As the National Hockey League (NHL) opens its 2019-20 season, the NAHL alumni presence on opening night rosters continues to remain steady and significant.
The NAHL is pleased to announce that a total of 40+ NAHL alumni are listed on opening night rosters of NHL clubs. 21 of the 31 NHL clubs begin the season with at least one NAHL alumni on the roster.
The list also includes former NAHL Coach of the Year Jon Cooper, who enters his sixth full season as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Cooper began his NAHL coaching career with the Texarkana Bandits in the 2003-04 season. He coached in the NAHL a total of five seasons. In 2004-05 and again in 2007-08, he was honored as the NAHL Coach of the Year.
Earlier this summer, a total of 90+ NAHL alumni attended NHL Development Camps and the league also saw six players with NAHL experience selected in the 2019 NHL Draft held in Vancouver, BC.
For the third straight season, the NAHL has gone over 300 NCAA commitments in a single-season. In 2019, the NAHL once again set a new single-season record as 351 players were committed to an NCAA school during the 2018-19 season. 232 of those commitments (66%) were to NCAA Division I schools.
In the past five years, not only have 1,400+ NAHL players made NCAA commitments, but 30 players with NAHL ties have been taken in the NHL Draft.
Anaheim Ducks: Patrick Eaves, Cam Fowler, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Miller
Arizona Coyotes: Phil Kessel
Buffalo Sabres: Matt Hunwick
Calgary Flames: Austin Czarnik
Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad
Colorado Avalanche: Ian Cole, Erik Johnson, Matt Nieto, Colin Wilson
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nick Foligno
Dallas Stars: Ben Bishop, Roope Hintz, Stephen Johns
Detroit Red Wings: Jimmy Howard
Los Angeles Kings: Derek Forbort, Blake Lizotte
Minnesota Wild: Alex Stalock, Ryan Suter, Jason Zucker
Montreal Canadiens: Christian Folin, Keith Kinkaid
New Jersey Devils: Andy Greene, Kyle Palmieri, Cory Schneider
Ottawa Senators: Craig Anderson, Ron Hainsey
Philadelphia Flyers: James van Riemsdyk
Pittsburgh Penguins: Jack Johnson, Bryan Rust
St. Louis Blues: Justin Faulk
Tampa Bay Lightning: Pat Maroon, Kevin Shattenkirk
Vegas Golden Knights: Jon Merrill
Washington Capitals: Nic Dowd, Phoenix Copley
Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck, Tucker Poolman
For the second year in a row, the Metro Jets will represent Team USA and venture overseas to participate in the Junior World Cup Tournament involving some of the world’s top national junior teams.
Last October, the Jets, representing the United States, won a bronze medal at the Junior World Cup Tournament in Beijing, China, and today, will head to China to play in the same event. This time, the event will be hosted in the beautiful CenturyStar Arena in the Changping District, which will also serve as host arena for the 2022 Olympic Games.
Jets coach-GM Justin Quenneville sees the tournament as a win-win, both on and off the ice for his team that will be made up of players from the entire Jets organization.
“We are excited to be invited once again to this prestigious international tournament,” Quenneville said. “To represent the USA was an honor for our organization last year and we couldn’t have been happier to walk away with a bronze medal. The competition was strong with some of the other country’s national junior programs competing, and we know it will be a difficult tournament again this year. We look forward to the experience and for many of our players, a once-in-a-lifetime one.”
For the players, going to China is an amazing time. Just ask Jets forward Anthony Cinato.
“What stood out the most to me was the level of hockey over there, and of course, being across the world and seeing the sights,” Cinato said. “Our main goal is to bring back gold and experiences that will last a lifetime.”
At the event a year ago, the Jets defeated Germany 8-0 to open the tournament, then downed Finland 5-2 before losing to Russia 2-1 and Belarus 3-1 and wrapping up with a 3-2 win over Latvia. The Belarus U18 National Team was crowned with the gold medal and will be returning to defend.
