2000-2001 USHL Eastern Division Outlook

By Jason Shaner
The new USHL season has already begun and the early season action is as
action packed as ever. This season the league welcomes two new teams
although they are not new franchises to the league. The Chicago Steel
join play this year after playing in Fargo the past few seasons as the
Fargo-Moorhead Ice Sharks. The Tri-City Storm also debut this year.
The Storm were formerly known as the Twin Cities Vulcans. Last season
the Vulcans won the Junior A National Championship after finishing 2nd
in the playoffs to the Green Bay Gamblers. They will be out to defend
their title for sure. As will Green Bay who will look to add yet
another division title and playoff banner to their impressive history.
Several star players have left and several more have taken their
places. Below will be a look at each division, the team’s outlooks in
the order I predict they will finish and some of their rising stars who
will take them there.

Eastern Division

1. Green Bay Gamblers
The Gamblers are not as strong as they may have been in past years but
until someone knocks them off their roost, 1st place is theirs. The
Gamblers do have some major players returning this season. Gone are
offensive wizard Aaron Smith and defensive wild-man Jeff Finger but the
Gamblers still have plenty in the cupboard. Luke Stauffacher will lead
the way on the offense but Ryan Moderson and Alan Swanson bring USHL
experience and the offensive know-how the Gamblers will use. These
leaders will work their fresh faces into the offensive flow as was done
to them. On defense Dan Calzada comes back and he will be the anchor on
a physical defensive team. Joining him on the blue lines will be Jesse
Baraniuk who played for the now defunct Thunder Bay Flyers last season
and was their bull. The Gamblers definitely welcome the aggressiveness
Baraniuk will bring. The main cog to this team is Jure Penko. Jure is
taking another season to hone his skills in the USHL and may be the top
goalie this year. Jure will be the Gamblers guiding light to the
Eastern Division title and any potential titles past that. As Penko
goes, so go the Gamblers.

2. Waterloo Black Hawks
The Black Hawks are coming off a season that Waterloo hasn’t seen
often. Just their 2nd winning season in twenty years of junior hockey
has brought much promise to the Cedar Valley this season. Waterloo
boasts something many teams in the league can’t, three veterans who have
3 years of experience in the league. Brian Canady, Luke Fulghum and
John Grubb will carry the offensive load for the Black Hawks this season
and they welcome the challenge. But the offense doesn’t stop there.
The Black Hawks have some impressive young offensive guns who will no
doubt take the league by storm and they’re the reason why I’m picking
them for a 2nd place finish in the East. On defense the Black Hawks
only have one returning defenseman from last years team. Andrew Alberts
is the only Black Hawk to return this year but Trevor Wolfe will also be
a huge contributor on defense. Trevor played in the NAHL last season.
Defense will be the key to Waterloo fulfilling their hopes of building
on last years 6th place finish. Adam Hanna is returning between the
pipes after impressive goaltending in limited action last season. Adam
will without a doubt compete to be at the top of the goaltending list.
If Waterloo’s defense can hold up, the Eastern Division may have a new
number one team because the Black Hawks will score with anyone this

3. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders
Cedar Rapids was dealt a bad hand last season by playing the 1st half of
the season on the road. Had they played a normal schedule, they might
have made the playoffs. Cedar Rapids will have a team with the most
returning veterans and will be in the thick of things when the smoke
settles at the end of the year. Gerry Hickey, Darren Partch and Mike
Patton are just a few of the aggressive snipers the RoughRiders boast on
their team. They are truly a pesky bunch that will stop at nothing to
score. Derrick Johnson will lead the defensive charge and the rest of
the blue liners will follow his lead. The defensive end is the one area
where Cedar Rapids could struggle. They can score a lot, but will they
stop the other team? In the net Matt Kelly returns and his USHL
experience will be vital. The RoughRiders are a tough team to beat in
their arena, they will need to prove they can win on the road to become
an upper division team. They have all the pieces in place, now the
question is can they be the team that Cedar Rapids wants them to be? My
guess is they will be good enough to finish 3rd.

4. Dubuque Fighting Saints
In Dubuque this season the Saints are looking to rebound from a rough
year that saw them take last place in the league last season. The
Saints hopeful have been upset by the rumors that after this season they
will be moved to Tulsa, Ok but nothing has been done to date. With that
in mind the Saints will look to play to the best of their abilities in
hopes of a playoff birth in what could be their final season in
Dubuque. Returning on offense is one of few returning veterans in Chad
Damerow. He will have to play over his head on an offense that is full
of youngsters. Jonathan Foster is one of those newcomers and he could
be one to watch. On defense Mike Bry and Mark Murphy are a couple of
veterans. Defense will be one of the Fighting Saints strong points. In
net is newcomer Dan Weinrieb. Dan is taking a red shirt year from
college to get some much-needed experience. He will be one of the more
pleasant surprises in the league and for the Saints. If Dubuque’s
defense can hold tight and they can muster up some offense, the Saints
just might make a run at the playoffs, but I pick them 4th and as strong
as the West is, it will be tough for them to get in. They are my
sleeper for the year.

5. Chicago Steel
In Chicago it’s the dawning of a new era for hockey. The windy city has
welcomed the former Fargo-Moorhead Ice Sharks with a beautiful new
facility and they will definitely be a major force in the future. As
for this season, the Steel could struggle. On offense the Steel have no
clear-cut stars. They have plenty of role players that could make a
defense cringe if they could put it together. Defense is another area
of concern for the Steel. Nate Wright leads the team on defense with
his 3rd year of USHL hockey. In net the Steel look to Kevin Ackley to
protect the net. He will do a good job of that but will rely on a
defense that has not shown any solid signs of stability. Chicago will
be no pushover, they will be a team that can play night in and night out
but they don’t have the firepower to keep up with the big boys. Not
this season at least.

6. Rochester Mustangs
In Rochester things look rough. Facing a season without the coveted
Adam Coole in between the pipes is tough for anyone. Rochester lost
quite a few key players from last years 9th place team. Rochester has
some excellent talent, but not enough to keep them out of the cellar in
the East. Jay Dardis, Chase Watson and Kyle Cash are some fantastic
players but just don’t have enough on the bench to take it to another
level. Defense will be where the Mustangs can get hurt the most. As
mentioned, they have some offensive playmakers but Tim Conboy and Mike
Salmela lead a defense that has some obvious holes. Rochester will win
some games and will play tough but won’t get much past that. On top of
the fact that they are facing a major rebuilding year, they also face
the prospects of leaving Rochester. A place where they came in the 80’s
and made a name for themselves winning some USHL titles. But not since
the early 90’s have the Mustangs been a major force. They usually are
in the thick of things, but this year will see Rochester take the
cellar. They will be back though, this franchise does have a proud
history and they will do whatever they can to make it back to the top.