Keep You With Me…

Whether its the casual fan, the die-hard or someone in between, there’s a fair number of people peering through NHL Draft guides hoping their favorite team can get the next big thing or big find.

Of course you’ll see players from the three Major Junior leagues. You’ll see college players along with players from the USHL. Yet what you cannot help but notice (if you are a USHL fan) is how three former USHL players left the league and are now set to be taken in the Top 60 picks.

We jokingly call it, “The All our-lives-got-better-once-we-left-the-USHL Team”

TSN’s hockey chief Bob McKenzie released his Top 60 rankings and on it were former USHLers Henrik Samuelsson, Daniil Zharkov and Brady Vail. Despite not making the list former USHLer Logan Nelson has also come on as of late to be what might be a third-round pick, a significant jump for someone who was undrafted last year.

Here’s a look at all four players and the circumstances that led them to where they are at:

Henrik Samuelsson, forward (ranked 36th by McKenzie): He spent last season in the NTDP’s program and if he would have stayed, probably would have added to what was a talented U-18 this season. Instead, he returned to his father’s (former Penguins star, Ulf) native Sweden where he played pro hockey. He did fine in the Modo system’s U-16 and U-18 teams before having limited success (two points in 15 games) playing against grown men. He went to the Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) where he re-discovered his touch scoring 23 points in 28 games along with having a torrid playoff stretch where he had 14 points in 17 games.

Daniil Zharkov, forward (ranked 47th by McKenzie): Zharkov’s tale is appearing to be a recurring theme with players of his ilk. The theme being: How did a guy like this struggle in the USHL going into somewhat obscurity only to shine in a league like the OHL, which might be the best proving ground for any NHL prospect? He played 36 games in 2010-11 with the Tri-City Storm and did have 11 points to his credit. But he then leaves and goes to the Belleville Bulls putting up 36 points in 50 games. Maybe if he had stayed, perhaps he’d still be a potential second-round pick. We’ll never know.

Brady Vail, forward (ranked 60th by McKenzie): With this one, we are going to give some serious credit to Chris Peters at the United States of Hockey. Peters (as he often does in our phone conversations) pointed out how one of the things hurting the USHL is allowing 15-year-olds to come into the league only to leave and develop somewhere else. Ergo Brady Vail. Vail played 48 games scoring eight points in his lone season in Waterloo. His first season in Windsor wasn’t so hot either playing 61 games and scoring 10 points. This most recent season is where Vail really started to show promise. He put up 52 points in 68 games and in the process did something which Peters said made his value go up. He pointed out how Vail played against the top lines in the league meaning he had to go up against some of the top players in the OHL. Oh and by the way, the OHL is set to have three players (two forward and one defenseman) go in the Top 10 this year.

Logan Nelson, forward: Let’s go ahead and ask the most obvious question when it comes to Nelson. How in the hell does he score 62 points in the WHL a league which has four defensemen set to go in the Top 10 yet he only scores nine points in the USHL? Nelson’s transformation could be chalked up to just a player simply developing over a year. But it is still remarkable how he was able to make the jump from the USHL to the WHL and have success. At the time, Nelson’s decision to play for the Victoria Royals was a bit of a weird one given how there were times he did look invisible. Looking back, however, it appears it could have been the best decision he ever made. It appears he could go in the third or fourth round and that’s a serious jump up from last year when every team passed on him in the draft. Des Moines fans probably don’t want to read the following so the best suggestion is to look away. But imagine if this guy stays. Imagine if he could translate his WHL success onto a USHL platform? That probably would have been the difference between making the playoffs and missing out for a fifth-straight season and having what might have been one of the most embarrassing seasons in team history.

Stationary Robbery…

With it being the off-season and weekend, here’s a little nugget to take with you.

Remember Zach Pochiro? OK. Probably not. He had a training camp stint with the Force last season after being taken by the team in last season’s USHL Entry Draft. He was drafted again by Lincoln in Tuesday’s USHL Entry Draft but today signed a contract with the Prince George Cougars in the Western Hockey League.

The move kind of came as a surprise as Pochiro put 34 points playing for Wichita Falls (NAHL) this past season.

Signing with a Major Junior team adds to an interesting trend the Force have had with former players. The trend being the Force keep having guys who got little if any playing time but they go Major Junior.

For example:

-Ben Johnson, forward: When Johnson came to the Force, not much was really known about him other than he was from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He had five games with the Force scoring no points and decided to return home. Since then, he went on to become Michigan’s Mr. Hockey and this season finished his first campaign with the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League.

