1. Green Bay Gamblers:
The Gamblers won the coveted Clark Cup as the playoff champion defeating the Waterloo Black Hawks, Des Moines Buccaneers and the Twin Cities Vulcans on their way. They would lose in the National Junior A Championship game to the same Vulcans. Green Bay played a hard nose style of hockey. With solid defenseman such as Jeff Finger, Dan Calzada and Dan Boeser, they were hard to beat. Green Bay’s defense would only be part of their dominating play this year with strong forwards as Aaron Smith, John Eichelberger and Brett Engelhardt. Not to be outdone was goalie Jure Penko who played consistently night in and night out. Green Bay put on a show every game as they earned another championship banner to hang in the rafters at the Brown County Auditorium.
2. Twin Cities Vulcans:
For the Vulcans this was their final year in existence. And what a way to finish their stay in the league. The Vulcans only finished 6th place in the regular season but behind stellar goaltender Adam Berkhoel they went all the way to the Clark Cup finals defeating the Sioux Falls Stampede and Lincoln Stars before losing to the Gamblers. The Vulcans then turned around and returned the favor to Green Bay by beating them in the National Junior A Championship game in Green Bay’s own arena. The Vulcans were led by a powerful group of forwards who bruised you every minute of every game. Players like Matt Koalska, Jon Maruk and Bill Methven came at you from every angle and stuck you like a dagger just when you weren’t expecting it. The Vulcans will become the Tri-City Storm next season and will be playing in Kearney, Ne.
3. Lincoln Stars:
The Stars dominated the league in every way throughout the entire regular season winning the Anderson Cup for the leagues best record. But they tired in the playoffs and were defeated in the 2nd round by Twin Cities. The Stars were an amazing bunch and they proved it all season long. Led by Grant Potulny, Keith Dore and a cast of others, the Stars brought their A game almost every night. Their defense was as rugged as it got in the USHL. Nick Fouts and Lee Marvin were two tough customers as were the rest of the D. Scoring was no easy task on them. And if you were lucky enough to beat the defense you had to deal with Wayne Russell. Russell went back and forth with Omaha’s Dan Ellis as the top goaltender in the league. Russell was simply amazing in net for them. In Lincoln’s short existence they have proven that the road to either the Anderson or Clark Cup goes through Lincoln.
4. Sioux Falls Stampede:
The Stampede made their inaugural campaign this year. In preseason the Stampede’s record did not indicate the kind of solid, fundamental hockey they would play all throughout the regular season. Although they were upset in the first round by Twin Cities, they had nothing to be ashamed of. Led by Rick Gorman, Jared Hanowski and Dave Iannazzo in scoring they had a high powered offense that could light the lamp anytime. Sioux Falls had one of the most fundamentally sound defenses in the league. Reed Whiting and Mike Lubesnick stood tall but throughout this entire lineup no patsy’s were found. David Bowen was the final piece to this expansion puzzle and Bowen was among the league’s elite goalies all year long. A promising first year has created high expectations in Sioux Falls and they won’t want to let their fans down. Look for more of the same type of hockey club in years to come.
5. Omaha Lancers:
In Omaha this season the theme was goaltending. And Dan Ellis was the Ace of the league. The Lancers were again one of the teams to beat this season as they put together another solid team. Omaha would bow out in the first round of the playoffs to their archrival, the Des Moines Buccaneers. Omaha would have what they may consider a “off-year”. Paul Caponigri, Tim Hearon and Brett Davis led the Lancers offensive charge. About midway through the season Omaha was leading the league when a tragic automobile accident would keep Brett Davis out for the remainder of the season. Brett being ok was the main concern of his fellow teammates and Lancer/USHL hockey fans everywhere but after Davis went down Omaha didn’t seem to have the killer instinct they had before. They would see a nasty seven game losing streak follow and after that Omaha’s vulnerability was shown. Still Ellis and the rest of the Lancers played very well. When next season comes around everybody associated with the league knows that Omaha will be in the thick of things again.
6. Des Moines Buccaneers:
Although this year’s edition of the Mighty Bucs wasn’t as strong as in recent years, Des Moines was again a tough team to play this season. Des Moines was very strong on offense and had a defense that continued to improve as the season went along. Led by scoring machine Peter Sejna the Buccaneers were in the thick of the race for the Anderson Cup all season long. Sejna couldn’t do it alone though and had an outstanding collage of forwards to back him up. Troy Riddle, Alex Kim and Jerrod Reinholz all played major roles in the Bucs big scoring machine. The defense was led by a couple of youngsters who were still in the process of finding themselves. Dominic Torreti, Jesse Lane and Nathan Berry all made great strides as the season went along. Backing them all up was the wonderful Mike Mantua. Mantua was a very physical goalie. He made the games more exciting with his style of play. Mike played every game at 110% and it showed. Similarly to Omaha, Des Moines had what they would consider an “off year” but they’ll be back. Anyone who is anyone in this league knows that Des Moines is usually the team to beat. The Madhouse on Hickman is the toughest place to play in my opinion in this league.
7. Waterloo Black Hawks:
This season was a breakthrough season for the Black Hawks. Waterloo posted only its second winning season in their 20 year USHL campaign. The Black Hawks made it to the playoffs as the #7 seed and lost to the eventual champion Green Bay Gamblers. But not before a historic battle did the Gamblers oust the Hawks. The Hawks and Gamblers locked horns in an epic triple overtime battle that may have been one of the best games this season. The Hawks were led by a quick group of forwards who were very capable of beating anyone at anytime. Michal Hudec from Slovakia led the charge with Luke Fulghum, Brian Canady and Brian Knaeble following right behind. Tom Galvin, Jeremy Downs and Andrew Alberts led the defensive charge but past those 3 the Hawks defense was questionable at times. Poor puck handling and a lack of intensity did them in. Darren Gastrock was the #1 goalie for the Hawks and was nothing short of spectacular, making acrobatic save after acrobatic save. His numbers would have been much better had the defense been more solid. Backing him up may be one of the best future goaltenders in the league in Adam Hanna. Fresh out of high school, Adam posted some impressive numbers in a limited amount of starts. He will be between the pipes next year when the Hawks build on their success from this season. The Black Hawks made a statement this season, next year they will be even more dangerous. Watch out.
