What a night of USHL action on Saturday night. The seven games on the night featured all kinds of exciting play, wild comebacks and more. Below are five takeaways from Saturday's games.
1. RoughRiders Stem Rally
The craziest game of the night featured the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and Sioux Falls Stampede. Cedar Rapids held a 3-0 lead through 20 minutes of play and added three in the seconds to hold a 6-0 advantage 12:05 into the second. The Stampede staged a huge rally, scoring three times later in the second and also in the third and send the game to overtime. Following a scoreless extra frame, Marek Valach and Nathan Smith found the back of the net in the shootout to complete the wild 7-6 victory. Smith, who had two points (1G, 1A) in the win, has recorded nine points (6G, 3A) in his last nine games and is now just one point behind Valach for the team scoring lead. Cedar Rapids is now 4-2-0-0 in their last six games and looks very strong right now.
2. Gamblers Get Even
Following an overtime loss to Chicago on Friday night, the Green Bay Gamblers got even on Saturday, defeating the Steel 6-5 in a shootout to snap the defending champion's six-game winning streak. Five different players scored for the Gamblers in regulation - Rory Herrman, Lean Bergmann, Carver Watson, Nolan Moyle and Trenton Bliss. Bliss extended his point streak to seven games with a three-point performance (1G, 2A) and has 13 points in 11 games. He is also now along in third in USHL scoring. The shootout was exciting as well, lasting five rounds before Michael Bevilacqua scored the game-winning goal. Maksim Zhukov played hero between the pipes for Green Bay, stopping 22 of the 24 shots he faced in relief of Jake Begley. The Vegas Golden Knights prospect is now 6-2-1-0 on the season and the Gamblers are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference right now, just one point behind Chicago for the top spot.
3. Phillips Powering Up
Since joining the Muskegon Lumberjacks, Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Clayton Phillips has been one of the team's best players. The University of Minnesota commit scored a goal in his team's 4-2 loss to the Tri-City Storm, giving him points in five straight games, with seven points (3G, 4A) in that span. Phillips has also scored in each of the four games he's played with the Lumberjacks. If Muskegon is going to be a successful team, they need Phillips to be playing at a high level, and despite the loss on Saturday, Phillips is playing well, a sign things may get better very quickly in Muskegon.
4. Wild West
The Tri-City Storm and Fargo Force extended their respective winning streaks to six straight games, keeping the two teams tied atop the Western Conference standings. The Storm knocked off Muskegon 4-2, giving them a weekend sweep of the Lumberjacks. Joey Cipollone, recent Providence College commit Johnny McDermott, Michael Maloney and Hugo Blixt found the back of the net in the victory. Blixt has been impressive from the back end, currently sporting a four-game point streak, with six points (2G, 4A) in that span. Detroit Red Wings prospect Filip Larsson has now won five straight games with a 33-save performance. Fargo doubled up the Waterloo Black Hawks 6-3. Ben Meyers scored twice and Mark Senden, Grant Hebert, William Fallstrom and Griffin Loughran also lit the lamp. Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup added an assist to extend his point streak to eight games and is now tied for fourth in USHL scoring along with Loughran, recording 12 points through 11 games. The Storm and Force are the hottest teams in the USHL right now and show no signs of slowing down.
5. Offensive Outbursts
When looking at the final scores of Saturday night's games, one storyline shines through brighter than any: offense. The seven USHL games played last night featured an average of 9.14 goals/game, with teams averaging 33.07 shots in those contests, and for the second straight night, four straight games took overtime or a shootout to decide a victor. When people think of the USHL, they might think of strong defense, elite goaltending and low-scoring games, but that certainly wasn't the case last night. Fans were treated to plenty of offense and exciting games on Saturday.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 16th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2017-18. 30 or more players from the USHL have been selected in five consecutive NHL Drafts, and more than 400 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.