The 2001-2002 USHL season is already heading into December and getting towards the Christmas break. Most teams have played about a third of their games and position in the league standings is still undetermined at this point. Currently in the Eastern division the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders stand at the top of the mountain. A 14-6-1 records gives them 29 points to lead the way. However, the Des Moines Buccaneers are not far behind with 26. Des Moines has not played up to preseason expectations but remain in the hunt for the time being. The Green Bay Gamblers who year in and year out are tops in the Eastern division until this season, are tied with Des Moines for second place. Cedar Rapids has been rather impressive to start off the season. Cedar Rapids has posted a league high 10 wins on the road. What that means is that the RoughRiders are getting many of their road games out of the way early this season and they will have a favorable schedule the second half. If the Eastern division hopefuls do not get moving, Cedar Rapids may end up running away with the Division title.
In the Western division the Sioux City Musketeers have been magnificent. The Musketeers have experienced unprecedented success at home posting a 13-0 record so far en route to a Western division and league leading 37 points. Their rink is very small and their big forwards and defensemen use that to their advantage to make it quite difficult for a visiting team to come in and win a game. That advantage will be monumental heading into the playoffs should they end up with home ice advantage. The Omaha Lancers, who won last seasons Clark Cup playoff championship and the Junior A National Championship are the hottest team in the division and the league right now. After a slow start the Lancers have gone on a 10 game unbeaten streak. Nine of those games were won outright. Omaha trails Sioux City by only 1 point. The preseason favorite at Hockey’s Future, the Sioux Falls Stampede are not far behind with 31 points but have shown their weakness in net. The Stampede lead the league in goals scored with 108 but have allowed the second most goals, 86.
In other news and notes in the league, the two expansion teams, the Tulsa Crude and Topeka Scarecrows have shared similar yet different success. In Tulsa’s first season they have experienced very little success on the ice on their way to a 2-17-2 season to hold onto the caboose position in the league. Topeka on the other hand has been competitive thanks to some solid young prospects and are 8-9-4 on the year for 20 points. If the season ended today, the Scarecrows would land the eighth seed in the Clark Cup playoffs. The similarity though between both teams is at the box office. Topeka and Tulsa are both struggling getting the locals to become interested and attendance is lagging due to that. Topeka has averaged 1,852 in 15 games while the Crude fall even further with 1,414 in 11 contests. Both teams are towards the bottom of the league average, something they were suppose to lead.
After a hot start the Rochester Mustangs have come back down to earth but continue to play competitive hockey with a 9-10 record. Both the Tri-City Storm and Waterloo Black Hawks have struggled heavily early on in this campaign. Each team has the same problem, scoring. Waterloo is dead last in the league in goals for with a meager 33 while Tri-City has 58. Both teams have had solid goaltending but stagnant offenses have been the death of them to date. For each team to make a playoff run this season, the offense will need to kick it into high gear. The Lincoln Stars, the Anderson Cup winner for the last two seasons, started off slow but have caught fire and won 8 of their last 9 and have steadily moved up the standings.
Individually the season has seen some great achievements to date. Standing alone is Cedar Rapids goaltender Bobby Goepfert. Goepfert, who is currently 14-5-1 on the season with a 1.94 GAA and .943 saves percentage has been phenomenal in posting 6 shutouts already this season. Goepfert has firmly grabbed the distinction of being the league’s top goaltender. Kris Mayotte of Sioux City has also been outstanding so far. The Musketeers netminder has stood tall as he has compiled a 9-0-1 record on the season with a 2.28 GAA and .918 saves percentage. Marty Magers, last years top rated goaltender from Omaha has been impressive as well. Magers has produced four shutouts of his own with a sparkling 11-1-1 record, a 1.39 GAA and .938 saves percentage.
Thomas Vanek of Sioux Falls continues to lead the league in scoring with 43 points on 23 goals and 20 assists. He is averaging approximately 2 points a game. Sioux Falls has four others who are in the leaders column of the league: Eric Przepiorka (17-10-27), Marty Sertich (7-18-25), Quinn Fylling (9-15-24) and Jeff Corey (10-13-23). Sioux City is well represented with four of their stars in the leaders board in the league as well: Brad Zancanaro (13-28-41), Brandon Schwartz (15-19-34), Matt Ciancio (10-16-26) and John Zeiler (10-14-24). Des Moines defenseman Brett Skinner is fourth overall with 6 goals and 25 assists and Topeka’s star rookie Vince Bellissimo rounds out the top five with 17 goals and 11 assists. Bellissimo and Vanek have both already posted two hat tricks this season.
Sioux City, who has someone at the top of the leaders board in almost every category has their two enforcers, Art Femenella and BJ Greaves leading the league in penalty minutes. The Musketeers have held true to their history and maintained their physical mentality, these two are big examples of why Sioux City is a tough to beat.
Only one third of the way through the season and so many great things have already happened. Year in and year out this league continues to not only improve by individual standards but the level of team competition is always intense and exciting as well. It can and will only get better.