8. Sioux City Musketeers:
Sioux City was coming off some of its best years in recent history and expectations were high. The results weren’t as good as expected but Sioux City’s rugged style of hockey won its share of games in maybe one of the most difficult rinks in terms of dimensions. Making the playoffs they played the Lincoln Stars for the 3rd year in a row. This may be one of the fiercest rivalries in the league. Sioux City took Lincoln to 5 grueling games before falling. The Musketeers were led in scoring by Tyler Palmiscno, Lukas Fiala and Scott Polaski. The premiere player for the Muskies was eventual 1st round pick in this year’s NHL draft, David Hale. Hale was without a doubt the best player in the league this year and he showed it. He was a man among boys. Backing Hale up was A.J. Kratofil and a cast of other physical defensemen. You knew when you were playing Sioux City; you were in for a physical, rugged game. Michael Betz was in goal for Musketeers and he was fantastic. He was yet another of the outstanding goaltenders in the league this year. If recent history stays the same, look for more physical, in your face hockey from Sioux City in the future.
9. Rochester Mustangs:
The Mustangs season was one of disappointment. Falling short in several close games they failed to make the playoffs, which is a rarity. Although the Mustangs played a slow, grinding style of hockey, they were led by some very fast forwards. Aaron Gill, Rheese Carlson and Jesse Modahl were three of the fastest, most skilled forwards in the league and the Mustangs were thankful to have them leading the offensive charge. On defense Erik Ste. Marie and Nate Markus were two of their more physical players. The marquee player for Rochester was goalie Adam Coole. Adam in my opinion is the best overall goaltender in the league and one of the up and coming superstars in hockey. Coole posted numbers that were at the top of the league all year for a team that was near the bottom most of the season until a late charge that almost got them to the playoffs. Coole will be a name to remember in the future.
10. Cedar Rapids Roughriders:
In the inaugural season for the Roughriders after changing over from the North Iowa Huskies, they were dealt an early blow even before the season began. With their stadium not set to be complete until early January, Cedar Rapids schedule was an odd one. Playing the majority of their games in the first half of the season on the road and finishing the second half at home. It proved to be a big roadblock as they struggled on the road for most of the season. Not until January when they began playing at the appropriately named “Stable”, did the ‘Riders begin to put it together. Micah Wouters, Gerry Hickey and Justin Micek led the way on offense. This group was a very pesky bunch and on their home ice, was usually very tough to beat. On defense they had Erik Eaton and Robert Johannesson bringing the heat. Eaton held his own with just about anyone in the league and was one of the more exciting players to watch. Cedar Rapids finished low in the league but many wonder had they had a normal schedule this season, things could have been different. They should be a force to reckon with in years to come.
11. Fargo-Moorhead Ice Sharks:
For the Ice Sharks things started off bad and they had a hard time recovering from it. A huge early season losing streak saw the Sharks get off on the wrong foot and they never really recovered from it. Take away the first couple of months and they were very competitive. Led by talented forwards Dwight Hirst, David Lundbohm and Josh Schlipp. On defense were Derrick Byfuglien and Nate Wright. The bulk of the goaltending duties went to Justin Ferguson, who played respectfully through the season. Fargo didn’t have many problems scoring; it was stopping the other team from doing so that was the problem. This season was the last that the Sharks would play in Fargo. After the season ended the rights to the team were sold and have moved to Bensenville, Illinois where they will begin play next season as the Chicago Steel.
12. Thunder Bay Flyers:
For the Flyers, this past season was one of frustration. The Flyers never seemed to be able to get anything started this season. But they weren’t without a few bright players who had productive seasons. On offense they had Patrick Sharp who was one of the best sniper forwards in the league, and Derrick McIver also had a productive year. On defense the most penalized player in the league Jesse Baraniuk led them. Complementing him was Ryan Caldwell. Ken Ritson was in goal and despite his numbers and record, was better than what they indicate. The Flyers once again failed to make the playoffs in what would turn out to be their final year in Thunder Bay. The Flyers were sold and relocated to Aurora, Illinois where they will begin play in the year 2001-2002. A new team name has not yet been unveiled. Yet another era of USHL hockey has ended with another new one beginning.
13. Dubuque Fighting Saints:
Dubuque also struggled heavily throughout this past season. Although they played competitively most of the year, they just didn’t seem to have enough to make it this year. By losing their last two games at Thunder Bay to end the season, they finished in last place. But Dubuque had a couple outstanding players who have some very promising futures in hockey. On offense the Saints had Nick Anderson who played hard every game and led them on the offensive end. Nick is another player who has a bright future in hockey. Don’t get me wrong, Dubuque was no pushover but they just didn’t have the killer instinct and lost several games late. Their defense was one to be dealt with led by the brutal Jackson Duckworth, David Sell and Robin Finco. Maybe their brightest spot was goaltender Michael Ayers. Ayers played admirably for a team that struggled to stop the opposition. Dubuque has been known to produce quality goaltenders in the past. It was announced after the season the team would be moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. But nothing has been announced since then and the move could be in limbo. Details of that possible move will be coming in the near future.