Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fall Classic Power Rankings

Now that the Fall Classic is over, it's time to take a look at my power rankings. Cedar Rapids and Des Moines both went 3-0 while Sioux City and Fargo went winless. There was lots of good hockey action this weekend, and it looks like Green Bay and Des Moines will be MUCH improved this season.

It was also announced that the Fall Classic would be in Sioux City again next season. And now, on to the rankings.

1. Des Moines Buccaneers

Des Moines had a great three days, and the fans in Des Moines should be excited. Aaron Crandall and Fredrik Bergman in net should keep the Bucs in a lot of games. The Bucs seem very sound at forward and defense, and we have not even seen Yasin Cisse take the ice for them yet. They have lots of highly touted Minnesota high schoolers in Jake Youso, Joey Gleason, and Ryan Walters that I expect some big things out of. Brett Bruneteau looks healthy, and that can only mean good things this year for him and Des Moines. Andrew Panzarella also looks much improved from last season.

Key Player: Ryan Walters
Rookie to Watch: Yasin Cisse

2. Green Bay Gamblers

Jon Cooper and the Green Bay Gamblers are very much improved this season. Reid Ellingson in net is going to be a key for the Gamblers. Steve Summerhays appears to be a capable backup at this point and should also be able to keep Green Bay in the games he plays. Green Bay has a lot of players that have juniors experience and know how to handle the league. This should definitely help in the beginning and at the end of the season. Cooper has a great eye for talent and getting the best out of his players, so you can bet Green Bay will be up there in the standings for a good part of the season.

Key Player: C.J. Lee
Rookie to Watch: Jefferson Dahl

3. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders

Cedar Rapids had an amazing Fall Classic, in which they posted a shutout and then knocked home 10 goals. The Riders lost one of the best goalies in Brady Hjelle, but Mike Johnson seems to be a very capable goalie. Troy Grosenick posted a shutout, though it was only 9 saves and against a struggling Fargo squad. Greg Burke is going to have a great year, as he is an all around great player and I think Cedar Rapids got themselves one hell of a player. He led everyone with 4 goals scored, including a hat trick against Omaha. The only thing that concerns me is the defense. They seemed to let down and gave the other team a shot to come back.

Key Player: Greg Burke
Rookie to Watch: Cody Murphy

4. Lincoln Stars

Lincoln boasts one of the oldest, most experienced teams in the USHL this season. They saw their first game action at the Fall Classic, and didn't look too bad at all. They lost a tight game to Green Bay, but won their next two. It looks like Lincoln has some guys who can score up front, and Kory Kaunisto seems to have a knack for scoring key goals. I'm not sure if Lincoln should have questions in net after the way Alan Armour played this past weekend, but I think it can still be questioned until a few more games are played. Rookie forward Garrett Peterson suffered a nasty finger injury trying to block a shot, but went right back to block another. Coach McGroarty was excited about that effort and Lincoln fans all around are anxious to see this kid get back on the ice.

Key Player: Chris Forfar
Rookie to Watch: Garrett Peterson

5. Waterloo Black Hawks

Waterloo returns a solid goalie in Joe Howe. This factor alone is enough to rank them highly, but P.K. O'Handley does an excellent job of bringing in top talent to fill holes on his team. Waterloo is always good defensively and this year will be no different. They picked up free agent Dan Sova from Hill-Murray HS, and he's going to be a good one. Nick Larson returns for another season, and he should be one of the top forwards in the USHL. He started off very slow last season, but was on fire towards the end and I look for that to continue. Waterloo brought in Parker Milner to be the backup, and he played quite well in his appearances at the Classic.

Key Player: Joe Howe
Rookie to Watch: Lee Moffie

6. Sioux Falls Stampede

Sioux Falls opened with Chicago, and didn't start off very well. To their credit, they kept putting pressure on Chicago and eventually came back to get the win. They beat one of the better teams coming into the Classic in Waterloo, in a hard fought shootout battle. Hartzell seemed to be a bit off on his game last weekend, so Sioux Falls will have to hope he can get back into his groove before too long. Clay Witt played in a couple of games and showed he was ready for this level. He could step in and steal the #1 if Hartzell doesn't get his stuff together. Dane Walters always seemed to be denting the scoresheet, so I would look for a big year out of him this year.

