• Nate Winans

USHL News You Need to Know

Updated: Mar 4

It was a busy week around the USHL. We had a deadline trade, a college commitment, playoff format changes and the first team to clinch a playoff spot. Not to mention we celebrated my 27th birthday, but that's beside the point.

Buccaneers and Black Hawks Agree on Deal

Just as the deadline came and went, the Buccaneers swooped in at the last second to nab Ryan Frkulec from the Black Hawks. They did have to give Joey Strada away in the deal, but gain a player with a ton of USHL experience who will look to propel them through the playoffs. When asked about the deal, General Manager Tom Mannino had this to say, "As we get closer to the end of the season, the game pace elevates and the intensity heightens. Ryan is exactly the player we were looking for at this crucial time of year."

The Bucs are on the outside looking in on the playoffs and are just five points behind the sixth-place Stampede. They have one game this week against the Gamblers and will look to remain in striking distance as the season winds down.

Musketeers and Stampede Set Sights on Future

With another deadline move the Musketeers were able to improve this year's final roster, in addition to next year's. The Musketeers acquired Brian Carrabes, Austin Heidemann, a 2020 Phase II first-round pick and future considerations for Ian Malcolmson, Sam Strange and a 2020 Phase II fourth-round pick. "Austin is a heavy, competitive forward that will help us finish the season before he heads to college. Brian will be an impact player in Sioux City this season as well as next season. His competitive motor is very hard to play against and possesses the game that will help us in the future," said Musketeers General Manager Andy Johnson via the team's website.

As it stands, the Musketeers are eight points behind the sixth-place playoff spot which the Stampede currently occupies. The move could propel both teams into the playoffs, or help one sneak in and keep the other out.

Stars Stay Put at Deadline

Sitting at fifth-place in the Western Conference, the Stars held strong at the deadline. Their General Manager and head coach, Cody Chupp, liked where his roster stood and felt his team had a good shot at a deep playoff run. "We spent a lot of time near the end of last year in the summer and in the draft building this team. We've said from the get-go that we really like the group. We're pleased with the personnel, not only the type of people they are but the players they are. For us, it's about making sure we get better every single day," said Chupp via the team's website.

Rather than give up a potential future powerhouse, the Stars preferred to hold on to their pieces to not only have success this season and build on that going forward. The Stars head to Green Bay this weekend to take on the Gamblers in games that both teams need to keep pace with their division leaders.

Steel Look to Keep Blistering Place

With their victory over the Capitols last Saturday the Steel pushed their win streak to 11 games, its longest of the season. The win also was the 39th of the season, a new franchise record. The last time the Steel approached 39 wins was the 2016-17 season in which the team lifted the Clark Cup trophy.

In addition to the new franchise win total, longtime defenseman John Spetz became the organization's all-time leader in points for a defender. "It's a special moment, I've been here for a while with one team and it's a lot of moments, a lot of memories that have gone on and been so special. I think this is probably one of the best moments," said Spetz.

The Steel holds a 14-point advantage over the second-place Fighting Saints who they face Friday and Saturday.

Force Player Makes College Commitment

Niagra University has a new forward coming for the 2020-21 season. Carter Randklev will bring his talent and championship pedigree to the Purple Eagles hockey squad. Through two-plus seasons with the Force Randklev has scored 13 goals and tallied 21 assists which led to a +/- of +6.

The Force hope to keep pace with the Black Hawks in the West when they take on the Stampede and Lancers this week.

New Playoff Format Set for 2020 USHL Playoffs

In hopes of creating an easier, more fan-friendly design, the USHL announced plans to adjust this year's playoff format. Eradicating the old format which resembled that of the NFL, the new layout will feature a bracket that resembles the NHL. The number one seed will take on the lowest seed in the division, two would take on five, and three would take on four. "We're excited for this new format which aligns our playoff format with that of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and simplifies matchups and travel for our member clubs," said USHL President and Commissioner Tom Garrity via the USHL website.

The following dates are projected for this year's playoffs:

April 20 - 23: First Round

April 24 - 29: Conference Semifinals

April 30 - May 7: Conference Finals

May 8 - 19: Clark Cup Final

USHL Players of The Week

Last week's most outstanding players were Jack Randl, Mitchell Miller, and Jaxson Stauber.

Forward of The Week: Jack Randl of the Lancers was named forward of the week after a sensational three-game span. Leading the way to a weekend sweep, the Lancers now have a 10-game win streak and sit in second place in the Western Conference. The captain netted three goals and three assists for a +/- of +3 in the three games. He now has a USHL career-high in assists (33) and points (45).

Defenseman of The Week: Returning to the spot for the second time in as many weeks, this award is Mitchell Millers to lose. Although his team took two losses, Miller scored one goal and tallied two assists for a +/- of -2. He now sits in second place for points for USHL defenseman with 33. Miller's NHL draft stock has skyrocketed this year and he's ranked as the 48th best North American Skater.

Goaltender of The Week: It's been a long time coming for Jaxson Stauber of the Stampede. Stauber has been between the pipes for the Stampede for three years and never once earned this title. His stellar play of late has helped the Stampede claw into the final playoff spot in the Western Conference as he made 35 of 38 saves in the first game against the Stars and 30 of 30 in the second. This accolade will fit nicely next to last year's Calder Cup and his Clark Cup Finals MVP.

USHL Standings

Western Conference:

Black Hawks: 31-13-2-0 (64 points)

Lancers: 26-13-7-1 (60)

Force: 24-15-4-2 (54)

Storm: 23-16-5-2 (53)

Stars: 22-19-3-2 (49)

Stampede: 21-18-5-1 (48)

Buccaneers: 20-22-1-2 (40)

Musketeers: 16-22-7-1 (40)

Eastern Conference:

Steel: 39-7-1-0 (79)

Saints: 32-12-1-0 (65)

USA: 25-19-1-1 (52)

Gamblers: 23-18-2-3 (51)

Phantoms: 19-21-6-2 (46)

Lumberjacks: 20-22-5-0 (45)

RoughRiders: 19-22-4-1 (41)

Capitols: 10-34-3-1 (24)

Top USHL Skaters:

Points Leaders:

Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, Steel, 56

Mathieu De. St. Phalle, Steel, 56

Sam Colangelo, Steel, 55

Goals Leaders:

Riese Gaber, Saints, 33

Trevor Kuntar, Phantoms, 27

Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, 26

Assists Leaders:

Sean Farrell, Steel, 39

Ty Jackson, Saints, 37

Alexander Campbell, Lancers, 34

Top USHL Goaltenders:

Wins Leaders:

Victor Ostman, Steel, 24

Erik Portillo, Saints, 19

Gabriel Carriere, Black Hawks, 19

Save Percentage Leaders:

Jaxson Stauber, .920%

Nicholas Grabko, Gamblers, .918%

Erik Portillo, Saints, .915%

Goals Against Average Leaders:

Erik Portillo, 2.11

Kyle McClellan, Lancers, 2.32

Logan Stein, Black Hawks, 2.33

If you haven't had a chance to check out the weekly podcast, you're missing out! It's your number one source for junior hockey news, knowledge, education and nonsense. This should be enough to keep you satisfied for the rest of the week but be sure to follow us on Twitter @Nwinansw and @JRHockeyPodcast. See you next time.

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