Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sean Little’s GWG = Clark Cup for GB Gamblers

I see EoDS already posted something, but I'll post my thoughts as well since I was in attendance.

Wow, what a great championship game last night in Green Bay to determine the USHL playoff champs. This was one of the best games I’ve ever been to, back and forth w/ 4 lead changes and the game came down to the final moments before it was ever in hand for either team. Hats off to both the Gamblers and the Fargo Force on a great game, great series, great season.

For those not following the USHL at all, the Fargo Force won the first two games of the series on the road against an Anderson Cup (regular season champ) Gamblers team that was tough to beat at home. The Force held the lead into the final minute of Game 3, only to see it tied up and the game go almost an entire other game before GB won in 3OTs. The Gamblers won Game 4, which set up this epic Game 5.

There is a TON of future WCHA talent between these two teams. Wisconsin native Garrett Allen (Denver) started the scoring on a fluke goal as he just threw the puck at the net, and the Gambler goalie never saw it go over his shoulder. Allen is a wicked fast skater, which would have been a nice addition to the Badgers, but he does have a penchant to dive, as twice in the game he attempted to embellish to draw penalties.

GB scored the next two goals by Robert Francis and Ryan Furne (Mich Tech). In between those goals, Stevens Point native Aaron Harstad (CC) took on Joe Finley Jr, a Russian blue liner named Oleg Yevenko, who is about as talent less and slow skating as the original Joe Finley. Harstad got the worse of that encounter.

Fargo scored the next pair, Joe Rehkamp tied it up late in the 2nd, and Matt Leitner (Mankato) scored his 10th of the playoffs to give Fargo the lead early in the 3rd.

After that it was ALL Gamblers. Halfway through the 3rd Anders Lee (Notre Dame) redirected a shot by Nick Jensen (St Cloud) to tie it up. David Makowski (Denver) also assisted and had three assists on the night. Makowski was named USHL Defenseman of the Year and is an absolute beast. He reminds me of a combo of Ryan McDonagh and Jamie McBain, just not quite as talented as either. Anders Lee is also a beast, and I’m glad he’s heading to college next season since it is bittersweet to watch him succeed, knowing he “might” have been a Badger if Eaves hadn’t given him a decision ultimatum before Lee was ready to make his college commitment. Anders Lee was named the Playoff MVP.

The game winning goal though went to none other than Fond du Lac native and 2010 Badger recruit Sean Little. Little scored w/ about 6:30 left and the Gamblers never looked back. It was Sean’s first goal of the playoffs, and he picked the right time to push one past the Fargo goalie. Sean had two REALLY nice chances earlier in the game as well. More thoughts on Sean at the end.

The Gamblers added an ENG by Robert Francis (had two on the night) and raised the Clark Cup for the first time in a decade. The Resch Center was full and the roughly 8,500 person crowd was LOUD and set a Gambler and a USHL Clark Cup attendance record. Final score: 5-3.

The Gamblers were the better team all night, except for a few lapses and a stretch late 2nd thru early 3rd where Fargo was the better team. They controlled play at EV and finally late in the game took advantage of the PP. Coach Jon Copper really has done an amazing thing in GB. In 2007/08 the Gamblers were the worst team in the USHL; the last two seasons they won the Anderson Cup as regular season champ both seasons and took the Clark Cup this season. The USHL is similar to college hockey; the staff only gets the players for a short time (1 to 3 years) but the draft structure limits loading up on top talent like a team “could” at the college level. Congrats to Coach Cooper and his staff on turning a proud program around and getting people in Northeastern WI excited about hockey again on a larger scale.

Lastly a few thoughts on 2010 recruit Sean Little. I’ve seen Sean played 7 or 8 times the past two seasons with the Gamblers, and I’m really excited to see what he can do as a Badger. Every time I see him play he is so close to scoring in every game (reminds me of Michael Davies throughout his career {because he doesn't finish some nice chances [had to add for the whiny anon]}). I don’t know if it is completely random when I’m in attendance or what, but if Sean can start burying those chances (like his GW), I think he could be a very nice two way forward for the Badgers down the road. Sure he isn’t the most talented forward coming in, but this kid gives a great effort each shift on the ice, and is a responsible player in his own end, which any Badger fan can appreciate. The last three seasons, my favorite Badger (Andy Bohmbach) wasn’t my favorite because he scored the most or was the flashiest player, but because he did whatever was tasked him on the ice and he gave it his all each shift. I think Sean Little could be a player like that. Some other recent grinder/defenders like Aaron Bendickson, Nick Licari and Ben Grotting will never be spoke of because of their abundant talent (like Blake Geoffrion or Derek Stepan or Joe Pavelski), but because of the little things they did for the team each night and the effort they gave. Sean might never be a first line forward at Wisconsin, but I for one am looking forward to his Badger career. There will be a lot of ice time available at forward next season, no reason Sean can’t snag some of that and get on the Kohl Center ice regularly.

Congrats again to Sean and all his Gamblers teammates on an OUTSTANDING USHL season!