Thought I'd take some time to give my rankings of the USHL teams up to this point in the season.
1. Green Bay Gamblers - As if there really was any doubt. Green Bay has easily become an elite franchise over the past few seasons, and this season is no different. The Gamblers have the best record in the league right now at 16-3-1. Green Bay is paced by veteran forward Nolan LaPorte (12g, 9 a) and rookie forward, Kyle Novak (9g, 12a), as well as NHL draft picks Alex Broadhurst and Andrew Welinski, The Gamblers had arguably the best goaltending duo in Ryan McKay and Adam Wilcox before the team shipped out Wilcox to Tri-City for a draft pick. McKay has very impressive stats, going 9-1-1 with a 1.65 GAA. Even more impressive is his GAA is that low without recording any shutouts on the season. Currently, GB is on a 10 game unbeaten streak. They lost in OT to Indiana during that stretch, but their last regulation loss came in Des Moines exactly one month ago. The Gamblers also boast an amazing road record, going 11-1-0 so far on the season.
2. Dubuque Fighting Saints - Last season's Clark Cup winners are right at the top again this season. They return highly regarded Zemgus Girgensons from last season and he is currently tied for 8th in league scoring with 20 points. Top goalie, Matt Morris, is also back this season, but has been sidelined for the last while with an ankle injury. Despite Morris being out, Gabe Antoni has really stepped up to help keep the Saints atop the league. The Saints officially added emergency goalie, Collin LeMay, to the roster to ease the workload on Antoni. In his first career start, LeMay posted a shutout. Dubuque is 2nd in the league with an impressive 14-5-1 record. The Saints have only lost once in their last six games.
3. Lincoln Stars - Despite losing twice this weekend, Lincoln comes in at #3 for me. They have been pretty consistent this season and are led by potential rookie of the year, Kevin Roy. Roy is tied for first with Fargo's Austin Farley for goals scored with 16. He also sits atop the league scoring race with 30 points in 20 games. Prior to the start of the season, the Stars made a trade for Dubuque goalie, Jackson Teichroeb. At the time, many weren't too sure how the trade would work with Lukas Hafner scheduled to return and some good talented goalies at their tryout camp. Since then, Hafner opted for another junior league, while Teichroeb has gone 10-6-1 with a 2.32 GAA. Lincoln added another import in Ralfs Freiburgs prior to the season and he is leading the way among defensemen. Over his last five games, Ralfs has scored four goals.
4. Youngstown Phantoms - Youngstown started their season off with a 10-3 whooping at the hands of the USNTDP. Following that, one might think it would be a typical middle-of-the-road type season for the Phantoms. However, Anthony Noreen has this team playing some good hockey and goalie, Matthew O'Connor, is one of the top goalies in the league. After posting 10 wins all of last season, O'Connor currently sits at 10 wins in 20 games for Youngstown. The Phantoms have posted a 13-6-1 record so far at the 1/3 mark of the season for them. Last year, it took the Phantoms until January 22nd to capture their 13th victory. Youngstown is led by returning forward, J.T. Stenglein, and rookie Austin Cangelosi. Both players currently lead the team with 10 goals apiece. Cangelosi exploded on the USHL scene this year after scoring 11 points in his first six games. He also leads the league with four shorthanded goals on the season.
5. Waterloo Black Hawks - Waterloo is much improved over last season, posting a 10-7-2 record thus far. The Black Hawks are led by a very young, but extremely talented group of forwards in Taylor Cammarata, Tony Cameranesi, and Vince Hinostroza. Cammarata is only a 95, but already has 24 points in 19 games. It's not very often a kid that young does so well as a rookie in the USHL. Waterloo is led by veteran, Jay Williams, in goal. He has posted a 8-3-2 record so far this season. Another big piece to the Black Hawk puzzle is veteran forward, Joe Rehkamp. Rehkamp came over to Waterloo prior to the season from Fargo. Rehkamp is the type of player that isn't all that flashy and isn't going to fill up the scoresheet, but he is an extremely hard worker and a type of player any team would want to have.
