Sunday, October 17, 2010

B³ USHL Power Rankings: October 18th

I'm going to try out a new segment on the Black and Blue Blog: weekly USHL Power Rankings. These will just be my own personal opinion, or Yeti's, should he have more time to do it that week. My hope is to do this every Sunday or Monday after the weekend's games are over. The rankings will really fluctuate this early in the season, with teams still figuring things out and moving up and down the standings. In particular in this poll, teams 5-11 seem extremely interchangeable. Again, these are just an opinion and an attempt to bring something fresh to the blog.


1. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (4-0-0, 8 pts)
The RoughRiders are the only unbeaten team left in the USHL, and they have been dominant so far. Three of their wins have come on the road, and they have only allowed 5 goals through 4 games. The main reason is that Cedar Rapids got back its stud goalie Brady Hjelle, who holds a .941 save percentage. Hjelle was with the RoughRiders in 2007-08, when he had a .921 save percentage. He spent the last two years at Minnesota-Duluth, but like Stars' goalie Kevin Murdock, returned for his final season as an overager. After a narrow 1-0 win over Waterloo to open the season, Cedar Rapids has reeled off three straight three-goal wins over Fargo, Indiana and Youngstown. Counting the preseason, the Rough Riders are 8-0 this year. As a Stars fan, be thankful we don't have to face this team until December 31.

2. Omaha Lancers (3-1-0, 6 pts)
No surprise here, the Omaha Lancers have a good team again. This year, Omaha has two strong goalies. One in particular, John Keeney, is 2-0 with a USHL-best .942 save percentage. The Lancers own wins over Tri-City (2) and Dubuque. Their only loss was a 2-1 loss to Sioux City. The Lancers have a lot of new faces this year, but so far it's been the same story: They're finding ways to win games. All four games they've played this season have been decided by one goal.

3. Youngstown Phantoms (4-2-0, 8 pts)
After being the worst team in the USHL's East Division last year, this year's version of the Phantoms is off to a hot start, tied for first in the Eastern Conference. At home this weekend, Youngstown beat Green Bay 3-2 and lost to Cedar Rapids 5-2. Their other loss this year came on the road at Tri-City (5-3). Youngstown owns three one-goal road wins over Des Moines, Chicago and Lincoln. Ty Loney is tied for the league lead with 4 goals already.

4. Sioux City Musketeers (3-2-0, 6 pts)
The Muskies have played four home games to just one road game, and they've been a little bit of an enigma so far this year. They beat Sioux Falls at home 5-0 and then Omaha on the road 2-1, but then lost to Fargo and Muskegon, the latter a 6-0 drubbing at home to the expansion Lumberjacks in which the Muskies only put 19 shots on goal. They rebounded with a win this weekend over Team USA's U-18 team. Sioux City was also 4-1 in the preseason, so this team clearly has better talent than the previous few years. I think we can chalk the Muskegon game up to overlooking the opponent.

5. Dubuque Fighting Saints (3-2-0, 6 pts)
As one of two expansion teams this year, Dubuque is off to a good start, ranking second in the league with 21 goals scored. All five of Dubuque's games have been played on the road so far, which makes their record even more impressive. The Fighting Saints have won three straight games after dropping their first two games to Omaha and Team USA. Dubuque scored 13 combined goals in its two wins this weekend over Des Moines and Waterloo. With its high-octane offense, Dubuque should win quite a few games this year. But they've allowed a league-worst four shorthanded goals as well, so they will have to shore that up. Seven of their next eight games are at home, so don't be surprised if the Fighting Saints accumulate some wins.

6. Sioux Falls Stampede (3-2-0, 6 pts)
The Sioux Falls Stampede, believe it or not, is one of only two undefeated teams at home (Cedar Rapids) after the first three weeks of the season (besides Dubuque, who hasn't played at home yet). The 'Pede beat Muskegon, Team USA and Chicago, while dropping at the hands of Sioux City (5-0) and Indiana (5-0). Basically, the story for the Stampede so far this year is that they either win or get run out of the barn.

7. Team USA (3-3-0, 6 pts)
This team will always be hard to judge, because of the fact that their U-18s are very good and their U-17s are on caliber with an average USHL team, and each team plays half of the schedule. Team USA will probably always be around the middle of the standings because of that. The U-18s are 2-2 so far, while the U-17s are 1-1. Their U-18 squad possesses the league's leading scorer in Rocco Grimaldi (4g, 6a). Team USA's 24 goals lead the USHL; they have the best power-play in the USHL right now and a league-best three shorthanded goals. In short, this team is highly skilled, but also very, very young.

8. Chicago Steel (3-3-0, 6 pts)
Like Team USA, the Steel have already played six games, so their six points isn't as impressive as the other teams with six points. Their three losses came to Youngstown, Team USA and Sioux Falls, so they fall behind all those teams. They've beaten Fargo twice and Indiana once. Goaltender Connor Wilson (.934 save percentage) always gives the Steel a chance to win on any given night.

