The nights are getting cooler, the kids are back in school and Halloween candy is already filling your local supermarket shelves. What else happens in September?
Oh yes, USPHL hockey is back!
The centerpiece of the nation’s largest amateur hockey organization is its tuition-free National Collegiate Development Conference, a proving ground for NCAA Division 1 athletes, as well as those moving up to the NCAA Division 3 level and even higher junior hockey levels. Every year, more and more college commitments are coming out of the only tuition-free junior hockey division entirely located in the Northeastern U.S.
Without further ado, here is your look at the 13 teams ready to hit the ice for the 2019-20 season. The new Twin City Thunder visit the Boston Bandits on Sept. 13 to kick off the season.
Outlook: The Boston Bandits are one of a handful of NCDC teams with a new head coach on the bench for 2019-20. Jim Gaudet comes in with five years of coaching experience at the ACHA level, and he will also work as the Bandits’ strength and conditioning coach across the organization.
Gaudet comes back to a Bandits team rich in experience.
“We are excited for the 2019-20 season and the group of players we have,” said Gaudet. “Last season, the difference in standings in the middle part of the league was one or two points. It’s very important to show up and compete every game.”
Top returning veterans: Opponents will run into established NCDC players at every position this year. Leading this group is returning NCDC All-Star goalie Connor McAnanama.
Up front, Shane Shell (36 points in 2019-20) joins fellow veteran forwards Jared Thomas (34 points), Artjoms Koppass, Jaxon Mase and Erik Larsson.
On defense, Kevin O’Keefe, Sam Rand and Connor Sullivan provide voices of experience. Raphael Provencher (a USPHL Premier All-Star) will build on his eight NCDC appearances from last year.
Top newcomers: “All of our newcomers will be given a chance to prove themselves and impact the team in a positive way,” Gaudet said.
Boston Jr. Bruins
Playoffs: Dineen Cup Champions
Outlook: The Junior Bruins came back from being down one game to zero. Then, they came back from being down 3-2 heading into period 3 of Game 2 of the Dineen Cup finals. It was truly an epic comeback to win the title in three games.
“We had very big expectations last year and those expectations came to fruition,” said Head Coach Mike Anderson. “This year, it’s a bit of an older group with returners, but we also have good ‘02’s and ‘03’s. It’s a great mix that I’m excited about.”
Top returning players: The Junior Bruins return Johnny Mulera (UConn), Zach Pellegrino (Bentley), Michael Brown (Merrimack), Nik Allain (Yale) and Ryan Lovett (Dartmouth), as well as Bradey Farrell and Frankie Ireland. Anderson expects Division 1 commitments this year for the latter pair.
Top newcomers: Thomas Gale, a Dartmouth commit, takes over in net for Quinnipiac-bound Yaniv Perets. Colin Graf (‘02) moves up from the Junior Bruins’ 18U team, while Alex Coady, Michael Holland, Will Gillson, and Quinnipiac recruit and “top-end ‘03” Jack Silich will help set the tone for this new Junior Bruins team.
“What makes this process early in the season so much fun is that newcomers always surprise you and exceed expectations,” said Anderson.
Connecticut Jr. Rangers
Playoffs: Dineen Cup Finals
Outlook: The Connecticut Jr. Rangers went all the way to the Dineen Cup Finals, and were one period away from winning, with a largely veteran group in 2018-19.
Several multi-year Rangers, including standbys Colin Slyne, Noah Strawn, Takato Cox and Richard Zemanek, have moved on to college and other levels. Rather than go the same route and build a veteran-driven team, there is a youth movement underway at Chelsea Piers in Stamford.
“We are a younger group with more skill, speed and youth,” said Head Coach Jim Henkel. “The question is how quickly can they acclimate first to the level they were at, and then push out of their comfort zones?”
Top returning veterans: While it is a largely new squad, the Jr. Rangers will lean on multi-year veterans, including Sam Timonen, a third-year NCDC player (and son of former NHL defenseman Kimmo Timonen), Reid Miller, Kevin Lassman, Ben Kuzma and Jin Lee.
