KEARNEY,Neb. – TheTri-City Storm finished the 2013-14 regular season in seventh place in theUSHL's Western Conference with an overall record of 21-35-4, failing to qualifyfor the 2014 Clark Cup Playoffs.
Theconclusion of the 60-game regular season schedule now allows Storm head coachand general manager Jim Hulton to continue to mold the roster and create theidentity he believes will lead to success. Hours before the final weekend ofthe regular season, Hulton signed a contract extension that will keep him atthe helm through next season.
Hulton,who was hired 15 games into the season, reflected on the struggles his teamfaced.
"Jumpingin mid-stride was a real eye-opener and it took a while to get my feet on theground and get a proper read on the group," Hulton said. "Once there was somefamiliarity, the players understood what our staff was trying to implement andthe identity we were trying to create. But unfortunately when we came back fromChristmas break we had a pretty strong task at hand and we didn't reach thenumber we had to have to realistically make a run for a playoff spot."
Hultondecided to make trades before the early February deadline which would positionthe team for success in the future.
"Withthe trades we made, a lot of experience and talent went out the door," Hultonsaid. "As a coach, you try to put kids in a position to succeed, andunfortunately due to our numbers situation I think the opposite was happening.There were nights we were putting kids into spots when we knew they were goingto fail. That's a tough pill to swallow as a coach but hopefully the kids canlearn from the adversity and be better players down the road."
Chris Wilkie, the Storm's first pick andthe No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 Phase II Draft last May, finished theseason as the team's leading scorer with 17 goals and 19 assists for 36 points.The Omaha native was the first player from the state of Nebraska to wear aStorm sweater in the 14 years of the franchise and appeared in 57 of 60 games.
Theteam's leading goal scorer was Austin Poganski, who finished with 19 tallies in55 games. Poganski also led the team in power play and shorthanded goals with11 and three respectively. The St. Cloud, Minn. native finished his firstUSHL season with 31 points, which was tied for fourth on the team.
Veteranforward Garrett Gamez led Tri-City in helpers during 2013-14, racking up 28assists. After a slow start to the season, Gamez turned it on in the secondhalf of the year and finished with 34 points in 57 games.
Fourmembers of the roster are scheduled to play in college next season includingforward Dan Labosky at Colorado College, defenseman Cutler Martin at theUniversity of Michigan, forward Drew Mayer at Ferris State and forward RyanMcMurphy at Bentley.
GoaltenderJacob Johansson, who played in 42 total games and finished with a record of14-22-3, had a goals against average of 3.07 and a save percentage of .910 withthree shutouts. Johansson has decided to pursue a professional career, signinga two-year deal with Linköping HC of the Swedish Hockey League.
TheStorm started the season by playing six of their first seven contests inKearney, going 2-3-2. Tri-City only won two of their next eight games and theteam ushered in change as Hulton took the reins on Nov. 19.
Inthe team's first seven games with their new coach, they managed just one win. Awin in Cedar Rapids on Dec. 7 served as a turning point; the team went on towin seven of their next nine games and turned a positive page as they entered2014. But four consecutive losses forced Hulton to make trades and look towards2014-15.
Tri-Cityplayed their best stretch of hockey from Jan. 21-Feb. 1, winning a season-highfive consecutive contests. But in the final two months of the season, the Stormmanaged just four wins.
Johanssonset a Storm record for saves in a single game, making 53 stops on Oct. 12against Waterloo. Forward Joel L'Esperance also established a new team recordfor goals in a game, scoring four times on Dec. 7 in Cedar Rapids.
19players from the roster will be eligible to try out for next season's team.
Tri-Cityis preparing for the two annual USHL Entry Drafts, which will take place May5-6. The Storm will have the No. 3 overall pick in both drafts.
ThePhase I Draft will include eligible players with a 1998 birth year and thePhase II Draft will include multiple birth years from 1994-1997.
Courtesy of Tri-City Storm Media Relations