By Thane Barnier
Entering their fourth season in the USHL, the Sioux Falls Stampede once again have high hopes for a successful 2002-2003 campaign. The Stampede have made the USHL playoffs in each of their 3 seasons in the league, but have advanced to the 2nd round only once. This year the club will look to go deep into the playoffs and second year Head Coach Tony Gasparini and newly hired Assistant Coach Ted Belisle have the weapons to do just that.
A team that didn’t live up to their huge potential, discouraged many fans last year, but many did not realize just how young the team was. The Stampede returned only 5 players for the 2001-2002 season and had one of the youngest teams in the USHL. This year, experience is abundant on a team packed with junior hockey veterans. Nine players return from last year’s team and four more join the Stampede who played for other USHL teams last season. Three members have played Division I college hockey and five more have played in other junior hockey leagues. While still young in years, the Stampede are aged in experience.
Last season was filled with scintillating goaltending, made necessary by inconsistent defensive play. The Stampede will look to turn that situation around with six USHL vets. Mike Vanelli and Kelly Sullivan return to Sioux Falls and have looked good in the preseason. Chris Wothe, who showed a great deal of improvement over the course of last season, also returns but has been sidelined with a groin injury and has not played in the preseason. The Stampede also return Jeremy Smith, who is a double threat on both sides of the blue line. His tenacity and aggressiveness will give the Stampede a toughness, which at times seemed lacking last year. Coming to the Stampede by way of other USHL teams are Jake Luthi (Sioux City) and Joe Schuman (Tri City), both of whom were solid defensemen last year. Rounding out the defensive core are Chris Wey, a 6-3, 210 pound powerhouse who played in the NAHL and youngster Jim Henkemeyer from St. Cloud Apollo HS.
Explosive offense has been the trademark of the Stampede franchise and this year fans will not be disappointed. Returning from last year are Alex Foster, Merit Waldrop, Jacob Micflikier and Jason Moul. All looked great in the Stampede’s summer camp and will bring experience and speed to one of the most potent offenses in the league. Moul is a gritty, determined forward who is not afraid to go to the boards after a puck and Micflikier is a playmaker with good speed and great hands. This pairing has looked extremely good in the preseason and seems to have already developed a chemistry with newcomer Morod Radmacher who joined the team just a few days ago. Also joining the team on offense are two players from NCAA Division I programs, Steve Dusich (Univ. of Vermont) and A.J. Greco (Univ. of Miami). Greco has great puck handling skills combined with a physical presence at 6’3”, 200 pounds. Also adding bulk and physical play to the offense is power forward Jim McKenzie who played in the USHL for Green Bay last year. At 6’2”, 205 pounds, he looks to make a big impact with his rugged play. Also coming from elsewhere in the USHL is former Tulsa Crude forward Anthony Canzoneri. Other junior hockey veterans include Scott Ransom (NOJHL), Steve Canter (AWHL) and Joe Cigna (NAHL). Rounding out the forwards are youngsters Anthony Cosmano and Derek Patrosso, who despite their youth look to make immediate contributions to the Stampede scoring machine.
Last years spectacular goaltending will only get better this year. Gone is goaltender Layne Sedevie, off to Topeka, but still in town is 3rd year goaltender Kellen Briggs. Briggs is considered to be one of the best goaltenders in the USHL and has shown a great deal of improvement after coming to Sioux Falls as a talented but raw 17-year-old just two years ago. Now at 19 with two years of USHL experience under his belt, Briggs looks to be rock solid between the pipes. He brings to the Stampede a wealth of experience combined with great vision and excellent positional play. Briggs made dozens of spectacular saves last season and kept the Stampede in many games where they should have been blown out. If Briggs continues to improve at the pace he has over the last two years, he can easily become a truly dominant goaltender both in the USHL and at the D-1 level. Backing up Briggs this year is newcomer Phil Lauderdale. Lauderdale wowed coaches and fans with a spectacular summer camp, earning himself a spot on the Stampede roster. He is an athletic goaltender with lightning quick reflexes. While he is still technically raw, his athletic ability shows his tremendous potential and he should develop into a top-level goaltender.
Aside from the increased level of experience, one of the most notable changes to the Stampede this year is size. Coach Gasparini has bulked up the line up this year with 9 players over 6’ tall. Many games last year saw the Stampede get taken out of their rhythm by bigger more physical teams. With a number of big players who like to get in and mix it up along the boards, lack of size will no longer be a factor for the Stampede.
The big key to the Stampede’s success has special teams. During the 2000-2001 season the Stampede were nearly unstoppable on the power play, scoring over 25% of the time. During the 2001-2002 season, the Stampede struggled on special teams scoring less than 20% of the time and ranking near the middle of the league on the penalty kill. For the Stampede to be a dominant force in the USHL, they must regain that crushing power play and raise that percentage back to the 25% mark.
When asked what it would take to win a championship, assistant coach Ted Belisle said “consistency and discipline.” These seemed to be the two missing components last year for the Stampede. At times they were a brilliant offensive powerhouse that no one could stop, and at others sloppy and flat-footed. If the Stampede can perform at a consistent level without making mental errors and taking stupid penalties that powerhouse offense may be unstoppable. They are loaded with an arsenal of weapons that can get the job done night in and night out. With the wealth of experience and a dose of determination the Stampede are shooting to bring the Clark Cup home to Sioux Falls.