-Marek Hrbas, defenseman: Hrbas played 40 games in his first and only season with the Force before heading to the WHL. The promising Czech defenseman had 17 points in 64 games with Edmonton and spent this season with the Kamloops Blazers putting up 25 points in 67 games.

-Blake Clarke, forward: Here’s some more message board fodder for Force fans. Clarke was drafted by the team last year and became the youngest player in the league at 15. He spent a few months with the Force playing in 13 games getting one goal. Clarke returned home to St. Louis and in a matter of months represented Team USA at the World Youth Olympic Games and last month was drafted 15th overall by the Brampton Battalion in the OHL Priority Draft. He was the highest American taken and given his current trajectory could very well be a first or second round pick when he becomes draft eligible.

 

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.

 

The Merchant of Portland…

The father of National Team Development Program defenseman Seth Jones said Wednesday it was a “no-brainer” for his son to go to the WHL.

Former NBA forward Popeye Jones said there were a lot of items which helped his son decide if he wanted to spend next season with the Portland Winterhawks. Jones, 17, chose to play for the Winterhawks on Monday ending a tug-of-war for his services between the WHL’s premier franchise and the University of North Dakota.

“He put a lot of thought into it,” Popeye Jones said. “He did not want to choose a college early like a lot of kids do. We told him if you are not sure, to keep your options open. If a college is planning on you coming there, back it up. As parents, we felt it wouldn’t be a good thing to do and he didn’t think so either.”

Jones choosing Portland over North Dakota brought an end to one of the more publicized recruiting battles in recent hockey history. The 6-3, 205-pounder is projected to be the No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick in next season’s NHL Draft.

Popeye Jones said what made Portland stand out was the reputation of coach Mike Johnston, who has turned the team into one of Major Junior’s elite over the last few seasons.

Another thing, Popeye Jones said, that helped was the fact his son could continue his education while playing in the WHL.

“There is a great academic program there,” he said. “It was really important to us becuase he’s not playing in college. We want him to get a degree and get into a strong academic program. He’s a smart kid and skipped a year of high school and that in itself lets everyone know that as a family, we put education ahead of sports.”

Popeye Jones added his son wanted to stay in the United States and it is another reason why Portland made sense.

Jones’ rights were owned by the Everett Silvertips (Wash.) and were later traded to Portland further solidifying the chances he’d be staying in America.

Staying in the United States, playing for one of Major Junior’s elite franchises, having a 72-game regular season schedule coupled with producing four first-round draft picks since 2010 is what helped put Portland over North Dakota, Popeye Jones said.

“I think will all the success Portland has had,” Popeye Jones said. “And the guys they’ve developed, it was a no-brainer for him to go there.”

Popeye Jones did add that his son did enjoy his visits to North Dakota.

Though there is one question that remains for the Jones’ family. Will it be enough to convince Caleb Jones to follow his brother?

Caleb Jones was taken in the third round by Portland in last week’s WHL Bantam Draft.

Like his brother, he is a defenseman and is currently playing midget hockey in the Dallas Stars’ youth program. Popeye Jones said Caleb was a different player than his older brother describing him as “bigger and more physical.”

“He’s still trying to decide,” Popeye Jones said about Caleb’s future. “He’s a very mature kid also as is Seth and that is what he’s thinking about right now. One thing that he’d love to do, is playing in Ann Arbor. That is his goal right now.”

Should Caleb Jones follow his brother to the NTDP, which fosters what is considered to be the nation’s best talent, it appears it may not be a problem for Popeye Jones.

Popeye Jones said he was impressed and grateful for everything the NTDP did for his son’s development on the ice and way from it during his two-year stay.

He said the NTDP was everything Jones wanted it to be and more given the demands the program has on its players from an academic viewpoint as well as the mindset it takes with development.

“For me and Seth may say something different, but any kid that has the chance to go to Ann Arbor and go to the NTDP, it’s a great program,” Popeye Jones said. “It is everything as a player that Seth wanted and everything as parents we wanted. The education aspect, even the grind of it. I don’t mind the grind of it and for a young kid, that is important. Seth’s billet mother was wonderful and he also lived with Quentin Shore (Denver) and they’ve been good friends for a long time. All of that has been great for him. The gains he has made while he was there were great. He was around 170 pounds and is leaving at 205 and the strength training and hockey training of Coach (Danton) Cole, they ride kids pretty hard there and they are very disciplined there as well.”

