The RoughRiders are coming off their 11th straight winning season and playoff berth in 2010-11. They tied a team record with 42 victories and claimed their second Anderson Cup title by earning the USHL's best record. Head Coach Mark Carlson also joined an exclusive USHL club in the process when he earned his 400th coaching victory.
One of the biggest voids the RoughRiders had to fill was between the pipes as goaltender Brady Hjelle, who won a USHL record 40 games last season, has departed to the college hockey ranks. The Riders have added two goaltenders with USHL experience - Matt McNeely, who spent the last two seasons with Team USA, and Jake Hildebrand, who was acquired in a trade with the Sioux City Musketeers. Ryan McGrath is the club's leading returning scorer after putting up 42 points (18g, 24a) and is joined by experienced forwards Stu Wilson and Nick Saracino. On the blueline, Nolan Zajac returns after ranking ninth in scoring among USHL defensemen with 30 points (3g, 27a) despite playing in just 45 of the team's 60 regular season games. He is among a quartet of returning defensemen for the Riders, a group that includes Ian Brady, Michael Holland, and Greg Amlong. The team added some offensive firepower through the USHL Entry Draft as their top pick, Jacob Barber, scored 34 goals in the NAHL last season and forward Riley Bourbannais showed plenty of scoring touch during the USHL preseason as he led the team in goals.
It was a season to forget in the win-loss column for the Steel in 2010-11 as the club won just nine games, but they look to re-group under new Head Coach Scott McConnell who begins his first full season at the helm. He brings prior USHL coaching experience having been on the staffs of Des Moines and Indiana.
There are plenty of new faces on the Steel roster as just seven players who suited up last season are back with the club, and only two of those played more than 40 games. Defenseman Joel Benson leads the group of returners and looks to follow up on a productive season in which he put up 13 points (8g, 5a) in 46 games from the blueline. Defensemen Jaccob Slavin and Chris Joyaux also have some prior USHL experience. Forward Theo DiPauli is one of four returning forwards and is eager to begin his third USHL campaign after being limited to just 20 games last season due to injury. A big presence up front will be 6-5 forward Zach Saar who played 32 USHL games last season and is already off to a good start after posting a hat trick during a preseason game. New faces include brothers Bo Pieper and Canon Pieper from Minnesota. The Steel will have plenty of local flavor as 10 players on the roster are natives of the Chicagoland area, including forward Jeff Kubiak who watch plenty of USHL hockey last season as his brother, Alex Kubiak, was a member of the Steel.
Dubuque Fighting Saints
It was quite an expansion year for the Saints as they ended up as the last team standing and hoisting the Clark Cup as League champions. It was the first head coaching opportunity for Jim Montgomery, but he made the most of it, and now he reloads for the team's encore in 2011-12.
The club's two top scorers a season ago are now skating in the college ranks, but the third-leading scorer on that list is getting plenty of attention leading into his sophomore USHL season. Forward Zemgus Girgensons is the second leading returning scorer in the entire USHL after a 49-point performance (21g, 28a) over 51 games and is tabbed as one the top prospects leading into the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Girgensons will have plenty of familiar faces on the forwards lines with Tyler Lundey, T.J. Moor, Shane Walsh, and John Doherty all back after helping the Saints win the championship. The blueline won't look as familiar as no defensemen return from last season, but newcomer Mike Matheson is a highly-touted defender the Saints will rely on and NHL scouts will be keeping an eye on as he is another top prospect for the 2012 NHL Draft. Already an NHL pick, Max Gardiner (St. Louis Blues, 2010) will add depth to a solid forward unit. In the crease is one of the team's key contributors during the title run as Matt Morris, 2011 Clark Cup MVP, returns to Dubuque to stop pucks.
Green Bay Gamblers
It was a second straight season of reaching the 40-win plateau and making the Clark Cup Final series for the Gamblers in 2010-11. It doesn't appear as the club will be slowing down any as 13 players who suited up for the team last year are back in Green Bay, much to the delight of new Head Coach Derek Lalonde who makes his USHL debut after being on the coaching staff at the University of Denver.
Among the returning players are three that were selected in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Leading the way is defenseman Andy Welinski who was a third-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks. Forward Alex Broadhurst had a solid rookie season with 33 points (13g, 20a) and went on to be the team's leading playoff scorer before being drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks. Goaltender Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) rounds out the trio of NHL picks and was one of the League's top netminders a season ago with a 2.20 GAA, which ranked third overall in the USHL. The leading goaltender last year in both GAA (2.00) and SV% (.928), Ryan McKay, is also back giving Green Bay a tremendous goaltending tandem yet again. The top six scoring forwards from last season are gone, but the next six return which includes David Goodwin, Sam Herr, and Nolan LaPorte. While experience will be key to the Gamblers squad, several newcomers will blend nicely into the roster, including defenseman Dakota Mermis, a 17-year-old who has already gotten a taste of the USHL playing for both Team USA last season. In addition, two from across the pond - Grigory Dikushin (Russia) and Ville Jarvelainen (Finland) - add forward depth.
The Ice were an offensive juggernaut in 2010-11, including a League-best 237 goals scored, which also crushed a team record. It also led to a 37-win season, the second most victories in team history. Offense is familiar territory for new coach Kyle Wallack as he was on the staff at Yale University when they produced one of their best offensive seasons in school history last year.
