1. Green Bay (2nd in 2013, 37-23-4, 78 pts): The Gamblers have a large number of veterans back on a team that is one of the USHL’s most consistent franchises. With a terrific scouting department, Green Bay seems to replenish every year.
2. Dubuque (1st in 2013, 45-11-8, 98 points): The defending Clark Cup champions return many players but will have a new coaching staff — last year’s coaches now run the program at the University of Denver. The new staff has NHL experience.
3. Youngstown (3rd in 2013, 37-27-0, 74 pts): Another Eastern Conference team with plenty of players back from the best season in franchise history. With experienced goaltenders Jake Moore and Sean Romeo, the Phantoms have high expectations.
4. Indiana (8th in 2013, 21-37-6, 48 pts): After bailing early on last season by trading their top players for draft picks — the Ice had five in the first two rounds — Indiana was going all-in for 2013-14. If things come together, watch out. This team could quickly move up the rankings.
5. Cedar Rapids (6th in 2013, 29-31-4, 62 pts): The RoughRiders are looking to bounce back after a rare sub-.500 season. Mark Carlson is a respected, veteran coach; other teams know they have to work that much harder when competing with Cedar Rapids for players.
6. Team USA (7th in 2013, 22-37-5, 49 pts): With their rosters always full of the best talent in the country, Team USA has the players. That doesn’t always translate to success on the ice for a program that emphasizes development.
7. Muskegon (4th in 2013, 31-23-10, 72 pts): Another program with a new staff. It will take a little longer to get things started because the Lumberjacks roster also is filled primarily with new players. Muskegon likely won’t make a return to the playoffs.
8. Chicago (5th in 2013, 29-31-4, 62 pts): The Steel likely will miss the playoffs again after finishing in fifth place last season. Another team with a younger roster that will take some time to get acclimated.
1. Sioux Falls (1st in 2013, 45-17-2, 92 pts): After going from worst to first in 2013, don’t expect the Stampede to tumble back to the basement. This team has plenty of veterans back from a hard-working squad that is disciplined and knows how to win after taking the Western Conference regular-season title a year ago.
2. Sioux City (6th in 2013, 23-30-11, 57 pts): The Musketeers were the team in the final two months of the 2012-13 season that no one wanted to play. They had a lot of early draft picks, have a new coaching staff and are looking to build off that strong finish — although three players left to play major junior hockey in Canada, where it’s pay to play.
3. Tri-City (8th in 2013, 22-35-7, 51 pts): A young but talented team that has at least 18 players on the 23-man roster who already have been awarded college scholarships. The Storm will compete hard and are expected to be strong in many elements of the game. They also won six of eight meetings with the Lancers last season, a big reason Omaha missed the playoffs for the first time in more than two decades.
4. Omaha (5th in 2013, 34-29-1, 69 pts): A new coaching staff will have a good mix of veterans (11 of 23 return from 2012-13) and young talent to mold. Locker room leadership is expected to be much stronger and the Lancers will score by committee with a deeper level of talent. Big goaltender shoes to fill with the departure of Alex Lyon to Yale, but Cole Bruns was impressive in his starts.
5. Waterloo (3rd in 2013, 39-21-4, 82 pts): Hitting the reset button with the roster may not be as bad of a hit for the Black Hawks, who were quite good in preseason games.
6. Des Moines (7th in 2013, 25-35-4, 54 pts): The Buccaneers have a veteran team that will compete hard every night. Des Moines will be capable of beating anyone in the league on a given night, but could struggle coming off a rebuilding year.
7. Fargo (2nd in 2013, 38-19-7, 83 pts): The Force went to the Clark Cup finals a year ago after knocking off Sioux Falls in the Western Conference finals but have lost most of their front-line talent from that squad. Goaltending will keep Fargo in most games this season.
8. Lincoln (4th in 2013, 39-22-3, 81 pts): With less than a handful of returning starters from last season’s playoff team, the Stars have plenty of question marks. Jimmy McGroarty is back as head coach. Still, expect every Omaha-Lincoln battle this season to be intense.