Portland Song…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopes and Dreams…

We had a post earlier on the blog about Seth Jones in April regarding his future.

Jones put all that to rest on Monday by choosing the Portland Winterhawks over the University of North Dakota.

We got the chance to speak with Jones’ father, Popeye, a month ago about his son. Popeye Jones, an assistant with the New Jersey Nets, shared a few memories about his son and some of the family’s best hockey experiences.

 

Q: Hearing you talk, I get the feeling you’ve always been into hockey. How did you get into the game?

POPEYE JONES: “We watched as a family when the Dallas Stars came to town. I did a charity event with Mike Modano and spoke with him. We watched hockey as a family and watched the Stars win a Cup in 1999. It was exciting watching hockey and my career ended up taking me to Toronto and I’d watch hockey there and then from there, we went as a family to Boston and another that’s good hockey town and then we end up in Denver and then they win a Stanley Cup. As hockey fans we got spoiled. I remember the NHL All-Star Game came to Denver and I got (Seth) tickets to that and all the festivals. Just going to playoff games and the love of hockey took over our family. I still love basketball and still love to play it but in my free time I took (Seth) to hockey games at night.”

 

Q: Was it your meeting with Modano that got you interested in hockey?

PJ: “I don’t know if it was the meeting. At first, he invited me out to a game and it was new to fans out in Dallas. I went and a fight broke out and I was like, “What’s going on?’ Everyone just stood up and started cheering. Then in another instance there was another fight and blood was all over the ice and they kept playing. It was different than anything I saw in basketball. They just kept playing. Becoming a fan and starting to learn about the game made me realize it was similar to basketball. It’s about spacing, tough defense, pick setting, give and gos and learning to play off teammates. I was at the Pepsi Center one day and I saw Joe Sakic. The Pepsi Center was new and the Avalanche didn’t have a weight room yet. So he came over to the Nuggets weight room. He was walking over and he didn’t know who I was but I started talking to him. I told him my kids wants to play hockey. He looked at my feet and looked up all the way to my head. He said, ‘From the look of things, they are going to be some big boys. My advice is they know how to skate because it looks like they are going to be some good athletes. You can do stickhandling with a golf ball but get them skating.’ So when it came to Seth’s development it was about finding a really good coach. We found a lady who coached the ladies in figure skating and her dad was a hockey coach who coached skating. She was right there at the Littleton rink in Colorado and Seth started taking lessons. You’d ask him when he was a little boy if he loved playing hockey and he’d tell you that he loved skating. She would marvel at him so she’d show him how to make a cut or how to use an edge. She told us how impressed she was with how quickly he picked up on things.”

 

Q: What would you say has been your family’s best hockey memory?

PJ: “I think the best memory to me is his first travel tournament. Hockey is a crazy sport and there is a huge amount travel at a young age. It was his first travel tournament and we went to Whistler, B.C. near Vancouver and I remember him having a really good tournament. He played defense and in the championship game, I remember him having to go to the bathroom. When he went to the bathroom, the other team scored two goals while he was gone and it almost cost them the game. That for me was one of the fondest memories I have. I know some of the other players’ parents asked me, ‘Don’t that kid know how to go (to the bathroom) in his hockey breezers?’”

Pop’s Rap…

Defenseman Seth Jones hasn’t made a decision. At least not yet.

Longtime NBA forward Popeye Jones said Tuesday his son will probably decide where he will play next season following the IIHF U-18 World Championships, which start April 12 in the Czech Republic.

Jones, 17, is widely considered to be one of the best players in his age group and could taken in the Top 3 of the 2013 NHL Draft. Jones, who plays with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, will age out of the program and has said he will spend next season either at the University of North Dakota or will play for the Everett Silvertips in the Western Hockey League.

“It’s still very much up in the air right now,” Popeye Jones said by phone. “He wants to focus on the U-18 worlds and he’s been focusing and preparing very hard for that. His decision will probably come after the U-18 worlds. It’s his life and he’s still young. But he’s a pretty mature kid and it’s a decision he needs to make.”

Jones recently took a visit to North Dakota and his father said that his son really enjoyed his visit to Grand Forks to see the campus and the team’s facility.

Should Jones pick North Dakota, he would go to one of college hockey’s perennial powers and a program which has sent numerous players into the NHL such as current stars, Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise.

He would also enhance a recruiting class which features his NTDP teammate, Miles Koules; Fargo Force goaltender and Boston Bruins draft pick Zane Gothberg and Green Bay defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, who could be a first-round pick in this year’s draft.

