Chicago, Ill. - The United States Hockey League (USHL) is set to return to the DICK’S Sporting Goods USHL Fall Classic later this month for the start of the 2021-22 USHL regular season but before then, we take a look back at some of the best moments in Fall Classic history.
For the first years in Pittsburgh, the USHL conducted preseason games, but the 2017-18 season marked the first time the regular season kicked off with a building full of scouts and fans alike. The first regular season game at the UPMC complex was an exciting overtime contest between the Fargo Force and Cedar Rapids RoughRiders on September 27, 2018. The Force found an overtime winner less than 90 seconds into the extra frame as forward Hank Crone picked up his second point and first goal (1-1-2) of the game and season.
In two seasons of regular season games, three netminders have registered shutouts in the first weekend of the season. The first regular season Fall Classic shutout came as Fargo Force goaltender Cole Brady turned aside all 36 shots the Lincoln Stars sent his way on September 26, 2019. Brady went on to be named Goaltender of the Week for his Fall Classic performance and finished the season with a 21-12-3-2 record, 2.79 goals against average and 0.903 save percentage in 39 appearances before being selected by the New Jersey Devils in the 2019 NHL Draft (Round 5, 127 Overall).
Three nights after Brady’s whitewashing, Nicholas Grabko (Green Bay Gamblers) and Drew Commesso (USA Hockey National Team Development Program) were both perfect with 21- and 26-save performances, respectively. Grabko and Commesso each finished the season with a 0.917 save percentage, which was tied for second-best among all league netminders who played in 10-or-more games.
The NTDP Under-18 squad from the 2018-19 season was one to be reckoned with, featuring eight NHL Draft picks in the First Round, and its roster was put to the test on September 30 at the Fall Classic. After eventual 15th Overall selection Cole Caufield (2019, Montreal Canadiens) opened the scoring with a powerplay goal midway through the first period before the Omaha Lancers answered back halfway through regulation. With the game tied late, eventual Third Round selection Dominick Fensore (2019, Carolina Hurricanes, 90th Overall) finished off a feed from first overall selection Jack Hughes (2019, New Jersey Devils) with 11 seconds left in regulation to give the NTDP the win. That season’s roster went on to have 17 active players selected in the NHL Draft, including Hughes, Caufield and Fensore.
Three different skaters have registered hat tricks at the Fall Classic including Des Moines Buccaneers forward Reed Lebster and Muskegon Lumberjacks forward Egor Afanasyev, who tallied a trio of goals in back-to-back nights during the 2018-19 season.
Lebster opened the scoring on September 27, 2018 as the Buccaneers battled the Madison Capitols. The University of Massachusetts skater went on to give Des Moines a 3-1 lead in the second period before capping off the hat trick with his third power play goal of the game later in the middle frame.
The next night, Afanasyev’s hat trick helped lead the Lumberjacks to a 4-3 win over the Fargo Force. The future Nashville Predators Draft pick (2019, Round 2, 45 Overall) gave Muskegon the lead with a pair of goals less than four minutes apart late in the second period before finishing off the hat trick with an insurance goal midway through the final period. Afanasyev is currently a forward in the Predators’ system after collecting 76 points (33-43-76) in two seasons with the Lumberjacks.
The next time the USHL came to Pittsburgh, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders forward Robby Newton tucked away a trio of goals in a 6-2 win over the Youngstown Phantoms on September 26, 2019. Newton went on to collect 12 points (6-6-12) in 22 games with the RoughRiders before being traded to the Sioux City Musketeers for the final 36 games of his USHL career.
Back on September 27, 2018, the Lincoln Stars and Sioux Falls Stampede both trailed late in the game but the deficit would not last. The Stars were squaring off with the Chicago Steel and the Steel appeared to seal the game with an insurance marker with 2:22 to play when a goal from future Buffalo Sabres draft pick Owen Power (2021, Round 1, 1st Overall) made it a 4-2 game for Chicago. Just 36 seconds later, Lincoln defenseman Hunter Carrick picked up his first of the season and was followed 63 seconds later, with 43 seconds remaining in the game, by a game-tying goal from Shane Pinto. The Stars went on to grab the overtime game winner and at the end of the season, Pinto was selected by the Ottawa Senators at the 2019 NHL Draft (Round 2, 32nd Overall).
Just an hour after Lincoln capped off their comeback, the eventual Clark Cup Champion Sioux Falls Stampede finished an overtime comeback of their own. After the Central Illinois Flying Aces made it a two-goal game with a pair of powerplay goals, Sioux Falls tallied 44 seconds later but Central Illinois regained the two-goal lead 1:08 after that. The Stampede would not be denied, picking up a pair of goals in the final seven minutes of regulation before eventually winning the game on an overtime powerplay goal from Artyom Ivanyuzhenkov.
USA Hockey NTDP (4-0-0-0, 8 pts.)
Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (3-0-1-0, 7 pts.)
Waterloo Black Hawks (3-0-1-0, 7 pts.)
Dubuque Fighting Saints (3-1-0-0, 6 pts.)
Chicago Steel (2-2-1-0, 5 pts.)
Fargo Force (2-1-1-0, 5 pts.)
Sioux Falls Stampede (2-1-0-1, 5 pts.)
Tri-City Storm (2-1-1-0, 5 pts.)
Des Moines Buccaneers (2-2-0-0, 4 pts.)
Green Bay Gamblers (2-2-0-0, 4 pts.)
Lincoln Stars (2-2-0-0, 4 pts.)
Muskegon Lumberjacks (2-2-0-0, 4 pts.)
Omaha Lancers (1-3-0-0, 2 pts.)
Sioux City Musketeers (1-3-0-0, 2 pts.)
Youngstown Phantoms (1-3-0-0, 2 pts.)
Madison Capitols (0-4-0-0, 0 pts.)
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