Chicago, IL - When the United States Hockey League (USHL) season starts in September at the DICK’S Sporting Goods USHL Fall Classic, seven coaches will have their first regular season game behind a USHL bench as Head Coach, including six new hires this offseason.
The new Head Coaches join an already established group of bench bosses in the United States’ lone Tier I junior hockey league that includes three Clark Cup Championship winning coaches (Mark Carlson - Cedar Rapids RoughRiders; Dan Muse - USA Hockey National Team Development Program; Brock Sheahan - Chicago Steel) and six coaches with more than 100 regular season wins. Carlson leads the returning USHL Head Coaches with 657 career USHL wins, which is second in league history.
Among those new to their role are two former NHL players Greg Brown (Dubuque Fighting Saints) and Matt Smaby (Waterloo Black Hawks) and four have prior experience with USHL Clubs, including Matt Curley (Des Moines Buccaneers), Scott Langer (Fargo Force), Rocky Russo (Lincoln Stars) and Tom Upton (Madison Capitols). Rounding out the group is Chadd Cassidy (Omaha Lancers) who comes to lead the Lancers after previously serving as Head Coach of the AHL’s Rochester Americans.
Brown, 53, comes to the Dubuque Fighting Saints having served as a coach for the New York Rangers and Boston College for the past 17 seasons. The Hartford, Conn. native has spent the last three seasons as an Assistant Coach for the New York Rangers where he coached defensemen, including this season’s Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox (USA Hockey NTDP, 2014-16) and NHL All-Rookie Team member K’Andre Miller (USA Hockey NTDP, 2016-18).
“This opportunity was interesting to me because of the organization’s strong tradition,” said Brown. “The Fighting Saints have big intentions. It shows in the success of the team in the past and how they run every aspect of the organization that it is going to be a great place to work.”
Prior to the Rangers job, Brown established his talent for producing top-level talent as he patrolled the bench at his alma mater Boston College where he was hired as an Assistant Coach prior to the 2004-05 season and remained in the role until being promoted to Associate Head Coach from the 2012-13 season through 2018. Nearly half of the defensemen Brown coached at Boston College have been drafted, including 12 who have already played in the NHL. Those defensemen include two-time Stanley Cup Champion Brian Dumoulin and three First Round selections: Noah Hanifin (2015, 5th overall, Carolina Hurricanes), Mike Matheson (2012, 23rd Overall, Florida Panthers) and Nick Petrecki (2007, 28th overall, San Jose Sharks). Hanifin (USA Hockey NTDP, 2013-14), Matheson (Dubuque Fighting Saints, 2011-12) and Petrecki (Omaha Lancers, 2005-07) all played in the USHL. With Brown as part of the coaching staff, Boston College won the NCAA Championship three times (2008, 2010, 2012), appeared in the Championship game five times, made seven Frozen Four appearances, won seven Hockey East Championships and appeared in the NCAA Tournament 12 times.
Before establishing himself as a coach, Brown was a defenseman at Boston College (1986-90) and was selected in the 1986 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres in the second round (26th overall). With Boston College, Brown was a two-time NCAA First Team All-American, two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist, two-time Hockey East Champion and Hockey East Player of the Year as well as a being named a member of the NCAA All-Academic Team and being named to the Hockey East First All-Star Team, All-Rookie Team and All-Academic Team over his four seasons.
Brown’s coaching credits also include a pair of medals while he served as an Assistant Coach for the United States national team at the World Junior Championships where he was part of the 2017 Gold Medal and 2018 Bronze Medal winning teams.
As a player, Brown skated in 94 NHL games over four seasons with the Buffalo Sabres (1990-91, 1992-93), Pittsburgh Penguins (1993-94) and Winnipeg Jets (1994-95) and tallied 18 points in his career (4-14-18). The final eight seasons of his playing career were spent across European professional leagues.
Cassidy, 48, heads to Nebraska to coach the Omaha Lancers after having served in various coaching positions since the 2002-03 season. Most recently, the Lake Placid, N.Y. native served as Head Coach for the past six seasons with Northwood School in New York. In his time at Northwood, Cassidy coached a pair of NHL Draft picks in Mattias Samuelsson (Buffalo Sabres, 2018, Round 2, 32nd overall) and Jack Dugan (Vegas Golden Knights, 2017, Round 5, 142nd overall), who are both currently under contract of the team that drafted them. Samuelsson and Dugan each played in the USHL, for the USA Hockey NTDP (2016-18) and Chicago Steel (2017-18), respectively, as did nine other Northwood alumni who played under Cassidy. Dugan was named to the All-USHL First Team after his lone USHL season and Jacob Guevin earned a spot on the 2020-21 All-Rookie Team as a member of the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Of the 11 players who played in the USHL after Northwood School, four played for the Omaha Lancers.
“I am honored and excited to be the next Head Coach and General Manager of the Omaha Lancers,” said Cassidy. “The rich history and tradition of the Lancers organization speaks for itself.”
