September 12, 2013

NAHL North Division Season Preview

Written by: Mike Gosnell
Team Banners by: Jon Kohan
Janesville Jets—Janesville, Wisconsin

Previous Record: 23-27-10 (Failed to Qualify for Playoffs)
Key Departures: Zach Diamantoni (8 goals 24 assist), Jason Ford (24 goals, 21 assists), Conor Lemirande (9 goals 12 assists), Ruslan Pedan (11 goals 22 assists)

Key Additions: Robin Hoglund (Soo Eagles, NAHL), Jesse Junttila (Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings, NAHL), Tyler Rehm (Fargo Force, USHL), Elliot Tisdale (Jamestown Ironmen, NAHL), Carson Vance (Kenai River Brown Bears, NAHL)
What I Expect: Janesville is a very interesting team. They are led by Air Force commit, goalie Austin Priebe, and returners Jordan Himley and Todd Koritzinsky. The Jets lost some leadership in Lemirande and Ford, but I expect players like Rehm or Tisdale to be locker room leaders. Among the new faces are Shattuck St.Mary’s product Nick Petrella and Wexford, Penn., native Michael Louria. Those are two players I think can step up and produce right away. Vance brings some experience and offense to the Jets defensive corps. Overall, this Jets team is once again shrouded in questions, in my opinion. How good can they be?

Prediction: 4th in North Division

Michigan Warriors—Flint, Michigan

Previous Record: 19-32-9 (Failed to Qualify for Playoffs)
Key Departures: Martin Gruse (10 goals and 24 assists), Brock Labelle (8 goals 13 assists), Darren McCormick (7 goals, 10 assists), Cory Schueneman (5 goals, 9 assists)

Key Additions: Scott Cuthrell (Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks, NA3HL), Cody Lichtenvoort (Peoria Mustangs, NA3HL), John Nugent (Soo Eagles, NAHL), Alec Pellegrino (St. Louis Amateur Blues, MWEHL)
What I Expect: I remember saying to various people last year, Michigan will come back as a solid team next year, just wait. Well, Moe Mantha found himself a formidable team. Mantha is tremendous coach and teacher of the game and his team will compete for a division title from the start. I am most excited to see Cuthrell and Pellegrino player. The two were Warriors' draft picks in 2013 and both can light the lamp. Cuthrell earned 47 goals and 41 assists in the NA3HL and I expect great numbers when he suits up for Michigan. Aside from the new blood, Michigan returns a strong nucleus. Jake Faiella, AJ Marcinek, Zach O’Hara, Brad Pizzey and Zack Szajner all return to the defensive and offensive teams respectively. Trevor Gorsuch and Dillon Kelley also return to give Mantha a solid one-two punch in between the pipes.

Prediction: 3rd in North Division

Port Huron Fighting Falcons—Port Huron, Michigan

Previous Record: 32-24-4 (Lost 3-0 to Soo in Second Round)
Key Departures: Brett D’Andrea (16 goals and 15 assists), Rick DeRosa (14 goals and 28 assists), Ian Miller (11 goals and 19 assists), Easton Powers (12 goals and 24 assists)

Key Additions: Noah Batis (Victory Honda U18, MWEHL), Nick Le Sage (Minnesota Iron Rangers, SIJHL), Stefan Trentacosta (Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, MWEHL)

What I Expect: Port Huron is another team that has returned a solid core. Vito Aluia, Alex Archibald Alex Blankenberg, Jonathan Kopacka, Max Milosek, and Bryan Yim have all returned to help Michael Gershon in his first full season behind the bench. The Fighting Falcons feature a roster of hard-nosed players who can put the puck in the net. Players like Yim and Aluia can fly down the ice and the net is in good hands with Blankenberg and Milosek. Latrobe, Penn., native Noah Batis brings some offense capabilities to Port Huron. I think this team forms a great cohesive unit, but will it be enough in the tough North Division?

