After a two week hiatus, USHL rankings are back. During this second ranking there are a few changes towards the bottom, but the top stays similar. Overall the Western Conference is looking stronger and more disciplined. With many exciting matchups coming this weekend, watch for the rankings to change drastically once a few teams find their stride.
#1 Dubuque Fighting Saints- Still holding the top spot, Dubuque seems unstoppable at this point and time. With only 12 GA through the first 9 games, it is obvious that defense comes first with this squad. Both goaltenders (Arthur Brey, Connor Girard) are looking flawless, while the offensive punch looks solid. No team has found a way to crack the Saints quite yet.
#2 Waterloo Blackhawks- Moving up one position, Waterloo is well deserving of some credit. Currently they hold the biggest offensive threat in the league. With two highly touted goaltenders that both can be considered starters, there are virtually now flaws in the crease. 5 forwards have already eclipsed double digits in points. It's also nice to have a first round prospect in Ian McCoshen policing the blue line and defensive zone.
#3 Lincoln Stars- Equivalent to Dubuque at 9-0-0, the Stars are sitting pretty near the top of the standings. Having not really faced any top ranked competition thus far, it is hard to tell if they are the real deal. Ranking 2nd in PIMs in the Western Conference is nothing new for Lincoln organization. In order to stay atop the standings and make it deep into the playoffs, they may want to consider a more disciplined game plan.
#4 Muskegon Lumberjacks- Staying at #4 compared to the last ranking, Muskegon has been impressive thus far. With their only regulation loss coming to the Blackhawks, it is safe to say the Jacks are headed in the right direction. It looks as if Muskegon may become one of the more consistent teams in the USHL. This well rounded squad can really do some damage in the East. It is important to note that their next 4 matchups are against Dubuque. The winner of this series will likely be atop the next standing.
#5 Cedar Rapids RoughRiders- Moving up one spot, the Riders still have some kinks to work out, but they are headed in the right direction. Riley Bourbonnais is currently leading the team in points with 5G 9A. After a tough 3-2 loss at Dubuque last Saturday, they proved that they can play with any team in the league. If the Riders can start to play 60 minutes of hockey they will become a headache for their upcoming opponents.
#6 Chicago Steel- Having only played one tough opponent so far (Muskegon), it is apparent that much like their counterpart in the West (Sioux Falls), the Steel still have a lot to prove. The upcoming matchup on Saturday with Sioux Falls should be interesting to see. Chicago has yet to really make their mark, and they may not get much respect until they knock off some tough opponents.
#7 Sioux Falls Stampede- The boys from South Dakota are improving. After opening up the season with two losses against tough opponents, they have since gone 7-1. It is evident that they hold a home ice advantage as they are 6-0 at their barn. Having not defeated a top opponent yet, they consequently have not moved up in the standings. Look for team leader in points Dennis Kravchenko (6G 6A 12P) and his veteran teammates to step up and take control.
#8 Fargo Force- University of Minnesota recruit Gabe Guertler may be leading the USHL in goals with 9, but Fargo certainly has a few problems. One major issue to note, they have yet to win on the road. Being one of the only 3 teams yet to have a road win is not something to be proud of. Fargo must find a way to become consistent night in and night out. A mediocre .500 winning percentage just doesn't cut in the most competitive junior league of the United States.
#9 Des Moines Buccaneers- Up one spot, the Bucs have shown improvement after starting the season with 4 straight losses. Leading the West in PIMs can't make the coaching staff very happy. It seems as if the Bucs are also still seeking a solid scoring punch to help their number one goaltender in Nick Ellis who currently holds a .946 save %. Des Moines can make an impact so long as they adjust what is needed.
#10 Youngstown Phantoms- Having played a number of games against top opponents, the Phantoms have experienced a lot of ups and downs. Inconsistency is their biggest downfall so far this season. The next four games on their schedule involve the rough and tough Green Bay Gamblers, and if they can come away with a few sweeps, it will be a big ego boost in the right direction. The Phantoms should focus on bringing down their GA average if they want to compete with the best.
#11 Omaha Lancers- Making the biggest jump all the way from the bottom, the Lancers are showing good potential. Their 4-7 record is not really too bad considering they have only played 2 home games. Odds are this team has bonded quite a bit after being on the road for the majority of the season. Mark your calendars for Friday when Waterloo comes to town. If the Lancers can pull off an upset they can make a huge statement.
#12 Sioux City Musketeers- Staying put at #12, Sioux City continues to lose a lot of close games. Their record could be flopped if only a few different decisions were made. 3 overtime losses is not healthy, and they also need to start winning on the road. Joe Ballmer has shown he is a strong goaltender with a 1.78 GAA, but he sure does need some more help up front. 22 goals through 9 games is not a statistic to be proud of either.
#13 Tri-City Storm- Much like the Lancers, the storm are showing significant improvements. Defensively they look as if they are on the right page, but they still haven't found the offensive numbers they drastically need. The Storm need some players to step up soon, or make some trade offers. If things don't change, they could stay at the bottom of the standings for quite some time.
#14 Indiana Ice- Austin Ortega has solidified his role in Indianapolis, and has proven to be a great pick up coming from Cedar Rapids. However, defensive numbers are looking poor to say the least. With only 3 wins through 14 games, the Ice may be off to their worst start ever. Look for the Ice to bounce back and pick things up eventually, but when will it happen?
#15 USNTDP (Team USA) - Staying near the bottom, team USA's goaltending is looking weak which is a direct result of their difficulties. Every year they shuffle through lineups trying to find a good mix, and it is obvious they have yet to find those combinations. Team USA always seems to improve and give teams a run for their money, but they have yet to play to their best abilities this season.
#16 Green Bay Gamblers- The fan base in Green Bay must be disappointed so far. 0-4-1 at home is uncharacteristic of the Gamblers, and PIMs continue to be one of the biggest problems. It's hard to win games when you are constantly killing penalties. Assuming the Gamblers want to turn things around, look for them to be hungry for some wins when the Phantoms come to town.