2000-2001 USHL Western Division Outlook

By Jason Shaner
The new season is upon us, last week you saw an outlook for the Eastern
Division teams. Here is a look at the rough and tough Western
Division. This division is the stronger of the two and it looks to be a
race that will go until the final second to decide who will win the
west. The Western Division welcomes the new Tri-City Storm who were
known as the Twin Cities Vulcans up until last season. The Vulcans
ended their run in the Twin Cities as National Junior A champions after
falling just short of winning the Clark Cup in the USHL playoffs. The
Sioux Falls Stampede are coming into their 2nd year of existence and
after a #3 seed in the playoffs, were ousted in the playoffs to those
previously mentioned Vulcans. They will no doubt maintain their high
ranking in the standings this year and with a year of experience under
their belt look to go far. Here are my previews for each team in the
Western Division and where I think they will finish.

1. Lincoln Stars
No doubt the land of Lincoln has high expectations for the Stars again
this season. And there should be no reason why they won’t produce what
is expected of them and that is why I’m picking them for a 1st place
finish in the West. They are also my team to win the Anderson Cup.
Lincoln brings the heat on offense, simply put. Returning are major
offensive forces from last year in the names of Preston Callender, Chris
Fournier and Brandon Bochenski. This offense is charged like an
energizer battery and they don’t seem to lose power as time goes on.
Their opponents will chase them around the rink all season long no
doubt. On defense the man among boys Lee Marvin returns with plenty of
firepower behind him on the blue line. Also returning are Nick Fouts
and Nick Fuher. They were one of the toughest defenses last season and
unfortunately for the rest of the league are better this year. In net
the Stars have a couple of goaltenders fighting for the top spot. Beau
Fritz and Jake Brandt both have the Lincoln fans excited although it
will be hard to replace the amazing Wayne Russell. As the season goes
on he will be forgotten by this new wave of goaltending stars. Lincoln
will be tough to beat; the only team that will beat them is themselves.
If Lincoln brings it like they can, they will take the West this year.

2. Sioux Falls Stampede
In Sioux Falls, the Stampede looks to build on their accomplishments of
last season. The Stampede last season had one of the most fundamentally
sound teams and will have just the same this year. On offense the
Stampede will return many important cogs to their offensive machine.
J.B. Bittner, Chad LaRose and Dave Iannazzo will lead the way and they
have plenty to reload with. The defense will be strong again. Sioux
Falls won’t be the most physical team but they will be tough to beat.
On the defensive front the Stampede will look to Eric Werner and Jamie
Mattie to be some of the leaders. The Stampede will without a doubt be
tough to beat, as they are always aware of what is going on. In net the
Stampede will have a hard time replacing David Bowen but Zach Sikich
should do the trick. The Stampede will be one of the few teams to have
a shot at knocking off Lincoln. But they will have to do it in the
postseason as I’m picking them to finish 2nd.

3. Des Moines Buccaneers
At the Madhouse on Hickman the Bucs are looking to rebound from what
they may consider an off year last season. Des Moines received a 5th
seed in the playoffs last year and they are accustomed to placing higher
than that. They will look to return to the form that is expected of
them and they have a chance to do it. Wade Chiodo, Paul Baumgardner
and Ryan Bennett look to lead an offense that lost all of the offensive
punch from last season. Offense should not be a problem although they
don’t have the forwards they did last season, the returning experience
and infusion of new talent knows what to do and will get it done. On
defense will be where they will struggle the most. The Mighty Bucs
defense had its troubles last year and they hope to improve on that.
Tony Tomaino will try to lead a group of defensive youngsters with
little USHL experience. They will be the key to how far they can go.
In the pipes returns Mike Mantua. Mantua is without a doubt one of the
most exciting goalies in the league. He brings the leadership and
electricity the Bucs need to return to their glory days. In the end the
Bucs will be much better than last season but will finish 3rd in the
West.

4. Omaha Lancers
In Omaha the Lancers should carry on the tradition of having good hockey
teams but this season there is just too much talent in the West for them
to win. Leading the way for the Lancers on offense will be returning
forwards Dan Welch and Ryan Ronkowski. The Omaha offense lost much of
its punch from last season and that could be an area of concern for them
with several newcomers on the frontline. On defense however, Omaha will
be strong. Keith Ballard who played with the U.S. Nationals 18 and
under squad for the last couple of seasons will be one of the best
defensemen in the league. He can score and defend and will be a key
element to the defensive stand. Behind Ballard will be Jason Krischuk
and Jeremy Downs, two players with USHL experience. In this league
returning veterans are key and the Lancers have some but not as many as
in years past and they could struggle at times. In net Ray Fraser will
take the bulk of the goaltending duties. He will not be as great as Dan
Ellis but will turn out to be a very good goaltender no doubt. They
have fallen a bit from the days when they were at the top of the totem
pole. That won’t change, unless they do, Omaha will finish a
disappointing 4th this year and will fight for a playoff bid. They will
be my sleeper of the Western Division though because the potential is
there for a monster year but that is the key word, potential.

5. Tri-City Storm
Tri-City is new this season although it’s history is one of the richest
in the league. Formerly known as the Twin Cities Vulcans they captured
the Junior A National Championship last year. On that note, many
players from that squad moved on to bigger and better things leaving
only a few returnees from last seasons amazing group. Matt Froehlich
and Jon Hart will lead the way offensively with Brad Thompson giving
them a nice compliment. Their offense will not be what it was last
season when they seemed to have an endless supply of forwards who could
beat you at any time. On defense Greg Zemple and Bryan Schmidt will try
to hold the fort down for a depleted group of defenders. Bill Zaniboni
and Josh Hooyer will rotate between the pipes but will not be very
successful in replacing the unforgettable Adam Berkhoel. All in all the
Storm will experience some success but will not return to glory a second
year in a row. They just don’t have enough to return to the top.

6. Sioux City Musketeers
This season looks to be a rebuilding year for the Musketeers. Gone are
some of the best players they have ever had there including the
defensive player of the year and North Dakota freshman David Hale.
Sioux City just doesn’t have a lot coming back this season. Scott
Polaski is one of the very few returning offensive players, Polaski will
play well but does not have much support behind him besides Trent Mozak
and their offense will struggle. On the defensive end the Musketeers
will definitely have their share of bruisers on their team. Art
Femenella will be a bull without a question and along with him will be
Tim Judy and Brendan McCartin but having only a couple scorers and a
handful of physical defensemen does not spell success. Losing Michael
Betz in goal may hurt the most. Casey Beauvais will try to fill his
shoes but as mentioned without much in the cupboard the goaltender can’t
win all the games himself. Sioux City will be a proud bunch and will
not go down without a fight but unfortunately in this very talented
division someone has to finish last and the Musketeers will be the
ones.

That is the outlook for the 2000-2001 USHL hockey season. We are
already one month into the season so look for updates on how the season
is going soon. Please email me with any comments positive or negative,
as I love to hear from anyone who has something to add. You can email
any comments to jns1974@gateway.net