“We know we are lucky our program was selected again, and we will do our best to represent the USA again,” said Quenneville. “With that said, we are playing against some national programs and our guys are still getting used to each other early in the season. So we will take it one game at a time.”
Away from the rink, the team will visit some of the country’s breathtaking sites, such as the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and the city of Beijing itself.
Once back home, the Jets will host the USPHL Detroit Showcase from Oct. 11-13 at their home rink, Fraser Hockeyland.
There is one particular player on the ice at Northern Cyclones practices for their National Collegiate Development Conference team that immediately commands attention.
This player is moving at an elite-level pace that not many in the junior ranks have seen on the same ice surface, and making the correct decisions in split second time.
Indeed, the Cyclones are practicing with an Olympic Gold Medalist in 2018 women’s hockey champion Kali Flanagan. She was named a new NCDC assistant coach earlier in September for the Cyclones.
“Watching her practice, her poise with the puck is at an elite level, and she makes more smart plays than I’m used to,” said Cyclones captain Will Gavin. “She’s not only coaching us, she’s out there practicing with us, training towards the next Olympics.”
“I’ve been around the program for so long. I grew up playing with boys with the Cyclones, so it’s good to be able to give back to the Cyclones program that gave me so much,” said Flanagan. “[The NCDC players] are all fast, skilled and talented. It’s a great group of guys, and it’s going to be a fun year.”
The Cyclones interviewed other players for the assistant coaching position, but none could match the hockey ID and literally Golden resume of Flanagan.
“I think it was a no-brainer, and she’s the one who came to me with the idea,” said Cyclones Owner and NCDC Head Coach Bill Flanagan. Bill is also Kali’s father. “She’s been around the game since she was in diapers watching Daddy coach. She wants to see if she wants to make a career out of coaching.”
A defenseman herself, Kali Flanagan worked with the Cyclones blueliners during the preseason and that is expected to be her area of specialization throughout 2019-20.
“She did a great job handling the defensemen in our first scrimmage [on Sept. 10], her first time on the bench for a game,” said Bill Flanagan. “It’s a feeling-out process for her. I think as we go forward, she’ll become more vocal. Right now, she’s observing and is in my ear about what she thinks about certain players and certain ways to do things.”
“She’s already talking about getting the defensemen more active and involved, to be confident and make plays,” Bill Flanagan added. “Being a dynamic defenseman herself, she wants our defensemen to be well rounded and sound both offensively and defensively.”
Gavin said that he and his teammates are certainly excited to work with a player and coach of Kali Flanagan’s caliber, as her voice of experience will carry a lot of weight.
“She’s seen what the higher level looks like, having played in so many high-pressure situations,” said Gavin. “It’s a different perspective. The women’s game is a little different, but she could teach us a lot that we don’t know.”
Kali Flanagan began her hockey career as a forward, before moving into defense full-time at the Squirt (10-andunder) level.
“I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but I learned to love playing defense and being part of the rush as well,” said Flanagan, who started as a figure skater until she switched to hockey at age 6.
By Middle School, it was becoming clear to the Flanagan family and all who knew Kali that she was separating herself from her hockey peers, both boys and girls. She began to make some of the highest-ranked teams available to young women - and in high school, USA Hockey came calling for the first time.
“I was invited to the Under-18 World Championship 28-person camp in my junior year of high school. I didn’t make that team, and I asked myself, ‘Am I going to get better from here, or just let it be what it is?’” Kali said. “I made the decision that making Team USA was 100 percent what I wanted to do. I had wanted to make the Olympic team from the time I was a little girl, and I knew it’s something I could possibly achieve if I put the time in.”
Skating essentially every day, working hard before and after practice, going to bed early, eating right - Flanagan stuck to the work needed to achieve that Olympic dream.
“If I set my mind to do something, it has to be done all the way,” she said.
