The 2020-21 hockey season was full of challenges and disappointment for many who saw the challenges of a world in pandemic trying to find ways to stay on the ice amid restrictions and precautions.
It’s nice to see a successful conclusion on a season like that and for Jack Fuss, it ended up being an amazing campaign as, this time last season, he wasn’t even thinking about playing.
Ultimately, he couldn’t give up on the game though. He returned to play for Head Coach Chris Walby and the Minnesota Mullets, and his time there ultimately ended up with him being pursued by the St. Scholastica Saints. As a result, he finds himself back at a college campus again this fall, but this time, as a student athlete.
Fuss, a 5’9” 180-pound defenseman who turned 20 on Sept. 8, is a resident of Edina, a hockey player factory on the outskirts of the Twin Cities with a high school team that plays in the annual State Championship tournament regularly.
Looking for a little more hockey exposure, Fuss decided to take his act to Wisconsin as a high school junior playing AAA for the Madison Capitols.
“We played somewhere around 60 games and it was great for my development,” said Fuss in an email interview. “We played teams like Shattuck and Culver, so it was good competition.
“I went back home to Edina High School for my senior year. I was supposed to play on the varsity team that year, but because of transfer laws in the MSHSL, I was not allowed to play. I ended up having to play for the Junior Gold A team that year.”
Fuss dealt with the disappointment, but it was a bit of an unexpected gut punch for the player.
“It was a good year,” said Fuss. “But also, it was hard for me because I wanted to play for EHS ever since I watched my brother win a state title there in 2014.”
Fuss finished high school and moved on to college in the fall of 2020, temporarily leaving the sport behind.
“I started off last year, just going to school at the University of St. Thomas and I wasn’t playing any sports. I was a full-time student, but I stayed in the weight room. With about four weeks left in the first semester there, I realized I didn’t want to go to school and not play hockey, the sport I have been playing all my life. Hockey has been a big part of our family forever and not playing just felt weird.”
“I reached out to Coach Walby and asked him if there was still a spot for me on the team or not and thankfully, there was,” said Fuss. “As soon as I found out he had a spot for me, I went down and skated with my dad’s team in Sioux Falls. He coaches the 18U Sioux Falls Power hockey team.”
The layoff wasn’t long, but Fuss realized he needed to shake off some rust and he worked hard to prepare.
“It was my first time skating in over 10 months, so I stayed out on the ice for a while and just trie3d to get back into it as fast as I could,” said Fuss. “After about two weeks of skating, I started skating with the Mullets and I was fully a part of the team. After the first two practices I knew I was going to love it. I got along with every single person on that team and really felt at home.
“After a few weeks on the team, I started to play with Darren Shykes a lot and he as my D-partner for most of the season. I played 11 games and then sadly, I got a bad ankle injury that took me out for the rest of the season.
“I played in the first game of playoffs, and everything went well, but five minutes into the second game I re-injured it taking me out of the game.”
The short but exciting experience had Fuss looking forward to returning for another season with the Mullets and Coach Walby looked forward to him being a key player on the defense corps. Showcase tournaments through the season give players like Fuss to get noticed by college and university scouts, but the process got rushed a bit along the way.
“I got contacted by the Head Coach at St. Scholastica and they told me they needed a right-handed defenseman, and I was the first person they contacted,” said Fuss.
It turns out the Coach had watched a few hours of Mullets film and had a good idea of what the defenseman brought to the table. He just couldn’t pass up a chance to play for the MIAC school that had expressed a need for what he could bring.
“They said they were going to start talking to me this next year on the Mullets to play with them in the 2022-23 season and they were already on the list of schools I wanted to possibly play for. Some things happened and opened the door for me to come in and play a year early. My goal coming back was to play hockey for a Division 3 school and I felt like it was something I just couldn’t walk away from.”
But there is another draw that plays an even bigger role.
