The 64-game USHL season is a long and grueling affair. At some point throughout the season, teams
are likely to enjoy winning streaks, battle through injuries, and suffer
through frustrating losing skids. There
will be thrilling wins at home and lop-sided losses on the road. The 60-game regular season was designed to
expose young players to the same challenges that the pros face in the NHL's
normal 82-game season. With roughly half as many teams as the NHL, the USHL
season emphasizes deep-rooted divisional rivalries, such as Omaha vs. Lincoln,
which can be very nerve-racking, especially during the rookie year. In my
opinion, the arduous 64-game affair is a test for players-not only to see if
they can handle the stresses of the season, but to ultimately determine if they
could succeed at the next level.
can be likened to a rollercoaster ride: a series of ups and downs. Consider
HBO's 24/7 Capitals and Penguins series two years ago where both teams were profiled
in the month of December leading up to the Winter Classic. The Penguins were
one of the hottest teams in the league at the time with a 5-0 start to the
month, and the Capitals were in the middle of what would turn out to be an
eight-game skid. As the cameras followed
the Penguins on and off the ice, the mood was relaxed and the team appeared to
be loose. Practices were short and sweet and the guys were joking around more
than usual. On the other side of the equation, frustration set in for the
Capitals as they started the month 1-4 after coming off a 10-4 campaign in November. Viewers could easily tell that the mood was
tense as the locker room was eerily quiet.
Capitals coach, Bruce Boudreau, was also frustrated if you recall his famous
boil over in between periods when he dropped 10+ expletives, but as fellow
players know, a good ol' fashioned tongue lashing is nothing new after a poor
performance on home ice.
the greatest feeling. Coaches, players,
and staff are all in good moods; teams may eat at better restaurants on the
road and end practices with shoot-outs instead of sprints. It's all designed as an incentive to win-to
give players a taste of the good life so they have something to remember when
it all comes crashing down with the inevitable lapse in effort or bad loss.
When a team is underperforming, practices are long and grueling and players are
likely eating a steady diet of cheese pizza on the road. Put differently, quality of life is
significantly worse, on purpose, and coaches use a number of tricks (or
strategies, perhaps) to get the team back on a winning track.
of my junior years we were a pretty average team with a .500 record when we hit
the inevitable mid-season skid. After
three or four straight losses, my coach decided that our lack of effort was
disrespectful to the tradition of the organization and banned us from using the
team locker room until we "deserved it."
For about two weeks, we dressed in the storage rooms under the grandstands.
There were no showers, limited room, and we had to take our gear home at night
and do our own laundry. Home games were
no exceptions and the fans were confused as to why we were emerging from under
the bleachers with skate guards on instead of from the normal team room. Practices during that skid were memorable as
well-lots of skating and battle drills that pushed us to our limits. We eventually emerged from the losing streak
and were granted access to our room, but the experience remained in the back of
our minds throughout the rest of the season as a reminder of what could happen
we failed to meet expectations.
season can be characterized as a two-way street between the players and
coaching staff. When the team performs well, life is good. When the losses are piling up, coming to the
ice rink everyday can be somewhat dreadful.
Part of the excitement of playing in the USHL is the element of
unpredictability, and compared to the pros, there are many more upsets and
lopsided wins in the regular season which keeps both players and fans on their