One bullet list item happened when she received a scholarship offer from, and played for, Boston College.
USA Hockey first brought her on board with the Under-22 team, “but I still didn’t have a sniff at the senior women’s team.”
Finally, in her junior season (2016-17), she made the senior team and helped Team USA win the World Championship that spring in Michigan. That December, USA Hockey named Kali to her first Olympic Games.
“I was 3 years old when the ’98 team won Gold. They were a huge inspiration, being the first womens’ hockey team to win Gold,” said Kali. “We were striving to be like them, so definitely they’re a huge inspiration for us.”
For the fifth time, Team USA found itself up against Team Canada for the Gold Medal. After four straight Gold Medals won by Canada, Team USA said “enough is enough,” and climbed to the top of the podium together.
“It’s so hard to describe. It’s a surreal, special experience just to be able to represent your country in the Olympics,” said Kali. “To be able to bring home Gold to the USA for the first time in 20 years was just amazing.”
“She’s a great person, No. 1, so at the end of the day I’m a proud father, always,” said Bill Flanagan. “She’s superseded everything I could possibly imagine. At the end of the day, this is all gravy, to spend quality time together to do something together that we both love doing. It’s going to be fun.”
Gavin also expects it to be productive. An Air Force recruit, he is working towards his own Division 1 career and many other Cyclones are working towards college spots.
“She’s been through it all,” said Gavin. “She was recruited to play Division 1 college hockey, and everyone on our team is aspiring to play college hockey. She knows what it takes to reach that goal, and even another step beyond that.”
There’s a very positive vibe around Erie, Pa., where the Lake Erie Bighorns have begun their USPHL existence with a 4-1-1-1 record.
Head Coach Kyler Speice said that he expected nothing less than the best from his team. They may be new to the USPHL Premier Division, but they put as much stock in the word “expansion” as did the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the guys. I’m a competitor myself, and anytime you lose - whether it’s regulation, overtime or shootout - it stings. I don’t like to lose,” said Speice. “If you’re at 75 percent, you’ve gotten 75 percent of your points, so I look at it that way. We’ve only lost once in regulation, once in the shootout and once in overtime. The work the players are putting in for me and for the organization is something that is really special.”
The Bighorns’ USPHL existence began Sept. 13 with a 3-1 win at home against another new team, the Columbus Mavericks. The Mavericks defeated Lake Erie in OT the next night, and then the Bighorns won a home-and-home series with the Pittsburgh Vengeance, once in the shootout and once in OT.
Goaltenders Hunter Meyette and Elias Lindvall have gotten a lot of credit for the Bighorns’ strong start. Meyette is a ‘99 from Erie, also home to the Bighorns.
“You look at your local guys who haven’t gotten a lot of opportunities, and you wonder, but right away, Hunter stole us a game in Pittsburgh, posting 53 saves and giving up just one goal in a shootout,” said Speice.
While Meyette is a local product, Lindvall (also a ’99) has traveled more than 4,000 miles as the crows and airplanes fly, from Pietersaari, Finland.
“He’s gone 1-1, and they’ve been an unbelievable tandem - they support each other, and are just unbelievable teammates,” Speice added. “They get it.”
The Bighorns start October with their toughest test yet, the 5-1-0-0 Toledo Cherokee, who were leading the Great Lakes Division at press time.
One weekend later, over Columbus Day Weekend, they’ll make the trip to Fraser, Mich., where at the Detroit Showcase, they will face Midwest East opponents the Metro Jets Development Program (MJDP), Midwest Blackbirds, Motor City Hockey Club and the Detroit Fighting Irish. They finish October with two games in Lansing before resting over a bye week to end the month.
The United States Premier Hockey League and Eastern Hockey Federation combined to form the Nation’s Largest Amateur Ice Hockey Organization for a very important reason. That is, to give players of all ages (to 20) a chance to develop at the right level and climb this unparalleled hockey hierarchy towards a college hockey career.