6. Indiana Ice - Indiana has, most likely, the most dangerous top line in the entire league. The line consists of Daniil Tarasov, Jacob Fallon, and Sean Kuraly. Those three are also the top three point scorers for the Ice. The Ice also have two very skilled rookie forwards in Robbie Baillargeon and Robert Polesello. Those five have helped the Ice lead the league in PP%, posting an amazing 32.3% rate. They have only had 65 chances (least among the USHL) but have the 2nd most powerplay goals, only one behind Green Bay (Gamblers have had 30 more chances on the PP.) Indiana also boasts one of the more talented younger goalies in the league in Jon Gillies. Gillies has been stellar this season, posting a 10-4-2 record.
7. Des Moines Buccaneers - The Buccaneers could easily be higher up on these rankings, but they are battling inconsistency. They have shutout Green Bay and Dubuque, and also scored three big wins against Omaha, two of which came on the road. The Bucs can look fantastic one night, then lose a game they should win the next. Des Moines has one of the most fundamentally sound goalies in the league in Jason Kasdorf. Kasdorf was recently named Goaltender of the Week by the USHL, and he deserves it. Although only having a 6-6-1 record, Kasdorf leads the league with three shutouts on the season. The Bucs are led by Anthony Greco with 14 points. Greco only had 15 points last season between Waterloo and Des Moines.
8. Omaha Lancers - The Lancers have appeared to gain some steam following the firing of head coach Bliss Littler. In their last two games, the Lancers have scored 12 goals and allowed four. In their previous three games before that, the Lancers only managed two goals, while allowing 14 and being shutout twice in that span. The Lancers picked up their #1 goalie, Alex Lyon, prior to the start of the season after he was released by the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Lyon has gone on to post a 8-6-2 record in his first USHL season (only played 1 game for Cedar Rapids last season.) Omaha is led up front by veteran Jimmy Murray, who is 2nd in the league with 15 assists. Casey Bailey leads the team with 11 goals, 6 of which came in a 3 game span that included two hat tricks.
9. Sioux Falls Stampede - The Stampede don't have the go to type player they have been fortunate to have a majority of every season. USHL rookies, Todd Skirving and Kyle Rankin, lead the Stampede with just 10 points apiece. Sioux Falls, however, has one of the better goalies in the league in Stephon Williams. He has posted a 5-5-1 record, but is far better than what the record shows. Though the Stampede have lost three of their last four, they did squeak out a road victory over Youngstown on Thursday.
10. Sioux City Musketeers - The Musketeers are playing some good hockey right now, going 7-4 in their last 11 games. Previously, they had gone 2-7. The team seems to have a new mentality since the acquisitions of David Goodwin, Andy Ryan, and Dan Molenaar. Matt Skoff recently returned from injury, and has recorded four wins in his last five starts. Skoff currently has 51 wins in his USHL career. The Musketeers are paced by the red hot Brad Robbins, who has a six game goal scoring streak and a 10 game point scoring streak. Sioux City just finished a six game road trip, in which they went 4-2 in that span. They now play five of their next six on home ice and hope to continue their winning ways in front of their home crowd.
11. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders - This is unfamiliar territory for the Riders, as they are usually one of the top teams in the league year in and year out. Cedar Rapids has only won once in their last eight contests and have an overall record of 8-6-6. The six OTL is noticeable to me, as they only had six OTL all of last season. Cedar Rapids is led up front by Nick Saracino (5, 13) and Gerald Mayhew (10, 5). Goaltender Jake Hildebrand came over in the pre-season in a trade with Sioux City and has posted a pretty good 6-3-3 record, while Matt McNeely has only posted two wins on the season. Cedar Rapids is fighting a few injuries, with top player Ryan McGrath still on the shelf and newly acquired Davey Middleton, who suffered an injury in his first game for the Riders.
