BOSTON, MA — The United States Premier Hockey League is back for its second year of the tuition-free National Collegiate Development Conference, which saw a great first year with more than 120 college commitments from what was then an 11-team league.
The New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs join the NCDC team for this season, and all 12 teams are chomping at the bit to make Year 2 even bigger and better than last year’s successful inaugural season.
Playoffs: Quarterfinals loss
Outlook: Rich Alger is one of many first-year head coaches in the NCDC, so it’s hard for him to say how this year’s team might compare to last year’s squad. Looking at the players they had protected on their 30-man roster, he could say that they would be a younger team.
There is one ’98, one ’99 and several ’00’s and ’01’s on the roster.
“We went with higher academic index kids and high hockey IQ kids,” said Alger. “How that translates to the ice, I can’t tell you until October if we did a good job. We are excited about the youth and excited about the upside.”
Top returning players: Leading the veteran charge are UNH commit Zach Jones (’01), a lifelong Bandit, and Jack Brackett (’00 forward), a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recruit. Also coming back up front are ’98 forward Billy Grant, Russian Mark Zuhkov (’99), and ’00 defensemen Linden Alger and Connor Sullivan.
Top newcomers: Alger can only say there are many, and he’ll get back to you on that.
“I’ll reserve judgement on the newcomers only because I’m not sure,” said Alger. “There are guys we hope will be as good as we think they can be.”
CONNECTICUT JR. RANGERS
Playoffs: Semifinal Loss
Outlook: Head coach Jim Henkel is thus far optimist about the Jr. Rangers having a better season than last year. Considering they made it to the semifinals, that’s saying a lot.
“As of right now, I like the direction in which we’re going. We have solid returners we’re excited about and tenders and kids we drafted both last year and this year,” said Henkel. “I don’t think our approach will be much different from last year. We’ll play with a lot of speed and puck possession. We’ll be deeper at forward, and the ‘D’ will join the rush.”
Top returning players: The return of Troy Kobryn, a ’99 goalie, provides great confidence right off the bat. Forward Noah Strawn (’98) is expected to take a leadership role for the team. Takato Cox and Colin Slyne (’98’s) topped the 40-point mark last year. Defensemen Alex Sheehy (’98) and Richard Zemanek (’99) were a successful late season pairing, and they also return.
Top newcomers: Defenseman Kevin Lassman (’00) is a smooth-skating puck-moving defenseman who can be very creative. Power forward Philip Ekberg (‘99) “will get acclimated quickly,” and Chris Morrison (’99) is a battler who can skate well and “will figure into everything.”
ISLANDERS HOCKEY CLUB
Outlook: The Islanders Hockey Club have been the powerhouse of the NCDC and its predecessor, the USPHL Premier Division, for the last three years. The Islanders won the last three regular season titles, and two straight playoff championships. That also means they had a lot of experienced players who have moved on to college hockey.
“There are a lot of opportunities for new players to come in and contribute,” said general manager/head coach Sean Tremblay. “We’ll have decent depth at the forward position.”
Top returning players: On defense, the Islanders will rely heavily on ’98’s Jack Moran, who will play his fourth year with the Islanders’ top team, and Nick Parody.
Top newcomers: Right after winning the title, the Islanders were faced with replacing their two goalies that helped them earn the crown. Tremblay feels that he has the right guy to lead that charge in ’99 Kalle Andersson, a Swede who stands 6-4 and weighs in at 187 pounds. “With his size and today’s equipment, he’ll take up a lot of net,” said Tremblay. “His ability to move laterally and his glove hand are outstanding.”
BOSTON JUNIOR BRUINS
Playoffs: Semifinal loss
Outlook: With a towering defensive corps and at least six returning forwards up front, the Junior Bruins have a lot to be excited about.
“As I look at us now, all of our defensemen are over 6-feet, and they all have a strong skill set,” said head coach Mike Anderson. “We have a great mix of six or seven forwards who were with us all year and were super-productive.”
Top returning players: Where do we start? Maybe with Cam Boudreau, who was a NHL Central Scouting-ranked player all last year, and is bound for Quinnipiac University in 2019.
Future Providence teammates Riley Prattson, Matt Allen and Jonny Mulera, all ’99’s, are back in the forward ranks.
Ryan Lovett and Tim Kent add to the depth of NCDC experience up front. Robbie Griffin was one of the NCDC’s youngest players last year as an ’01. He is committed to Northeastern for 2020-21. Luke Rowe (’98) returns to the defense, and Yaniv Perets (’00) comes back as one of the league’s best goalies from 2017-18.
Top newcomers: Three new Junior Bruins come in with their NCAA Division 1 commitments intact. Nik Allain (’99 forward), the son of longtime Yale coach Keith Allain, joins for additional development before moving on to UConn. Dartmouth commit Shea Courtmanche (’00, forward) and Bentley commit Zach Pellegrino (’99 forward) will also give the scoring units some extra fuel. Defenseman Michael Brown (’01), a recent commit to Merrimack, brings strength and toughness to the blue line corps, according to NeutralZone.net’s scouting report.