After the first full season of the USPHL and EHF working together, there has already been great early success. The 2018-19 season yielded 321 NCAA commitments, coming from six different levels.
These NCAA-bound players played in 2018-19 in the tuition-free junior National Collegiate Development Conference; the Tier-3 junior USPHL Premier and USPHL Elite Divisions; the full-season USPHL Midget Divisions; the split-season Midget EHF Selects Division; and there were even four players in the EHF youth hockey ranks who committed to NCAA Division 1 schools for future seasons.
The NCAA institutions are not the only colleges to benefit from the USPHL/EHF player development model. American College Hockey Association (ACHA) schools saw commitments from 145 players, largely from the USPHL Premier and Elite Divisions. There was also a handful of players who will advance to Canadian college hockey.
National Collegiate Development Conference
The NCDC was founded in 2017 as the first tuition-free junior hockey league entirely located in the Eastern United States. The NCDC began as an 11-team circuit in 2017-18 and has expanded to 13 squads for 2019-20.
Each year, the teams include players who join NCDC squads with NCAA Division 1 commitments already in hand, while the majority make their college commitments while playing in the league.
More than 30 NCDC players in 2018-19 held NCAA Division 1 commitments, with 70 more NCAA Division 3-committed players skating in the 12-team league. Many of those same players have returned to the NCDC for 2019-20, including the league’s leading scorer (as of Sept. 27) Johnny Mulera.
The University of Connecticut recruit Mulera, of the Boston Junior Bruins, recently hit the career 100-point mark in regular season NCDC play, standing alone at the century mark as the all-time leading scorer for the league.
Other players have come from outside the NCDC with NCAA commitments already in hand to hone their skills in the league, such as Islanders Hockey Club forward Cy Leclerc, an ‘02 committed to the University of New Hampshire for 2021-22.
“I had a choice between Midwest Tier-2 and the NCDC, and I thought the NCDC would be better for my development. The Midwest is more of a hitting league, and I wanted to be in a more skilled league, where I could fit in better, and I thought the Islanders Hockey Club would be a good fit,” LeClerc said.
“Out of this season, I hope to get re-drafted into Tier-1, and also become a better player, learn the game more, improve upon my speed and knowing where I need to be at all times - and win a lot of games,” added LeClerc.
The NCDC, and the USPHL Premier Division before that, has developed many players who have already experienced great success in the NCAA Division 1 ranks (see attached story).
USPHL Premier/USPHL Elite
In late April, Pittsburgh Vengeance goaltender Jacob Zab became the first USPHL Premier player to commit to an NCAA Division 1 institution for hockey since the creation of the NCDC. Zab is on the 2019-20 roster for the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
“They have three new goalies coming in, and he is one of those three. They had reached out to our goaltending coach Shane Clifford, and Shane presented to me early in the spring that they might look for him to come in and be part of the goaltending battle,” said Vengeance President, GM and Head Coach David Dorsey. “After that, we didn’t fully expect to hear anything, but we got a call from their assistant coach who went through the process of asking what kind of kid he was - his work ethic, how he was off the ice. Jacob went on a visit and they were impressed.”
The 52-team USPHL Premier has a vast footprint, ranging from Minnesota to the west and north, Maine in the far northeast, and Florida in the Southeast. Within this league structure, divisional and showcase play keeps travel to a healthy limit.
The USPHL Premier division, which saw more than 220 college-committed players skating for its teams in 2018-19, attracts a large amount of NCAA Division 3 scouts each year from all across the Division 3 landscape.
With the league’s unparalleled Showcase Series, players on teams in the Florida Division have the chance to skate in front of Boston-area coaches as many as three times a year, as do players from the Midwest, who also play regularly in front of Midwestern college scouts.
Additionally, as the USPHL Premier is a younger circuit than the NCDC, there is a lot of inter-divisional movement. This year, 35 former USPHL Premier players had already skated in the NCDC in the first two weeks of league play.