“On top of that, my brother is a senior at the school, playing for the hockey team and I thought it would be cool to play on a team with him. He is four years older than me so it always seemed like it would be impossible to ever play with him.”
Fuss has already started taking classes at Scholastica and will major in Business Management.
His time with the Mullets and Coach Walby may have been brief, but Fuss said it played a huge role in helping him achieve his goal of playing college hockey.
“If it wasn’t for Coach Walby, none of this would be happening. He took me and had confidence in me, knowing I had been away from the game for quite a while.
“He told me he knew that I would be able to adjust and get back into it the right way. I will never forget what Coach Walby has done for me and I am very thankful.”
The Mullets are also thankful for what Fuss brought to the team in the 2020-21 season and wish him luck with both his education and hockey career at St. Scholastica.
Connor Leslie could get used to this life - which would be a good idea, as he’ll be living it for the next four years.
“I just finished school a few hours ago, got out to the gym, and now I’m here talking with you,” said Leslie, about one of his early yet busy days at Amherst College. The former Twin City Thunder NCDC goalie is enrolled and just waiting (and hoping) to start with official team practices in October, the beginning of his NCAA hockey career.
“Amherst reached out to me during Hub City Tampa, a few weeks in, I want to say in February,” said Leslie, a 2001-born native of Leesburg, Va. “They offered me a spot in March, so I was technically committed then, but couldn’t make it official until I actually got accepted into the school.”
Amherst College plays in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, NESCAC, a collection of institutions often referred to as the “Little Ivies” due to their high level of academic standards and achievement. Leslie is certainly excited to be taking on that challenge in addition to facing NCAA shooters.
“Everything I had heard of NESCAC schools is true, especially Amherst, with how rigorous it was getting into the school. The coaches were by my side and my family as well, when I was going through the process,” added Leslie. “I had great grades when I was in high school and finished with a 4.39 GPA, which was beneficial. I also submitted a good essay, including talking about what I want to do after school.”
Part of these post-collegiate plans include pro hockey, but he definitely has a fall-back plan, one that may include wearing dark suits, dark sunglasses and a sidearm.
“Whether it’s possible to go pro in hockey - and nothing is impossible - my career interest is getting into the Federal Bureau of Investigation or some other government agency like that,” said Leslie. “When I was a sophomore in high school, I was in a program called FBI Junior Agents In Training, and I learned all about the different fields that the FBI works in, and I learned a lot about domestic terrorism. It was super-compelling.”
However, as aforementioned, he would not rule out going for a pro career - he has the determination to help his team, as he helped the Thunder to its first-ever NCDC Championship Series, competing in the semifinals against eventual Dineen Cup champions the Jersey Hitmen.
He played in 18 games and registered a 3.20 goals against average.
“By far, the Thunder were my most favorite team that I’ve been on in terms of team morale, and a great coaching staff - I always knew they’d make me better, not just as a goalie but as a person,” said Leslie. “They had everything together - practices every day, working out whenever we wanted to. I loved the facilities we had, the Auburn area was good and I liked the billet home I was at.”
At one point, the Thunder’s season was not only paused but its completion was threatened when the governors of seven states from Maine down to New Jersey banned interstate hockey games. The USPHL came to the rescue, creating Hub City Tampa, which featured a closed community setup where players got to go to Florida, play games and practice in nearby arenas and only otherwise remain at a full-service resort in Wesley Chapel, Fla., where they had all their meals, played golf, swam, played tennis, and fished.
“When we went to Hub City, that made our team closer than before - we were always together, and the atmosphere was unreal. Being in Tampa was really nice. We got to be in sunny weather in January and February instead of in the cold of Maine,” said Leslie. “And we got to have fun with the sport we love.”
Leslie was certainly thrilled with the work he got in not only with the Thunder bench coaches but also Goaltending Consultant Joe Clark.
