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.”

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.”

Where I’m Going…

Last night’s USHL Entry Draft and tonight’s Clark Cup Finals are the only items left before this season comes to an end.

It’s been a season which has seen quite a bit. Some good. Some bad.

Yet what you can’t help but look at is next season. Let’s rephrase that. You can’t help but look at what Sioux Falls will be next season.

Here’s a team which a month ago was finishing one of the worst seasons in franchise history finishing a dismal last in both the USHL and the Western Conference. It led to a myriad of changes including dismissing longtime head coach Kevin Hartzell.

But when you look at what’s happened since the firing, this already looks like a different team.

Sioux Falls went out and hired former North Dakota associate coach Cary Eades to become the team’s general manager and head coach. Getting Eades already put the Stampede in a position to make the playoffs in some minds.

And then throw in what happened yesterday during the Entry Draft.

Sioux Falls used the first pick to select Victory Honda forward Tony Calderone (Princeton), who dropped 65 points (38 goals, 27 assists) in 40 games. He was part of a blueprint which involved the team investing heavily at forward but getting strong pieces everywhere else like taking NTDP defenseman Gage Ausmus (Denver), who will join the team when he ages out of Ann Arbor.

Yet the biggest moves Eades made might have come before the draft. He traded for Cedar Rapids duo Dennis Kravchenko and Tom Forgione (both Vermont) giving him two players who certainly had their dominant moments last year.

Kravchenko, despite playing in 34 games, put up 21 points providing a much-needed shot in the arm for a RoughRiders team which nearly played themselves out of the playoffs. Forgione had 16 points in 40 games last season. And as we’ve seen, this is a league where second-year players make a significant adjustment.

It adds to what could be a promising situation with the Stampede returning up to 16 players with the biggest one being goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Lindgren, a former prep star in Minnesota, showed flashes of what made him so coveted at draft time a year ago.

Not many teams can boast having double-digit returners and the ones that do, usually make strides. Youngstown, which had 14 returning players to start this season, showed it can be done as it reached the second round of the playoffs.

When you think about it all, it’s almost the perfect storm for a team which was indeed shipwrecked not too long ago.

A new head coach with a track record of recruiting, drafting what might be one of the nation’s top midget players, trading for two experienced forwards, a roster full of returning pieces along with a Futures Draft which saw Sioux Falls take Cody Milan with its first pick makes for a pretty good mix.

It also is going make next season worth watching.

Time Is Running Out…

So we interrupt (OK, for a few minutes) the Force’s playoff run to remind folks about the affiliates list.

Remember those guys? They are the ones set to be the next members of the Force. Some will get to Fargo next year. Some will get to Fargo in a few years and others, such as Corey Ward (Bemidji State), don’t appear to be coming at all.

Here’s a look at how the Force’s future is looking at the present time:

-Charlie Pelnik (North Dakota), defenseman, Shattuck-St. Mary’s: Pelnik’s lone season at Shattuck is over. He featured in 44 games for the private school’s U-16 team scoring 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists). He helped the team to a 28-15-11 record and appears he will be playing for the Force next season on a blueline which could return as low as three or as many as six. The 6-4, 190-pound Pelnik,16, was the Force’s No. 10 pick in last season’s USHL Futures Draft.

-Brendan Harms (Bemidji State), forward, Portage (MJHL): Harms was a monster during the MJHL playoff scoring 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 21 games helping Portage to its fourth league title since 2005. Harms will now try to lead Portage to a consecutive Anavet Cup, which goes to the winner of a best-of-seven series played between the MJHL and SJHL champions. His playoff campaign adds to what was an already strong regular season with Harms scoring 57 points (22 goals, 35 assists) in a shortened 42-game schedule. He missed part of the season with a shoulder injury but appears to pretty healthy these days. Harms is expected to join the Force next season.

-Brett Heikkila (Northern Michigan), forward, Marquette Electricians (Midget Major): Heikkila’s season ended with Marquette in March but showed improvement compared to last season. He finished with 54 points (26 goals, 28 assists) in 67 games. Heikkila had 24 points in 53 games last year. Heikkila, 17, appears he will be in Fargo next year and beyond as he’s expected to be at Northern Michigan in 2014, according to Chris Heisenberg.

