National Collegiate Development Conference Inaugural Season Kicks Off

The United States Premier Hockey League has upped the ante yet again.

After starting with highly competitive hockey along the Eastern Seaboard, the USPHL reached out and incorporated teams at various levels from coast to coast.

By Joshua Boyd

Now, in its fifth season of existence, the USPHL has taken the next step by presenting a tuition-free junior league. The National Collegiate Development Conference is meant for players specifically focused on pursuing NCAA Division 1 careers, entirely based in the small footprint between New Jersey and New Hampshire.

What follows is a brief introduction to the 11 teams of the NCDC, their expectations and players to watch in this 2017-18 season, which should be extremely fun to watch from start to finish.

(Teams are presented in alphabetical order)

 

Boston Bandits

The Bandits (of Bridgewater, Mass.) are new to the USPHL, and are very eager and excited to be part of the new NCDC.

“I am really looking forward to the league and coaching the team,” said head coach Scott Drevitch. “The level of play here the first week has been good. The league has definitely attracted a higher caliber player. We feel we have a lot of good players at all positions.

“We are still trying to trim the roster down to where we need it, but so far I am happy with the first impression the players have made,” Drevitch added.

Top returning players

Logan Drevitch, ’98, F. The Merrimack College recruit returns to the East Coast after two years in the Midwest to “train more (there is less travel in our league, said Coach Drevitch) and be closer to his college coaches.”

Josh Vertentes, ’98, F. Came up through the Bandits’ youth program and brings speed and a high compete level.

Promising newcomers

Christian Thomas, ’99, F. Brings good experience at tuition-free level, and is a highly-skilled player who plays with an edge.

Moritz Wirth, ’99, D. Steady, strong defenseman who makes good first passes and defends very well.

 

Boston Junior Bruins

A founding, charter member of the USPHL, the Junior Bruins will ice their traditionally tough, highly-skilled squad in Marlboro, Mass.

“We’re excited about this group,” said head coach Mike Anderson. “The draft, tender and free agent signing process couldn’t have gone smoother on our end.

“I believe we will have more Division 1 caliber players than we’ve ever had,” he added.

The Junior Bruins’ strengths will be their returning veterans – three of four top defensemen, an All-Star goalie, and two high-scoring forwards.

Top returning players

Guus Van Ness, ’97, F. Expected to be a dominant player, won’t remain uncommitted for long.

Dallas Farrell, ’99, F. A Maine commit, expected to have “a monster year, points-wise.”

Harrison Markell, ’97, D. Dartmouth commit will be team captain. Anderson “[loves] everything” about his game.

Elijah Harris, ’97, G. Uncommitted USPHL All-Star returns with tremendous consistency, athleticism.

Promising newcomers

Jon Mulera, ’99, F. Dynamic offensive player, Providence commit.

Robby Griffin, ’01, F. The Northeastern commit is “young, but it won’t take much time to do what he’s done at every level – score and make plays.”

Cam Boudreau, ’99, D. Pro style skater, puck-handler will be a top D-1 prospect.

Shane Conlon, ’99, G. Has a great work ethic and is very athletic.

 

Connecticut Jr. Rangers

The Junior Rangers (of Stamford, Conn.) have competed at the highest level of the NCDC level since the USPHL’s 2013 inception. They are all in for the increased exposure and faster pace of the NCDC.

“For our program, the tuition-free model has attracted a significant number of high-level players that, in the past, we would not have been able to acquire,” said head coach Jim Henkel.

Strengths for Jr. Rangers include returning forwards and goaltending depth.

Top returning players

Bobby DeFriest, ’99, F. A power forward with a great release who also uses his body well.

Devon Schell, ’97, F. A solid, strong center who will be an important leader for a younger Rangers team.

Drew Hickey, ’97, D. Progressed greatly near end of 2016-17 season, with ability to play in all situations.

Michael Gurska, ’98, D. Works tirelessly, very versatile player, good for any role.

Promising newcomers

Conor O’Brien, ’97, G. Has lots of tuition-free junior experience. His play will determine much of team’s success.

Johnny DeRoche, ’98, F. “A tremendous talent that can change the outcome of the game in one shift.”

Takato Cox, ’98, F. Extremely gifted, with great vision, hands and play-making ability.

Matthew Cousino, ’97, D. Highly skilled power play anchor. Tremendous skating helps him escape traffic.

 

Islanders Hockey Club

Justin Ferguson zeroes in on a shot against the Boston Junior Bruins during the 2017 Dineen Cup finals. The Dartmouth recruit returns as one of the top goalies, who posted a .926 in the USPHL Premier last year. Photo by Joshua Boyd

Much is expected of the 2016-17 Dineen Cup winners, indicative of the USPHL Premier championship. They step up to the NCDC with their usual firepower and strong defense.

“We know we will be getting everyone’s ‘A’ game,” said highly-accomplished veteran coach Sean Tremblay. We have a target on our back, and we look forward to defending that title.”

With eight returning players, veteran leadership is a strength, as are goaltending and blue line depth for the North Andover, Mass-based Islanders.