“At the beginning of the season, I was a bit nervous, going into my first year of juniors. I still had to work on different parts of my game - strength, being vocal, playing the puck, my depth in net,” said Leslie. “By the end of the season, I had really worked on all of those and corrected those things I had been struggling with in the beginning. By the end, I felt like a true junior goalie, and now a college goalie. I can bring those skills and be able to develop, enhance and incorporate them at the NCAA level.”
The USPHL congratulates Connor Leslie, his family, the Twin City Thunder and Amherst College for his commitment.
The Florida Eels are thrilled to announce their 21st college commitment for last season's team.
Ryan Chambre is off to University of South Florida to play his college hockey for the university's ACHA college hockey program.
Chambre played both Premier and Elite for the Eels. A solid puck moving defensemen, he was selected as a league All-Star at the Hub City and was numerous times named a Player of the Week and Player of the Month.
"We wish Ryan the very best at USF. He makes us very proud," said General Manager Frank Scarpaci.
When August 2021 showed up on the calendars at the Wisely home, 2001-born Carter Wisely was expecting to go back to the Islanders Hockey Club Premier squad to be a defensive leader for one of the Premier Division’s regular title contenders.
Now, however, he is packing his bags to become a college student - and a college hockey player as well. Wisely committed late in August to Elmira College, a late development that was extremely exciting for Wisely and his family.
“It’s a last second thing, going in this year, right before their season starts,” said Wisely, a native of Syracuse, N.Y. “I’m happy with everything they have done for me, and what they’re going to do.”
Elmira first reached out to Wisely in early August, as they suddenly had one roster spot they had to fill.
“I had another year of eligibility with juniors. I went on a visit and loved it there, though,” said Wisely. “I love that Elmira is a hockey town, and I really found what I wanted to find in a school, academically - small school, small class sizes, which makes it easier to learn. I am super excited about the hockey program and they’re moving to a new conference. The coaching staff is super-trustworthy and super-invested in me as a hockey player and as a human being. They are going to be developing me as a four-year player, not just leaving me on my own.”
Elmira’s Soaring Eagles are taking flight to the New England Hockey Conference starting this season, and will face the likes of Norwich, Babson, Hobart and UMass-Boston now on a regular basis.
“The NEHC is an unbelievable conference with great teams. It’s a little further away [from many opponents], but we’ll make great memories on our bus trips,” he added.
Wisely knows a lot about programs that invest heavily in their players, as he just came off a huge year with the Islanders Hockey Club, one that saw the team make a convincing push in the National Championships. Only a tiebreaker kept them out of the semifinals.
“I couldn’t have made a better choice. I loved playing under coach Jay Punsky,” said Wisely. “He’ll do anything for his players. He works with you on a daily basis, every single day. We get after it with the Islanders Hockey Club, you work so hard in practice. It doesn’t matter where we are in the standings, we’re always pushing to get so much better.”
Wisely played in 24 games in the regular season and three more in the playoffs. He posted a pair of goals and six assists for eight points, and also emerged as one of the team’s most accurate passers. He executed 288 tape-to-tape passes for an 87 percent success rate, fifth best on the IHC team among players with at least 100 passes.
“Defensively, we had a really strong D corps from top to bottom, we were super deep and we all loved each other as a team,” said Wisely. “We were all rooting for each other to play well, and also fighting each other to get into the lineup.
“Nationals was a cool experience,” he added. “It was a little disappointing with a tie in the final game, because we thought we were the best team there. But I wouldn’t trade any of that time, it was a great experience for everyone.”
All of a sudden, this month, Wisely has found himself scrambling to change plans - he was physically and mentally prepared to be an age-out leader for the Islanders this season, but now he finds himself suddenly an incoming NCAA hockey player.
“[My preparation] has changed a lot, I’m in a little bit of a rush,” he said. “Now I’m the underaged kid instead of the age-out in juniors. I’ll be up against bigger, stronger players and I have to catch up and mature to get on everyone else’s level in college.”