Though if Jones chooses to spend next season in Everett, he would play for a franchise which has produced four first-round selections since 2006. It would also give Jones a chance to play in the WHL, which has been a strong breeding ground for first-round defensemen.

Five WHL defensemen could be taken in the first round of this year’s draft including current Everett star Ryan Murray. Murray was projected as the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft by Eastern and Western Conferences scouts who spoke with NHL.com.

The 6-3, 201-pound Jones has spent two seasons with the NTDP scoring 26 points in 48 USHL games. He has also played in multiple international tournaments and college exhibition games.

“This is a totally different animal, hockey and basketball, when compared to what my situation was,” Popeye Jones said. “When I was coming out of high school, I had very few college offers and was not nearly good enough to jump to the pros. I needed those four years of college. The only thing I can tell him was how much I enjoyed my experience of college. I cannot tell him the experience of junior hockey. He’d have to go to someone else.”

Popeye Jones played college basketball at Murray State and then went on to play 11 seasons in the NBA.

Popeye Jones, who is an assistant coach with the New Jersey Nets, said the distance along with the busy schedules makes it difficult for him and his son to connect on a frequent basis.

For example, while his son is in Ann Arbor taking high school classes and training with the NTDP, Popeye Jones was getting ready for his team’s game on Tuesday against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. The Nets lost 91-87 after Bryant hit a 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left.

Popeye Jones said during the NBA All-Star Break he went to Huntsville, Ala., to watch his son play in a game against Alabama-Huntsville. He’s also had a chance to watch his son’s games online.

But when they do talk, Popeye Jones said, they don’t discuss the future unless his son wants to bring it up.

“It was thrilling for me to see him play,” Popeye Jones said about his son’s game in Huntsville. “But with the distance, it is very tough. If he has a question about a certain thing, he will either ask me or his mother. It has to be his decision and we support him.”

Watch The Throne Part II…

We’re back with Day 2 of our state tournament preview by taking a look at the teams in Class A.

Hermantown comes in as the heavy favorite but it won’t be that easy considering it has to worry about defending champs, St. Thomas Academy, a high-octane Breck and a pesky Thief River Falls in its way to Class A supremacy.

Here’s a glance at all eight teams:

 

1. Hermantown (28-0):

-The Skinny: Hermantown rolled through Class A this year with absolute ease. Last year’s second-place team is looking to finish first and make amends for losing to St. Thomas Academy in one of the more entertaining games on either side of the bracket last season. Every major power has its engine and with Hermantown it indeed is Jared Thomas (Minnesota-Duluth). Thomas leads Hermantown with 77 points (26 goals, 51 assists) this season making him one of the more dominant players in Class A.

-Player to watch: Goaltender Matt Mensinger is a guy to keep an eye on. He went 22-0 this year with a 1.30 GAA with a .940 GAA and five shutouts. Mensinger could be a major part of Hermantown’s run to success given his 6-3 frame and strong numbers.

-Number of appearances: Hermantown is making its ninth state tournament appearance and has won the state tournament once (2007).

 

2. St. Thomas Academy (23-5):

-The Skinny: Last year’s defending state champ comes back with another realistic chance at picking up a second straight title. STA lost its big guns from last season but certainly has the balanced scoring to make it a threat to Hermantown, the favorite to win the title this season. STA’s strength has been its balanced scoring considering it has eight or more players who scored at least 20 points this season. Alex Johnson and Peter Kreiger finished tied for the regular season lead in points with 39 while Andrew Commers led STA with seven points in the section playoffs.

-Player to watch: Defenseman Eric Schurhamer (Maine) has been arguably the strongest two-way threat in Class A this season. Schurhamer has 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists) in 28 games making him one of STA’s threats on offense. On defense, he’s this team’s No. 1 d-man and plays on everything from the power play to the penalty kill.

-Number of appearances: St. Thomas Academy has made six appearances at the state tournament and has won state three times (2006, 2008 and 2011).

 

3. Breck School (24-3-1):

-The Skinny: Breck survived a thrilling 7-5 win over Blake to win the section title and return to state with one of the more powerful lineups in Class A this season. If any team has a lot to prove this year, it might be these guys. Breck was taken down in the first round by Thief River Falls, which at the time was considered an upset. TRF went on to finish third in the tournament. A year older, Breck appears its ready to use what its learned the last year to its advantage and really send a message to everyone else in the tournament this season. Like STA, Breck has balanced scoring but with this group, it has four players with 50 or more points in the regular season.