 

Top returning players

Justin Ferguson, ’97, G. Dartmouth commit will be pushed even harder after great playoffs.

Liam Darcy, ’97, D. Third-year Islander and UNH-bound Darcy is “a poised blueliner with and without the puck.”

Lucas Michaud, ’97, F. Second-leading scorer has improved greatly, plays more of a 200-foot game.

Justin Pearson, ’98, F. Goal-scorer expected to be “someone we can lean on when it really matters.”

Promising newcomers

Louis Felix St-Jean, ’97, G. NHL size, puck-handling abilities will make D’s job easier.

Nick Parody, ’98, D. Great size and skating, combined with coaching staff training, will make him legit D-1 prospect.

Jay Lavallee, F. Tall drink of water protects the puck extremely well.

Mark Gallant, ’00, F; Jonathan Young, ’00, F; Hunter McCoy, ’00, F. “Young guns” will contribute in Year 1. Gallant is committed to Colgate, and Young is a Merrimack recruit.

 

New Jersey Hitmen

After winning the USPHL Premier’s Dineen Cup in 2016, the Hitmen (of Wayne, N.J.) are after the trophy once again.

Daniel Winslow, a Quinnipiac recruit, is back to help the New Jersey Hitmen in their first year of the National Collegiate Development Conference. Photo by Joshua Boyd

“We have fostered a mentality here in Jersey that anything other than a Dineen Cup is unacceptable,” said head coach Toby Harris. “We recruit players that want to win, and who hate losing more than they love winning.”

That also goes with Harris’ belief that the Hitmen’s strength is they have recruited “winners.” He reported that 11 of the players signed for 2017-18 have won championships with their prior clubs. Twelve of the 2017-18 players have captained previous teams, so leadership is a big strength.

Top returning players

Daniel Winslow, ‘97, F. One of two Quinnipiac recruits, he brings speed, physicality and timely goal-scoring.

Ryan Finnegan, ’97, F. A big power play scorer, brings a ton of quickness.

Martan Yelle, ’98, F. Has incredible speed, and protects the puck extremely well below the dots.

 

Promising newcomers

Niko Happo, ’97, F. Huge scorer, former Finnish National Team member, also physically intimidating.

Luke Edgerton, ’97, F. Brings speed, grit and scoring, along with high hockey IQ.

Brett Callahan, ’98, D. A smooth-skating, 200-foot defenseman who is a junior hockey veteran.

Ryan McInchak, ’99, G. Joins from the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, tracks the puck extremely well and is tops in the classroom.

 

New Jersey Rockets

The Rockets of Burlington, N.J., have put in the work to make the most of their USPHL debut in the NCDC.

“We have put together as complete a team top to bottom as I have had in my time with the program,” said head coach Sean Cromarty. “I like our balance.”

In terms of strengths, goaltenders Cody Murch and Douglas Connor “can steal games any given night.”

In the past, the Rockets have leaned on its top players, like Anthony Del Gaizo, Douglas Elgstam and Donny Flynn for offense. Cromarty sees a more balanced team this year.

Top returning players

Angelo Marquart, ’97, F. Was very productive in 2016-17, and is tireless every shift.

Philip Elgstam, ’98, F. Swedish import is in third year of North American hockey, very focused player.

Luke Rowe, ’98, D. Hard-nosed D-man has constantly improved the last two seasons.

Cole Sanderson, ’97, D. Babson College commit, strong skater can play shutdown role.

Promising newcomers

Brendan Schultz, ’98, F. A 200-foot former Chicago Mission player who should make immediate impact.

Scott McKenzie, ’00, F. Calgary native brings skills, speed and smarts (4.0 GPA).

Gabriel Vanier, ’98, F. Big, skilled Quebec product brings heavy shot.

P-A Martineau, ’97, F. Another Quebec native with USPHL, Quebec AAA experience.

 

Northern Cyclones

One of the many new USPHL teams, the Hudson, N.H.-based Northern Cyclones were going into the 2017-18 season with no specific ideas on what the 2017-18 season might bring.

The Cyclones will go into their camp with essentially a blank slate, giving every player the chance to compete for a spot on the final 22-man roster.

“It will be a high skill set group that will play a fast, up-tempo pace,” said owner, general manager and head coach Bill Flanagan. “We will have a mix of older and younger players that will give our scouting audience the best of both worlds. Leadership and buy-in will be key ingredients for success.

“As for expectations, we expect to win.”

The Cyclones were not planning on bringing back any of its 2016-17 players from its top team in its former league.

As for newcomers, Flanagan said obviously with no veterans, the entire team will consist of newcomers, so it was too early to tell which players might stand out.

 

P.A.L. Jr. Islanders

The Long Island-based team will come into its NCDC existence with a deep first-year team.

“The biggest strengths of our team are the experience on the back end and our overall depth of players,” said head coach Dan Marshall. “We are not a team of many superstars on paper, but we feel many of our ’97 players are very close to playing at the NCAA levels. Our young, talented ’98’s through 2000s have tremendous upside in the long term.”