The USPHL congratulates Carter Wisely, his family, the Islanders Hockey Club and Elmira College for his commitment.
COVID changed so many plans during the infamously memorable year of 2020, and defenseman Charlie Spence was certainly swept up in having to act on his feet last year.
In the end, it was serendipitous, as a full season of playing NCDC hockey for the Boston Junior Bruins has now resulted in his NCAA Division I commitment to the College Of The Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., where he will begin his college hockey career in the Fall of 2022. He will return for a second season with the NCDC Junior Bruins in 2021-22.
Originally, the 2002-born Boston native Spence was planning to play his senior season for Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. When that season was canceled, his opportunity to play with the Junior Bruins NCDC season opened up.
“My Split Season [Little Bruins] coach Peter Masters recommended I try out for the NCDC, as he expected the prep season would not be played,” said Spence. “I was with the Junior Bruins for the whole season, and it was a good learning experience. The league was really good, with kids coming from the USHL and BCHL, and it was really good competition.”
Indeed, Spence played 25 of the Junior Bruins’ 42 games, posting a pair of goals and two assists during the regular season. He also had two assists in the Junior Bruins’ six-game postseason that saw them reach the NCDC semifinals. Spence honored the USPHL for its forward thinking initiative of bringing the entire NCDC down to Florida when the season was in jeopardy last fall due to northeastern U.S. COVID restrictions specifically banning interstate hockey travel between the New England states and New Jersey, accounting for most of the NCDC footprint.
“I thought Florida was a great opportunity for everyone to be able to play while other players were at home locked down,” said Spence. “The teams kept adding players and getting better as the time went by. You also had the visibility where a lot of college coaches were at home watching HockeyTV.”
This included Bill Riga, who took the Head Coaching position at Holy Cross after 13 productive and successful years as the Associate Head Coach for a Quinnipiac program that twice made the Frozen Four in his time there, both times reaching the National Championship Game.
Additionally first-year Holy Cross Assistant Coach Eric Sorenson played his junior hockey for the former Syracuse Jr. Stars, now the Utica Jr. Comets, another NCDC Member Organization.
Fellow Assistant Coach Castan Sommer is a Holy Cross alum and resident of Shrewsbury, located about halfway between the Junior Bruins’ home base in Marlboro and Worcester itself (Riga himself is from Westboro, next to Marlboro). Volunteer Assistant Coach Bobby Butler is a former Junior Bruin, former Junior Bruins Director of Player Development and veteran of 133 NHL games.
From top to bottom, the incoming Holy Cross coaching staff were all very familiar with the Junior Bruins - two former Junior Bruins, goaltender Thomas Hale and defenseman Michael Higgins, are on the 2021-22 Holy Cross roster. Two other 2020-21 Junior Bruins - Joe Solimine and Coleman Jenkins - are also bound for Holy Cross.
And with its proximity to Marlboro, the Junior Bruins players are very familiar with their closest Division I school and its illustrious space in the game - no one will ever forget when 16th-seeded Holy Cross ousted top-seeded Minnesota in the opening round of the 2006 National Tournament.
“They first reached out to me around the start of [this] August. My Head Coach Mike Anderson put them in touch with me. I went and toured the campus four weeks before I committed. It’s a good spot with good facilities,” said Spence. “In terms of hockey, I like the new coaching staff they put in place. I think they will help change the hockey culture at Holy Cross. In terms of academics, I love the fact you can get a really good education and still play in a Division I program.”
Spence is excited in the meantime to return for another season with the Junior Bruins. The 2019 Dineen Cup Champion Junior Bruins are going to look to bring the Cup back north after the Jersey Hitmen captured it this past March. Along with team goals, Spence has individual improvement goals in mind.
“I want to improve upon my physicality and decision-making - I want to think the game a little quicker, because college hockey is a faster pace,” Spence added. “[This summer], I’ve just been working and skating and working out, staying local.”