-Player to watch: There’s many to choose but we’ll take Keegan Iverson. As a freshman, he’s making his second state tournament appearance but will it be his last? There has been talk about Iverson going to play with Portland (WHL) next season though a decision hasn’t been made. Iverson caught many eyes last year using his 6-3 frame and skating ability to move around the ice with ease. He’s added offense to his game scoring 44 points in 26 games heading into the tournament.

-Number of appearances: Breck is making its ninth state tournament appearance having won the tournament four times (2000, 2004, 2009 and 2010).

 

4. Thief River Falls (22-4-2)

-The skinny: TRF might have been one of the better stories of last season’s tournament. The Prowlers surprised many by beating Breck and then sticking with STA until the very end in the second round. TRF pulled off a win to finish third keeping many people on notice for what next season could bring. All this team has done is have one of the better seasons in recent program history in the hopes of bringing home another trophy.

-Player to watch: Jon Narverud could be the key here. He was part of last season’s run which used multiple goaltenders at the tournament. This year it appears Narverud is the No. 1 guy. He went 18-1-1 with a 1.66 GAA between the regular season and the section playoffs.

-Number of appearances: Thief River Falls is making its 12th state tournament appearance having won the tournament twice (1954, 1956).

 

5. New Ulm (17-11)

-The skinny: The first round hasn’t been kind to New Ulm having been trounced by double-digit goals last season against St. Thomas Academy. Considering how Thief River Falls has played as of late, there’s a chance it could be another ugly game. Give them credit. For a team comprised of six schools, they’ve found a way to get down to St. Paul for the third year in a row.

-Player to watch: Dylan Schreckenberg is a guy to pay attention to. He was tied for second in points (46) in the regular season and came alive in the section playoffs scoring nine points.

-Number of appearances: New Ulm is making its fourth state tournament appearance.

 

6. Little Falls (19-9)

-The skinny: Nothing like returning to The Tourney and getting a crack at the defending state champions. That’s what Little Falls faces in the first round. Little Falls, sadly, represents what is a harsh reality for teams in this bracket. Teams who work hard, have a good season yet barring an upset faces a Goliath in St. Thomas Academy. Little Falls beat section opponents in the playoffs by an average of 7-1. Something says that might not happen against St. Thomas.

-Player to watch: Joey Hanowski led this team in scoring with 43 points in the regular season and an astounding 14 points in the section playoffs.

-Number of appearances: Little Falls is making its sixth state tournament appearance.

 

7. Duluth Marshall (21-7):

-The skinny: If there’s a safe bet for a potential upset in these playoffs, this could be the team to pick. Marshall’s had a really strong season and a ton scoring this year too. Marshall hasn’t been at the state tournament for a few years but don’t be too shocked if this year’s group can be this year’s Thief River Falls in regards to being a team which could surprise a few people. That said, don’t be too surprised if the uber-talented Breck runs away with this game too.

-Player to watch: Judd Peterson (St. Cloud State) without doubt is the player to focus on with Marshall. He scored 79 points in 28 games this season including an impressive 44 goals between the regular season and the playoffs.

-Number of appearances: Duluth Marshall is making its sixth state tournament appearance.

 

8. Rochester Lourdes (20-8)

-The skinny: Oh Lourdes. Lourdes gets the honor of trying to beat Hermantown and turn this tournament upside down. Lourdes is returning for the fifth straight season to the state tournament. The plan is to avoid what happened in last year’s first round when it was treated not-so-nicely to open the tournament.

-Player to watch: Landon Farrell and Jason Samuelson led this team in scoring in the regular season and the playoffs. They’ll need to be on their “A” game to help Lourdes this tournament.

-Number of appearances: Rochester Lourdes is making its eight state tournament appearance.

 

Let It Loose…

North Dakota commit and forward Luke Voltin has been added to the Chicago Steel, according to league sources.

Voltin, 16, was dismissed from the National Team Development Program late Tuesday night and the NTDP confirmed the news on Wednesday morning.

Voltin was playing with the U-17 team and was dismissed for what is believed to be a violation of team rules. NTDP spokesman Jake Wesolek could not discuss the reasons for Voltin’s dismissal from the program.

USHL Director of Hockey Operations Tony Gill said this morning there is a process in which a team could add Voltin to its roster but declined to further describe how it all works although with Chicago obtaining his rights, it could be determined the process allows a player like Voltin to go to whoever is first in line in the league’s waiver wire.