NEW HAMPSHIRE JR. MONARCHS
2017-18: Premier Division
Outlook: The Monarchs are new to the NCDC this season, but will actually complete their 26th season as an organization in 2018-19. The Monarchs have several NHL alumni, including Stanley Cup champions Brian Dumoulin and Trevor vanRiemsdyk, just as the tip of the iceberg.
The Monarchs’ top team operated at the USPHL Premier level last year, but even as a first-year NCDC team, general manager/head coach Ryan Frew is optimistic.
“We have a nice balance with some high-end young prospects and seasoned veterans,” said Frew. “We’ll have a quick, transition team that plays 200 feet with a lot of speed.“I’m excited. I’ve been with this organization for a long, long time and have had great success. As a program we’ve done some incredible things over the years but this venture is one that makes me work, grind, and feel like a rookie again,” added Frew. “I want to deliver my players the absolute best hockey experience they have ever had, and I will. This chance fuels me every day. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this and we won’t disappoint. We are more than ready and we will be prepared.”
Top newcomers: University of New Hampshire recruit Aidan Curran (’01 forward) is at the head of a strong, talented group, joining the NCDC team from the 16U Monarchs. Robbie Ferreira (’99 forward) and Trent DeNuccio (’99 forward) are exciting prospects from Vermont Academy and the Loomis Chaffee School, respectively. “We also feel very confident about our group of imports,” added Frew.
NEW JERSEY HITMEN
2017-18 Record: 34-15-1
Outlook: Before Game 1 even hits in mid-September, the New Jersey Hitmen general manager/head coach Toby Harris was excited about his 2018-19 roster.
“We’re going into this season with roughly 10 NCAA Division 1-committed players on our roster,” said Harris. “We had a very good camp, with seven D-1 committed forwards and three D-1 committed defensemen, and we are still working on a couple other [NCAA-committed] players to round out our roster.”
Top returning players: Dartmouth commit Tanner Palocsik (’98) will return to the Hitmen blue line for another season. Defenseman Brett Callahan (’98) is back after an All-Star season last year, and already has an NCAA Division 1 offer on the table.
Also coming back to the defense is ’98 Collin Heinold.
“He’s had a great off-season, adding 15 pounds of muscle, and he has the hardest one-time shot in the league,” added Harris. “He will command lots of Division 1 attention.”
Top newcomers: Zachary Rehbaum (’00 forward) is committed to Brown, and he scored seven goals in three games at camp. Dartmouth commit Gregory Koutsomotis (’99 forward) was usually Rehbaum’s setup man.
Former Canterbury School standout and All-New England prep player Jericho Petkovich joins the forward group, and is expected to score around 20 goals this year. “He has already visited three Division 1 campuses and will generate a ton of interest this season,” Harris said.
NEW JERSEY ROCKETS
2017-18 Record: 6-42-2
Did not qualify for playoffs
Outlook: It was a season of learning in 2017-18 for the Rockets, as they lifted to a higher level than the organization had ever played. Head coach Jason Kilcoyne said the lessons learned in Year 1 of the NCDC should see more of an evened-out attack.
“We will have all 13 forwards, six or seven defensemen and all our goalies contributing,” he added. “I don’t think we’ll have a first, second, third and fourth lines, we’ll have four units that can wear teams down with our depth.”
Top returning players: Kilcoyne points to returning ’98 forwards J.P. Lafferty, Tyler Glennon, Troy Crosson and Casey Sotanella as “guys who bring leadership and set the standard. They went through a struggling year last year, but all committed to coming back.”
Top newcomers: The Rockets are especially excited about ’01 forward Ryan Sorkin, who is coming off a season with the Chicago Mission 16U squad.
“He came from a great program that won the 16U Nationals. He is a very skilled player and we think a lot of Division 1 opportunities will come his way if he performs at this level,” Kilcoyne said. “He has extremely good grades, and on the ice, he did very well in our main camp against ’98’s.” Additionally, Jesse Lowell, Luke House (’00) and Paul Bryer (’99) “all had extremely good camps.”
Playoffs: Quarterfinal Loss
Outlook: The Cyclones made a huge impact in their first season not only in the National Collegiate Development Conference, but as a new USPHL member overall. Many Cyclones from that groundbreaking group are returning to the fold for 2018-19.
“I think we’re bringing back guys who went through last year, and they know what to expect, and they know how to play on a team,” said head coach Bill Flanagan. “Whatever we have going forward, I can say the team will be on the younger side, so the core leadership group will play a bigger role than normal, so we can step up from how we played last year.”
Top returning players: U.S. Military Academy recruit Josh Chapman and Jake Sutton are the clear leaders of the 2018-19 group, having played key roles in 2017-18 as well. Chapman will continue to sharpen his game up front before his NCAA Division 1 debut in 2019, and Sutton brings a potent defensive game to the Cyclones. Longtime Cyclone forward Christian Thomas also comes back to prepare for what Flanagan said is certain to be a productive NCAA Division 1 future.
“We’re looking for Christian to be one of the better forwards in the NCDC,” said Flanagan. Flanagan said that summertime was still far too early to tell who might end up as top newcomers. They will make themselves known during the season, he added.