He has more than a year to decide his educational path on Mount Saint James, but he already has some ideas of where he’ll go.
“I’m sort of undecided right now. I’ll probably go into something related to finance, something with a math degree,” he added.
The USPHL congratulates Charlie Spence, his family, the Boston Junior Bruins and the College Of The Holy Cross for his commitment.
When the time came and colleges were able to talk with Chris Delaney on January 1, the University of Massachusetts was right there on his phone.
They kept the conversation going within the allowed parameters, and on August 1, when they were able to offer him a future spot with the Minutemen program, they were there on the phone again.
Delaney, coming off nearly 10 years with the Boston Junior Bruins organization - most recently with their NCDC program in 2020-21 - now has his future path set, as he will arrive at the flagship Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts beginning with the 2023-24 season as a true freshman.
“I started talking with them the first day I could [Jan. 1], and they showed interest with what they could talk about,” said Delaney. “I did an unofficial tour in June of the school, and August 1, when they could officially offer me, I knew from the start that was where I would commit.”
The Minutemen are the defending NCAA Division I National Champions, which is obviously a draw for any recruit, but even without that hardware won in April, Delaney said he would certainly still have committed, as there’s obviously so much more to the Minutemen than their first D-I title.
“The main thing for me was the culture there. Every time I talked to them, it was about the culture and character you have to have going into the school,” Delaney added. “I talked mostly to [Assistant Coach] Jared DeMichiel, and he reinforced about the program having the best character players. The facilities are also top-notch.
“[The championship] shows that the coaching staff would push their players to their highest limit, and that each year, they’re going to be in the Frozen Four,” he said.
There’s another type of commitment that Delaney feels very passionate about, and that was the 10 years that he spent with the Boston Junior Bruins program, from his Mite years straight up through this past season with the semifinalists in the Tier II National Collegiate Development Conference.
“The Junior Bruins program is one that any kid from around New England should join, because of the development, the people, and the character that everyone has,” said Delaney. “[Co-owners] Peter and Chris Masters pave the way. I’ve known them since I was 7 years old, and I always just trusted the process with the Junior Bruins. They’re so caring - it’s not the hockey ability with them, it’s the people. They’ll take care of anyone.”
He also talked about current Junior Bruins 16U coach Topher Bevis as having a great impact on his earlier career within the USPHL from 2018 to 2020.
“Topher was my skills coach from when I was 7, so I credit him for a ton of my success,” said Delaney. “Being a 13-year-old when I was first playing 16U, I was able to get that second season to develop.”
As a 15-year-old, Delaney was already a USPHL All-Star, playing in the 16U game. That was only his first appearance in that star-studded affair, as he was also named to the NHL Prospects Games of both Jan. 18 and Feb. 8 at Hub City Tampa.
His NCDC season of 2020-21 was evidence of Head Coach Mike Anderson seeing his potential as a 16-year-old and Delaney living up to that potential right from the get-go.
“[Coach Anderson told me] ‘When you have the opportunity take the most of it.’ I ran with it and stuck with the NCDC for the entire year,” said Delaney. “The program is just top-notch. They’ll bring you the most eyes. I credit the Junior Bruins for all of my success.”
Delaney not only made the most of his opportunity, but he finished fourth in scoring on the Junior Bruins with eight goals and 23 assists for 31 points in 37 regular season games. He was astronomical in the playoffs, leading the team with 10 points (1-9-10) in six postseason games.
“I improved my vision and speed the most. I really had to pick up my speed to play against bigger and older guys, and the hockey IQ came with it, seeing the game better at a different and faster pace,” said Delaney.
Delaney knows full well there is always another ladder to climb, so he will be taking his game for the next couple seasons to the Tier-I level in the United States Hockey League, playing for the Chicago Steel until he arrives on the UMass campus in 2023.