Prediction: 5th in North

Soo Eagles—Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Previous Record: 41-14-5 (Lost In North Division Final)
Key Departures: Brandon Adams (16 goals and 19 assists), Michael Lant (7 goals and 8 assists), Tyler Marble (30-9-8), Eric Rivard (24 goals and 39 assists), Alex Robert (4 goals and 10 assists), Alexander Taulien (14 goals and 26 assists), Jared Van Wormer (25 goals and 51 assists), Cody Van Rueden (4 goals and 23), Chris Waterstreet (15 goals and 9 assists)

Key Additions: Michael Caruso (Soo Thunderbirds, NOJHL), AJ Jarosz (Corpus Christi IceRays, NAHL), Jacob McDowell (Fresno Monsters, NAHL), Jimmy Slivka (Chicago Fury, MWEHL), Ryan Urso (Jamestown Ironmen, NAHL)
What I Expect: Do not let the laundry list of departures kid you. The Soo Eagles are still contenders as long as they share a border with Canada. All of that aside, Bruno Bragagnolo and his staff return a younger core for the previous year; the team was veteran-loaded in 2012-13. Obviously, the Eagles will have to see if Paige Skoog or Max Kirkwood can pick up where Tyler Marble left off, although you cannot replace an all-star goalie like Marble. (Also former Tomahawks' goalie, Colin Brennan is in the fold.) With Van Wormer and Rivard gone, Soo will need to generate a lot of offense. I think Urso will land some top-line minutes as well as Kyle Loridon. Overall, the Soo Eagles will still be the Soo Eagles despite losing as much as they did. Reloading not Rebuilding.

Prediction: 1st in North Division

Springfield Jr. Blues—Springfield, Illinois

Previous Record: 26-30-4 (Lost North Play-in Round to Kalamazoo)
Key Departures: Ryan Atkinson (21 goals and 19 assists), Nate Chasteen (11 goals and 15 assists), Terry Leabo (4 goals and 24 assists), Matt Leon (17-19-2), Brett Skibba (34 goals and 24 assists)

Key Additions: Sandro Aeschlimann (Lower Austria Stars), Brendan Jacques (Calumet High School), William Scherer (St. Louis Amateur Blues, MWEHL), Matthew Woodley (San Jose Jr. Sharks, NAPHL)

What I Expect: Springfield lost a good chunk of offense when Atkinson and Skibba departed and I am not sure the Jr. Blues can get it back. This was head coach Tony Zasowski’s first full off-season to recruit and prepare and quite honestly, I really do not know a whole lot about Springfield. I do know that Alex Baskakov will probably improve his numbers from last year, as well as Jack Sloan. On offense, Mike Severson and Trevor Stone could lead the team in points. Stone was a valuable competitor for Zasowski and could take a leadership role. In goal, Aeschlimann and Stefanos Lekkas are the tandem. Springfield needs some magic all throughout the season but I think this year they take a step back.

Prediction: 6th in North Division

Johnstown Tomahawks—Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Previous Record: 27-21-12 (Lost to Port Huron in Opening Round)

Key Departures: Jeff Bergh (8 goals 16 assists), Colin Brennan (7-8-6), Mitch Kontny (21 goals 19 assists), Andrew McDonald (12 goals 10 assists), Casey Nelson (10 goals 22 assists), Chris Truehl (17-11-7)
Key Additions: Shane Bednard (Little Caesars, HPHL), Collin Finkhouse (West Michigan Hounds, NAPHL), Alex Jaeckle (Little Caesars, HPHL), Alex Okicki (Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings, NAHL), Trevor Recktenwald (Pittsburgh Viper Stars, NAPHL), Eric Tien (Richmond Generals, MetJHL)

What I Expect: While Johnstown lost goaltending, leadership, scoring and toughness from their inaugural season, Jason Spence and company recruited hard during the season and found some gems. The Tomahawks have a solid core returning to the team including spark plug player JB Baker, leadership in Jesse Kessler and Brandon Reinholz and scoring in Zach Wallace and Jordan Watt. On the blue line that will miss Bergh and Nelson, the Tomahawks feature some interesting guys that fans and scouts alike should keep an eye on like Shane Cuckovich, Trevor Heuser and Alex Jaeckle. Okicki should step into the starting role eventually, but I expect Spence to rotate goalies much like last season. Either Colin DeAugustine or Brett Young will back up Okicki. Scoring should see a jump as well with a caliber of players Spence brought in.

Prediction: 2nd in North Division

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