-Johnny Baiocco (Yale), forward, Delbarton Prep (NJ-HS): Baiocco was a big part of helping Delbarton repeat as New Jersey’s private school champions this season. Delbarton went 28-1 as Baiocco scored 54 points (27 goals, 27 assists) re-affirming the school’s dominance in New Jersey. He was also a first-team selection by the Newark Star-Ledger and was a first-team all-state selection to boot. Baiocco, a junior, will spend one more season at Delbarton and will then come to the Force for a year before heading off to Yale.

-Trevor Hamilton (Miami (Ohio), defenseman, NTDP (USHL): Hamilton and the U-17s suffered an expected first-round exit from the USHL Playoffs at the hands of defending Clark Cup champions, the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Hamilton ended his first season at the NTDP scoring eight points in 29 games. He also overcame an injury this season somewhat limiting him in his first season. Hamilton will stick with the NTDP for a second season playing more of an international schedule rather an a USHL-based schedule. Hamilton will join the Force after he has aged out of the NTDP and will spend one year here before heading to Oxford, Ohio.

-Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan), defenseman, Detroit Compuware (Midget Major): Ghafari was actually in town a few weeks ago to take in a weekend so he could get a feeling of what to expect next season. Force trainer Paul Wixo said at a recent practice Ghafari’s hands were massive and he already had strength for a 15-year-old. Ghafari, who is listed at 5-11, 175 pounds, finished his season with 13 points (1 goal, 12 assists) in 28 games. Ghafari was the first – and appears to be only player – the Force have tendered with the new system.

-Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth), forward, Duluth East (MN-HS): Toninato played four games with the Force scoring a goal before the playoffs started. Coach John Marks said he was pleased with how Toninato played and said he was looking forward to him joining the Force next season.

-Cory Ward (Bemidji State), forward, Aberdeen (NAHL): Ward is having one of the better seasons of any player in the NAHL for what is the second year in a row. He finished the regular season with 63 points (35 goals, 28 assists) in 55 games. He also had three points in four playoff games. Ward, however, will go straight to college next season meaning he will not play with the Force next season.

-Zach Doerring, forward, Blake (MN-HS): Doerring was in town for the Force’s last regular season game of the year. He and his dad confirmed that he’s received quite a bit of interest from school in Hockey East such as Northeastern and UMass. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as Doerring brother, Blake, just finished his first season at Vermont. Doerring scored 53 points for Blake this season and his 40 assists were tied for ninth in the state and sixth among players in Class 2. The 6-3, 175-pound Doerring will be in Fargo next season.

-Nick Kulmanovsky, goaltender, Alaska (NAHL): It has been established Reed Peters, this year’s back-up, will be the No. 1 guy heading into next season. Kulmanovsky, though, appears to be one of a few names in the running for the team’s No. 2 goaltender. He went 21-11-3 with a 2.61 GAA and a .906 save percentage. Kulmanovsky spent time with the Force last season appearing during the stretch of games where injuries and international commitments left the team without a No. 1 goaltender.

-T.J. Black, goaltender, Chicago Mission (Midget Major): Black finished as one of the best goaltenders in the High Performance Hockey League this year. He went 8-4 with one shutout, a 2.34 GAA and a .924 save percentage. He finished third in GAA while playing in a two-goaltender system. The 5-8, 165-pound Black was in Fargo a few weeks ago where he did practice with the team. A couple of players described him has being “quick” in net. Black, should he come to the Force next year, would be a junior in high school.

-Dante Suffredini, defenseman, Detroit Honeybaked (Midget Major): Suffredini was part of an immensely-talented Honeybaked team which finished second in the HPHL this season. He played in 26 games scoring eight points (1 goal, 7 assists). Given that the Force will lose at least two defensemen from this year’s team, it could result in Suffredini and potentially Pelnik joining Ghafari on next season’s roster.

-Gage Torrel, forward, Alexandria (NAHL): Torrel had a strong first season with the Blizzard scoring 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 53 games. Torrel left what would have been his senior year in high school to play for the Blizzard which were just recently eliminated by Austin in the NAHL Playoffs.