Chicago, which is 9-21-1 this season, has the worst mark in the league.

Voltin tweeted prior to the news breaking he was not going to play in the Western Hockey League and would honor his commitment to North Dakota along with playing in the USHL quickly.

He could realistically play this weekend when the Steel having three games agianst Indiana, Youngstown and Cedar Rapids.

Voltin, 16, played in 11 league games this seasons scoring six points for three goals and three assists. He was part of the United States team which won its third consecutive Four Nations Title.

In Voltin Chicago is getting a forward considered to be among the best American-born forwards in his age group.

He played on varsity last season as a sophomore at perennial Minnesota power Hill-Murray, scoring 31 points (18 goals and 13 assists) on a team which had been favored to make a serious run at a state title before losing in the section finals.

Before going to Chicago, Voltin had two other options which didn’t include the USHL.

Voltin’s Major Junior rights are owned by the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks, who lately have had a knack for getting and seriously tempting players from North Dakota and Minnesota to join their team.

Portland recently signed Minot, N.D. native Alex Schoenborn to a contract for next season and are believed to be in the hunt for Breck freshman defenseman-turned-winger Keegan Iverson.

There have also been more Minnesotans going to play Major Junior as of late. Voltin’s former Hill-Murray teammate, defenseman Travis Wood, signed a contract to play this season with the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League.

Edina’s Ben Walker left the Hornets, another Minnesota perennial power, to sign with the Victoria Royals, which also play in the WHL.

Another possibility would be to return to Hill-Murray but now he is going to Chicago he will be expected to help jump start what has been one of the league’s most beleaguered offenses.

Price Tag…

So far, the USHL isn’t exactly being kind to the Quebec Remparts and owner/general manager/coach Patrick Roy.

It appears Roy has been turned aside for the second time in a month by a USHL-based player. The Remparts acquired the rights to Youngstown forward Austin Cangelosi on Saturday.

Though the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League-based Remparts have acquired his rights, Cangelosi will not be reporting to the Remparts this year or next year, said Youngstown media director Bart Logan.

Logan said Sunday afternoon Cangelosi, who is a junior in high school this year, would be returning to Youngstown next season before fulfilling his commitment to Boston College.

Cangelosi, 17, is one of the USHL’s top-draft eligible prospects heading into this summer’s NHL Draft. In his first season with the Phantoms, Cangelosi has scored 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 22 games. He’s the team’s second leading scorer and is in the Top 20 in the league among league scorers.

He has been one of several players the Phantoms have relied upon in what has been a renaissance season. The Phantoms lost defenseman and New York Islanders draft pick Scott Mayfield, who is now at Denver, and worked past it to be the surprise of the season as they are currently tied for third in the Eastern Conference standings.

Cangelosi will be playing later this month at the first-ever USHL Prospects Game in Muskegon, Mich., a game which will feature Lincoln Stars forward Kevin Roy (Brown), who also had some dealings with the Remparts earlier in the year.

Roy, who is from Lac Beauport, Que., went home over the league’s Christmas Break and did an interview which later led to him fielding interest from the Remparts. Roy, the USHL’s leading scorer, said after the first post-break game the offer was tempting but he wanted to go to college where his brother, Derek, will join him at Brown.

Major Junior teams around this time of year are scouting and studying USHL players in the hopes of adding more firepower in the hopes of winning a league title and furthermore, a Memorial Cup.

A few USHL players have been added to Major Junior teams this year and the most recent was Lincoln Stars prospect Alex Schoenborn. The 6-2 Minot, N.D. native said through his Facebook page on Friday he was signing with the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League.

Though the big name who didn’t go to the WHL this year was Dubuque Fighting Saints forward Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont). Girgensons’ CHL rights are owned by the Kelowna Rockets and the team’s general manager, Bruce Hamilton, made comments about Girgensons’ future igniting a very public battle between him and Dubuque head coach/general manager Jim Montgomery.

Hamilton said during the summer his goal was to get Girgensons, the USHL’s top draft-eligible prospect, to come to Kelowna following the U-20 Championships where Girgensons played for his native Lativa.

Montgomery, who played at the University of Maine, said Girgensons was not going to Kelowna. Girgensons during the team’s only visit to Fargo said months ago he was not going to the CHL and his plans were to finish the season at Dubuque before attending Vermont next season.

Girgensons, who leads Dubuque with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 24 games, returned to the team this weekend. He scored a goal in the team’s 5-3 series-opening victory against Cedar Rapids.