Posted: Thursday October 11, 2012 8:53AM ; Updated: Friday October 12, 2012 10:55AM
Brian Cazeneuve
Brian Cazeneuve>INSIDE HOCKEY

Hockey fix: AHL, ECHL, U.S. juniors (cont.)

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USHL

Taylor Cammarata
Forward Taylor Cammarata, the 2011-12 USHL rookie of the year, played in the All-American Prospects Game Sept. 29.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The top junior league in the U.S. has 16 teams located throughout the Midwest and is classified as Tier I. Since it is an amateur league, players are eligible to play at the NCAA level. Most games take place on the weekends and players live with local families. The league has had precursors: the American Amateur Hockey League, the Central Hockey League and the Minnesota Hockey League. Clubs skate for the Clark Cup. Notable Alumni include Phil Housley, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Sharp, Gary Suter and Thomas Vanek. To date, 192 USHL players have advanced to the NHL.

Teams to follow

Green Bay Gamblers: Returning head coach and GM Derek Lalonde led the team to a 47-9-4 mark during the regular season, marking the most wins ever recorded in the USHL by a rookie coach. The Gamblers scored an astounding 250 goals last season, while surrendering just 138, and they set a league record with 98 points. The club has reached the finals for three straight seasons, winning twice, and still has a number of dangerous forwards returning, though uncertainty in goal could be a stumbling point.

Waterloo Black Hawks: They lost to the Gamblers, three games to two, in the league finals last season, but own the most titles, nine, in league history. The decision to play a preseason tournament in Russia should have them in playing shape for the early part of the season. Ryan Papa, Taylor Cammarata and Vince Hinostroza form a formidable top line.

Youngstown Phantoms: They are already off to a fast start, scoring 23 goals in their first four games. Considering that this was supposed to be a physical team with good shot blockers and determined defense, the Phantoms may be better than people expect, as Austin Cangelosi and J. T. Stenglein are the early season scoring leaders.

Players to follow

F Austin Cangelosi, Youngstown Phantoms: After his first four games this season, the 5-7 forward has already amassed 10 points and has a plus-10 rating. The Phantoms' co-captain notched 29 goals and 59 points in 53 games last season and led the league in shorthanded goals with eight. Cangelosi is a playmaking center with a world of speed. The 18-year-old Estero, Fla., native is committed to play for Boston College. His brother JC plays for Connecticut College.

F J. T. Stenglein, Youngstown Phantoms: The power forward from Greece (that's Greece, N.Y.) picked up a franchise record 31 goals, including nine on the power play, and 132 penalty minutes last season and recorded a four-goal game in a 9-6 win against Waterloo on Oct. 5. At 6-foot, 195 pounds, he's big enough to assume the role of power forward at the USHL level. The Buffalo Sabres liked him enough to invited him to their prospects games in advance of the 2012 NHL Draft.

F Taylor Cammarata, Waterloo Black Hawks: The USHL rookie of the year is back after a campaign in which he posted 69 points in 60 games during the regular season and 16 points in 15 games during the playoffs. The Plymouth, Minn., native is headed to the University of Minnesota, where, at 5-7 and 156 pounds, he will be an impish forward, even by college standards. But there is no doubting his hands and skill.

U.S. National Team Development Program

The concept was launched by USA Hockey in 1996 in order to prepare players for participation on U.S. national teams. (The U.S. National Junior Team will be looking to get back its medal-winning ways at the World Junior Championships Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia. It won gold in 2010 and bronze in 2011.) The USNTDP, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is divided into an under-18 team and an under-17 squad. The U-17s compete in the USHL and play in three international tournaments. U-18s play some games against NCAA Division-I and Division-III foes.

The U.S. has won gold medals at the U-18 world championships seven times since 2002, including each of the last four years. NTDP programs provided most of the players for those teams. Sixty NTDP alumni have played in the NHL, including Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Ryan Suter, Keith Ballard, Erik Johnson, Matt Carle, Jimmy Howard and Rick DiPietro.

Follow online

USA Hockey, USHL: Find user-friendly guides for players and parents, as well as just fans. There's a section entitled "What parents want to know" and a series of frequently asked questions, including: "Where will I live?" "Where will I go to School?" "Do I get free gear?"

Hockey Webcasts: The website has links to the live audio feeds provided by nine of the league's teams. On the same site, eight teams have links to video highlights after games are completed, though picture quality varies.

Save the date

Nov. 6-12, U-18 Four Nations Tournment: The U.S. will be going for its fifth straight title, taking on Sweden, Finland and Switzerland in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Dec. 29-Jan. 4, World U-17 Hockey Challenge: Russia tries to defend its championship in a 27-game tournament held in Victoriaville and Drummondville, Quebec.

April 18-28, World U-18 Championship in Sochi, Russia: Defending champion Team USA is in Group A with Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, and Latvia. Group B includes Canada, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia.

NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE

The NAHL is the only Tier II junior league sanctioned by USA Hockey. Originating in 1975, it's the oldest such league in the country, though it remains a step below the USHL. The NAHL ballooned in 2003 when it absorbed teams from the defunct America West Hockey League. With the addition this season of the Soo Eagles from Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, the NAHL will now consist of 24 teams spread over five divisions playing a 58-game season.

Teams to follow

Texas Tornado: Not surprisingly, they got off to an 8-0-0 start. Last season, they won their fifth Robertson Cup, with an OT win against the St. Louis Bandits. It marked the team's first playoff series victory since 2006, when it won its third straight Cup. Despite being just a Tier II team, the Tornado has been successful in ultimately graduating goaltenders to the NHL ranks, including Al Montoya, Ben Bishop and Dave McKee. This year, Hunter Leisner and Jerry Kaukinen should split the duties, with Leisner getting the bulk of the work after a 10-5-2 season. He started 6-0.

Fairbanks Ice Dogs: The 2011 Robertson Cup champs play in a 2,200-seat arena, but the crowd in the Big Dipper is known to be colorful and raucous. The Ice Dogs finished first in the West last season with an impressive 39-13-8 mark. Look for forwards Devin Loe and Kyle Lee, and defenseman Doug Rose to be among the stalwarts. And you know the team is good with money because the GM is named Rob Profitt.

Wenatchee Wild: The chief rival of the Ice Dogs. Forward Jono Davis started off with 11 goals and 19 points in his first 11 games this season. Just one player on the roster had a minus rating. Robert Nichols and Evan McCarthy are two dependable goalies who should split their time in net for most of the season.

Where to watch

FastHockey: Live games and archives on demand.

Tier III

There are 12 active Tier III leagues in the U.S.: The Atlantic Junior Hockey League, American West Hockey League, Eastern Junior Hockey League, North American 3 Hockey League, Minnesota Junior Hockey League, Northern Pacific Hockey League, Western States Hockey League, Eastern States Hockey League, Empire Junior Hockey League, Great Lakes Junior Hockey League, Metropolitan Junior Hockey League and Southeast Junior Hockey League.

At the inaugural USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo Sept. 29, forward Ryan Fitzgerald, son of former NHL-er Tom Fitzgerald, recorded three assists in earning MVP honors. Fitzgerald plays for the Valley Warriors of the Eastern Junior Hockey League.

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