Cinema…

By now you’ve heard about Dubuque losing forward Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) for the rest of the Clark Cup Playoffs with a fractured jaw.

So what does all this mean? Well, that’s where we went out and found an expert. That just happens to be Jim Leitner, who is the sports editor of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald and is the beat writer for the team.

Jim was gracious to give us a few minutes of his time to ask him about what Girgensons’ injury means going forward for the Fighting Saints.

Here’s our Q-and-A session with Jim:

 

Q: Take us to the play when he hurt his jaw. Was it apparent then something happened or did he not really show it until later in the game?

A: The hit happened near the penalty box across from the Saints’ bench. Zemgus got up and skated gingerly across the ice to the bench, where the trainers checked him out. They went back to the dressing room for a few minutes, but he only missed a few shifts. He played most of the second period, too, but he did not play in the third. He actually assisted on a goal after the injury. It was typical Zemgus, trying to make something happen. He got a shot on goal while being knocked to his knees, and Jono Davis slammed home the rebound.

 

Q: What did he look like after the game? How did he feel after the game? Could he even talk?

A: Didn’t see him.

 

Q: People think he’s out and feel their chances may be out the door. Give us three reasons why they’ll win the Clark Cup or give us three reasons why they won’t?

A: The Fighting Saints are playing exceptionally well right now, probably the best hockey they’ve played all year. Zemgus was a big part of that. They were a little inconsistent for most of the second half, but they really turned on the jets in the final three weeks or so of the season. They have a great group of veterans who know what it takes to win playoff hockey games, and the  younger guys have adapted well to the intensity of the postseason.

Green Bay has been the favorite to win the Clark Cup since Christmastime. The Gamblers haven’t lost back-to-back games the entire season, which has to be a first in the Tier I  era of the USHL. No matter how well any other team in the league is playing, Green Bay is still the favorite.

Q: Who do you think are the players the Fighting Saints will need (don’t say John Gaudreau) will need to rely upon to repeat as Clark Cup champions?

A: When the Fighting Saints are at their best, it’s really hard to single out one or two players who stand out. Tyler Amburgey, Tyler Lundey, T.J. Moor, Matt Morris and Shane Sooth were all integral parts of the Clark Cup championship team last year, and they set the tone in the first playoff game while the newer guys got their feet wet. By the middle of the first playoff game Monday night, it seemed like all 20 guys were in sync.

 

Q: How much does his injury change or maybe even not change their playoff hopes?

A: Zemgus was absolutely dominant the last few weeks of the season and in the game Monday night against Team USA. During last year’s run to the Clark Cup, it seemed like a different guy stepped up every game. This team is starting to develop that same feel to it. No question, it’s a big loss for Dubuque. But, if you look at the teams who have won the Clark Cup over the years, they’ve done it with balance.  The team that wins the Clark Cup this year will be the same.

 

Q: Finally, you’ve seen him more than anyone. How would you describe him when he plays a game and way from the ice whether be during interviews or other off-ice encounters?

A: Zemgus is the most-competitive, most-driven and toughest athlete I’ve had the opportunity to cover in any sport in the 24 years I’ve been here at the Telegraph Herald. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him take a shift off in a game, and he’s as competitive in his own end as he is in the offensive zone. I love the way he hustles back on defense when the play is going the other way. Off the ice, he’s a private person, but once you get to know him, he’s really funny and outgoing. When I first interviewed him two years ago, I got the impression I was talking to a 30-year-old man, not a 16-year-old kid. We’re going to miss him here in Dubuque, but it’ll be fun watching him on TV.

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.

He Got Game…

NHL’s Central Scouting released this morning its final rankings of North American skaters, a list which features six Fargo Force players.

There are 29 listed players from the USHL but the number might be higher when adding players like the Force’s Jay Dickman and Indiana’s Boo Nieves (Michigan), who are now playing in the league after playing for their high schools earlier in the year.

Defenseman and team captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), to no surprise, was the highest-rated Force player checking in at 68th overall. The 5-10 Cooper was touted last season by Jack Barzee, now formerly of Central Scouting, as a player to watch in the USHL this season.