Sky Silverstein is returning to the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders with great versatility, playing both offense and defense. Photo by Joshua Boyd

Top returning players

Sky Silverstein, ’97, D. Plays forward and defense, and brings good offense from blue line.

Ian Keller, ’97, F. Played on top line, “has what college coaches are looking for in power forwards.”

 

Promising newcomers

Mario Tropea, ’97, F. Comes from former Philadelphia Flyers team in USPHL Premier.

Brendan Ferguson, ’97, F. “One of the hardest-working players I have seen in years at the junior level.”

Ryan Rosenberg, ’97, D. Big man (6-4, 218) returns to Long Island from Saskatchewan with good D and offensive mix.

Adam Bricker, ’00, F. Played for Auston Matthews’ former coaches in Arizona. High hockey IQ.

Thomas Rocco, ’99, F. Former Richmond General is speedy and can keep puck in traffic.

Mike Krupinski, ’00, D. Another ex-General, his size (6-2, 220) is matched by his work ethic.

 

Rochester Jr. Monarchs

The Monarchs (based in Fairport, N.Y.) were USPHL members for the first time in 2016-17, and now they rise to the top level. They expect to be in the middle of the conversation from start to finish.

“We are very excited with our roster. We have a good mix of local and out of town talent, with outstanding kids, on and off the ice,” said general manager/head coach David Leaderer. “I think our biggest strength will be size and speed – we have small, fast guys as well as big, gritty ‘in your face’ style guys.”

Top returning players

Elliot Clemmons, ’98, F. He brings speed and raw talent from last year’s USPHL Elite Monarchs team.
Promising newcomers

Trent Grimshaw, ’99, F. Small, shifty forward and game-changer helped Victory Honda win the Tier-1 Elite League playoffs.

Logan Clarke, ’97, F. Similar style player to Shaw, good on faceoffs, and brings Canadian junior experience.

Nick Charron, ’98, F. Joins the Monarchs from the prep ranks (Trinity-Pawling), son of former Rochester Americans standout and Calder Cup winner Craig Charron.

Chris Perna, ’98, D. Played for Cumberland Grads with Clarke. Junior and playmaking abilities are big strengths.

 

South Shore Kings

The South Shore Kings stand ready and able to take on any competition in this NCDC season out of their Foxboro, Mass., headquarters.

“Training camp is all about laying a foundation for a successful season,” said head coach John Gurskis. “We obviously want to win as many games as we can and win the league, but at the end of the day, it’s really not about the wins, but developing players and preparing them for college hockey.”

Goal-scoring is expected to be a big strength, with three of the top five scorers from the 2016-17 season back.

Top returning players

Avery Steele, 97, F; William Steele, ’98, F. “Both battled through injuries last season, but still put up decent numbers.”

Austin Rook, ’97, D. Third-year veteran of top Kings team was leading league before being injured.

Cedric Bichsel, ’97, D. Like Rook, Swiss national missed huge portion of 2016-17 with injuries, but contributed when in lineup.

Promising newcomers

Jake Stella, ’98, F. Swedish center who can play in all situations.

Michal Stinil, ’99, F. Proven junior hockey goal-scorer “could be one of most skilled players in league.”

Mitch Walinski, ’98, F. Former King returns to organization after playing in the Midwest.

Krystof Stuchlik ‘98, F. A Czech import who is “very skilled,” Gurskis said.

 

Syracuse Jr. Stars

The Stars (out of Cicero, N.Y.) have operated at several different levels, from high-level midgets to nearly every level of junior, except for tuition-free. That era begins here in 2017-18.

“With the NCDC, we have been able to bring in a different caliber player than we could in the past,” said Stars head coach Paul Kelly. “We have a good mix of younger guys getting their first taste of junior hockey as well as some guys who have junior hockey experience.”

Stars teams have typically been strong on defense, and Kelly expects that to continue. Transitions will be tough for opponents to break up.

“Offensively, we will be balanced and expect production from all four lines,” said Kelly.

Promising newcomers

Mack Hancock, ’99, F. Left winger played Jr. A in Ontario, “will be a big-time scorer.”

Luke Israel, ’98, F. Former Salisbury School standout “is poised for a big year after injuries slowed him down last year.” A faceoff specialist, he can also contribute on the scoreboard.

Kalle Sundell, ’97, D. Joins from the Jokerit U20 junior team in Finland. “Small and quick, he loves to be offensive and has a physical side to his game as well.”

Wes Mankowski, ’00, G. With size, work ethic, “has all the tools to be a top goalie.”

Anthony Tzveyn, ’97, F. In his third year of junior, “he should be an offensive leader for us.”

****
Nothing else to say, but “Drop the puck!”

 

Top photo caption: Dallas Farrell carries the puck during the 2017 Dineen Cup finals against the Islanders Hockey Club. Farrell is a University of Maine commit who is returning to the Junior Bruins to play for their NCDC squad. Photo by Joshua Boyd

Read past USPHL articles in our archives:

USPHL Prepared UConn’s Freeman For D-1 Career, Toronto Prospects Camp

NHL coach, Minnesota Blue Ox owner sees value in USPHL mission

New USPHL teams excited about future in NCDC, Premier Division