9. Fargo Force (3-3-0, 6 pts)
The Force have been up and down, unable to win consecutive games but also not losing two in a row so far this year. They've lost twice to Chicago and once to Cedar Rapids. The Force have beaten Sioux City, Green Bay and Muskegon. Fargo is still adjusting to its new coach, so expect the Force to continue to improve as the season goes on. Fargo always makes a good late season push.

10. Green Bay Gamblers (2-2-1, 5 pts)
It feels strange to have the defending Clark Cup champions this far down in any USHL rankings, but with its new coach and most of the offensive firepower from last year gone, Green Bay hasn't yet been the Gamblers of the past couple years, but there's a lot of season left. The Gamblers have played four straight games on the road after their season-opening loss to Fargo in overtime. Green Bay also lost to Des Moines (2-0) and Youngstown (3-2). They handled Tri-City and beat Indiana in a close game. The Gamblers have killed an incredible 20 straight power-play
s to start the season. I would never count Green Bay out based on their performances in previous seasons.

11. Indiana Ice (2-3-0, 4 pts)
The Ice lost two games this past weekend to Green Bay and Cedar Rapids. They've also lost to Chicago, with wins over Muskegon and Sioux Falls. Indiana possesses one of the league's best power plays, and they don't give up a ton of goals, so this team should be in the thick of the playoff race at season's end.

12. Des Moines Buccaneers (1-1-1, 3 pts)
Hard to judge Des Moines right now since they've only played three games, but the Buccaneers have fared well, losing in overtime to Youngstown, shutting out Green Bay and dropping a high-scoring affair to Dubuque. We'll know more about this team after a few games.

13. Tri-City Storm (1-1-3, 5 pts)
This team has been unlucky so far, dropping two shootouts and one overtime contest. The Storm are 0-for-9 on penalty shots in shootouts. Tri-City's only win was an impressive one, 5-3 over Youngstown. They've lost once to Lincoln, once to Green Bay and twice to Omaha. Tucker Brockett is tied for the league lead with 4 goals.

14. Waterloo Blackhawks (2-2-0, 4 pts)
Although they're 2-2, Waterloo's two wins came over the Lincoln Stars, who have struggled so far. The Blackhawks are the only team who's been able to compete with Cedar Rapids, dropping a 1-0 contest to open the season. On Saturday, Waterloo lost to Dubuque 6-4. The Blackhawks struggled mightily in the preseason, so count me as skeptical that they are better than any of the team's ahead of them.

15. Lincoln Stars (1-3-0, 2 pts)
As much as it pains me, the Lincoln Stars fall in here. With a 1-3 record, it's hard to justify Lincoln being ahead of any team above them. Lincoln actually has the third-best power-play statistically in the league, but it also has the second-worst penalty-killing percentage in the league, which is not good for a team that historically spends a lot of time on the penalty kill. Here's something odd: only Brent Tate has fought for the Stars this year through four games...which seems weird for a Stars team. Lincoln beat Tri-City in a shootout to open the season and played well in a 4-3 loss to a good Youngstown team. The Stars should move up from this spot as the season progresses. They are inexperienced, especially at defense, and it usually takes players about 10 games to get used to the speed of the USHL.

16. Muskegon Lumberjacks (1-3-1, 3 pts)
The Lumberjacks are leading the league with an incredible 238 penalty minutes (47.6 per game). The Lumberjacks have struggled in their transition to the USHL, getting smoked 10-3 by Team USA, and dropping three other games to Indiana, Sioux Falls and Fargo. The highlight of the season so far was a 6-0 trouncing of Sioux City on the road. The Lumberjacks have been all over the place on special teams. They have allowed a league-worst six power-play goals, have allowed two shorthanded goals, have scored three power-play goals and two shorthanded goals. When you have 238 penalty minutes, you better do a lot better than 82.9 percent on the penalty kill.


Yeti said...

This is a GREAT idea, BT. I'm sure we'll get some good comments from those who agree, or disagree with your rankings. Discussion is good.

Personally, I would probably drop Omaha a few pegs down. That's not to say that they don't have a good team. I just don't think they are a top 3 team right now, and I don't think many Lancer fans would disagree with that. Dubuque is certainly for real. Their roster is loaded with talent. I think Sioux City will be very good this year, and finish near the top of the Western Conference. I also think Fargo will start the season slow, but get much better as the season goes along. They are another team loaded with young talent.

This is a great idea for a weekly column. Thumbs up, BT.

BellTolls said...

Thanks, Yeti. I would love for others to chime in as well. It's not like I watch any of these other teams play, so anyone who has seen other USHL teams play, please please chime in. The rankings aren't so much how the team has done all season, but rather who are the best teams at the moment. So someone on a 10-game winning streak who is .500 for the year could be No. 1 at some point. As the season progresses, things will clear up.

tzweeb said...

agree this is a neat idea, kindof fun to have a running pole of who's hot and who's on top!
cant wait until we see the stars on top again!