By: Jim DenHollander
USPHL Midwest West Jan. 12-14 Preview
This weekend was supposed to see the return of all nine teams from the Winter Showcase in Marlborough, MA and ready to roll into United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL) Premier Midwest-West Division homestretch.
However, the massive storm that enveloped the east coast polarized the division to an extent. Five teams (Minnesota Moose, Minnesota Blue Ox, Steele County Blades, Wisconsin Muskies and Ironwood Fighting Yoopers) somehow managed to make their way to the Boston others while the other four (Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings, Minnesota Mullets, Dells Ducks and Hudson Havoc) were left stranded in the Midwest, getting an unwanted extended Christmas break.
Make up games between the Mullets, Ducks, Riverkings and Havoc will make the final month of the season that much busier.
Mullets (16-10-3, 35 points, 4th Place) vs. Blades (12-20-3, 23 points 8th Place)
The Mullets will prepare for that stretch with back-to-back three game weekends beginning with a home-and-home pair with the Steele County Blades Friday and Saturday. On Friday night, the Mullets will entertain at the Forest Lake Sports Center with the scene moving to the Four Seasons Center in Owatonna, MN the following night. Both games start at 7:30 p.m.
Last games for the Mullets were played at the Midwest Showcase where the team lost a bit of ground despite a solid 2-1-1 showing as the West Division dominated games against the East.
The Blades were able to make the trip to Beantown last weekend, picking up three of a possible four points in its first two games against the Connecticut Nighthawks (OTL 2-3) and Connecticut Junior Rangers (W 3-1) but dropped its final pair to the Florida Jr. Blades (0-4) and Junior Bruins (1-3). The Blades though have undergone a bit of a turnaround in its past eight games at the two Showcases, compiling an overall record of 4-3-1.
The Mullets top a group of five teams within seven points holding down positions 4-8 but a higher climb is not out of the question if the team can take advantage of a stretch of games primarily against that pack of teams.
The Blades used the two Showcase events to snap an eight-game losing streak and have their sights set higher than its current eighth spot as well.
The Mullets and Blades have met twice previously this season, both won by the Mullets – the opener a 3-2 Shootout win in Owatonna in November and the other a 5-0 win on home ice.
Who’s Hot – For the Mullets, the good news from the earlier Showcase event was the depth the team showed as the 13 goals scored in four games involved 17 skaters. Team leading scorer, Nate Holm, 19, Hastings, MN collected four goals and a helper in that stretch, raising his season total to 35 points (16g, 19a). John Hansen, 20, from Twig, MN collected a goal and three assists while Dalton L’Allier, 20, from Juneau, AK scored twice and set up one.
Goaltender Mason Lovich, 19, from Rosemount, MN picked up a win and the overtime loss stopping 42 of 46 shots at the tournament.
For the Blades, goals were hard to come by in the Winter Showcase, the team collecting just six in four games. Cody Arbelovsky, 19, from Kenai, AK led the way with two goals and two assists and Kory Potach, 19, from Austin, MN added a goal and two assists.
Goaltender Vinny Capezza, 18, from Hammond, WI picked up the team’s win and a loss, turning aside 50 of 54 shots in two games while Nick Mizen, 20, from Newcastle, Australia dropped both of his starts, including the shootout, but turned aside 62 shots.
Mullets (16-10-3, 35 points, 4th Place) vs. Moose (27-5-2, 56 points 1st Place)
Both the Blades and Mullets will continue after Saturday facing a tough game on Sunday as well. The Mullets will get the tough assignment, drawing the division leading Minnesota Moose in a 7:30 p.m. game at the Forest Lake Sports Center.
The game will be the lone contest of the weekend for the Moose who wrapped up a 2-1-1 record on the east coast last weekend.
After a tougher opener against the Skipjacks that saw the Moose up by a pair with less than five minutes to go before ultimately dropping a 5-4 overtime decision, the Moose responded with an impressive 4-1 win against the South Shore Kings, one of the top teams in the Premier North Division. The Connecticut Junior Rangers ended a stretch of 10 games with at least a point for the Moose, edging the Minnesota crew 3-2 but once again the Moose bounced back with a 5-1 win against the Jersey Shore Whalers.
The Moose moved into top spot at the Midwest Showcase and put together a solid 6-1-1 record through the two events.
This will be the fourth and final meeting between the two teams. Moose have taken all three previous matches with scores of 4-2 in the season opener, 4-1 a couple of weeks later and more recently, 7-2.
