12th season as nation’s only Tier 1 junior league gets underway
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Hats Off…It was a high-scoring affair when the Sioux Falls Stampede and Des Moines Buccaneers opened the season on Saturday as the teams combined for 10 goals in the 6-4 Stampede victory. Two players were responsible for six of those tallies as both Zeb Knutson of Sioux Falls and Ryan Galt of Des Moines each recorded their first USHL career hat tricks. Galt recorded a goal in each period to become the first Bucs player in the USHL Tier 1 era (2002-present) to score three goals on opening night. Knutson scored two goals in a span of 1:09 in the first period and completed his hat trick midway through the third period. The last Stampede player to score three goals on opening night was Andreas Nodl when he recorded a natural hat trick (three consecutive goals) in a span of 8:39 in a 6-3 victory over the Lincoln Stars on September 24th, 2005. The victory for Sioux Falls on Saturday was their first on opening night since 2008.
Off and Running…It was a huge opening weekend for Team USA as they finished with a perfect 3-0-0 record with the Under-18 squad winning a pair of contests and the Under-17 squad picking up their first win of the season. The teams combined for 20 goals over the three victories. Ryan Hitchcock collected five points (1g, 4a) over two wins, taking the early lead as the USHL’s top scorer. Dylan Larkin scored a pair of goals for the U-18’s in the 9-3 win over Youngstown on Friday, the second straight season he has netted a goal on opening night. His first goal came at 1:09 of the first period and was the first goal of the entire USHL regular season. Jeremy Bracco made an impressive USHL debut scoring shorthanded and then netting the game-winner for the U-17’s in the 7-6 victory against Youngstown on Saturday. The Under-17 squad has now won their USHL opener in each of the last three seasons.
They Got the Power…The Fargo Force took advantage of special teams as they scored all three of their goals on the power play in the 3-2 victory over the Sioux City Musketeers on Friday. Christian Cakebread, the 16-year-old signed to a tender prior to the season, scored a pair of goals in his USHL debut. Mason Morelli, the third overall pick in the 2012 USHL Futures Draft, was also playing his first game in the League and netted the game-winner in the third period. Fargo improved to 5-1-0 all-time on opening night in their USHL history. The Musketeers also converted on the power play for one of their tallies as Brandon Hawkins scored in his USHL debut.
Road Opening…The Green Bay Gamblers earned a 5-1 victory over the Chicago Steel on Friday to begin the 2013-14 season. It was just the fourth time the Gamblers have opened the season on the road in the USHL Tier 1 era and now have a 3-1-0 record in those contests. Four different players recorded their first USHL goal in the win, three of which were making their USHL debuts. Evan Tironese opened the scoring in the first period before Ryan Lough netted a shorthanded goal early in the second, which also proved to be the game-winner. Brent Gates, Jr., signed to a tender by Green Bay prior to the season, also scored in his debut. Playing in just his 10th USHL game, Frederik Olofsson scored his first goal in the League.
Four in a Row…The Waterloo Black Hawks went on the road to earn a 3-2 victory in Chicago on Saturday to open the season, improving to 4-0-0 in their last four openers that have come on the road. They scored all three of their goals in a span of 4:25 in the second period as Liam Pecararo netted a pair and Brandon Salerno tallied the eventual game-winner. Cal Petersen made 26 saves to earn the victory, the 25th of his USHL career.
Feels Like the First Time…It took some extra hockey, but the Muskegon Lumberjacks earned a 5-4 shootout win against the Green Bay Gamblers on Saturday. It was the first-ever victory for the Jacks in Green Bay as they had been in 0-8-2 in 10 previous contests at the Resch Center. Scott Pooley (shorthanded) and Trevor Morbeck (power play) each scored their first USHL goal in the first period for Muskegon. Frederik Tiffels scored in the third period and converted in the shootout while Connor Hurley, a 2013 NHL Draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, also scored on his shootout attempt. Jordan Uhelski equaled a USHL career high with 37 saves in net for the Jacks and stopped both Green Bay shootout attempts to collect his first-ever shootout victory in the League.
Change of Scenery… The Sioux Falls Stampede acquired former Dubuque Fighting Saints goalie Art Brey earlier last week. The Yorba Linda, California native helped the Saints clinch the Anderson Cup and Clark Cup last season. He finished last season as one of the top netminders in the USHL, compiling a 24-6-4 record with a 2.22 GAA and.904 SV%. The 19-year-old then went 9-1 in the playoffs with a stellar 1.65 GAA and .935 SV%.
The NHL is Watching…Earlier this week, NHL Central Scouting released their “Players to Watch” list which categorized top prospects eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft. The NHL’s scouting service listed 48 players competing in the USHL this season, which were more players than any other league in North America. Nick Schmaltz of the Green Bay Gamblers along with Sonny Milano and Dylan Larkin of Team USA were categorized as “A” skaters, meaning they are candidates for the first round of the NHL Draft. Additionally, six USHL alumni competing in the NCAA this season were also among the lists released by NHL Central Scouting.
On to the Pros…The Youngstown Phantoms were hoping to have Nathan Walker on the roster this season, but the Australian forward used an impressive NHL training camp with the Washington Capitals to earn an opportunity to sign a professional contract this week with their American Hockey League affiliate, the Hershey Bears. A big season in the USHL with the Phantoms in 2012-13 (27 points in 29 games) helped him make the jump to the pros. Walker joins Daniil Tarasov (Indiana Ice, 2010-12) as players who have signed in the AHL directly from the USHL, and joins an increasing number of players in recent years that have signed pro contracts immediately after their USHL careers, including Michael McCarron (Team USA) with the Montreal Canadiens this summer, Zemgus Girgensons (Dubuque Fighting Saints) with the Buffalo Sabres in 2012, J.T. Miller (Team USA) with the New York Rangers in 2011, and John Moore (Chicago Steel) with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009.
Noteworthy…Playing in his first USHL game on Saturday, forward Aidan Muir scored a goal for the Indiana Ice in the 4-2 loss to Team USA. He was the first overall pick in Phase 2 of the 2013 USHL Draft and went on to be selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2013 NHL Draft (4th round, 113th overall)…Even though they scored a combined nine goals over their first two games, the Youngstown Phantoms could not pick up a win. J.J. Piccinich scored a goal in each game while Kyle Connor netted two goals in Saturday’s loss. Ryan Schwalbe scored in his USHL debut for the team on Friday…16-year-old Robby Jackson scored in his USHL debut on Friday, netting the lone goal for the Chicago Steel in their 5-1 loss. Defenseman Alec Vanko scored his first USHL goal on Saturday for the Steel.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 12th season as the nation’s only Tier I junior hockey league in 2013-14. A record 32 players were chosen in the 2013 NHL Draft and more than 300 players on team rosters last season have committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent. For more information, visit us on the web at www.USHL.com or visit the League’s social media platforms, including Facebook (www.facebook.com/ushlhockey), twitter (www.twitter.com/ushl), and YouTube (www.youtube.com/ushlinteractive). Fans can also watch USHL action all season long, live or on-demand via FASTHockey (ushl.fasthockey.com).
It’s not just hockey. It’s the USHL.