By: Jim DenHollander
The Chicago Showcase saved the best for last -- a clash between the Minnesota Moose who moved from second to top spot in the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL) Midwest-West division just the previous night against the defending champion and current third place holder, Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings.
The Moose were two of four teams who entered the final day sporting a perfect 3-0 record and only one could move to the top rung in this one.
Both started out the event on Thursday, the Moose taking down Tri-City Icehawks by a 14-1 margin while the Riverkings shutout the Detroit Fighting Irish 3-0. Both also played twice on Friday, the Moose doubling the Chicago Cougars 4-2 before earning a 6-1 win against the Chicago Blaze while the Riverkings earned a 4-1 margin against the Steele County Blades and wrapped it up the previous evening with an 11-2 thrashing of the Tri-City Icehawks.
The teams met earlier this season in Blaine, the Moose taking both ends of that weekend set 5-2 and 2-0.
This time around it was the Moose prevailing again to strengthen its hold on top spot in the West Division, but it was a much more hard-fought win, the Moose securing the victory in overtime with a goal from Matteo Menotti, 19, from Chicago.
Both teams scored three times in a wild first half to this game and then battled through a scoreless second period, sending the game to an extra session.
Adam Peterson, 19, from Chicago got the Riverkings on the board first in the eighth minute of the contest from Ryan Mantz, 20, from Oshkosh, WI.
Jesse Anderson, 20, from Wasaga Beach, ON evened it up for the Moose about 10 minutes later from Menotti but the Cougars went in front again on a goal by Mantz with help from Brett Delaat, 20, from Kenosha, WI and Matyas Kacirek, 19, from Tachov, Czech Republic.
Ryan Gast, 20, from White Bear Lake, MN pulled the Moose even again 37 seconds after the Mantz goal and teams were even at 2-2 heading to the second half. Philip DeSaava, 19, from Ludrika, Sweden set up the Gast tally.
Riverkings pushed ahead once again just past the 15-minute mark of the second half with a goal from Dylan Nurse, 18, from Lone Tree, CO, set up by Austyn Quarters, 20, from Bozeman, MT and Alexander Mavrogaiannis, 19, from Dover, MA. The tying goal came with just 1:51 to play, Anderson firing his second, from Kevin Hale, 20, from Palmer, AK, the Moose goaltender who also picked up his division leading 13th win of the season with 17 saves.
Eric Schuette, 20, from Olathe, KS turned aside 35 shots in goal for the Riverkings.
The final day included only four games. Following is summaries of the other three matches.
Game 25 – Tri-City Icehawks 2 Dells Ducks 4
The weekend was a rough one for the Icehawks, outscored 34-3 in its first three games, losses against the Minnesota Moose, Steele County Blades and Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings. Rolling into a match against the red-hot Dells Ducks who carried a seven-game winning streak into the contest was not something to look forward, but the Icehawks turned in its best effort and this one wasn’t settled until Jake Bevins, 18, from Chicago, IL converted a pass from Stone Stelzl, 18, from Blaine, MN for the clinching goal less than four minutes from the final buzzer.
The Ducks owned earlier tournament wins against the Hudson Havoc, Kalkaska Rhinos and Minnesota Mullets and carried a 2-0 lead out of the first half against the Icehawks with goals from Roger Schoenicke, 16, from Sun Prairie, WI and Colton Maynard, 19, from St. Clair, MI. Blake Hackbarth, 19, from Greenville, WI assisted on both goals with other helpers for Stelzl and Jacob Cameron, 16, from Oregon, WI.
Michael Chapman, 18, from Swartz Creek, MI got the Icehawks on the board early in the second half from Kevin Berg, 17, from Novi, MI but the Ducks restored the two-goal cushion at the 13-minute mark with a goal from Giovani Mueller, 18, from Beaver Dam, WI with set ups for Tyler Turnbull, 20, from Wauconda, IL and Justin Gulas, 17, from Fitchburg, WI.
The Icehawks got to within a goal again with 3:16 to play and Chance Bradley, 19, from Holly Springs, MS found the mark, from Kevin Crawley, 17, from Southgate, MI and Malik Ali, 17, from Gibralter, MI.
Nickolaos Monousos, 19, from Lincoln, RI picked up his first win for the Ducks, turning aside 13 chances in goal while Carson Bonk, 20, from Clinton Corners, NY made 32 saves in goal for the Icehawks.
Game 26 – Chicago Cougars 4 Wisconsin Muskies 3
The Wisconsin Muskies was another team that rolled into the final day with a perfect 3-0 start to the event, but the Chicago Cougars, playing on its home ice surface denied the Muskies in the their respective finales with a 4-3 edge.
The Muskies opened the tournament with a 5-2 edge against the Kalkaska Rhinos on Wednesday and shutout the Motor City Hawks 7-0 on Thursday, wrapping up Friday with a 3-2 margin against Detroit Fighting Irish.
The Cougars opened with a Wednesday night thriller, taking down the Minnesota Mullets 3-2 in overtime and followed that up with a 5-4 edge against the Ironwood Fighting Yoopers Thursday. The Minnesota Moose doubled the Cougars 4-2 in action Friday.
The Cougars trailed 2-1 heading to the second half, but put together a 3-1 period win to take the win.
