Then on a week ago, coach Doc DelCastillo said he was taking the head coach position at Hamline University.

Bitzer said DelCastillo texted the entire team thanking them for what turned out to be his last season.

“As for the whole thing, it is crazy and it puts another loop in things,” Bitzer said. “He gave me a chance to play right a way and gave me an opportunity.”

Bitzer said he’s going to use the next few months to think about his future and come up with a plan which works best for him.

He’s said on numerous occasions his goal is to play college hockey and both the NAHL and USHL provide that avenue. The NAHL told The Forum last week 66 percent of its players committed to a college, whether it be Division I or Division III.

The USHL said that two years ago all but six of its 300 players – or 98 percent – had a commitment to a Division I school.

Eleven of the 15 teams eligible for the USHL Entry Draft are losing their starting goaltenders to college next season creating a need for someone who could come in and play either right a way or to a successor in waiting.

The last two Brimsek Award winners – Omaha’s Alex Lyon (Yale) and Fargo’s Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) – were drafted into the USHL. Lyon became a starter in his first season while Gothberg was a backup his first season and in his second year, emerged as a strong favorite for the USHL’s Goaltender of the Year.

The Force are one of those teams with goaltender as Gothberg heads college next season while this year’s No. 2, Reed Peters, is set to be next year’s starting goaltender.

Having two goaltenders in their system, there may or may not be a need for the Force to bring in Bitzer.

Either way, he’ll end up somewhere. Whether its Brookings or the USHL remains to be seen.

“Whatever happens in the next month or so, happens,” Bitzer said. “We can only wait and see what opportunities come my way. We’ll make a decision from there.”

One Week…

If it feels like its been one interesting week in Sioux Falls, you might be on to something.

The Stampede fired head coach Kevin Hartzell after six seasons on Monday and on Friday the team hired former North Dakota assistant Cary Eades and he will be introduced at a press conference at 3 p.m.

Eades tweeted around 10:45 a.m. he would be taking over the position.

What Eades will inherit will be one of the more promising yet intriguing teams in the United States Hockey League next season.

The Stampede finished last in both the USHL and the Western Conference in a year marred by a lack of offensive production. Sioux Falls struggled offensively scoring a league-worst 127 goals while its defense and goaltending gave up 215 goals after establishing itself as one of the better defenses earlier in the year.

Sioux Falls could return up to 16 players including goaltender Charlie Lindgren and Todd Skirving, who finished fourth on the team in points with 25 last season. That group also includes former Moorhead forward Eric Brenk.

The team also made six selections in last week’s USHL Futures Draft taking St. Mary’s Prep forward Cody Milan with the ninth overall selection. One of the team’s selections was Fargo South defenseman Andrew Blumer, who said last week he will stay in high school for one more season before making the jump to the USHL.

Eades, before being released by North Dakota, served as an assistant for 15 years and was promoted to associate head coach back in the 2006-07 season. Before coming to North Dakota, he spent 11 seasons as the head coach of Warroad (MN-HS) and won three MInnesota state championships.

This will be Eades’ second stint in the USHL as he was the former head coach/general manager of the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the early 1990s. Eades went 86-46-7 in his time in Dubuque.

Art of Almost…

Staring into a camera, USHL commissioner Skip Prince talked about how the Futures Draft is an important yet special day for the young men who hope to make it into the league.

One can only hope the webcast didn’t give too many people including these future players the wrong impression of the league. The USHL Futures Draft was marred, for many, by a glitch-filled, error-infused webcast which at times became unbearable to watch.

The USHL has said on several occasions they wanted this draft to be different. So that’s why they went to a webcast format so that way draftees and their families could watch it together instead of having a player step out of class to learn he’d been drafted.

Getting drafted will be a memory but so will a few others items such as a show which started off with one of the mics catching someone swearing; an admission from one of the anchors that they didn’t care if the audience could hear them along with what was a somewhat thinly veiled shot at Rhode Island, which did draw a reaction from advisor Peter Baptista over Twitter. Baptista, who is based in Rhode Island, later deleted the tweet but we’ll address another tweet he had later.

But that was only the beginning. A 6 p.m. Central Time broadcast started 22 minutes later than expected resulting in teams using Twitter to announce their picks. By the time the webcast started, Twitter was midway through the second round.

Last season’s Futures Draft was a victim of a website which didn’t have the bandwidth to handle the traffic and later crashed harder than an impending Greek economy.

That happened a few times last night and here’s where Baptista probably tweeted what was on the minds of many:

Peter Baptista ? @peterbaptista : ah the @USHL web site crashes (again) for the #FuturesDraft … I was hopeful this time.

There are so many more things to delve into about what went wrong and due to fairness, I’m not going to get into every single item that went wrong.

But with the times that were addressed, one must admit it wasn’t the best situation for the USHL.

It cannot be expected for webcasts or even telecasts to be perfect. The Super Bowl and The Oscars are certainly proof. But when an event starts off 20 minutes late, the commissioner of your league has a camera pasted on him for 10 minutes prior to the show and Twitter is a more effective method to run a draft, those are glaring errors.

And it was noticed by several people on Twitter with one of them being Baptista who gave a somewhat sobering but alarming statement.

Peter Baptista ? @peterbaptista : someday the @USHL will learn 2 do their #FuturesDraft & #EntryDraft the right way online like the OHL with NO web site crashes

That’s a tweet this league never wants to see and in truth, cannot see.

People often throw out some frankly stupid reasons as to why the USHL/college model is better than Major Junior and vice-versa. Let me throw out my “stupid reasons” that have nothing to do with development.

Sometimes image goes a hell of a long way. Nike is proof. Unless we’re talking about the Kobe Systems, there hasn’t been a Nike ad hyping up a certain shoe in a long time. What makes Nike successful is they sell an image of something greater regardless of the shoes you buy.

The USHL needs that right now. Improving their image should be a top priority this off-season.

High hopes were certainly the mantra for a league which boasted its top prospects, had no problem willing to get in the ring with Major Junior and claimed it is second to no one.

Right now being second to anyone would be extremely high praise. The USHL’s image has taken a hit. It had a mid-season Prospects Game thrown together a few months in advance resulting in more scouts being at the games than fans.

It has come under criticism for adding four more games giving off the image that it either wants to add more games for development or more games for owners to fatten their wallets.

Then of course, the playoff scheduling which set up some teams with the task of possibly playing up to seven games in nine days. This league averages eight games in a month so seven games in nine days isn’t exactly bright. It’s especially not bright when its a league that lives off weekend attendance but plays games during the week and puts its high school students at risk of missing even more class time.

Jay-Z once said, “The try and the fail, the two things I hate. Succeed and the rap game, the two things that’s great.”

So far the USHL has half that message.

Question is: Can they get the rest of it?

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.

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.

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.