Rochester Vipers excited about new home, new opportunities

By Jim DenHollander/USPHL.com 06/15/2019, 7:00pm EDT

 

The sophomore Vipers will return to the United States Premier Hockey League’s Midwest West Division, looking to build on its first season with a change of venue.

Formerly the Kasson Vipers, the squad is heading into the city, moving 20 miles down Highway 14 to Rochester where the team will play at the Graham Arena Complex at the fairgrounds.

Team owner/general manager Todd McIlrath said the team was more than happy with its opening season in Kasson, a small town between Rochester and Owatonna, and the sole reason for the move is to play in an arena with more seating and additional space for the team.

“Actually, the hockey market in Kasson was awesome,” said McIlrath in a telephone interview. “[Rochester is] just a bigger arena that will allow us to attract more fans, which will help us recruit more players. We weren’t necessarily looking for something better, just space really.”

McIlrath is hopeful the Kasson faithful will continue to support the team and make the short trip into Rochester.

“I sure hope so,” said McIlrath. “The good thing was, we built some really strong relationships with youth hockey, players, parents and coaches. [We have a] good relationship with the high school coaches now. We expect to maintain a decent amount of our fanbase.”

The location will be the only change for the team.

“We have the same staff, a very similar logo, the same color scheme. We’re just getting some new digs,” added McIlrath.

Other than the move down the street, the Vipers will continue to build off the grown pains it went through in the opening season and look to climb higher in the Midwest-West standings – last season the Vipers finished at 10-31-0-2, wrapping up the eighth and final playoff spot in the nine-team division.

“Last year we were sort of recruiting from a blank slate and that was fine, as a staff, we were able to mold this into whatever we wanted to,” said McIlrath adding it was difficult being a team with no record or history to stand by.

The benefits of having a returning core of players as well as players and parents who can relay their own experiences to others should help the team attract players as well.

“In today’s day and age in junior hockey when there’s 150 teams in America, it’s important that people are able to reach out and kind of talk to each other, discuss one product against another,” said McIlrath.

One benefit to a year of experience, and a turnaround season for the Steele County Blades out of Owatonna, should be a strengthening of a great geographical rivalry that existed instantly.

The two teams played their best games against each other.

“I think that kind of rivalry will kind of always exist. I know Nik (Adamek – Blades’ Coach/GM) well. We’re excited to see where it goes over the next couple years. It’s always exciting games for us and I think it was great for our guys to establish a rivalry with a team so close to them.”

 

The United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL) congratulates former Islanders Hockey Club standout Zach Sanford for winning his – and the St. Louis Blues' – first-ever Stanley Cup Championship on Wednesday, June 12. 

The Blues dominated the Boston Bruins, 4-1, in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final for their first title in the franchise's 52-year history.

For the fourth time this series, Sanford found himself on the stat sheet with one point, this time finding the back of the net late in the third period extend St. Louis' lead, 4-0, and seal their storybook ending.

Positive feedback all around as players depart NCDC Combine

By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com 06/09/2019, 11:00pm EDT

The inaugural NCDC Combine, hosted by the Lansing Wolves, finished on its third day. The day’s agenda was light, with a pair of morning games followed by exit interviews with every single player present. 

Much of the line of questioning had to do with getting feedback on the first-time event. Every single player asked praised the organization of the event, the competitive level, the off-ice training sessions and the opportunity to be seen by, and to talk privately with, NCDC coaches.

The NCDC Combine also featured a college hockey seminar featuring Michigan State University assistant coach Jason Muzzatti, former Michigan State player, Hobey Baker Winner and Muzzatti’s fellow NHL veteran Kip Miller, and former Ferris State player and WCHA Outstanding Student-Athlete Of The Year Chad McDonald. One day later, there was an information seminar about the NCDC and the USPHL overall, with a Q&A session featuring five NCDC coaches. 

The feature the players brought up the most were the off-ice workouts run by U.S. Army National Guard First Sergeant Jeremy Wahlberg, also the Wolves’ Strength and Conditioning Coach. The Combine started on Friday with one of these workout sessions - before the players even touched the ice. 

Players who had been to similar events run by other leagues or organizations had never seen off-ice workout sessions like this, especially before their first game, and they liked that feature. 

The fact that players were brought to private conference areas to talk with NCDC coaches immediately after games was also a feature they hadn’t seen much in other similar events. 