Cougars’s leading scorer, Michael Helf, 20, from Chicago, IL led the way in this one as well, firing two goals, including the game winner and setting up another. Cory Schwarz, 19, from Wood Dale, IL and TJ Dougan, 18, from Elgin, IL fired the other goals while Zachary Bishop, 18, from West Dundee, IL set up a pair and Breydon Hemminger, 18, from St. Charles, IL had an assist as well.
Kyle Klatt, 20, from Cloquet, MN scored both first half goals for the Muskies with assists on both from Zach Shadick, 19, from Rice Lake, WI and Jacob McVay, 20, from Anchorage, AK. Shadick scored the second half goal from McVay and Michael Cichy, 19, from Las Vegas, NV.
Jackson Hicks, 18, from Wheaton, IL picked up his fifth win of the season in goal for the Cougars with a 23-save effort and Sam Gartner, 20, from Denver, CO stopped 23 shots as well for the Muskies.
Game 27 – Detroit Fighting Irish 3 Ironwood Fighting Yooper 5
The Fighting Irish played in three close games earlier in the tournament but had nothing to show for it with three tough losses. The Fighting Yoopers showed off its run and gun style, scoring 17 goals but allowing 11 in its first three games.
The Irish were shutout by Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings in its first game Thursday and played twice on Friday, dropping a 4-2 decision to the Hudson Havoc and falling 3-2 to the Wisconsin Muskies.
The Yoopers opened with a 7-4 win against the Motor City Hawks, but fell 5-4 to the Chicago Cougars in its second game before bouncing back Friday with a 6-2 decision against the Decatur Blaze.
The Yoopers scored first and carried a 2-1 cushion into the second half, adding two more before the Fighting Irish struck back with two in the last three minutes to make things interesting.
However, Cale Bowman, 19, from Tomahawk, WI made it official with his empty netter two seconds from the final buzzer for the Yoopers.
Ryan Danner, 18, from San Jose, CA scored the first three Ironwood goals and he also picked up an assist on the fourth goal scored by Sam Hanson, 18, from Eau Claire, WI, returning the favor for an earlier set up by Hanson.
Josh Weber, 17, from Canton MI fired both late goals for the Fighting Irish and the earlier one was scored by Tyler Majewski, 19, from Oxford, MI. Noah Reesor, 19, from Lindon, MI picked up a pair of assists in the game and Peyton Hughes, 17, from Naperville, IL also set up one.
Julius Huset, 20, from Oakdale, MN picked up his fifth win of the season for the Yoopers with a 22 save game and Dean Bucholz, 18, from Dearborn Heights, MI stopped 35 shots in goal for the Fighting Irish.
Closing comments from the Chicago Showcase
The Midwest-West Division teams all fared well at the Showcase event as did the East Division-leading Cougars.
Picking an overall Showcase winner would be tough as the Minnesota Moose and Dells Ducks both wrapped up the event at 4-0. If you go to goals for and against, the win would go to the Moose who also picked up a big division win, sliding into top spot overall in the West Division and padding its lead to three points against the Minnesota Blue Ox, the only Midwest team that stayed idle during the event.
The Ducks have moved from near the league basement to sixth spot with the four Showcase wins that boosted its current winning streak to eight straight games. The Ducks players had to be feeling good heading into the break as it also reached the .500 plateau for the first time this season – not too shabby for a team that started out 2-13-1.
The Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings came as close to perfection as a team can get, grabbing seven of a possible eight points. The team sits third in the division and will need some help to climb higher, but a recent win against the Blue Ox as well as taking the Moose to an extra period shows the Riverkings can go stride for stride with the league’s best.
Five teams – the Chicago Cougars, Wisconsin Muskies, Ironwood Fighting Yoopers, Steele County Blades and Hudson Havoc wrapped up the tournament with 3-1-0 records. For the Havoc who remain ninth in the West Division and the Blades who currently occupy eighth, the hope is this successful weekend helps carry momentum into the season’s home stretch. The Fighting Yoopers must be pleased to put a 1-8 stretch into the rearview mirror and the Muskies have made the biggest jump in the division so far. Ninth after the previous Showcase in Chicago, the Muskies exit this one in fifth and within striking distance of a top four spot which likely will bring some post season home games.
For the Cougars, the win solidifies its grasp on the division title while showing the teams in the West that there is some strength in the eastern half as well.
After dropping an overtime decision in its opener, the Minnesota Mullets had wins against Decatur and Kalkaska before falling to the Dells Ducks. On Friday. A 2-1-1 record and five points is nothing to be disappointed with, but because of the success of the other seven from its division, it is a little tougher for the Mullets.
The remainder: Tri-City Icehawks, Detroit Fighting Irish, Kalkaska Rhinos, Motor City Hawks and Decatur Blaze, all finished at 0-4. The good news for these teams is their own East Division battles are unaffected, other than seeing the Cougars move on into the horizon.
All nine West Division teams will return from the Christmas Break on Jan. 5 with another Showcase event, the USPHL Winter Showcase which will see each team play four times again at the New England Sports Center, in Marlborough, MA.
East Division teams are done with the Showcase events. Four teams – the Hawks, Blaze, Fighting Irish and Rhinos will all return to action on Jan. 5-6, The Icehawks and Cougars will both return the following weekend.