Who’s Hot – For the Moose at the Winter Showcase, a key to at least one win was the stellar goaltending of Bronson Moore, 20, from Tri-Cities, WA. The Moose collected its win against South Shore despite being outshot 45-33 thanks to a 44-save effort for Moore. In the win over the Whalers he was beaten just once on 20 shots for a 63 save combo with 65 shots against.
Offensively, Dylan Gast picked up six points over the weekend with two goals and four assists, running his team leading total to 54 points (25g, 29a). Defenseman Nicholas Gonrowski, 18, from Robbinsdale, MN collected five assists at the event while Matej Krasny, 19, from Pilzen, Czech Republic and Philip DeSaava, 19, from Ludrika, Sweden both fired three goals and a helper.
Muskies (16-15-2, 34 points, 5th Place) vs. Blades (12-20-3, 23 points 8th Place)
The Blades will also wrap up on home ice with a tough test against the Wisconsin Muskies on Sunday starting at 3 p.m. CST.
The Muskies turned in a decent 2-2 record out east last weekend, facing a tough New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs team out of the gate and falling 7-1, but bouncing back with a 5-2 win against the Jersey Shore Whalers and a 1-0 shutout against the Springfield Pics. Connecticut Nighthawks spoiled the run for the Muskies, taking a 4-2 win in the finale in a game not clinched until the final goal with 14 seconds left to play.
The Muskies and Blades have met just one time previously, the Muskies taking a 2-1 win on Dec. 3. They will play two more times down the stretch after this game.
Who’s Hot – The Muskies scored just nine goals at the Winter Showcase, but a pair of linemates combined for an 11-point weekend. Zach Shadick, 19, from Rice Lake, WI fired a goal and set up five others while Kyle Klatt fired three and set up another pair, running his team-leading total to 54 points (25g, 29a). Ilja Grekov, 18, from Liepaja, Latvia notched a goal and two assists and Thomas Mironuk, 18, from East St. Paul, MB had three helpers.
In goal, the Muskies got a couple of nice efforts in the wins from James Brendeland, 18, from Parksville, BC who stopped all 20 shots faced in the shutout win and Sam Gartner, 20, from Denver, CO who also stopped 20 in the win against the Whalers.
Muskies (16-15-2, 34 points, 5th Place) vs. Havoc (7-21-2, 16 points 9th Place)
The Muskies will open its weekend a couple of nights earlier at the Spooner Civic Center against the visiting Havoc with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop.
The Hudson crew failed to make it to the East Coast last week but turned in its best stretch at the pre-Christmas Midwest Classic, winning three of four.
After dropping its opener 3-1 to the Dells Ducks, the Havoc won three straight against Kalkaska Rhinos (6-4), Detroit Fighting Irish (4-2) and Motor City Hawks (7-0).
Muskies (16-15-2, 34 points, 5th Place) vs. Blades (12-20-3, 23 points 8th Place)
The Havoc are the lowest scoring team in the West with just 69 goals, but racked up 18 of those on its big weekend.
The Muskies and Havoc have met twice, the Muskies taking both in a weekend pair in Hudson back in late Oct. with scores of 5-4 (OT) and 5-2. The Havoc will pay one more visit to Spooner at the beginning of February.
Who’s Hot – The Havoc basked in its scoring frenzy in Chicago earlier this season with 13 players collecting points and eight of them picking up three or more.
Leading the way was Dylan Marty, a Richmond, WI native who turned 18 earlier this week. Marty ran his team-leading points total to 32 (21g, 11a) with a goal and five assists in the four games. Most of those feeds ended up on the stick of Alec Will, 19, from White Bear Lake, MN who fired his first five goals of the season and added an assist. Maximilian Wigfeld, 18, from Oak Park, IL added three goals and a helper. Lane Gregory, 19, from Franktown, CO picked up two wins and a loss in goal with 69 stops on 75 shots while Cal Ambrose, 18, from Wayzata, MN nailed the shutout with a 22 save game.
Riverkings and Ducks both hot at end of 2017
Riverkings (20-7-7, 41 points, 3rd Place) vs. Ducks (13-13-2, 28 points 6th Place)
Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings and Dells Ducks were both forced to stay home last weekend and were disappointed as both are riding some successful runs.
A month ago, these games, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday at the South Wood County Recreation Center in Rapids, would appear to be a mismatch in favor of the Riverkings, defending division champs and currently riding a five-game points streak, including a 2-1 win against the Blue Ox, the only regulation loss against division opponents for the expansion squad.
But the Ducks, who at one time found themselves mired in the league basement following a 2-12-2 start to the season, have since racked up wins in 11 of its past 12 games, including eight straight running into its closest geographical rival.