Wolves assistant coach Allan Avery ran a special goaltending session on Saturday afternoon, with all 16 goalies present, helping to supplement the 15 minutes per game that the goalies were playing. Goalies in the interviews received position-specific critiques and praise, and the Wolves and the NCDC were praised in turn for including this session as part of the inaugural Combine.  

“The drills in the goalie session were applicable to game play,” one goalie said. 

As for the seminars, players praised how the topics and subject matter were geared more to them than their parents, and one said, “They taught you how to handle your career; how you get what you give.” 

One player summed it up perfectly: 

“It was the best combine I’ve ever attended.” 

******

Acknowledgements

The United States Premier Hockey League and its tuition-free National Collegiate Development Conference would like to thank the Lansing Wolves staff of Doug Bailey, Dennis Canfield and Allan Avery for their organization prior to, and hard work during, the inaugural NCDC Combine. They planned and executed an incredibly well-run inaugural event on behalf of the NCDC and hockey players in Michigan (and beyond). 

The USPHL and NCDC thank Wolves staff photographer Art Frith for his hard work and great photos throughout the event. 

The USPHL and NCDC thank U.S. National Guard First Sergeant Jeremy Wahlberg for planning and running all of the off-ice training sessions. 

The USPHL and NCDC also thank the staff of The Summit Sports and Ice Complex in Dimondale, Mich., for hosting, for their hospitality, and their assistance, during the event.

The USPHL and NCDC thank Michigan State coach Jason Muzzatti, Kip Miller and Chad McDonald for taking part as guest speakers in the Friday night College Hockey Seminar.  

The USPHL thanks NCDC coaches Bill Weiand, Paul Kelly, Tony Dalessio, Nate Bostic and Jim Hunt, as well as Deputy Commissioner Dave Peters, for taking part in Saturday’s USPHL Informational Seminar. 

The USPHL thanks all of its coaches in attendance and wishes all of the teams and players the best of luck in the coming 2019-20 season (and beyond).  

Former Jr. Eagle, Whaler Struble dominates at NHL Combine

By James Murphy/USPHL.com 06/09/2019, 9:00am EDT

Former Cape Cod Whaler and St. Sebastian’s star defenseman Jayden Struble absolutely dominated the recent NHL Combine and has NHL teams drafting late in the first round and early in the second round taking notice. 

Struble, currently ranked 48th amongst North American skaters NHL Central Scouting rankings, finished first in five of the 18 events while placing in the top five of four others. In total, he finished in the top 25 in 13 events.

“He had some teams re-evaluating their own rankings and plans for sure,” one NHL scout told USPHL.com. “They knew he had skill but not sure they knew how fit he was and how strong he is.”

Struble is committed to Northeastern University for the 2020-21 season. The Cumberland, R.I., native had a goal and six assists in 11 EHF Selects games with the Jr. Eagles in this past season and he also had 10 goals and 30 assists with St. Sebastian’s (ISL) in 28 games.

NCDC Combine brings in players from wide array of backgrounds

By Joshua Boyd/USPHL.com 06/08/2019, 11:15pm EDT

 

The first two days of the NCDC Combinem, hosted by the Lansing Wolves, passed with two good, close games played by more than 80 prospective players. 

It started with a hard workout before each game, run by Jeremy Wahlberg, a First Sergeant in the Army National Guard and the Strength and Conditioning coach for the host Lansing Wolves. Day 1 ended with a seminar featuring three former NCAA Division 1 players, including two who are NHL alumni and one who was a Hobey Baker Award Winner. 

Saturday featured a second workout with First Sergeant Wahlberg, further games, and a goaltender-specific ice session (with Combine skaters as the shooters). Saturday afternoon also featured a symposium about the USPHL, and specifically the NCDC. Five NCDC coaches took questions and spoke about the different opportunities for development in the NCDC and what they look for in players. 

 

Paths converging in Lansing

The Combine has attracted players from a wide array of backgrounds. There were certainly several (17 to be exact) players looking to move up from the USPHL Premier to the tuition-free National Collegiate Development Conference. 

Due to the location of Lansing, being in Central Michigan, there were also more than a dozen players out of Michigan high school hockey. Six players from the NA3HL and five players out of the NAPHL came out to the NCDC Combine. Six other athletes played the majority of their time in the 2018-19 in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League. 

