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.”


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.


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.


-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.



-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.


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.

Crown On The Ground…

There’s no denying Lincoln Stars forward Kevin Roy (Brown) is having the season of a lifetime.

Roy picked up his third hat trick of the season on Tuesday night in a 6-3 win over Tri-City and according to the league, Roy’s goals are the most since the 2002-03 season. As a whole, Roy has 70 points (38 goals, 32 assists) and with 18 games left has a legitimate shot at reaching 100 points.

He’s not the only player having a good season. So here’s a look at ten of the strongest individual campaigns in the USHL this season.

1. Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln: Roy has had 22 multi-point games this season including two games where he scored five points. He’s had scoring streaks as short as five games and his longest of the year is 10. He’s currently on an eight-game streak. At this rate, it’s fair to state he has a chance of walking away as the league’s Player of the Year, Forward of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Throw in how Lincoln is second in the Western Conference, he could potentially walk away with even more hardware. Then there’s the NHL Draft. Stars coach Chad Johnson said at the USHL Christmas Break if Roy could continue his scoring tear, it’d prove to scouts he would be worth drafting. Something says Roy probably has their attention.

2. Jon Gillies (Northeastern), goaltender, Indiana: Gillies has been a horse for the Ice this season, which says a lot given the talent in the Eastern Conference. Gillies is 23-7-5 with a 2.57 GAA, a .921 save percentage, 1,022 saves and has played 2,050 minutes. He leads the league in wins, he’s fourth in GAA, he’s first in save percentage, first in saves and is second in minutes.

3. Nolan Zajac (Denver), defenseman, Omaha: Zajac started the season in Cedar Rapids but was traded to Omaha and has been one of the reasons why the Lancers are the No. 1 team in the Western Conference. Zajac’s 31 points (7 goals, 24 assists) leads all league defensemen in points. With Omaha, he has scored 30 points in 38 games helping the Lancers overcome offensive futility earlier in the year to the fourth-best offense in the league.

4. Taylor Cammarata (Minnesota), forward, Waterloo: Last season’s No. 1 pick in the USHL Futures Draft has certainly lived up to the hype. Cammarata has been a constant for Waterloo this season providing a playmaking and scoring role. Cammarata has 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) and he’s tenth in the league in scoring. He’s been vital to the Black Hawks overcoming a slow start to reach third place in the West with the potential of climbing even higher.

5. Andy Welinski (Minnesota-Duluth/Anaheim), defenseman, Green Bay: Welinski has captained what is turning into one of the most historic teams the league has seen in quite some time. Green Bay is 33-7-2 and has just extended a reign of terror over the entire league. Welinski, the team’s captain, has led a defense which has given up 96 goals, the least in the league. He’s also helped out offensively as his 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) are the third-most by any defenseman. In all, Green Bay has four defensemen with 20 or more points this year.

6. Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth), forward, Fargo: If it isn’t for an injury which has him out until March, there’s no telling how much better his season would have been. Farley was one of the sparks for the Force’s nine-game winning streak and in the process made many take notice of what he could do. His agitating style combined with his offensive prowess resulted in him 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) in 37 games. He’s been out for a bit and yet he’s still sixth in scoring.

7. Ryan McKay (Miami (Ohio)), goaltender, Green Bay: McKay is showing once again why he’s been a three-year player in the league. His 2.11 GAA leads the league and in all, he has a 17-3-2 record plus a .918 save percentage. Green Bay has certainly used offense to pummel opponents but having McKay in net has also added to the frustration.

8. Matthew O’Connor (Boston University), goaltender, Youngstown: Teammate Mike Ambrosia (Princeton) said O’Connor was the best goaltender in the league and deserves credit for the Phantoms’ season. The 6-5 O’Connor is 22-10-4 with a 2.76 GAA and has helped Youngstown to fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

9. Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont), forward, Dubuque: Girgensons has battled through injuries, losing high-end teammates to college, being the face of a franchise, draft talk, his college future, being a team captain and playing in international competitions. Yet he’s still having a solid season with 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 36 games this season. Dubuque has overcome injuries to be in second place heading into the weekend. Girgensons, as of late, has done his share by getting a point in his last six games. Throw in his two-way ability and these are reasons why scouts and pundits are projecting him to be a first-round pick.

10. Daniil Tarasov, forward, Indiana: If its not for Roy, we’d all be reminded a lot more about Tarasov’s season. This is only his second full season in the league but he’s doing more damage. His 56 points (28 goals, 28 assists) is second in the league to Roy. He’s set an example for Indiana’s young, high-end forwards and it has worked out making the Ice one of the teams to challenge Green Bay for the Eastern Conference this season.

Midnight City…

We’re back, albeit a few days late, with the weekly USHL Power Rankings.

The playoffs are getting closer and we’re starting to get a feel of who could be a contender or a pretender. Unless you’re Green Bay, which has held a strong grip in the league all season long.

So with this week’s Power Rankings, we’re taking a different approach. We’re going to look at who are playoff contenders and playoff pretenders.