This will be the first two meetings of the season between the two teams that last season represented their division I the USPHL Elite Division National Championship. They will square off two more times at the Poppy Waterman Ice arena in Wisconsin Dells Feb. 9-10.
Last games for both teams took place at the Midwest Showcase where the Ducks were one of only two teams to post a 4-0 record while the Riverkings grabbed seven of a possible eight points.
The Ducks scored three games in two games, a 3-1 win against the Havoc and 3-2 against the Kalkaska Rhinos and needed just four in the other two (4-1 against the Mullets and 4-2 against the Tri City Icehawks.
The Riverkings also scored three in a pair, a 3-0 shutout against the Detroit Fighting Irish and a 4-3 overtime loss to the Moose in its finale. The other games included a 4-1 margin against the Blades and an 11-1 explosion against the Icehawks.
Who’s Hot – Goals could be hard to come by at this event, thanks to some solid goaltending in recent games by both teams.
At the Showcase, the Riverkings collected points from 18 different players and a dozen of them picked up multiple points.
Thomas Mavrogaiannis, 19, from Dover, MA enjoyed a huge tournament, scoring once and adding seven assists. Adam Peterson, 19, from Chicago, IL scored four and set up a couple to run his team-leading total to 34 points (16g, 18a). Ryan Mantz, 20, from Oshkosh, WI notched three goals and three assists and Matyas Kacirek, 19, from Tachov, Czech Republic had five set ups.
Parker Rutherford, 19, from Fort Wayne, IN had the 22-save shutout for the Riverkings, with Eric Schuette, 20, from Olathe, KS adding a win and the overtime loss with 52 saves on 57 shots. The other win was collected by Domenic, Paciocco, 18, from Whitby, ON.
For the Ducks, goaltending was huge at the event, the trio of Corbin Moore (2W, 46/48 shots), 18, from Fort Wayne, IN; Zander Zafiro (1W, 25/27 shots), 20, from Williams Bay, WI and Nickolaos Monousos (1W, 13/15 shots), 19, from Lincoln, RI combined to turn aside 84 of 90 shots and allowing just six goals in four games.
Offensively, the Ducks collected just 14 goals, but got contributions from 17 different skaters.
Team captain and leading scorer, Stone Stelzl, 18, from Blaine, MN led the way with three goals and three assists while Giovani Mueller, 18, from Beaver Dam added three goals and one assist. Colton Maynard, 19, from St. Clair, MI scored twice and set up another.
Blue Ox and Yoopers looking to snap skids
Blue Ox (23-4-3, 49 points, 3rd Place) vs. Yoopers (13-20-2, 28 points 7th Place)
The Blue Ox have dominated teams in the Midwest-West Division, but dropped its final game before the Christmas Break on home ice to the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings 5-2. Last weekend, the Ox endured a rough weekend on the east coast dropping three – 6-1 against the Islanders HC; 4-3 to Rochester Monarchs in overtime and 2-1 against the New Jersey Rockets. As a result, the previously unbeatable Ox find themselves making the trek to the Upper Peninsula looking to snap a four-game losing streak.
The Yoopers are also coming off three losses out east, falling 9-2 to the Rochester Monarchs, 5-0 against the Skipjacks and 5-1 to the Junior Blades. While collecting wins in three of four at the previous Showcase event, the Yoopers enter its homestand with a 5-11-1 record stretch since mid-November.
The Yoopers are among the highest scoring teams in the division but have also surrendered a division 173 goals, so a high scoring weekend would surprise nobody.
Teams met at the Coon Rapids Ice Center at the beginning of December, the Blue Ox capturing 8-5 and 6-3 wins. These two games: Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at noon at the Pat O’Donnell Civic Center in Ironwood, will wrap up the season series.
The games are important to both teams as the Blue Ox enter the weekend, seven points behind the division leading Minnesota Moose, but with four less games played while the Yoopers are tied with the sixth place Dells Ducks, but have played an extra seven.
Who’s Hot – At the Winter Showcase, the Blue Ox collected just five goals and the Yoopers only three. However, both teams boast players who are among the top scorers, including division leader Caleb Griffin, 19, from Regina, SK with 62 points (31g, 31a) for the Yoopers in 34 games. Zach Earl, 17, from Paw Paw, MI has 45 points (22g, 23a) and Tyler Morrison, 17, from Wakefield, MI has 39 points (17g, 22a).
Blue Ox is led by Oskari Halme, 20, from Tampere, Finland with 47 points (24g, 23a) and Orlando Scherz, 20, from Davos, Switzerland with 36 (12g, 24a). Another import, Kristian Kause, 20, from Tampere, Finland has racked up 32 points (14g, 18a).