Prior to Northwood, Cassidy was part of the Rochester Americans organization for four seasons. Cassidy started with the Americans, the AHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres, as an Assistant Coach in the 2011-12 season and was named interim Head Coach midway through the 2012-13 season before serving as Head Coach for his final two seasons with Rochester. In his four seasons, Cassidy led Rochester to a 145-124-24-11 record, including three Calder Cup Playoff appearances.
Prior to the AHL, Cassidy spent five seasons as an Assistant Coach with the United States Development Program (2006-11). During those five seasons, the Development Program developed 93 NHL Draft picks, including 52 of those players having played in the USHL during their junior career. Cassidy and the fellow Development Program coaches developed a group of players that have gone on to win nine Stanley Cups and play 16,444 NHL games. Cassidy’s Stanley Cup Champion players include two-time Champions Bryan Rust (USA Hockey NTDP, 2009-10) and Brandon Saad (USA Hockey NTDP, 2009-10) as well as Travis Boyd (USA Hockey NTDP, 2009-11).
Cassidy got his coaching start as the Head Coach at National Sports Academy from 2002-06.
Curley, 38, joins a USHL bench for the second time in his coaching career and as the Head Coach for the first time. The Madrid, N.Y. native previously served as an Associate Head Coach for the Indiana Ice during the 2012-13 season with a roster that featured six NHL Draft picks. Included in the Draft picks was Matt Roy (Los Angeles Kings, 2015, Round 7, 194th overall) who has appeared in 139 games over four seasons with the Kings.
“The Bucs have one of the most rich and cherished histories in the USHL and a fan base that is second to none,” said Curley. “The USHL is the best development league in the world, and I can’t wait to work with our players to help them realize their potential as people and players.”
Most recently, Curley served as the Head Coach at University of Alaska Anchorage for the past three seasons. Before heading to Alaska, the former defenseman coached for the RB Hockey Juniors program for three seasons (2015-18) after serving as Assistant Coach at Bentley University (2013-15).
Prior to his coaching career, Curley played four seasons on the blue line for Clarkson University (2003-07) and was part of the ECAC Championship-winning team his senior season. After 126 collegiate games, Curley finished his playing career with two seasons of professional hockey spent in the ECHL, SPHL and IHL.
Langer, 47, joins the USHL coaching corps for the second time in his career after his first coaching job came as an Assistant Coach for the 2002-03 Chicago Steel. That season’s Steel roster featured four NHL Draft picks (Joseph Pierce - Tampa Bay Lightning; Brady Greco - Tampa Bay Lightning; Mike Grenzy - Chicago Blackhawks; Travis Morin - Washington Capitals) and a pair of undrafted players who went on to play in the NHL. Morin and the undrafted Joe Piskula each appeared in 13 NHL games while fellow undrafted skater Lee Sweatt appeared in a trio of NHL games.
The Islip, N.Y. native has spent the past 17 seasons as a Head Coach in the NAHL. Most recently, Langer served as the Head Coach of the Aberdeen Wings for the past five seasons. Langer is coming off an incredible 51-4-0-1 record with the Wings during the 2020-21 regular season. During his time with the Wings Langer compiled a 200-65-13-9 record and led the team to a Robertson Cup Championship in 2019. In his 17 seasons as an NAHL Head Coach (Topeka Roadrunners: 2007-16 & Santa Fe Roadrunners: 2004-07), Langer compiled 723 wins and a 0.646 career winning percentage, only finishing below 0.500 for a single season twice in his NAHL career. Langer enters the USHL having led his teams to 15-straight Robertson Cup Playoffs and will take over a Fargo Force team fresh off a Clark Cup Championship appearance.
Russo joins the Stars after serving as bench boss of the NAHL’s Amarillo Bulls for the past four seasons where the coaching veteran compiled a combined 145-67-20-15 record. Russo’s 2018-19 Bulls finished with a 46-8-3-3 regular season record, doubling the win total from the previous season’s team. That season, the Bulls went to the third round of the Robertson Cup Playoffs where they fell two games to one to Scott Langer’s eventual Robertson Cup Champion Aberdeen Wings.
“I am humbled and honored to be named the Head Coach of the Lincoln Stars,” said Russo. “The rich tradition of the organization is incredibly impressive. I look forward to building on the late-season success of the team and building a championship contender for the Stars fans and the Lincoln community.”
Prior to leading the Bulls, Russo has worked in various coaching and hockey operations roles for the prior 12 seasons across a plethora of NAHL, EHL and NAPHL teams, including a stop with the USHL’s Bloomington Thunder as a Scout during the 2014-15 season. During his various stops, Russo helped lead the Amarillo Bulls to a Robertson Cup Championship in 2013 as an Assistant Coach.
Smaby, 36, will be Waterloo’s first Head Coach to follow USHL all-time wins leader P.K. O’Handley stepped down after leading the Black Hawks for the past 18 seasons. Smaby, a Minneapolis, Minn. native, will be tasked with following in the footsteps of O’Handley’s 850-plus career USHL wins but joins the team off a string of coaching opportunities that followed a playing career that saw him appear in more than 100 NHL games.