Top newcomers: Lining up on the blue line will be Garrett Kessler, who will be a big presence standing 6-feet-5-inches, and who is hard to play against all over the ice.
Up front, watch for fellow ‘01 Andrei Lyovushkin, playing his first North American season, former Carolina Jr. Hurricane Alex Straughn and former CP Dynamo twins Schuyler and Spencer Flansburg.
Islanders Hockey Club
Outlook: The Islanders Hockey Club will have a very different look here in 2019-20, returning just one player and overall fielding a young roster, one that is hungry for greater development and college placement opportunities.
“The youth movement has begun at the Islanders Hockey Club,” said first-year Head Coach Tim Kyrkostas. “I love my team. We’re going young, and we’re going to have a ton of skill and speed.”
Top returning veteran: The Islanders Hockey Club return just one player from its 2018-19 NCDC roster, but it’s a doozy – NCDC All-Star goalie Kalle Andersson returns between the pipes seeking an NCAA Division 1 commitment early on.
Top newcomers: All of the nearly two dozen new Islanders players could be mentioned here as potentially making a big impact in the eyes of college coaches.
One player, Cy Leclerc (‘02), comes in with a University of New Hampshire commitment already in hand. Watch for big things from Dylan Wilde, another ‘02, as well as former Islanders Hockey Club midget standouts Nick Niemo and Connor Gatto – two ‘01’s who scored more than a point per game with the 18U squad.
Leadership-wise, Seth Stadheim (‘00) will be key, and former IHC player Zach Nelson will provide a veteran presence.
2018-19 Record: 43-7-0-0
Outlook: The Hitmen were at the top of the NCDC from pretty much the start of the season right to the end. The Jersey crew is back with hopes of keeping that energy going in the Dineen Cup playoffs.
“Winning 43 games last year has shown that the bulk of this team has established that they can win at this level,” said Head Coach Toby Harris. “On top of that, we add recruits from long-time winning programs such as Northwood School, Skipjacks Hockey Club and Cushing Academy that we hope will positively impact and strengthen our culture.”
Top returning players: Harris expects UVM recruit Mickey Burns will be a “top five NCDC scorer,” while Quinnipiac commit Connor Tait is expected to break the 20-goal mark. Fellow future QU Bobcat John Campomenosi and Dartmouth commit Tyler Borsch will anchor the blue line. Casey Rhodes and Jericho Petkovich will also build on strong 2018-19 campaigns.
Top newcomers: Forward Whim Stalberg (UVM) comes to the Hitmen with size (6-5, 220) out of Sweden’s SuperElite league. Another big body, Andrew Gilbert (6-5, 215), will be among the top shutdown defensemen this year, Harris added. Quinnipiac commit Liam McLinskey moves up from the USPHL 18U Hitmen with “a professional skill set.”
New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs
Outlook: The Monarchs aren’t too far from NASCAR’s New Hampshire Motor Speedway, so it’s not very surprising that they like to put the pedal to the metal as often as possible, or in this case, the metal to the ice.
“We’ve tried to improve our skill and speed again,” said Monarchs Head Coach Ryan Frew. “We were also the least penalized team in the league, so we hope to continue trending in that direction, playing a hard, fast and clean game.”
Top returning veterans: The Monarchs are thrilled to have Matt Pasquale returning in the crease, having put together an NCDC All-Star performance in 2018-19.
Nick Durajlija and Captain Cam Speck return to anchor a stingy defensive corps, while up front Kevin Paganini hopes to build on a 30-point season. Frew is expecting him to lead the scoring charge.
Top newcomers: Tanner Daniels (‘01) comes in after leading the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite (T1EHL) in scoring last year with 42 points. Kam Hellman (‘01) scored north of 40 points for the Cranbrook Kingswood School in Michigan. C.J. Duvall (‘00) also has great offensive instincts, coming from the Hill School.
Cam Barbagallo (‘99) is a big trade pickup for the defense from the Dineen Cup champion Junior Bruins.
