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#USPHLPlayoffs: Chicago Cougars vs. Motor City Gamblers

Midwest East Division

Motor City Gamblers (5) vs. Chicago Cougars (4) 

All Games To Be Played At The Edge Ice Arena, Bensenville, IL

Saturday, March 2, 8:10 p.m. CST

Sunday, March 3, 8:10 p.m. CST

Monday, March 4, 12:30 p.m. CST (If Necessary) 

 

By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com 

 

The Chicago Cougars were staples for several consecutive USPHL Nationals, making the trip every year from the current Premier league’s inception in 2017-2018 through 2021-2022. It was obviously long a point of pride and the Cougars essentially owned the division for most of those years. 

Additionally, the Motor City Gamblers, in their previous incarnation, also made the first two Nationals of the league’s history – 2018 and 2019. From there, the program fell on some hard years ahead of a 2022-23 return to being a difficult draw for divisional opponents, improving by 46 points year over year from a rough 2021-22.  

The rise of newer teams like the Metro Jets Development Program or MJDP, who joined the league and division in 2018-19, and Fort Wayne Spacemen (2019-20) have made the road ever tougher for these early powerhouses to claw their way back to the big dance. Whomever wins the series between Motor City and Chicago this weekend will still have to face either MJDP or Fort Wayne, who earned byes as the top two seeds. Both teams understand it’s time to make their own brand of history. 

“Our guys are ready to make a push for Nationals, starting with this series,” said Owner/Head Coach Jason McCrimmon. “Our age-outs and experienced players who have already played USPHL Playoff games will be heavily leaned on to guide us through our journey. We are excited to showcase the strength of our division, beginning with this series featuring two strong organizations.” 

McCrimmon himself made history in 2023 by becoming the first individual in the USPHL to win an NHL Award, as he claimed the U.S. version of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award.

Chicago won the season series by a 4-2-0-0 record.

The Cougars are coming into the postseason with a bit of a different lineup than during the bulk of the season, having traded some of their big difference-makers towards the end of the regular season. They still have some serious firepower, such as late season acquisition Cameron Krause, who scored 12 points in his six games with the Cougars at the end of the season after playing most of the year with the Casper Roughnecks. A former Chicago Crush player, he has familiarity with the Midwest East Division. He has 93 points in 86 career games. 

Gerdas Paulauskas put up 57 points in 43 games and is the Cougars’ fourth leading scorer all-time with 139 points in 122 games – this is in a crowd with a former league career scoring leader. He is also the team’s plus-minus leader this year with a +14 rating. Second-year forward Arthur Pawlik is essential to the team for not only his offense (61 points in 88 career games), but he was also good for 319 faceoff wins, a success rate of 56 percent. Landon Edwards, a strong ‘05 defenseman, led the team with 46 blocked shots this year. 

Motor City also has some strong program veterans, such as 2023 All-Star and second-year forward Brian Bell, who’s scored 44 points in 42 games. Bell is the No. 1 center, winning 61 percent of his total draws (467 wins). 

Returning forward Shaun Zatelli improved from 27 points last year to 42 this year. Veteran defenseman and returning All-Star Jake Mullins was good for 35 points in 30 games this year, giving him 118 points in 99 games over three Premier seasons. 

Dustin Fretter, who joined the Gamblers from the Toledo Cherokee – a 2023 Nationals team – was the team’s leader in plus-minus at +8. First-year ‘05 defenseman Brody Vachon led the Gamblers in blocked shots with 47. 

The tale of the tape in net features some very good goaltenders. The Gamblers welcomed back Robert Allport, who had played the full season in 2022-23 before joining the Casper Roughnecks this year. He was reacquired after the New Year and went 5-3-0-0 with a .920 save percentage back with the Gamblers. Michael Massaro and Zachary Lojewski have also gotten Motor City wins recently. 

For the Cougars, they leaned mostly on Bennett Pieters, who won nine of his 22 appearances this year. Sam Burcal played in 12 games and went 8-4-0-0, so there is crease depth there, as well.

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