Cooper, 18, has scored 23 points in 54 games while leading the Force to what appears to be a fourth-place finish in the Western Conference.

Forward Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) is listed at 112th overall. Farley exploded this season as he was on a pace to break every team single-season scoring record until suffering a foot injury. The injury left him out for a month. He has scored 10 points in 12 games giving him 58 points in 49 games.

Fellow Bulldog commit Alex Iafallo came in at 133rd overall. Iafallo was drafted nearly a year ago by the team and made the squad out of camp. Iafallo along with linemates, Dave Gust and Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), have formed a partnership that has given the Force a secondary offensive threat to Farley’s line. Iafallo,who has four points in four games, has scored 31 points in 56 games this season. He will play next season in Fargo before going off to college.

Defenseman Justin Wade (Notre Dame) came in at 144th overall. Wade, in his second season, has been living up to the promise of being a shutdown defenseman. He’s been one of the reasons why the Force are statistically the second-best defense in the entire USHL. Wade’s punishing checks, annoying pokechecks and stay-at-home style has made him one of the league’s best shutdown defenseman. He’s also been able to contribute on offense picking up seven points in 55 games. He’s also a plus-17 on the year. Wade will be back with the team next season before going to Notre Dame.

Five spots after Wade was forward Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth), who has played the last few weekends with the Force. Toninato played high school hockey at Duluth East this season which went 27-1 heading into the Minnesota state hockey tournament but left with a consolation tournament trophy. Toninato scored his first goal on Saturday in the Force’s 5-1 win over Sioux Falls. Toninato, who wore No. 9, will be with the Force next season.

Forward Jay Dickman, who was still listed under St. Paul Johnson, rounded out the Force’s list at 203. Dickman has five points – all assists – in 11 games with the Force but made his name in high school. Dickman scored an impressive 45 goals this season to become Class 2A’s leading goal-scorer. At 6-5, 228 pounds he has been described as a draft dark horse. Ryan Kennedy, of The Hockey News, tweeted that an NHL scout said Dickman was built like an all-state wrestler but had soft hands to go along with his game.

NTDP defenseman Jacob Trouba (Michigan) was the league’s highest rated player nine while Dubuque’s Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) was rated at 18.

Lincoln phenom Kevin Roy (Brown), who has 100 points this season, was rated 78th.

Former Force forward Ben Johnson was rated at No. 52 on the list. Johnson had a short stint with the team playing in five games. He returned to Calumet (MI-HS) where he was Michigan’s Mr. Hockey. Johnson then left high school signing with the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL.

Johnson is one of three former Force players to play or intend on playing with a Major Junior team in the last three years. Blake Clarke, who played with the Force earlier in the year, was taken 15th overall by the Brampton Battalion on Saturday in the OHL Priority Draft.

Ring My Bell…

Let’s think about this one for a second.

The Dubuque Fighting Saints are in their second season and have accomplished quite a bit in that time. There’s winning last season’s Clark Cup title. There’s last season’s phenom John Gaudreau, who in a year picked up several trophies, was drafted by the Calgary Flames and is now at Boston College playing in the Frozen Four.

And then there’s players like Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) and Michael Matheson (Boston College), who could be the USHL’s first set of non-NTDP teammates to go in the first round in quite a while.

You might think that’d be enough but you’re dead wrong. There’s another accolade this franchise is gunning for and that’s the Cowbell Cup.

No. We’re not joking. It really is called the Cowbell Cup.

We’ve seen a season where coaches have had toilets placed in their parking spots a day before they were fired by the team. So why can’t there be a team trying to become the first-ever Cowbell Cup Champs?

Dubuque sent out a release late Wednesday explaining how a win on Friday over the Waterloo Black Hawks would give them the trophy-clinching win.

“The Black Hawks and Rough Riders are our two closest rivals,” said Dubuque coach and Maine legend Jim Montgomery in a release. “Their fans come to our games, and our fans go to Waterloo and Cedar Rapids in droves when we play there.  It’s an opportunity for us to stake a claim to being the best team in Eastern Iowa.”

The Cowbell Cup Series (yeah, that thing needs a dairy farm as a sponsor) is a three-team series between Dubuque, Waterloo and the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Whoever finishes first between the three teams, of course, takes the cup.