New Jersey Rockets
Outlook: Count the New Jersey Rockets as another squad with a new bench boss. Barry Dreger took over the Rockets’ junior program and will be head coach of the NCDC team. Dreger, who enjoyed a long minor pro career, has built what he sees as a balanced roster.
“We will return four or five players from last year’s team who will provide us with leadership and experience,” Dreger said. “Our youth will be very exciting to watch.”
Top returning players: Paul Bryer, with his 21 regular-season goals, was a top 10 goal-scorer in last year’s NCDC. He will help to lead the 2019-20 offense, along with big-time playmaker Luke House (26 assists).
Elliot Burgin returns to the Rockets after finishing last season with the Islanders Hockey Club, and Connor Bradley will be an anchor for the defensive corps.
Top newcomers: The Rockets will field a largely new team for the 2019-20 season, and Dreger is optimistic for these players picking up on the NCDC game from the get-go.
“We look forward to seeing all of our newcomers come in and contribute right away,” said Dreger. “We feel that, as individuals, they possess great potential. We will work hard with them to help them grow and develop.”
2018-19 Record: 26-20-3-1
Outlook: The Cyclones continue to build strong teams from within their own organization.
Last year, utilizing a similar system, they were able to knock off the regular-season champion Jersey Hitmen and took the eventual Dineen Cup-champion Junior Bruins to a third and deciding game in the semis.
“We are really excited to have nine returning players and others being promoted within the organization from teams below the NCDC,” said general manager Bill Weiand. “We believe we have a good veteran presence going into the season.”
Top returning veterans: The Cyclones are excited to welcome back forward Will Gavin, a veteran presence with USPHL experience going back to 2015. The Air Force Academy commit posted five points in as many playoff games after a 37-point season in 40 games.
Zach Rehbaum is also back up front after a 20-goal, 41-point season in 2018-19, while third-year NCDC veteran Bryce DeFazio and goalie Riley Sims come back from very productive seasons last year.
Top newcomers: Dayne Hoyord, an ‘02 out of the Team Wisconsin midget program, has a long track record of high-octane offense, while new defenseman Austin Rice was a USPHL 16U All-Star last season with the Skipjacks Hockey Club.
P.A.L. Jr. Islanders
Outlook: The P.A.L. Jr. Islanders will not take any day lightly during this 2019-20 season, not while Head Coach Michael Marcou is around.
The Jr. Islanders – and especially those veterans returning this year – got a good look at just how hard it is to compete in the NCDC last year.
“I think this season will be an improvement, with the guys coming in and leadership coming back,” said Marcou, who enters his first season as an NCDC coach. “It’s all about being relentless with your work ethic, on and off the ice. If you have that, you’ll reach your goal.”
Top returning veterans: With Devin Kasperek (24 points) and Liam Donelan, the Islanders start strong on defense, while at the forward ranks, Brian Vandelinder (28 points) and Spencer Korona put in strong full seasons last year. Ryan Willett and Artem Buzoverya were both prolific in limited games with P.A.L. last season, and both return for a full season.
Top newcomers: Defenseman Bobby Staring won a USHL 18U championship last season, and was a great two-way contributor. Forwards Alex Konovalov, Keitaro Yasodu and Devin Moran should make big impacts, along with Adam Bricker, who returns to the P.A.L. after previously playing in 2017-18.
Outlook: The Monarchs are ready to shake off a tough 2018-19 outing with a tight, experienced and dedicated core of veterans and a lot of new players excited to take their first shifts in the National Collegiate Development Conference.
“We are very excited about our roster and the fresh start we have this year. Our defensive core is very mobile and intelligent, while our forwards are quick and creative,” said Head Coach Nick Unger. “We have brought in some young, energetic, and talented players, while returning a select group that are quality players, leaders, and more importantly, are great young men on the ice and off.
“Our biggest strength is our hunger, desire and drive to make some noise in the NCDC this year,” Unger added.
Top returning veterans: Three key ’99’s are back in goaltender Dylan Wiemer and forwards Matt Krieger and Jared Smith, while ‘00 Bailey Krawczyk was a pleasant addition to the special teams, with seven of his 20 points coming either man-up or man-down.
