Dubuque Iowa, Home of the Dubuque Fighting Saints, played host to the USHL’s Top Prospects game last Tuesday. There, a crowd of just over 3 thousand witnessed Team East overcome its Western counterparts 7-4 in what originally looked to be a rout. Team East surged ahead in the first period and a half before staving off a heroic comeback by West, those of us on the lookout for the NHL’s biggest star on the edge of their seats. At the very least, it made us optimistic for the next generation of this great sport.
The first period witnessed the East score five (yes, five) unanswered goals in a game that looked like it was all but over. However, a different, much more competitive story, was written as the second period got underway. While Team East did open up scoring in the second, creating a six goal advantage, the goal prompted the pulling of Team West’s goaltender. The troubled Ben Blacker was immidiately replaced by Chris Birdsall following the goal (about damn time) and the fresh face was perhaps all Team West needed to gain some momentum. With just under 4 minutes remaining in the 2nd, USA U-18 vet and New Hampshire commit Joe Masonius got on the score sheet for Team West. While still in a hole, the goal got West on the board as the 2nd period concluded with a score of 6-1.
Had the first period gone better (or less worse) for Team West, the third period may have very well been the story of a great comeback. However, erasing a five goal deficit down is a tall tale to ask of any team. But give Team West credit, because they gave it their all. The two Jakes, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jake Henderson scored back to back goals to officially cut the East’s original 6-0 lead in half. Chris Wilkie, who saw one of his second period shots ring off the pipe, got redemption in the third with a power play goal to shorten Team East’s lead to just two. 6-4, East; Seriously, you cannot write better scripts than this. The fairy tale comeback, however, would fall short for West who pulled their goalie with 2 minutes left only to watch Jiri Fronk seal the deal for the East with an empty netter. Game, set, match. 7-4 Team East.
We’re not sure what impressed more, Dubuque’s gracious role as the host for the USHL’s version of the all star game or just how impressive these amatuers were. Performances by Wilkie, Henderson, and Forsbacka-Karlsson will definitely gain attention of NHL scouts, and if Tuesday was any indication, it appears the league is in good hands.