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, Jan. 26, 7:05 PM CT - Lincoln Stars at Omaha Lancers (HockeyTV Free Game of the Week) and Saturday, Jan. 27, 7:05 PM CT - Omaha Lancers at Lincoln Stars
The hottest rivalry in the USHL will be renewed over the weekend as the Lancers and Stars get set for a home-and-home series. Omaha has won the first two matchups between the teams, but the Stars are looking to steal some points from their in-state rivals and climb back into the Western Conference playoff conversation. Filip Suchy continues to lead the way offensively for Omaha with 30 points (14G, 16A) through 25 games, including multi-point efforts in five of his last seven contests. Christian O'Neill (28 PTS) and Cole Gallant (27 PTS) will also look to maintain their offensive outputs, while Zach Driscoll will look to keep his strong play going between the pipes. The Bemidji State commit is second among all USHL goaltenders in GAA (1.94) and SV% (.929) and has been a big reason for Omaha's strong play for the last several weeks. As for Lincoln, Casey Dornbach has seemed to put the team on his back offensively since the new year, with points in five of his eight games in 2018, including back-to-back three-point nights. The Harvard commits leads the team with 32 points (13G, 19A) and will have to have a huge weekend if the Stars want to steal some points from their bitter rivals. Friday's game will be free for all fans to watch at USHL.HockeyTV.com.
2. Friday, Jan. 26, 7:05 PM CT - Green Bay Gamblers at Madison Capitols
The Capitols remain the hottest team in the USHL, having won eight of their last nine games to move just one point out of the playoff conversation in the Eastern Conference, while Green Bay has continued their steady play, sitting in a tie for third in the East while having played at a .500 clip over their last 10 games. Up and down the Madison roster, there are players who have been stepping up lately. Alec Broetzman, who scored a highlight reel goal last week in Green Bay, currently leads the team in scoring with 29 points (15G, 14A) through 31 games, but veteran Mick Messner (22 PTS) and rookie Ryan O'Reilly (21 PTS), along with goaltender Dryden McKay, have also played huge roles in Madison's recent surge. The Gamblers continue to be "steady as they go", with their group of veterans continuing to play the part. Trenton Bliss is on a point-per-game pace in 2018, with six points (2G, 4A) through six games and remains the team's scoring leader with 30 points (14G, 18A) through 32 games. Nolan Moyle (24 PTS) and Josh Dunne (23 PTS) are also showing veteran leadership with their play. These teams have split their four matchups this season, so this meeting in the Cheese Cup will take on a little extra meaning.
3. Saturday, Jan. 27, 7:05 PM ET - Dubuque Fighting Saints at Youngstown Phantoms
This matchup features two teams that have gone in opposite directions as of late. After a hot November and December, the Phantoms have cooled off, winning just two of their last 10 games to slip to sixth in the Eastern Conference, while the Fighting Saints sit alone in second in the East after winning their pair of games last weekend. Curtis Hall, Max Ellis and Ivan Prosvetov are the big names for Youngstown, especially after they participated in the 2018 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, but it's other names that could have a huge impact on the Phantoms success moving forward. Matthew Barry (27 PTS) has quietly been the team's scoring leader for most of the season, while Mike Regush (23 PTS) recently sported a six-game point streak which moved him into second place in team scoring with veteran forward Chase Gresock (23 PTS). Dubuque veteran forward Alex Steeves continues to lead by example, as he paces the Saints with 28 points (12G, 16A). Quinn Preston has also been very noticeable as of late, with goals in four of his last six games. Cole Weaver and James Durham both earned their first career USHL shutouts over the weekend, with Durham's coming in his first ever USHL start. Both goaltenders will look to keep their success going over the weekend to help solidify Dubuque's position in the Eastern Conference.
