HOME vs. ROAD...Tonight marks the start of a two-game series featuring the one of the league’s best home teams in Muskegon (11-4-1) against the league’s best road team in the Fighting Saints (11-4-1). Two points separate these two teams in the standings, with second place, and potentially a shot at first place Chicago, on the line this weekend.
BOASTING A BLUE LINE...Both teams possess two top scoring defensemen in the USHL. The Saints have Patrick Kudla (T-3rd, 21 points) and Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi (T-5th, 18 points), who have been key cogs on the power play. Muskegon’s defense corps includes Bo Hanson, the league’s top defensive scorer (27 points) and Zach Berzolla, (T-7th, 16 points), who both create serious offense from the blue line.
TOP OF THE LINE...The Fighting Saints’ top line of Cole Guttman, Colin Theisen and Zach Solow have been scoring at an unbelievable rate. Guttman and Solow are the league’s top scorers since the turn of the new year, and Theisen is tied for 5th in league scoring since January 1. In terms of total overall USHL scoring, Solow remains at the top (39), Theisen ranks tied for 5th (32), and Guttman, who missed a month, ranks tied for 9th.
EYES UP TOP...Muskegon features two high-level prospects in the USHL. One has already had the pleasure of being drafted, the other is a top NHL prospect for 2018. Collin Adams, a New York Islanders prospect, currently ranks second in league goal scoring (19), and scored twice against the Fighting Saints in the two-game series in Dubuque. Andrei Svechnikov ranks fourth in overall scoring (34), and was the World Junior A Challenge MVP.
GOAL GUTTMAN...The pace of which Saints forward Cole Guttman is scoring goals is one that hasn’t been seen in this league all season. The St. Cloud State commit has 11 goals in his 11 games, with 16 points total during his point streak that is just 10 games back of that coveted USHL Tier I record set by Sioux City’s Jake Guentzel and Des Moines’ Mike Erickson.
PK PROBLEMS...Muskegon’s weak spot appears to be the fact that they have taken 641 minutes in penalties (3rd, USHL), and they possess the league’s third-worst penalty kill. They average over one power play goal scored against them per night at the L.C. Walker Arena (17 goals against in 16 games). Only Cedar Rapids has a worse penalty kill on home ice (70.0%).
JAZZY JAXON...The workhorse of the entire USHL has done the job at a near-record pace. Saints goaltender Jaxon Castor now leads the league in wins (20), is tied for the league lead in shutouts (4), second in minutes played (1,774), third in goals-against average (2.00), and ranks fifth in saves made (640). The pace of which he is doing this at an elite level rivals his good friend Hunter Miska, who set the single season wins record last year with 32 in his 46 starts a season ago. The Arizona State commit has played in as many games as Fargo’s Matthew Murray (31), but Castor has him beat in every statistical category. Castor finished last season 7-6-1 with a 2.68 GAA and an .890 save percentage.