The United States Hockey League is in its 29th season, its fourth as America’s lone Tier I league.
When the season started, 45 junior players were committed to major colleges. A record 26 USHL and USHL-bound players were drafted into the NHL this past July.
The NHL has returned from the lockout and has brought new exciting rules to the game. The USHL, which has always had similar rules as the NHL, has followed suit with the changes, notably the removal of the rule against the two-line pass.
Below is a brief look at some of the players to watch this season.
Cedar Rapids is led by 19-year-old Phil Axtell. Axtell is a towering 6’5.5, 238-pound left winger, who was 89th on last season’s CSS final ranking list. He has six points in five games already this season, with a +5 rating. The Roughriders are stacked in net. Both goalies were drafted this past summer. Alex Stalock, 18, was drafted by San Jose in the fifth round, while Pat McGann was drafted by Dallas in the seventh round. Stalock was last year’s MVP in the finals and is off to a hot start again this year, winning USHL defensive player of the week honors for the opening week. He has posted a .935 save percentage and 2.01 goals against in four games. McGann, 18, spent last season with Team Illinois from the Midget AAA league. After a run at the national title in Midgets, he debuts in the USHL this year.
Waterloo is led by Florida Panthers 2005 draft pick Zach Bearson. The right winger helped lead the Black Hawks to the preseason Buc Bowl title. He had 36 points in 51 games last season with Waterloo. Twenty-year-old forward Cody Chupp joins the team from Tri-City. Joe Grossman, 20, returns in net after going 14-10-1 a year ago.
Omaha had three drafted players move on. Tony Lucia was taken by San Jose this summer, while Robbie Dee was drafted by Edmonton in the third round. Matt Schepke, 19, returns at forward. Ryan Raven, 19, debuts with Omaha after playing for Des Moines. Nick Schaus, 19, and Ryan Turek, 18, return on the blue line. Schaus is the highest-scoring blueliner thus far on the season with six points in four games. Twenty-year-old Eddie Neville lead the Lancers in net. He has posted the best save percentage and goals against average in the league after four games – at .941 and 1.77.
Lincoln has the player who was taken the highest in the NHL 2005 draft as Brian Lee went ninth overall to Ottawa. Chris Vande Velde, 18, was drafted in the fourth round by Edmonton, and is ready for his first full season in the league. He is already off to a hot start. Ben Perkin, 18, forward, joins the team after playing for the Calgary Canucks. Eli Vlaisavljevich, 19, returns on defense. Nineteen-year-old Ben Grotting, forward, joins the team from the NAHL Texas Tornadoes.
Des Moines is led in net by 20-year-old Troy Davenport, who is 2-2 with a .926 save percentage and 2.28 goals against thus far. Eighteen-year-old forward Trevor Lewis is back to put points on the scoreboard, and he already has with five goals in four games. Seventeen-year-old Kyle Okposo bears watching as well.
Sioux City had four players get drafted and move on. Chris Butler (BUF) in the fourth round, Tim Kennedy (WAS) and Joe Charlebois (CHI) in the sixth, and Josh Meyers (LA) in the seventh. They are led by 18-year-old forwards Chris Spicer and Philip DeSimone. DeSimone has seven points in six games. Seventeen-year-old Phillip Tetzlaff is the starting goalie.
Green Bay will start the first 45 days without their top player, New York Rangers draft pick Greg Beller, who broke his clavicle in the Buc Bowl tourney. The 18 year old forward played last season at Lake of the Woods High School. There were games last year that the best player on the ice wasn’t Coyotes draft pick Blake Wheeler. Instead, it was 20-year-old forward Mark Stockdale, who tallied 17 goals in his first season. He returns, along with 19-year-old forward Tyler Lehrke. They will be counted on to bring the Gamblers back to the playoffs.
Tri-City is excited about the debut of 18-year-old Kyle Lawson, who was drafted by Carolina in the seventh round. Twenty-year-olds Jake Obermeyer and Brett Watson are back, giving the Storm talent at both ends of the rink. They are led in net by 17-year-old Nick Hopper and 19-year-old Aaron Damjonovich.
The headliner of the Sioux Falls offense is 18-year-old forward Andreas Nodl, who leads the league in the early going with 10 points in five games. Forward Mark Magnowski, also 18, was acquired from Green Bay for a third round pick and has seven points thus far and a +7 rating. Eighteen-year-olds John Murray and Alex Kangas lead the Stampede in net.
Indiana impressed in their inaugural season last year, their attendance was second in the league as they made the playoffs. Forward Ryan Peckskamp and defenseman Eddie Del Grosso, both 20, are back to try for a repeat showing. Indiana is led in goal by 18-year-olds Jay Clark and Cody Reichard.
The Clackson brothers, sons of former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kim Clackson, have been split up. Premier tough guy Matt Clackson, drafted by Philadelphia in the seventh round this year, has moved on to Western Michigan of the CCHA. Eighteen-year-old Chris Clackson remains with the Chicago Steel as does 19-year-old forward Eric Lampe. The team is led in goal by 19-year-old Shaun Williams. Nineteen-year-old Wyatt Russell, son of actors Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, is the backup.
As the season goes on, top prospects for 2006 will be featured here.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.