John Moore knew he wanted to be a hockey player more than anything. He was a talented young skater, but he was raw. Every USHL team passed on him during the draft and the defenseman was even cut from the Chicago Steel camp prior to the start of the 2007-08 season. A couple weeks later, he got a call that a spot had opened for him with the Steel and he embarked on his first USHL season. Moore began to blossom in the League and after a solid first season of development, he got bigger and stronger. As he began his second USHL season, he was turning heads of players, coaches, and scouts. He went on to become the USHL Defenseman of the Year following the 2008-09 season. Shortly after, Moore was selected in the first round (21st overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
This season, Moore made his NHL debut with the Columbus Blue Jackets. In just a few short years, the USHL help Moore go from a raw young talent to the first steps in a NHL career.
Dan Sexton doubted he would ever have a chance to live out the NHL dream. He was playing for the Sioux Falls Stampede but was struggling to adjust to the USHL game. Sexton collected just five points (2g, 3a) in the first 23 games of the season and was so frustrated that he wanted to give up. His coaches and teammates didn’t allow that and stuck behind him. What the team saw from Sexton was a boost in offensive production as he collected 19 points (12g, 7a) over his final 35 regular season games. However, his biggest impact came during the playoffs as Sexton led all USHL players with eight goals in eight postseason games and helped lead the Stampede to the first Clark Cup championship in the history of the organization.
“That year did so much for my confidence, helped me to get stronger, and develop as a player,” said Sexton. “It turned my whole career around and I am so thankful to my coaches and teammates.”
A season in the USHL earned Sexton the opportunity to play collegiately at Bowling Green State University. It was during his sophomore season that scouts from the Anaheim Ducks saw him play and impressed them enough to offer the undrafted forward a contract later that spring. A few months later he scored two goals in just his third NHL game.
Justin Abdelkader had his reservations about leaving the comforts of home and moving to a city he had never heard of to place in the USHL. Coming out of high school, it was a big adjustment to leave family and friends and go off to play against the top players from around the country and around the world.
"It was tough, but the most important year of my life and hockey career," said Abdelkader. "Coming from playing high school to the USHL was the biggest jump in my career. That's what's great about the League, because it develops young men not only into hockey players, but individuals off the ice as well.
Abdelkader began to excel and helped the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders earn their first-ever Clark Cup title during the 2004-05 season. Shortly after, he was selected in the second round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings.
Two years after winning the Clark Cup, Abdelkader had another winning moment at Michigan State University while capturing the 2007 NCAA Championship. It was just two years after that when Abdelkader was again on a big stage scoring his first NHL goal during the 2009 Stanley Cup Final for the Detroit Red Wings. The 24-year-old is now a full-time forward in the NHL with the Red Wings.