Key Player: Robbie Vrolyk
Rookie to Watch: Marcus Perrier

7. Chicago Steel

Chicago lost a heartbreaker to Sioux Falls in their opening game, but made up for it Saturday in a drubbing of Indiana. Chicago may not have had the best record, but they have a solid team. Eric Alexander is going to be a good player this year and Chicago will rely heavily on him. Chicago also boasts defenseman John Moore, who is arguably one of the best defensemen in the entire league. Chicago faced some questions in net, but I think Matthew Delaney has emerged as a capable goalie. Hudson Stremmel didn't do too bad, but you could tell he wasn't very comfortable. He's young and will learn and I think he will be a quality goalie before long.

Key Player: Eric Alexander
Rookie to Watch: Greg Wolfe

8. Indiana IceIndiana returns very few players and traded one returner, but they should have a solid team anyways. Brett Bennett will likely be their go to guy in net, though he didn't look too good Saturday morning against Chicago. Bennett though, played previously with the NTDP and Boston University, so he is a top notch goalie. Brandon Richardson always stood out to me this weekend. He is an 88 and had played the last couple seasons up in Canada before making the move to the USHL. I don't think he will have any trouble landing a scholarship this season. Another player that impressed me was 92 born Stanislav Galiev from Russia. He was very young, but held his own very well and just oozes potential. Indiana also traded for Max Cook, so that should help the Ice up front with a veteran forward.

Key Player: Brandon Richardson
Rookie to Watch: Stanislav Galiev

9. Tri-City Storm

The Storm played in one of the more thrilling games of the weekend, when they squeaked by Green Bay. Nick Maricic should be their #1 goalie with overage goalie Nick Hopper being the back up. Maricic seemed to be much better in net and keep his team in the game. Hopper allowed 11 goals in 2 games. Offensively, Mike Cichy should lead this team in points once again. Rookie Matt Bailey shows some nice promise and could surprise a lot of people with a solid performance this year. Danny Heath will likely lead the Storm in points among defensemen, but Sean Escobedo may be the best all around guy they have. Tri-City is in the lower portion of my rankings, but I expect them to have a solid campaign under new head coach Tom Rudrud.

Key Player: Mike Cichy
Rookie to Watch: Eli Zuck

10. Sioux City Musketeers

I really had to think hard about this one. Yes, I am a Musketeers fan, but I feel they have the talent and are a little more stable in goal than the Lancers. The Lancers did beat Sioux City, but overall, I felt Omaha played much worse than Sioux City. The Musketeers will be led offensively by Stephane Da Costa and the Daniels twins, Drew and Justin. In goal, Sioux City returns Steve Thompson, though he didn't play all that well in the Classic. Adam Janecyk will be the backup, but I feel he has the most potential and will be better in time than a lot of goalies in the league. Sioux City also boasts Seth Helgeson on the blue line. Helgeson has the potential to be taken in the first round of the NHL draft next June. To go along with Seth, the Musketeers also acquired highly regarded Chase Drake from Green Bay. I really feel like the Musketeers will have a real good season and impress a lot of people.

Key Player: Stephane Da Costa
Rookie to Watch: Austin Mattson

11. Omaha Lancers

Fresh off a Clark Cup title, it will be extremely tough for the Lancers to repeat. They return very few players, and learned recently that Tyler Elbrecht would head to Iowa State to play club hockey. The Lancers do have some very talented forwards, but they can't do everything. The defense is decent, but still has a long ways to go. The goalies are a huge question mark, and Bliss has already gone through multiple goalies and the regular season has yet to begin. Matt White looks poised to have a big year for Omaha, as do rookies Patrick Mullane, Louis LeBlanc, and Danny Kristo. Kristo, LeBlanc, and White had been playing on a line together, and that could potentially be one of the best lines this year. If Omaha can get their goalie situation fixed, they will rocket up the list.

Key Player: Ben Arnt
Rookie to Watch: Louis LeBlanc and Danny Kristo

12. Fargo Force

Fargo was very disappointing. A few bright spots included Mike Lee and his outstanding goaltending. Without Lee, Fargo could have easily been blown out more in each of their games. Though his stats don't reflect it, Lee was solid in net. Cody Campbell did well for such a young goalie, but I wouldn't expect him to play in a ton of games with Lee and Tyler Bruggeman also on the roster. Fargo has some talented players up front, including Josh Birkholz, Nate Condon, Bryce Ravndalen, and Colten St. Clair. Give this squad a little time to adjust, and I think they will be a fun team to watch in a couple of months. Fargo struggled mightily in their opening game against Cedar Rapids, but came back the following day more determined, but came up short. They just need to get familiar with each other and they will be fine. There were even a few Fargo fans in attendance, which is a good thing for the Force.

Key Player: Matt Leitner
Rookie to Watch: Josh Birkholz

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