“The Junior Bruins care about their players and getting them to the next level. They cared about my decision and they really want me to take the next step and play against even better players,” said Delaney. “I’m excited to play there a couple seasons.”
Delaney said that, while he “can’t control [his] height,” which is 5-feet-6-inches, there is plenty he can control to become a greatly impactful NCAA player when he arrives in Amherst.
“The main thing will be getting faster and stronger, that’s what I can control,” he added. “It’s just about being the fastest and strongest and hardest-working kid.”
Delaney also looks forward to the impact to his life outside the rink that UMass will have, though he is still keeping an open mind as to his exact educational path two years from now.
“It’s definitely very early. They do have one of the best business schools,” said Delaney. “The way the school is perceived, it’s definitely a harder school to get into academically.”
The USPHL congratulates Chris Delaney, his family, the Boston Junior Bruins and the University of Massachusetts for his commitment.
Sometimes you just know when you’ve found your next home. That was the feeling for Gabe Potyk, the big, high-scoring forward for the NCDC’s Twin City Thunder this past season.
He laid eyes on Saint Mary’s University and learned about its hockey program first-hand, and he just knew.
“I couldn’t say no,” said the 2000-born Lake Orion, Mich., native. “They reached out to me during Hub City Tampa, I kept talking with them throughout the year and after playoffs, I toured three different schools. St. Mary’s is an amazing spot.”
Potyk brought both his size (6-feet-4-inches, 225 pounds) and a big offensive game to the Thunder in 2020-21, helping the team reach the NCDC semifinals in just their second season of existence. He scored 13 goals and 12 assists for 25 points in 30 regular season games, adding five more goals and one assist in five playoff games.
“My entire life, I’ve been dreaming of playing college hockey, and I’m really happy to be achieving my goal at such a good school as Saint Mary’s,” he added.
The Thunder brought in Potyk as a third-year junior, and even with his experience, he still had to earn his way to eventually becoming a dominant force.
“I played on the fourth line at first and worked my way up to the first line. The coaches always had my back,” said Potyk. “I never gave up my top six spot [once I earned it]. I also learned a lot about maturity and always being a leader on the team.”
On the ice, there were several other areas that Potyk improved upon.
“Speed, finding the open areas of ice, finding the spots where the puck is going to be and getting there,” said Potyk.
All of this was learned through a massively frustrating, start-stop-start season for the Thunder, who almost saw their season shut down last fall due to COVID restrictions that disallowed cross-state travel by hockey teams between the New England states and New Jersey - essentially the entire NCDC footprint. The USPHL had the novel idea of taking a page from the NHL and, while they didn’t create a true “bubble,” the Hub City Tampa closed-community concept was born and all the NCDC teams got six full weeks of games in to keep the season going in Florida.
“It was especially frustrating going into a game and having it get canceled one day before [in November]. But our work kept going and going and we went to Tampa and did pretty well, and we figured out our rhythm,” said Potyk.
The Thunder emerged from a three-team pack to decide which squad went to the NCDC Championship series in Pennsylvania. Their semifinal opponent were the No. 1 seeded Jersey Hitmen.
“It was a big test. We had brought them to OT [in the Hub]. We were more than ready and excited for that test,” said Potyk. “Unfortunately, one too many mistakes didn’t go our way.”
The season may have ended that Saturday evening in the semifinals, but Potyk kept working in the knowledge that he would continue his career somewhere.
“This summer, I’m just trying to focus on my wind sprints, and keeping my conditioning up since I know I’ll be going up against 25-year-olds,” he added. “Improving strength and speed have been my top goals.”
He’s not only excited for college hockey, but obviously the educational side as well.
“I really liked their business intelligence and finance double major, which is a big pull,” said Potyk. “Also, the coaching staff wants a team that wants to win every year, and they prove it, with the video work they put in every day.”
The USPHL congratulates Gabe Potyk, his family, the Twin City Thunder and Saint Mary’s University for his commitment.