USHL Fall Classic: Celebrini, Strbak Among First-Time Goal Scorers

USHL Fall Classic: Celebrini, Strbak Among First-Time Goal Scorers

Chris Peters recaps the first day of action at the 2022 DICK'S Sporting Goods USHL Fall Classic.

Sep 23, 2022 by Chris Peters
Macklin Celebrini Scores First USHL Goal

CRANBERRY TWP., Pa – The 2022-23 USHL season is officially underway. Five games opened the action at the DICK’S Sporting Goods USHL Fall Classic with plenty of good games and solid individual performances.

Thursday also offered our first glimpse of some of the future stars of the USHL taking their first skate strides in the league and very quickly showing they belong. A number of first-year head coaches also picked up their first wins with their new clubs. On top of it all, the hundreds of NHL scouts and college recruiters in attendance got plenty to fill their notebooks as another junior hockey season is underway.

Here's a look at some of the highlights from Day 1.

Macklin Celebrini Makes Instant Impact

One of the most anticipated rookies to hit the USHL this season, 16-year-old sensation Macklin Celebrini showed very quickly that he belonged and that we’re going to be talking a lot more about him in the coming years. 

Celebrini netted the go-ahead goal in Chicago’s 3-1 win over the Fargo Force Thursday night by ripping a quick wrist shot through traffic and past the Fargo netminder to make it 2-1 midway through the third period. 

Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Nick Moldenhauer put the icing on the win with the empty-netter to give the Steel the 3-1 victory in what was a very hard-fought game with a Fargo team carrying big expectations into the season.

The steel likely have their goaltender to thank for helping them secure the win. Christian Manz stopped 31 of 32 shots in the day’s best goaltending performance. The Steel were out-shot 32-20 in the contest by the veteran-laden Force, but Manz stood tall to give them a chance to claim victory.

The win for Chicago marked the first for head coach Mike Garman, who was the team’s general manager last season. 

As for Celebrini, viewed as one of if not the best 2006-born player in the world, he came as advertised. He’s certainly tacked on more strength from his prep season with Shattuck St. Mary’s in 2021-22, and showed tremendous poise with the puck on his stick. He was making defenders miss and showing some of the creativity and speed that have made him one of the most highly-regarded young players in the game today.

Maxim Strbak Starts Draft Season Fast

One of the top draft-eligible players in the USHL this season is big defenseman Maxim Strbak of the Sioux Falls Stampede. After playing in Finland last season and representing Slovakia on the international stage, most recently at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship, expectations are high for Strbak. Many scouts believe he’ll be a first-round draft pick in 2023.

So how exactly did this prized defenseman start his USHL career? How about with a goal on the first shot he ever attempted in the league? Strbak scored on a quick wrister from the point that stunned the Muskegon goaltender and gave Sioux Falls the 1-0 lead early in the game.

Strbak also collected an assist to kick off his campaign with two points. Unfortunately for Strbak and the Stampede, they let a 2-0 lead slip into a 5-2 deficit before the first period was over. While they attempted a valiant comeback effort, the Muskegon Lumberjacks pulled away with a 7-4 victory.

Among the goal scorers for Muskegon was 16-year-old Sacha Boisvert, who is another one of the top 2006-born talents in the league. Boisvert put the exclamation point on the win by scoring the seventh goal, squashing Sioux Falls’ hopes as they made their late push. The Jacks also got goals from NHL Draft picks in the game as well – Jake Richard (Buffalo), Owen Mellenbacher (Detroit) and George Fegaras (Dallas).

Green Bay Outlasts Defending Champs

In arguably the day’s most thrilling game, defending Clark Cup champion Sioux City Musketeers had their hands full with a Green Bay team looking to bounce back from a tough 2021-22 campaign. 

After playing to a scoreless draw in the first period, Green Bay import defenseman Artyom Levshunov opened the scoring midway through the period. The Musketeers stormed back with veteran forward Nick Pierre tying the game and Kaden Shahan giving Sioux City a 2-1 lead with goals less than a minute apart. The Gamblers got another defenseman in on the scoring late in the period, though, as Jake Martin scored with 3:13 remaining in the second to knot the game back up.

The third period went back and forth with Sioux City carrying the play a little more as they directed 11 shots on net. Goalie Kristoffer Eberly turned all 11 aside, however, opening the door for some late-game heroics from James Duerr.

The 18-year-old rookie scored with 3:17 remaining in regulation and added an empty-net goal 1:14 later to allow the Gamblers to skate off with a 4-2 win, securing the first victory as a head coach for first-year bench boss Mike Leone.

Other scores from Thursday

Lincoln Stars 4, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders 1

Tri-City Storm 4, Madison Capitols 1

Friday Schedule

Lincoln Stars vs. Green Bay Gamblers, noon ET

Sioux City Musketeers vs. Chicago Steel, 2:30 p.m. ET

Sioux Falls Stampede vs. Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, 3 p.m. ET

Tri-City Storm vs. Muskegon Lumberjacks, 5:30 p.m. ET

Fargo Force vs. Madison Capitols, 8:30 p.m. ET