This week, we spotlight United States Hockey League coaches only. There are some interesting storylines developing.
John Wroblewski, Team USA: The National Team Development Program entry in the USHL has heated up, going 6-0-01 in its last seven and climbing into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference. Only three teams have a better winning percentage. Wroblewski has his team scoring like no other -- 119 goals in just 27 games. Only the Fargo Force is close with 110 goals in 32 games. If he can get his squad to tighten up on defense a bit, it might be a championship-caliber group. Remember, this is a U18 team playing a U20 league. And remember this, as well: Team USA didn’t even appear in SB Nation’s USHL preseason power rankings, which listed what were predicted to be the league’s top 12 teams. Wroblewski is doing a world-class coaching job.
Cary Eades, Fargo Force: Unlike Team USA, Eades’ boys were expected to be an elite team and they still are, leading the Western Conference and the entire league with 43 points. Yet the young team with only a few returning players -- 18 kids moved on to college hockey -- started slow. But Eades righted the ship and won the league’s coach of the week honors in December.
John Lafontaine, Muskegon Lumberjacks: SB Nation’s preseason power rankings had the Lumberjacks at the top of the league. With a strong core returning, and a group of USHL veterans added, expectations were sky high for Lafontaine’s team. Yet halfway through January, Muskegon is fourth in the east, though only three points behind Team USA, which has three games in hand. The good news for Lafontaine is that his boys aren’t far from the top. If the last 10 games -- 8-2-0-0 -- are any indication, he has them on the right track.
Oliver David, Dubuque Fighting Saints: David’s squad is in much the same shallow hole that the Lumberjacks are in. A high bar was set in the preseason rankings -- third, according to SB Nation -- but the standard has not been met -- fifth in the Eastern Conference, also three points behind Team USA. If David, in his first year in Dubuque, can get more scoring out his veterans, the Fighting Saints could make a run, because they don’t get scored on much.
Anthony Noreen, Tri-City Storm: After winning only 21 games last year and losing head coach Bill Muckalt to the University of Michigan where he is associate head coach, few seemed to think the Storm would be a story this year. But there they are, under Noreen’s leadership, second in the league in points and owner of the top winning percentage. Noreen’s coaching has been so effective that he was chosen to be head coach for Team West at the 2018 USHL/NHL Top Prospect Game earlier this month. He was also an assistant coach for the United States Junior Select Team that played in December in the World Junior A Challenge. Maybe he’s another coach who’s about ready to move to that next level.
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