The 2017-18 USHL regular season is only two weeks in, but there is already an abundance of storylines and intrigue early in the year. Each week, USHL.com will preview five games from around the league and take a look at the matchup and storylines surrounding each contest.
1. Friday, Oct. 20, 7:05 PM CT - Des Moines Buccaneers at Sioux Falls Stampede (HockeyTV Free Game of the Week)
The Buccaneers are looking to get back on track following a sweep last weekend at the hands of the Lincoln Stars, while the Stampede picked up three points on the weekend - thanks to a 7-2 win in Omaha last Friday and a shootout loss in Sioux City on Saturday - and are coming off a 2-1 win in Fargo on Thursday, putting them atop the Western Conference standings early in the season. Both teams have dynamic offensive talent that could lead them to a victory in this contest. Nicolas Werbik leads the way for Des Moines with five points (2G, 3A), including at least one point in all four games he's played. The Czech forward was acquired from Youngstown before the start of the regular season, and the Buccaneers hope he can continue producing at his current rate. The Stampede's Reid Stefanson currently leads all USHL players in scoring with six points (2G, 4A) in four games, including a four-point effort (2G, 2A) in Sioux Falls 7-2 victory in Omaha last week. The goaltending will also be interesting to watch, as Des Moines' Jake Kucharski was listed on NHL Central Scouting's Preliminary Players to Watch List, while Mikhail Berdin of the Stampede is a Winnipeg Jets prospect. This game will be free for fans to watch at USHL.HockeyTV.com.
2. Friday, Oct. 20, 7:05 PM CT - Waterloo Black Hawks at Sioux City Musketeers
This will be the first time since Game 5 of the 2017 Western Conference Final that the Black Hawks and Musketeers will square off, with both teams sporting identical 2-1-0-0 record and looking to catch the undefeated Lincoln Stars in the Western Conference standings. Waterloo is coming off a home-and-home split with Dubuque last weekend, a series that saw Waterloo win 2-0 on Friday before falling 1-0 on Saturday. Reigning USHL Goaltender of the Week Jared Moe, who picked up the shutout in his first career USHL start and stopped 22 of the 23 shots he faced on Saturday, will look to continue the success he's seen in his first two outings. The Musketeers are coming off a shootout victory in Sioux Falls on Saturday night and are looking to keep the momentum going. Sampo Ranta (1G, 2A) and Hayden Rowan (2G, 1A) lead the way up front for Sioux City with three points each and will look to crack a very tough Waterloo defense.
3. Saturday, Oct. 21, 7:05 PM ET and Sunday, Oct. 22, 2:05 PM ET - Green Bay Gamblers at Team USA (U17)
This two-game set will be a great test for a pair of teams who have found success early in the year, as the Gamblers have earned at least one point in three of their first four games, while Team USA is undefeated at 2-0-0-0, with the U17 team earning one of those victories. The matchup to watch in these games will be the strong U17 offense, led by week 1 USHL Forward of the Week Michael Gildon, against Vegas Golden Knights Prospect and week 1 USHL Goaltender of the Week Maksim Zhukov. Gildon got his USHL career off to a blazing start, as he recorded a hat trick in his first ever game in the league. Zhukov is off to a wonderful start as well, sporting a 1.99 GAA and .924 SV% in four appearances.
4. Saturday, Oct. 21, 7:05 PM ET - Muskegon Lumberjacks at Youngstown Phantoms
Muskegon-Youngstown has become one of the more fierce, competitive rivalries in the USHL in recent years. According to Scott Bradford of the Muskegon Lumberjacks, the two teams combined for over 511 penalty minutes in nine meetings last year. The teams were nearly equally successful in last year's season series, with Muskegon winning five times and Youngstown walking away victorious on four occasions. Despite the two teams only having one win each, it is still early in the season, and they hope that a victory in this game can be a springboard to sustained success throughout the rest of the season. Youngstown features a lineup mixed with new faces and veterans, including Matthew Barry (4 PTS), Chase Gresock (3 PTS), reigning USHL Defenseman of the Week Zach Metsa (2 PTS) and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Wouter Peeters between the pipes. When looking at Muskegon, it's the veterans that stand out, such as leading scorers Jachym Kondelik - a B-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's Preliminary Players to Watch List - and Anthony Del Gaizo, who have three points each so far this year. Rookie Matej Pekar is also tied for the team lead in points. The Lumberjacks also feature a veteran goaltender in Adam Brizgala, who sports a 2.50 GAA and .914 SV% through four starts.
5. Saturday, Oct. 21, 7:35 PM CT - Lincoln Stars at Tri-City Storm
This always intense in-state rivalry matchup will be just that at the Viaero Center on Saturday night, as both the Stars and Storm have gotten off to a good start and will be jostling for position in the Western Conference standings. Lincoln comes into the weekend with a perfect 3-0-0-0 record thanks, in part, to the scoring prowess of rookie forward Devlin McCabe, who has five points (2G, 3A) in his first three USHL games, including a three-point effort (1G, 2A) last Saturday in Des Moines. Veterans Casey Dornbach, Eero Teravainen and Gustaf Westlund have three points each and are important parts of Lincoln's success. The Stars also feature strong goaltending in Tomas Vomacka. The Nashville Predators prospect comes into the weekend with a 1.33 GAA and .955 SV%, and is a big reason why Lincoln is unblemished through three contests. Tri-City features more of a scoring by committee approach, as their leading scorer Charlie Dovorany has put up two points (1G, 1A) through three games. The story for the Storm has been the goaltending of Detroit Red Wings prospect Filip Larsson, who has given up just one goal in two of his three appearances, both resulting in Storm victories. The Swedish netminder comes into the weekend with a 2.39 GAA and .905 SV% and will be looking to replicate his play in the first two games of the year.
Below is a complete list of USHL games this weekend:
Thursday, Oct. 19
Friday, Oct. 20
GREEN BAY GAMBLERS at YOUNGSTOWN PHANTOMS - 11:00 AM ET
LINCOLN STARS at CEDAR RAPIDS ROUGHRIDERS - 7:05 PM CT
DUBUQUE FIGHTING SAINTS at CHICAGO STEEL - 7:05 PM CT
CENTRAL ILLINOIS FLYING ACES at MADISON CAPITOLS - 7:05 PM CT
WATERLOO BLACK HAWKS at SIOUX CITY MUSKETEERS - 7:05 PM CT
DES MOINES BUCCANEERS at SIOUX FALLS STAMPEDE (HockeyTV Free Game of the Week) - 7:05 PM CT
OMAHA LANCERS at TRI-CITY STORM - 7:35 PM CT
Saturday, Oct. 21
GREEN BAY GAMBLERS at TEAM USA (U17) - 7:05 PM ET
MUSKEGON LUMBERJACKS at YOUNGSTOWN PHANTOMS - 7:05 PM ET
CENTRAL ILLINOIS FLYING ACES at CEDAR RAPIDS ROUGHRIDERS - 7:05 PM CT
MADISON CAPITOLS at CHICAGO STEEL - 7:05 PM CT
FARGO FORCE at OMAHA LANCERS - 7:05 PM CT
DES MOINES BUCCANEERS at SIOUX CITY MUSKETEERS - 7:05 PM CT
WATERLOO BLACK HAWKS at SIOUX FALLS STAMPEDE - 7:05 PM CT
LINCOLN STARS at TRI-CITY STORM - 7:35 PM CT
Sunday, Oct. 22
GREEN BAY GAMBLERS at TEAM USA (U17) - 2:05 PM ET
FARGO FORCE at OMAHA LANCERS - 5:05 PM CT
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.