For as cool as this is, it makes us wonder why aren’t there more rivalry trophies in the USHL? Just saying. If a life-sized bust of Tom Osborne went to the winner of the Lincoln/Omaha/Tri-City series, we could see some classic games.

Or not.

Either way, we’ll be back later today with a few items such as the USHL Coach of the Year candidates and some insightful stories from Popeye Jones on his son, Seth, who by all accounts could be the No. 1 pick in next season’s NHL Draft.

Until then, have a good one.

 

Popular Demand…

We’re back with Part II in our series looking at frontrunners for specific USHL awards.

Today’s post looks at the Forward of the Year candidates. Feeling around the league and practically the planet is Lincoln’s Kevin Roy (Brown) is going to run away with the award among other trophies.

Let’s look and see if anyone really could challenge Roy for the award

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln (Brown): He’s a Player of the Year favorite. He’s a Rookie of the Year favorite. He’s turned down the QMJHL team in his backyard. He’s about to score 100 points and in the process get drafted in his second year of eligibility. Oh and he’s also been an internet sensation long before coming to the USHL. Let the record reflect Roy has scored 90 points (47 goals, 43 assists) in 53 games. Guy has terrorized USHL defenses while making Lincoln look like an even more dangerous team and maybe the Western Conference favorite as the playoffs draw closer. The only thing Roy hasn’t done is feed the homeless but for all we know, he’s probably done that between shifts.

-Daniil Tarasov, Indiana: If anyone has reason to be mad the last two seasons it could be Tarasov. He scored 75 points in 57 games last season. It led some to wonder if he could do it again this season without some of the high-end talent he previously had. Tarasov has done it again scoring 76 points (41 goals, 35 assists) in 54 games. He has made Indiana another legit contender and he’s done it in a year where Green Bay has dominated the league and he has a younger core of teammates. Roy’s incredible season, in turn, has made people forget about what Tarasov has done this year. He’s helped younger forwards such as Robbie Baillargeon (Boston University) into becoming a solid presence on a franchise known for its scoring. He’s shown the league a player such as Jacob Fallon (Vermont) could be a playmaker and have as many goals this season as he had in the last two years. If its not for Kevin Roy, people would give Tarasov more credit. Period.

-Mike Ambrosia, Youngstown (Princeton): Ambrosia is in the same boat as Tarasov when it comes to being overshadowed by Roy. Ambrosia has been one of the better forwards in the league this year constantly creating chances for his teammates. He’s created chances and been a leader on a team which definitely had the pieces to compete and contend for an Eastern Conference title. Ambrosia’s 44 assists – second in the league – have gone a long way towards changing the image many have had about Youngstown’s forwards and in truth, that whole team. We’ve talked to him for an upcoming feature and you can tell he gets it. He gets how important it is to achieve consistency and be a leader for a team. Ambrosia looks the part, sounds the part and acts the part.

-Jimmy Murray, Omaha (St. Cloud State): Murray, in a way, represents what’s been so intriguing about this year’s group of top forwards. From Roy to Murray, every one of these guys were questioned. Murray was questioned as to whether or not he could really succeed in the USHL. He was here in Fargo and was later shipped to the NAHL and then eventually the Lancers. All he’s done is lead the USHL in assist along with having Omaha as one of the favorites to challenge for the Clark Cup title. Teammates say he’s been a leader and it’s even made some in Fargo say they wish he was back. Murray also managed to earn a scholarship to St. Cloud State in the process. Can’t discount the kind of year he’s having.

-Zemgus Girgensons, Dubuque (Vermont): See this post to get an idea of where Girgensons stands in this debate.

 

THE VERDICT: All of these players make really legit arguments. But when it comes down to who has been the best forward this year, without question it is Kevin Roy. It’s Roy all the way. But if we had to pick a winner that wasn’t Kevin Roy, it’d be a toss up and in that regard we’d have to go with Ambrosia. Nothing against Tarasov, Murray or Girgensons but what’s being done in Youngstown gets more impressive by the week.

NEXT IN THE SERIES: Defenseman of the Year