Saturday night of opening weekend made Friday look tame. Most nights with two overtime finals would be enough, but how about a game that featured 15 goals? Saturday had it all: a handful of firsts, a hat trick and… well not everything. There were no shutouts. High scoring and more, in today’s five takeaways:
1. Banner Night
The Chicago Steel raised their championship banner against Team USA, and then the two teams combined to raise the scoring average in the USHL. 15 goals, one hat trick and 10 different players scoring their first career USHL goals. Michael Gildon, skating in his first-ever USHL game, scored a hat trick for Team USA. Cole Caufield scored twice, Jack Hughes dished out three assists and Judd Caulfield scored once and was credited with two assists. USHL teams will have to take notice of the U17 squad, this isn’t your average team of rookies.
2. Just Visiting
Visiting teams went a combined 6-1-0-0 Saturday night, outscoring home teams 29-18. Green Bay was the only home team to walk away victors winning 2-1 in overtime. More on the Gamblers later. Sioux City played spoilers in overtime on the road, Muskegon scored a last-minute goal in Des Moines and Central Illinois won their first game under new head coach Mike Watt. Speaking of Central Illinois…
3. Flying High
New jersey, new name, new coach. The Flying Aces defeated a perennial Eastern Conference powerhouse on the road to begin their new era. Mike Watt, the second head coach in team history, picked up his first USHL win behind the bench. The former Michigan State forward and eight-year professional had served the past two seasons as an assistant for the Bloomington Thunder under then head coach Dennis Williams. The win was his first since 2014-15 when he was head coach of Arrowhead High. Tyler Madden played hero for Central Illinois, scoring the game-winning goal and adding a primary assist. The 2018 NHL Draft prospect is a Northeastern commit.
4. Working Overtime
Two games went to overtime last night: Green Bay scored 43 seconds into the extra period while on the power play, and Sioux City scored with 96 seconds remaining. Carver Watson placed a perfect shot on the short side of goaltender Jaxon Castor to give the Gamblers back-to-back wins on the weekend. The Michigan Tech commit spent last season in the BCHL after spending parts of two years with the Madison Capitols and Tri-City Storm. The game-winner was his first USHL tally since the 2014-15 season. Sampo Ranta took advantage of being left all alone in the extra period, as he buried the Sioux City game-winner after settling the puck right in front of Ryan Bischell. The Wisconsin commit had two points in his season debut after a very impressive Fall Classic.
5. To the Max
Green Bay Gamblers goaltender Maksim Zhukov went 2-0-0-0 on the weekend, allowing just one goal in each of his starts. After stopping 22 of 23 shots Friday night, Zhukov stopped 21 of 22 in an overtime win. Zhukov’s 0.99 GAA is second only to Lincoln’s Tomas Vomacka, who did not play Saturday after recording a shutout in his USHL debut. The Vegas Golden Knights prospect finished first among rookie goaltenders last season with a 2.25 GAA, and third with a .913 sv%. The Gamblers have had good history with second-year goaltenders following their NHL Draft year, most recently with 2016 Goaltender of the Year Adam Huska.
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.