Top newcomers: Rochester native Chad Williams (‘00) returns to the Monarchs after a season with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres 18U team. Unger sees a lot of potential in ’02’s Parker Bolda and Hunter McDonald.
South Shore Kings
Outlook: New South Shore Kings Head Coach Drew Omicioli will not be dipping his toes into the water of the NCDC. Rather, he’ll take the polar plunge and start right out with last year’s regular season-champion the Jersey Hitmen, opening at home in Foxboro, Mass., on Sept. 14.
“The Hitmen will be a great test for the new-look South Shore squad made up of many new faces and their new coach,” added Omicioli. “Offensively, the Kings will consist of a great blend of speed, skill and grit. We have a great blend of skill, size and physicality on defense.”
Top returning veterans: On the blue line, Connor Lind and Ryan Leonard form a strong nucleus to build from, as do forwards Quinn McCarthy, Rene Troethan and Dmytro Danylenko. Troethan (Austria) and Danylenko (Ukraine) will work towards again being called up to represent their countries in the World Junior Championships.
Top newcomers: It helps when one of your new defensemen (former Junior Bruin Blake Colman) is coming off a Dineen Cup championship. He joins Kevin MacKay as solidifying the new look defensive core.
In goal, Erik Voloshin and Linus Marcko will compete every day for the No. 1 position. Up front, Mitch LaFay, Michael Boutoussov, Colton Sipperely and Jackson Krock are expected to contribute.
Twin City Thunder
New to NCDC in 2019-20
Outlook: It’s a brave new world for the Thunder, located in Auburn, Maine, as they head out for Year 1 in the NCDC.
The Thunder made their USPHL debut with a Premier Division team in 2018-19. This year, in addition to the Premier Division team, they have branched out with the NCDC team and USPHL midget division teams, playing as the Twin City Lightning.
Former NHL player Doug Friedman, who coached the Premier team last year, was put at the helm of constructing this first-ever NCDC team in Maine.
“We have a diverse group of players who range from prep school to Midget U18 to North American juniors and international juniors,” said Friedman. “The strength of the group will be their intelligence and their adaptability to the league.”
Top newcomers: With no Thunder veterans coming on board with NCDC experience, the Thunder are looking to some of their most impressive recruits carrying the team early. Defenseman Adam Svensson played in Sweden’s top junior league last year. The team is also excited about Mexican national Gonzalo Hagerman (out of Lake Forest Academy), Andrew Kurapov (Islanders Hockey Club/NCDC) and Drew Gardner (Kents Hill Prep). Gardner helped the Maine Moose win the Tier-2 18U national championship last year.
Utica Jr. Comets
2018-19 (as Syracuse Stars): 27-19-3-1
Outlook: The Comets hope for a fast start in their first year sporting the Blue, Green and White of their parent organization, the AHL’s Utica Comets.
“A new year brings new faces. It will be interesting to see if these guys can mesh well from the start,” said Paul Kelly. “Last year, it took some time for guys to figure out what was going to help us win hockey games, but when we did, we were a very good team.”
Kelly expects the Comets will be strong in net, while being “faster and more explosive” in the forward ranks. The defensive corps is an overall newer group.
Top returning veterans: Donny Borgula returns after an impressive 24-point season last year. “He plays in all situations and never takes a shift off,” Kelly added.
Tristan Hughes and Trevor Bollinger are also back at the forward ranks. Bollinger is a fourth-year member of the Comets organization.“
Trevor is an ‘01 who got better week to week. He should have a breakout season,” Kelly said. “Tristan is another guy who can play in any situation. He’s great on draws and plays an aggressive game.”
Top newcomers: Kelly did not single out any particular player, but “[expects] a lot out of all of them.”
Written by Joshua Boyd and republished with permission from USA Junior Hockey Magazine
Main Image: New Jersey Rockets’ Charlie McAvoy stops behind the net and surveys the ice. McAvoy is now a standout for the Boston Bruins. (Photo by Charles O’Brien)
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