4. Saturday, Jan. 27, 7:05 PM CT - Cedar Rapids RoughRiders at Waterloo Black Hawks
If Omaha/Lincoln is the fiercest rivalry in the USHL, Cedar Rapids/Waterloo isn't far behind. And if the matchup wasn't enough to get the teams excited heading into Saturday, both teams have a lot to play for. The RoughRiders sit just one point out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, while Waterloo is just three points shy of the Tri-City Storm for the top spot in the USHL standings. Despite having only won three of their last 10 games, there is hope and reason for optimism in Cedar Rapids. The RoughRiders lost four of their last 10 games in overtime, so they've been playing well to earn points despite the losses. Marek Valach remains the team's points leader, with 27 (14G, 13A) through 31 games, and Marc McLaughlin is hoping his five-point performance last Friday will lead to similar games. Jack Drury has been the story for Waterloo for awhile now, as the Harvard commit extended his point streak to 15 games over the weekend with an assist in each of the Black Hawks' two contests. He leads Waterloo with 31 points (10G, 21A) through 29 games, and along with the goaltending duo of Matej Tomek and Jared Moe, Waterloo looks like they are going to be near the top of the USHL to stay for the rest of the season. The teams have each earned three of a possible six points in their trio of matchups this season, so the winner will have an edge in the race to the Cowbell Cup.
5. Sunday, Jan. 28, 3:05 PM CT - Muskegon Lumberjacks at Chicago Steel
Going into the weekend, this appears to be a monumental matchup for both Muskegon and Chicago. The Lumberjacks sit just one point behind Chicago and Green Bay for third place in the Eastern Conference standings and have been playing extremely well as of late, with seven wins in their last 10 games. The big story surrounding Muskegon is the play of captain and veteran forward Anthony Del Gaizo. The UMass commit is now tied for the USHL scoring lead with 38 points (23G, 15A) through 32 games, including four two-goal performances in his last seven games. He, along with rookie scoring leader Matej Pekar and resurgent goaltender Keegan Karki, will look to take down Chicago. The Steel are led by Jack Dugan, who is the other name atop the USHL scoring lead with 38 points (16G, 22A) of his own, although he's achieved the feat in five fewer games. Reigning USHL Forward of the Week Blake McLaughlin, fresh off six goals in his last three games, will look to keep his success going, along with fellow forward Baker Shore, who has recorded five goals in seven points in his last three games. Chicago holds the edge in the season series to this point, win three win over the Lumberjacks in five contests.
Below is a complete list of this week's USHL games (all times local to home team):
Thursday, Jan. 25
SIOUX CITY MUSKETEERS at FARGO FORCE - 7:05 PM
Friday, Jan. 26
DUBUQUE FIGHTING SAINTS at TEAM USA (U17) - 7:05 PM
YOUNGSTOWN PHANTOMS at MUSKEGON LUMBERJACKS - 7:15 PM
CEDAR RAPIDS ROUGHRIDERS at CHICAGO STEEL - 7:05 PM
SIOUX FALLS STAMPEDE at DES MOINES BUCCANEERS - 7:05 PM
GREEN BAY GAMBLERS at MADISON CAPITOLS - 7:05 PM
FARGO FORCE at SIOUX CITY MUSKETEERS - 7:05 PM
CENTRAL ILLINOIS FLYING ACES at TRI-CITY STORM - 7:35 PM
Saturday, Jan. 27
CHICAGO STEEL at MADISON CAPITOLS - 6:05 PM
DUBUQUE FIGHTING SAINTS at YOUNGSTOWN PHANTOMS - 7:05 PM
TEAM USA at MUSKEGON LUMBERJACKS - 7:15 PM
GREEN BAY GAMBLERS at DES MOINES BUCCANEERS - 7:05 PM
OMAHA LANCERS at LINCOLN STARS - 7:05 PM
SIOUX FALLS STAMPEDE at SIOUX CITY MUSKETEERS - 7:05 PM
CEDAR RAPIDS ROUGHRIDERS at WATERLOO BLACK HAWKS - 7:05 PM
CENTRAL ILLINOIS FLYING ACES at TRI-CITY STORM - 7:35 PM
Sunday, Jan. 28
DUBUQUE FIGHTING SAINTS at YOUNGSTOWN PHANTOMS - 3:05 PM
MUSKEGON LUMBERJACKS at CHICAGO STEEL - 3:05 PM
SIOUX FALLS STAMPEDE at WATERLOO BLACK HAWKS - 3:05 PM
TRI-CITY STORM at OMAHA LANCERS - 5:05 PM
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.