One of the biggest contributors to lighting the lamp for the Ice was Daniil Tarasov as he put up the second most points (75) in the USHL, including a League best 37 goals. He returns as the team's top offensive weapon alongside second-year forward Sean Kuraly, who was a 2011 NHL Draft selection of the San Jose Sharks. Christian Hilbrich and Cody Bradley also bring scoring punch as both accounted for double-digit goal outputs last season. Minding the nets for the Ice will be a pair of goaltenders that NHL scouts are keeping tabs on for the 2012 NHL Draft with newcomer Dalton Izyk and returning goalie Jon Gilles, the 6-5, 215-pounder that won 15 games for the Ice last season. Indiana returns some experience on the defensive unit also, led by Ryan Obuchowski who chipped in 13 points (5g, 8a) in 55 games, along with Ian Spencer and Alexander Kuqali who both saw time with the Ice last season. Added on defense is 2010 NHL Draft pick R.J. Boyd (Florida Panthers) after he spent part of last season in the USHL with the Chicago Steel.
One of two expansion clubs in 2010-11, the Lumberjacks also had a successful season as they qualified for the playoffs during their inaugural campaign. It built a solid foundation of winning for the organization led by Head Coach Kevin Patrick which gives them momentum for their second USHL campaign.
The Lumberjacks helped usher several players on to the collegiate ranks, but return a quality core that introduced USHL hockey to Muskegon. Forward Travis Belohrad is the team's leading returning scorer after a 34-point season (18g, 16a), while Mike Moran and Jordan Masters were solid contributors last season and will assume bigger roles in 2011-12. Matt DeBlouw looks to rebound after injury limited his rookie USHL season. Travis Walsh and Carter Foguth are USHL vets on the defensive unit, along with NHL draft-eligible Mark Yanis. The Jacks also have experience in net with Paul Berrafato, who won nine games for the team a season ago. Key newcomers include defenseman Nick Seeler, a 2011 NHL Draft selection of his hometown Minnesota Wild, and forward Ryan Lomberg, a dynamic forward who filled the stat sheet with 99 points last season for Hill Academy in Ontario. Forward Dakota Klecha adds scoring punch also following a 50-point season in the NAHL.
It was a productive year for the Team USA squads in 2010-11 as the Under-17 and Under-18 combined to win 30 USHL games and earn a berth in the playoffs. A dozen players that suited up for the U18 team also had their names called during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
The U17 and U18 will again split the USHL 60-game regular season, but count as one in the standings. The U18 squad includes a group a players with one USHL season under their belt and are led by Head Coach Danton Cole. Several players are on the scouting radar for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, including defenseman Jacob Trouba who has been tabbed as one of the top prospects for next June's draft. Forward Cameron Darcy also has the attention of scouts following a season in which he put up 13 points (9g, 4a) in 37 USHL games. The U18 has plenty of scoring punch with forwards Ryan Hartman, Nicolas Kerdiles, and Frankie Vatrano, all of whom reached double digits in goals. Team USA will also get a boost from the addition of Riley Barber, a key contributor to the Clark Cup title for Dubuque last season. Defenseman Seth Jones, son of former NBA star Popeye Jones, is turning heads although he is not NHL draft-eligible until 2013. New faces to the USHL make up the U17 squad, but someone familiar to the League is coaching the group as Don Granato takes the reins of the young team comprised of 1995 birth year players. Granato was the first head coach in the history of the Green Bay Gamblers and led them to a Clark Cup title in 1996. A pair of defensemen on the team got game experience in the USHL last season - Will Butcher (Dubuque) and Keaton Thompson (Fargo).
Playing in their second USHL season in 2010-11, the Phantoms showed much progress and fought for a playoff spot up until the last day of the regular season, but fell just two points short of the final berth. New Head Coach Anthony Noreen is looking to build on that momentum for the coming year.
Two full lines of forwards return from last season's team giving the Phantoms plenty of experience up front. In that group is Ryan Belonger, the USHL's second leading returning goal scorer after collecting 21 goals a season ago. Mike Ambrosia appeared in all 60 regular season games last year and tallied 10 goals while Dylan Margonari potted nine goals. Stephen Collins and newcomer Richard Zehnal both have two seasons of USHL experience to their credit. A quartet of defensemen return - Chris Bradley, Kevin Liss, Justin Stevens, and Jordan Young - giving the Phantoms a solid unit on the blueline. The team also adds USHL experience to that group with Michael Gunn, who spent last season with Chicago. Goaltender Matthew O'Connor posted 10 victories last year for the Phantoms and returns for a second go-round between the pipes. Youngstown used the USHL Entry Draft to bring in some key pieces, including their top pick Alexander Dahl who is the brother of a former Phantom, Jefferson Dahl. Florida native Austin Cangelosi also showed some offensive spark during preseason action.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 10th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2011-12. With 28 picks during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, 18 NHL draftees on its rosters last season, and over 280 players committed to NCAA Division I schools during the 2010-11 season, the USHL is emerging 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 multiple social media platforms, including Facebook (www.facebook.com/ushlhockey), twitter (www.twitter.com/ushl), and YouTube (www.youtube.com/ushlinteractive).
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