As February gives way to March in the United States Hockey League, we continue to see players dominate, players continue to improve, and new opportunities for some to get the exposure and challenge of playing at the Tier 1 level.
The Green Bay Gamblers, arguably the class of the USHL, were the first team to clinch a playoff spot. Firmly entrenched at the top of the Eastern Conference, and currently riding a five game winning streak, the Gamblers thrive by having a mobile blueline that can contribute offense. Jordan Schmaltz and Dakota Mermis are key examples of this philosophy, both integral pieces and contributors to the winning streak. It’s not just the Defense that opponents have to account for when forwards like Nicolas Schilkey and Alex Kile are scoring as well.
Green Bay’s win streak includes three wins over the United States National Team Development Program, and their last tilt may have marked the end of Stefan Matteau‘s USHL season. The Illinois product, in just his second game back from a previous suspension, picked up a spearing major and game misconduct late in the game. Matteau’s been suspended indefinitely, the question is how long; the USNTDP has just eight games left in their USHL schedule. Something lost in the shuffle was that he had both goals in the loss to Green Bay, giving him five on the season, to go with a single assist in 11 games.
In Dubuque, a healthy duo of Zemgus Girgensons and Michael Matheson led to a strong February for the Fighting Saints. Both missed the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and some games that sandwiched the event with nagging injuries, while Girgensons may be fighting some fatigue and wear from added play at the World Junior Championship. Girgensons’ activity is something to watch for as the season winds down and postseason play begins.
Out west, Lincoln’s Kevin Roy is simply demolishing his competition. With four goals and 10 points in his last five games, Roy now leads the USHL’s scoring race by 16 points, with 76 in 46 games.
While we’re nearing the end of the season, March also serves as beginning for some USHL Clubs.
Across the nation High School and Prep season-ending Tournaments are taking place, so affiliate-list players and free agents will join their respective teams once their respective seasons end.
For instance, Omaha has had defenseman Jake Bischoff in a Lancers sweater once his Grand Rapids team was eliminated in Section play, and Fargo was buoyed by the addition of Jay Dickman, whose St. Paul Johnson team was just eliminated Wednesday Night. 2013 Eligible Vinni Lettieri (Minnetonka, Minnesota) was set to join Lincoln for the stretch and playoff run. This is just in the mean time while State Championships are playing out- there are many more players likely to do the same. Cristoval Nieves, for example, is set to join Indiana once his season with Kent HS in Connecticut ends.
It’s an exciting time for all; these additions not only provide reinforcements to teams vying for the Clark Cup and gives these players exposure and the challenge of playing at a higher level, but also give scouts and the hockey community a chance to see if questions surrounding players get answered at the Tier 1 level, and get those answers under the pressure of March in The USHL.