Two weeks into the 2017-18 season, there is already a lot of excitement and intrigue around the USHL. Saturday night featured a hat trick from a top NHL Draft prospect, two games end in a shootout, and more. Below are five takeaways from Saturday's action.
1. U18s Put On a Show
Team USA forward Oliver Wahlstrom had himself quite the game on Saturday night, as he netted a hat trick in the U18s 7-0 shutout of the Muskegon Lumberjacks at L.C. Walker Arena. The A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's Players to Watch List scored twice in a seven minute span in the opening period and capped the hat trick with his third goal of the night 3:13 into the third period. Another A-rated Team USA forward, Joel Farabee, scored two goals of his own in the game, while Jake Pivonka (1G, 2A) and Connor Caponi (1G, 1A) added multiple point efforts. Team USA has been on quite the offensive tear early in the season, as the U17s scored 10 goals against the Chicago Steel last week before this outburst by the U18s. Considering all the talent between the two rosters, don't be surprised if performances like Saturday's happen more often than not.
2. Dubuque Returns the Favor
On Friday night, the Waterloo Black Hawks shut out the Dubuque Fighting Saints 2-0 at the Mystique Ice Center. But, for the second night in a row in the home-and-home series, the road team was able to pitch the shutout. This time, it was the Fighting Saints returning the favor, as they went into Young Arena and knocked off the Black Hawks by a score of 1-0. Cole Guttman, aka Captain Cali, scored the only goal of the game 2:27 into the third period to give Dubuque their first victory of the season. Jaxon Castor earned the shutout between the pipes with a 26-save performance, and Fighting Saints fans are hopeful it isn't the last time the veteran netminder puts on a performance like that this year.
3. See You in the Shootout
After a pair of games were decided in overtime on Friday night, it took the shootout to determine the winner in two games on Saturday. The Sioux City Musketeers knocked off the Sioux Falls Stampede 2-1, and the Youngstown Phantoms took down the Fargo Force 4-3. After Sioux Falls' Kirill Panyukov scored his second goal in as many games seven minutes into the first to open the scoring, Solag Bakich found the back of the net for the first time this season seven minutes later to tie the game. Those were the only two goals in regulation and overtime, sending the teams to a shootout. Micah Miller scored the only goal of the six-round affair, giving the Musketeers their second win. The Phantoms' Max Ellis and Eriks Zohovs recorded goals in the shootout, while goaltender Ivan Prosvetov stopped both attempts he faced as well as 42 of the 43 shots he saw between regulation and overtime.
4. Stars Shine Bright
The Lincoln Stars remain undefeated, as they moved to 3-0-0-0 on the season after knocking off the Des Moines Buccaneers 6-2, sweeping the weekend set. The Stars scored twice in every period to earn the victory, getting a pair of goals from Casey Dornbach as well as tallies from Devlin McCabe, Tristian Ashbrook, Gustaf Westlund and Dominick Mersch. Dornbach, McCabe, Ashbrook and Mersch all added an assist each, and Nashville Predators prospect Tomas Vomacka stopped 32 of the 34 shots he faced to move to 3-0-0-0 on the season. After falling just short of the postseason last year, it looks that the Stars have a recipe for success this season between a strong, balanced offense and stellar goaltending.
5. Aces Win Showdown
The top two teams in the early-season Eastern Conference standings matched up at the Resch Center, with the Central Illinois Flying Aces moving to 3-0-0-0 with a 3-2 victory over the Green Bay Gamblers. After a scoreless opening period, the Gamblers opened the scoring less than two minutes into the middle frame with a Rory Herrman goal. The Flying Aces responded with three goals in the span of 10 minutes later in the period, as Tyler Madden, Griffin Lunn and Drew Elser all found the back of the net, giving Central Illinois a 3-1 lead at the intermission. Noah Prokop added a tally in the third for Green Bay, but Central Illinois hung on for the victory. Zach Stejskal stopped 17 of the 19 shots he faced for his first win of the season.
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.