The Affiliate Program, in which NCDC teams have as many as three USPHL Premier affiliates, will see that number rise throughout the 2019-20 season.
The USPHL Elite also sends players to NCAA hockey, as the Northern Cyclones’ Matt Irwin (the league’s second-leading scorer) proved with his commitment to Framingham State University in Massachusetts.
The goal of most USPHL Elite players is to advance to higher levels of junior hockey, and with more than 140 Elite players from 2018-19 now in the USPHL Premier, it’s “mission accomplished.”
USPHL Midget Divisions
The United States Premier Hockey League offers full-season 18U, 16U and 15U hockey, and each division saw players make NCAA commitments. A total of 24 players in 2018-19 held commitments for future seasons, with 22 of those committed players bound for Division 1 institutions.
A number of these committed players have seen the benefits of the multi-tiered USPHL development model and have remained in the league, albeit at higher levels. Liam McLinskey, an 18U All-Star player with the Jersey Hitmen who committed to Quinnipiac University over the summer of 2018, is now with the Hitmen’s NCDC team.
“Their assistant coach saw me playing in December  a couple times. I met him, and they asked me to visit, and I went up there and fell in love with it,” said McLinskey, in a fall 2018 interview. McLinskey was a USPHL 16U player for the Hitmen when he committed.
University of New Hampshire recruit Aidan Curran - who committed out of the USPHL 16U Division - advanced to the NCDC’s New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs last year, and was named 2018-19 NCDC Rookie Of The Year.
Gleb Veremyev, an ‘03 who committed from the USPHL 15U Division to Western Michigan University last spring, remains with the Rockets Hockey Club. He has moved up to their USPHL 16U team, the No. 12-ranked 16U team in the nation (as of Sept. 25).
EHF Selects Split-Season Midgets
The EHF Selects Division is home to many of the highest-ranked Midget teams in the country, including the top-ranked Tier-1 18U team, the Boston Jr. Eagles.
EHF Selects players typically suit up for their teams from August through November, before playing for their prep school or public high school teams.
Those who qualify for USA Hockey Nationals regroup in late March to play for a championship, as six EHF Selects teams did in 2019.
NCAA coaches recognize the advanced skill level of the EHF Selects and it was no surprise to see 62 NCAA-committed players in the league at various age levels last season. Already this season, several dozen EHF Selects players hold NCAA commitments, including Anthony Messuri, of the Cape Cod Whalers. He committed in September to Northeastern University.
“To my knowledge, I was never getting looked at by Northeastern until I joined the Whalers organization,” Messuri said. “I cannot thank the Whalers enough for what they did and putting me out there and allowing me to play on the team.”
This Division also led the way for the USPHL at the NHL Entry Draft, as 10 of the 19 players with USPHL/EHF ties who were selected had played for EHF Selects teams.
Eastern Hockey Federation
The recruiting battles for top talent begin young, and so it was no surprise when ‘04 and ‘05 players from the Eastern Hockey Federation’s youth divisions made NCAA Division 1 commitments for as far away as four years from now.
Michael Stenberg was with the South Shore Kings Elite 14U team when he committed to Penn State University for 2023-24. He had also played for the Boston Jr. Terriers in his younger years.
Stenberg and his Kings teammate Brady Berard won the Elite 14U Championship in the EHF last winter, and Berard committed in late April to Providence College (2022-23).
William Smith, of the Boston Jr. Eagles 14U squad, committed to Northeastern University for the 2023-24 season.
Ryan Fine, who played with the 2005 Elite team for the Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers, was the first ‘05 born hockey player to commit to a college team. He gave the nod to Boston University for the 2023-24 season.
So, as you can see, you can play anywhere in the USPHL developmental model, from EHF youth hockey to the National Collegiate Development Conference, and the college scouts will be watching as players hone their skills in the Nation’s Largest Amateur Hockey Organization.