P.A.L. JR. ISLANDERS
Did not qualify for playoffs
Outlook: The P.A.L. Jr. Islanders hit the ice for 2018-19 with a new coaching staff including Eric Conway as head coach, assistant coach Chris Stemke and Player Development Coach Rob Scuderi. Scuderi won two Stanley Cups as a player with the Pittsburgh Penguins and L.A. Kings. “I’m excited about the skills we possess, the legs we have, and the potential we show. It will help create the fast/skilled identity that I want to implement” said Conway, who has been a coach in the P.A.L. organization for many years and led the U18 program to New York state championships.
Top returners: The Jr. Islanders have a wealth of on-ice lieutenants, in terms of returning leaders. The group of ’98’s Brendan Prappas, Alex Kolowrat, Mike Perrone, Devin Joyce and Nick Vukota, and ’99 Noah Kane played lots of NCDC minutes last season and will be strong locker room voices for the newcomers.
Top newcomers: The P.A.L. Jr. Islanders have brought in players that the coaching staff expects will execute their roles and become a big part of the 2018-19 squad. Michael Colella (’99) is a big-time playmaker joining from Team Comcast’s 18U squad, and Caden Halverson (’99) joins from the Dallas Stars 18U team as a proven goal-scorer. Tanner Derby (’98) adds much to the defense from Berwick Academy.
SOUTH SHORE KINGS
2017-18 Record: 29-16-5
Playoffs: Quarterfinal loss
Outlook: In the summer of 2017, South Shore Kings general manager/head coach John Gurskis had a good idea of what his first NCDC team would look like. This year, there is almost none of that certainty.
“Last year, I had a good foundation of returning players [from the prior year’s USPHL Premier team]. This year, I may have one returning player,” said Gurskis. No matter what he has in terms of returning experience, he knows he will continue to put an offensively-minded team on the ice. The Kings were fourth in the league in goals for last year with 175.
Top returning player(s): There was still a chance in July of bringing back three to four additional returning players. Gurskis only had a guarantee from Matt Hayes, a ’98 forward who is a strong defensive player, as well as very adept academically. He could probably have his pick of NESCAC schools, and he’s also focused on a potential Division 1 opportunity this year.
Top newcomers: Sam Milnes, ’99 forward, Williston Northampton School; Jake Ballagh, ’98 forward, Buffalo Jr. Sabres; Chase Best, ’99, Victory Honda; Ties Van Soest, ’00, Germany; Alexander Schemel ’99, forward, Belarus; Sebastian Janda ’98, Czech Republic.
ROCHESTER JR. MONARCHS
Did not qualify for playoffs
Outlook: The Monarchs are not going to be anywhere near the 2017-18 Monarchs, according to first-year head coach Nick Unger, who moves up from the USPHL Premier to the NCDC.
“I’m excited. We have a good core of returning players that will make big steps forward, and added a lot of young players who play fast, and will be fun to watch,” said Unger. “I’m really excited about what we’re turning into.”
Top returning players: Wyatt Wilmhurst (‘98 forward) “has shown a lot of improvement in the off-season and will make a much bigger impact this year.” Towering Finn Viljami Kanerva (6-5, 214) also comes back as a ’98 blueliner.
Forward David Cohen (’98) is another returning player, and he did much for the team in the way of recruiting.
“He is invested in making Rochester a destination,” added Unger.
Top newcomers: Unger is excited about how the Monarchs will look in net, with the addition of ’99’s Dylan Weimer and Dawson Zimlich. Weimer is a local from Greece, N.Y, who last played for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres 18U team, and Zimlich hails from Topeka, Kan., and last played for the Dallas Stars AAA 18U squad. A pair of former Northfield Mt. Hermon players, Kyle Valiquette and Sam Tober (both ’99’s), will electrify the forward and ‘D’ ranks, respectively.
SYRACUSE JR. STARS
Playoffs: Quarterfinal Loss
Outlook: General manager Nicole Kirnan Kelly expects that the Syracuse Jr. Stars of 2018-19 will be a showcase for new faces in the NCDC.
“People can expect our team to be younger this year, with many 2001-born players as top contributors,” said Kelly.
Top returning players: Kabore Dunn is an ’01 defenseman who closed out the 2017-18 season with the Stars after a strong season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. “Look for him to anchor the defensive corps,” said Kelly.
Another late arrival last year was Dylan Rallis, a ’98 forward who joined from the Connecticut Jr. Rangers. Brandon Wilky (’98) joined from the Northern Cyclones.
“He is a powerful forward who proved at the July showcase that he can be a top center on our team,” Kelly added. “Brandon Wilky (’98) adds energy and a high level of compete to the offense.”
Top newcomers: A pair of ’01 forwards are expected to wow fans and scouts. Longtime Star Trevor Bollinger comes up from the 16U squad the last two years, and “it will be exciting for the staff to see his continued growth.”
Belarussian Alex Kostserau joins as a big ’01-born defenseman who last played for the Esmark Stars 16U team.
“He is a big defenseman who is very mobile and should provide offense for us,” added Kelly.
Written by Joshua Boyd and republished with permission from USA Junior Hockey Magazine
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