12. Muskegon Lumberjacks - Muskegon had a brutal start to the season, but have started to right the ship a bit as of late by picking up a few wins, although they only have one win in their last five. Muskegon looked to Omaha to help solve their goalie issues when they acquired veteran John Keeney. Since the trade, Keeney really has not disappointed, as he has posted two shutouts for the Jacks, including stopping 82 of 86 shots this weekend in two games against Youngstown. Muskegon has had some issues with players leaving, as Mike Moran decided to hang up the skates not too long ago. Rookie forward, Josh Henke, left the team and demanded a trade, which was granted and he is now with the Storm. It has also been reported that import, Joona Manninen, has left the team as well. The Jacks are led up front by two players who previously played major juniors in John Padulo and Travis Behlorad.
13. Chicago Steel - The Steel currently sit with a 7-13-1 record. Last season, they got their 7th win on November 20th, but didn't record another win until February 12th. This season has been a different story so far, as this teams appears to play with more passion and I fully expect Chicago to improve greatly from their nine win season last year. Chicago is relying heavily on workhorse, Mattias Dahlstrom, in net. Dahlstrom has appeared in 17 of the Steel's 21 games, posting a 7-10-0 record and a 2.99 GAA. The Steel are led up front by Mike Fallon (6, 10) and former Buccaneer, Andrew Miller (9, 4). Miller recorded 11 points last season for Des Moines. Many thought it could be another really long season in Chicago because prior to the start of the season, they had two goalies opt for college rather than suit up for the Steel and #1 overall pick, Brian Christie, chose to stay in Topeka instead of joining Chicago for a USHL campaign.
14. Fargo Force - Over their last 10 games, the Force have only recorded three wins, two of which have come against the Tri-City Storm that are ranked lower. This is unusual territory for the Force, as they have always been near the top since they broke into the league a few years ago. Boston Bruins draft pick, Zane Gothberg, has posted a 4-7-2 record, but has a decent GAA of 2.90. Reed Peters doesn't have stats that look particularly good, but he has done a good job getting a few spot starts here and there to give Gothberg a rest. Fargo is led by Austin Farley, who has been red hot over his last three games, notching seven points, including a hat trick this past Saturday. Outside of Farley (23 points), the Force don't have a lot of scoring threats. Farley has accounted for 16 of Fargo's 54 goals on the season. The next highest point getter is Bryn Chyzyk at 12 points. Fargo has one of the top defensive prospects in the league in Brian Cooper, but he hasn't been on the scoresheet like he was last season. If the Force are going to make a run, they will need Cooper and the other veterans to help Farley on the offensive side. Newly acquired Dominic Racobaldo and David Mead should be able to help defensively.
15. United States National Development Team - The USNDTP currently owns a record of 6-8-2, but have played the fewest games of among USHL teams. U-17 goalie, Hunter Miska, has posted four of those wins, but has a less than stellar GAA and SV%. They scored a big road win this afternoon over Cedar Rapids, with Miska picking up the win. Up front, the USNDTP are led by U-17 forwards, Tyler Motte and J.T. Compher. If this season is anything like last season, these guys will start to move up the standings before too long after they get acclimated to the USHL level of play.
16. Tri-City Storm - The Storm have just not been good this season. The Storm are only 6-14-0 on the season for 12 points, which is the worst in the league. Tri-City is having trouble scoring goals, outside of Nick Lappin (12 goals) and Trevor Moore as of late (5 game goal scoring streak.) Tri-City has a solid duo in net with Pheonix Copley and Adam Wilcox. Copley was their workhorse until head coach, Drew Schoneck, made the trade to acquire Wilcox from Green Bay. Schoneck should look to get a player or two who can score, as they have the goalie position solidified, but they can't score goals for your team. Wilcox currently owns a 8-4-0 record, with a record of 1-2-0 while with the Storm. In his debut, Wilcox faced Lincoln for the first time in his USHL career and came away a winner, which stunned many.