1. Green Bay Gamblers (32-7-2): Simply put, they are the best team in the entire USHL. They have skilled forwards. They have depth at forward. They have skilled defensemen. They have depth at defenseman. They have extremely good goaltending. They have depth with their goaltending. Green Bay has all the qualities needed to win the Clark Cup but dominate in the playoffs. VERDICT: Contender Supreme

2. Omaha Lancers (25-13-3): The Lancers have proved they can win close, low-scoring games which in the playoffs could be a nightly affair. Goaltending has been extremely solid and when you look at the playmakers this team has, it’s safe to say they have more than enough to go a long ways. VERDICT: Contender

3. Indiana Ice (25-10-5): If Green Bay never existed, maybe this would be the team we’d talk about in the same regard. They’ve got all the talent in the world up front. Really, this might be the most skilled team in the league when it comes to the forwards. Having arguably the best goaltender in the league in Jon Gillies (Northeastern) also goes a long way. VERDICT: Contender, but in another world where Green Bay makes State Farm ads, possible champion.

4. Dubuque Fighting Saints (25-13-3): Dubuque has the experience and the talent to challenge Indiana and Green Bay for Eastern Conference supremacy. Yet what’s scary to know is this is a team which might not make it out of the second round. Not saying they won’t, but let’s assume Green Bay and Indiana get the top two seeds. Let’s assume, Green Bay or Indiana beats Dubuque in the second round. Yes, we’ve just imagined a reality where a team featuring Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) and Michael Matheson (Boston College), two likely first-round draft picks, are knocked out in the second round. Wild, isn’t it? VERDICT: Contender.

5. Youngstown Phantoms (24-13-4): No one can take away from what the Phantoms have accomplished this season. It’s why they’ll end up hosting a first-round playoff series for sure. Who knows? Maybe they catch Indiana for the No. 2 seed. Either way, they’ll host a playoff series. We hate to say it, but getting out of the first round could be the furthest they go. We hope we’re wrong on this. We really are. VERDICT: Contender

6. Lincoln Stars (23-13-3): Here’s where it gets tough. Lincoln is one of four teams with a real chance of winning the Western Conference. Now, where they go beyond that is a question. Lincoln can certainly provide enough items to be a tough matchup for many teams, but you can’t help but wonder how they’d do against Green Bay, Indiana or Dubuque if they get that far. VERDICT: Contender for sure but if they reach the finals, it could get interesting.

7. Waterloo Black Hawks (21-12-5): We’ve ran our mouths over here all year long about Waterloo and what they could do. So far, they’re living up to it by being six points out of first with three fewer games played than first-place Omaha. Getting Stephon Williams (Minnesota-Mankato) makes them more dangerous. They’ve got talent everywhere and we’re going to keep running our mouths by saying the following: They’ve got the best chance of beating Omaha for the Western Conference AND pushing any Eastern Conference team to the limit. VERDICT: Contenders and potential (keyword: potential) champs.

8. Fargo Force (21-16-4): When they want to win games, they’re as good as it gets. They’ve shown it against Omaha and Lincoln this year. Yet they’re like Youngstown in the sense, where they could go far but you just get the feeling they could meet a not-so-nice fate in the second round. VERDICT: Will get out of the first round and where they go from there is anybody’s guess.

9. Team USA (18-13-4): This is easily the obvious choice for Wild Card/Darkhorse pick for the playoffs. This U-17 team is one of the most talented and promising classes to come through the program’s history and they’ve proven they can hang. Don’t worry about the Ides of March, beware these guys. VERDICT: They can get out of the first round no problem but the second round really could be a toss up.

10. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (17-15-8): Next year, this will be a team everyone will look to for big things. This just isn’t their year for a deep run but strangers things have happened. Plus, just watch this team to see Dennis Kravchenko (Vermont). He was pointless last weekend, but he could be mad fun to watch in a series. VERDICT: The playoffs will be a good experience, but they won’t make it out the first round.

11. Sioux City Musketeers (18-22-1): Say what you want, but we could see these guys pulling off an upset. We really could. They’ve got the right pieces in place to do it. That and they are good at frustrating a team. They find ways to stick around long enough to force mistakes and in a short series, that could be costly. VERDICT: Will reach the playoffs and despite upset potential, we see a first-round exit.

12. Des Moines Buccaneers (15-21-4): They might be in sixth for now, but we see Tri-City edging them out for the last spot. We could be wrong, but its what we see happening. VERDICT: If they make the playoffs, it could be a short, short stay.

13. Tri-City Storm (16-25-0): We see them winning the fight for sixth in the Western Conference but it could be the only post-season battle they win. VERDICT: A first-round exit seems likely.

14. Sioux Falls Stampede (13-23-3): Barring a miracle comeback, next year. Next year will be better for them. VERDICT: They won’t make the playoffs.

15. Muskegon Lumberjacks (12-20-5): Look at the way they are playing now. If they played this way earlier in the season, then yeah, they’re in the playoff hunt. But for now, we don’t see it happening. VERDICT: No playoffs in their future.

16. Chicago Steel (13-27-1): Strides have been made in the last year and next year, we see them making the playoffs. Laugh now, but they have the right material to be next season’s Youngstown. Chuckle now, but these boys will be laughing later. VERDICT: Not this year, but wait until next year.