After over-analyzing preseason games, we have finally arrived to the 2017-18 regular season. The games count now, and we can finally separate speculation from reality. Here are five takeaways from Friday’s opening games:
1. A Star Is Born
The Lincoln Stars knew what they were getting when they traded for Tomas Vomacka in the offseason. Vomacka came to the USHL with similar NAHL accolades as Matiss Kivlenieks the year prior for Sioux City, and we all know how that ended: 2017 USHL Player of the Year, Goaltender of the Year and eventually an entry-level contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Vomacka stopped all 32 shots he faced including a beautiful glove save on a partial breakaway. The Nashville Predators prospect and Connecticut commit has all the confidence in the world after a successful NAHL career, and solid Fall Classic.
2. Golden Knights Shine
On the same night that the Vegas Golden Knights won their first-ever NHL game, two goaltending prospects went head-to-head in the USHL. The veteran goaltender Maksim Zhukov was the victor, stopping 21 of 22 shots. Newcomer Jiri Patera stopped 25 of 27 in his Cedar Rapids debut.
3. New Found Treasure
The Des Moines Buccaneers won 6-2 over Madison, but it was a handful of new faces who made an instant impact. After being acquired earlier in the week, forward Nicolas Werbik scored in his Buccaneers debut. Defenseman Will MacKinnon will be a name to keep an eye on this season. The defenseman dished out two assists in his debut, doubling his season-total point production with Team USA last year. Des Moines will give the Denver commit ample opportunity to succeed this year, and he’s taking advantage of it already. Although Braden Costello played six games with Des Moines last season, he’s new enough that we’ll place him in this category. The North Dakota commit scored four points in those six games last season, and he got off to a quick start in game one with his third career USHL goal. New goaltender Jake Kucharski was solid in net, stopping 23 of 25 shots in his USHL debut.
4. Make It A Double
Chicago Steel fans may recognize Samuel Bucek, the Slovakian forward who skated with Chicago two seasons ago. Bucek scored twice in his season debut in a 6-2 Steel win over the Fighting Saints. Sioux Falls Stampede forward Adam Dawe also scored twice in his USHL debut. The University of Maine commit scored twice on the power play in a 5-2 Sioux Falls victory over Fargo.
5. Highs and Lows
The Chicago Steel and Des Moines Buccaneers led all USHL teams Friday night with six goals apiece. The Buccaneers featured six different goal scorers, while Chicago had five. The Lincoln Stars did not allow a goal in their home opener, led by goaltender Tomas Vomacka. The Green Bay Gamblers, Tri-City Storm and Muskegon Lumberjacks all allowed just one goal.
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.