“This organization has goals and standards, and those standards and goals are high,” Smaby said. “There’s an expectation to win, which is a good thing. As a coach, I share those same expectations, but I also understand that the USHL is a developmental league. My job as a coach is to develop players and balance that with winning. So our players will become better hockey players this season, but they’ll also grow as people. We’re going to have a huge emphasis on that.”
The former defenseman was selected 41st overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2003 NHL Draft after three seasons at the University of North Dakota. Smaby played all of his 122 NHL games with the Lightning (2007-11) and also enjoyed more than 200 AHL games with the Norfolk Admirals, Syracuse Crunch and Springfield Falcons. Smaby’s playing career ended with a pair of DEL Championships with EHC Munchen in 2016 and 2017.
After his on-ice career, Smaby returned to the States to join University of North Dakota as a Student Manager for two seasons before he earned his first Assistant Coach position with EC Salzburg of the EBEL during the 2019-20 season. Smaby once again came back to America a season later to serve as Head Coach of the Grand Forks Bantam AA last season.
Despite being hired prior to last season, the 2021-22 season will be Upton’s first behind the bench for the Madison Capitols after the Club was unable to participate in the 2020-21 USHL season. Upton, 36, joined the Capitols after serving as an Assistant Coach at Mercyhurst University for the prior three seasons.
While there, Upton and his fellow coaches led many promising talents, most notably 2015 Anaheim Ducks Draft pick Garrett Metcalf (Round 6, 179th overall) and the undrafted Joseph Duszak. Metcalf played professionally last season. Duszak earned a spot as a Hobey Baker Award finalist during the 2018-19 season after being awarded both the Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year and Best Defenseman. The season prior, Duszak was a Second Team All-Conference player. Since leaving Mercyhurst, Duszak has appeared in 50 games with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies where he has 30 points (7-23-30).
Upton’s coaching career also saw him spend a season as an Assistant Coach with the Youngstown Phantoms during a 2016-17 season that featured a roster with seven total NHL Draft picks. Steven Ruggiero (Anaheim Ducks, 2015, Round 6, 178th overall) and Brett Murray (Buffalo Sabres, 2016, Round 4, 99th overall) had already been drafted prior to Upton’s season with the Phantoms. Murray is currently under contract by the Buffalo Sabres. The 2016-17 Phantoms roster produced five additional NHL Draft picks, including Jack Rathbone (Vancouver Canucks, 2017, Round 4, 95th overall) and Curtis Hall (Boston Bruins, 2018, Round 4, 119th overall), who are both currently signed by their NHL teams. Also in the Draft class was Michael Karow (Arizona Coyotes, 2017, Round 5, 126th overall), Jay O’Brien (Philadelphia Flyers, 2018, Round 1, 19th overall) and Jack Malone (Vancouver Canucks, 2019, Round 6, 180th overall). Of the seven drafted players, Rathbone and Murray are the only players to appear in the NHL, both making their debuts last season. Rathbone appeared in eight games and collected three points (1-2-3) with the Canucks while Murray appeared in a pair of games with the Sabres. Hall, the only other currently signed player, played in the AHL last season.
Prior to the Phantoms, Upton served as the Head Coach of the NAHL’s Minnesota Magicians for a pair of seasons (2014-16) where he accumulated a combined 68-47-10-7 record.
During the 2013-14 season, Upton was an Assistant Coach on Mark Carlson’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders staff. That season’s team featured a lot of players that would go on to have professional careers, most notably defenseman Ivan Provorov who the Philadelphia Flyers selected 7th overall in the 2015 Draft. In the past five seasons with the Flyers, Provorov has appeared in 371 games and has 159 points (50-109-159). That season’s roster also featured previously Drafted Judd Peterson (Buffalo Sabres, 2012, Round 7, 204th overall) and produced another pair of 2015 Draft picks Erik Foley (Winnipeg Jets, Round 3, 78th overall) and Frederik Tiffels (Pittsburgh Penguins, Round 6, 167th overall). The 2013-14 RoughRiders also had a handful of players who went undrafted but have since played in the AHL, including Andrew Oglevie and Jerad Rosburg who are signed by the Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars, respectively. Oglevie has appeared in 95 AHL contests with the Rochester Americans over the last three seasons while Rosburg has appeared in 38 games for the Texas Stars in the past two seasons. Andrew Poturalski, Dylan McLaughlin, Scott Moldenhauer and Callahan Burke all were also undrafted and have played in 299, 63, 51 and 33 AHL games, respectively.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the 2021-22 season will be the USHL's 20th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league. The USHL had 50 players selected at the 2021 NHL Draft, marking the fourth-straight season with 50-or-more USHL players selected in the Draft. More than 800 league alumni are currently on NCAA Division I rosters, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.
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