KEARNEY, Neb. – The Tri-City Storm finished the 2013-14 regular season in seventh place in the USHL's Western Conference with an overall record of 21-35-4, failing to qualify for the 2014 Clark Cup Playoffs.
The conclusion of the 60-game regular season schedule now allows Storm head coach and general manager Jim Hulton to continue to mold the roster and create the identity he believes will lead to success. Hours before the final weekend of the regular season, Hulton signed a contract extension that will keep him at the helm through next season.
Hulton, who was hired 15 games into the season, reflected on the struggles his team faced.
"Jumping in mid-stride was a real eye-opener and it took a while to get my feet on the ground and get a proper read on the group," Hulton said. "Once there was some familiarity, the players understood what our staff was trying to implement and the identity we were trying to create. But unfortunately when we came back from Christmas break we had a pretty strong task at hand and we didn't reach the number we had to have to realistically make a run for a playoff spot."
Hulton decided to make trades before the early February deadline which would position the team for success in the future.
"With the trades we made, a lot of experience and talent went out the door," Hulton said. "As a coach, you try to put kids in a position to succeed, and unfortunately 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 going to fail. That's a tough pill to swallow as a coach but hopefully the kids can learn from the adversity and be better players down the road."
Chris Wilkie, the Storm's first pick and the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 Phase II Draft last May, finished the season 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 a Storm sweater in the 14 years of the franchise and appeared in 57 of 60 games.
The team's leading goal scorer was Austin Poganski, who finished with 19 tallies in 55 games. Poganski also led the team in power play and shorthanded goals with 11 and three respectively. The St. Cloud, Minn. native finished his first USHL season with 31 points, which was tied for fourth on the team.
Veteran forward Garrett Gamez led Tri-City in helpers during 2013-14, racking up 28 assists. After a slow start to the season, Gamez turned it on in the second half of the year and finished with 34 points in 57 games.
Four members of the roster are scheduled to play in college next season including forward Dan Labosky at Colorado College, defenseman Cutler Martin at the University of Michigan, forward Drew Mayer at Ferris State and forward Ryan McMurphy at Bentley.
Goaltender Jacob Johansson, who played in 42 total games and finished with a record of 14-22-3, had a goals against average of 3.07 and a save percentage of .910 with three shutouts. Johansson has decided to pursue a professional career, signing a two-year deal with Linköping HC of the Swedish Hockey League.
The Storm started the season by playing six of their first seven contests in Kearney, going 2-3-2. Tri-City only won two of their next eight games and the team ushered in change as Hulton took the reins on Nov. 19.
In the team's first seven games with their new coach, they managed just one win. A win in Cedar Rapids on Dec. 7 served as a turning point; the team went on to win seven of their next nine games and turned a positive page as they entered 2014. But four consecutive losses forced Hulton to make trades and look towards 2014-15.
Tri-City played their best stretch of hockey from Jan. 21-Feb. 1, winning a season-high five consecutive contests. But in the final two months of the season, the Storm managed just four wins.
Johansson set a Storm record for saves in a single game, making 53 stops on Oct. 12 against Waterloo. Forward Joel L'Esperance also established a new team record for goals in a game, scoring four times on Dec. 7 in Cedar Rapids.
19 players from the roster will be eligible to try out for next season's team.
Tri-City is preparing for the two annual USHL Entry Drafts, which will take place May 5-6. The Storm will have the No. 3 overall pick in both drafts.
The Phase I Draft will include eligible players with a 1998 birth year and the Phase II Draft will include multiple birth years from 1994-1997.
Courtesy of Tri-City Storm Media Relations