The Central States Developmental Hockey League and National Junior Hockey Prospects League were well-represented with six coming each of those leagues. 

Other sources of the talent were the High Prospects Hockey League, EHL Premier, American College Hockey Association, Superior International Junior Hockey League, Western States Hockey League, as well as players from junior leagues in the United Kingdom and Australia. 

Another Eels making his mark in the world arena 

Tournament of 4 nations in Piestany, Slovakia

 

New formed national team of Slovakia U20 was member of really competitive 4 nations tournament in Slovakia this year as usually. The head coach of the Slovakian national team U20 was Ernest Bokroš, The coach selected 23 players with year of birth 2000, his team played against national teams from Russia, Finland and Czech Republic. 

National team of Slovakia consisted of players who the most play in their home country or Czech Republic, but there were few players for example from Sweden: Martin Vitaloš or Sebastian Čederle even from USA Filip Škorec, who is playing USPHL Premier for Florida Eels team. The training camp begun 4 days before the first game. The team had to used to on rigidly rules from head coach Bokroš. The main point was playing for 100% defense and then utilize every mistake of opposite team. 

Slovakia started tournament against national team of Russia U20. The game was fast hard and most of the time really organized. Slovakia did not let the russian team play their hockey. They were catching all of the russian passes and they were protecting the defense zone almost perfectly. After the first period  the slovakia had 17 shots on the net and Russia only 8, but the Russian team was winning 1:0 in the end of the period. The Slovak national team did not give up. They were working hard until the end of the game, but russia showed their power and skills and the slovakian team eventually lost much more than their deserved

Next game was against Finland. The players from Finland were extremely fast and they could shot from every angle, because of that the slovakian goalies had to be focused on every puck with direction to their net. This match wasn't as physical as last one, it was more about skating. The game had even better start than the last game. Slovakian team shot fisrt goal after one of the mistakes of finland´s defenseman, but unfortunately the finland team scored right after the goal and then again, so the slovakian team had to reorganize the game and they did it successfully. After first period the score was 2:2. During the second period sSovakian team was able to play more of the time in the finland defense zone, but after few mistakes and penalties by slovakian team. The team Finland scored twice. Even in the third period the game was still really fast and the atmospehere by spectators was still increadebly helpful for the slovakian team, but in the end of the game the score was 6:3 for team Finland.

Last game was national derby, the Slovakia national team against the Czech Republic national team. This was the third game during the three days, so both teams had less power, but still they were playing for 100%. The game was fast and full of hard hits, also with some fights, because neither of teams did not want to lose, so everybody was trying what they can, but that was the main reason of mistakes on both sides, because players were losing their focus on the tactic instructions. Even though the Slovakian team had 33 shots on net and the Czech team had 22 the final score was 3:1 for Czech national team. 

This tournament was great experience for new forming team of Slovakia U20. They could compare their level of skating and ice hockey skills with the players from the peak of the Junior hockey. Even though they did not get any points from the tournament, but they received valuable experience for their ice hockey careers and now on the beginning of the way to World Championship U20 they know what to improve to beat the strongest teams.

Northwood School’s Monds commits to Providence College

By James Murphy/USPHL.com 06/08/2019, 10:15pm EDT

Northwood (USPHL 18U) forward Cody Monds has committed to Providence College. Monds had eight goals and 13 assists in 21 games for Northwood this past season and was a force for Northwood School with 36 goals and 59 assists in 66 games. 

 

The 5’10, 154-pound Brockville, Ontario native is excited to become a Friar for the 2020-21 season.

 

“I am really thrilled to commit to Providence,” Monds told USPHL.com. “Coach Leaman, Coach [Ron] Rolston and Coach [Kris] Mayotte made the decision easy. I’m excited to see what the future holds and to get started with them.”

The first day of the NCDC Combine passed with two good, close games played by more than 80 prospective players.

It started with a hard workout before each game, run by Jeremy Wahlberg, a First Sergeant in the Army National Guard and the Strength and Conditioning coach for the host Lansing Wolves. Day 1 ended with a seminar featuring three former NCAA Division 1 players, including two who are NHL alumni and one who was a Hobey Baker Award Winner.

Jason Muzzatti, the assistant and goaltending coach for Michigan State University spoke to the players about handling themselves with dignity, self-respect and respect for others, something college coaches and recruiters pick up on quickly. He recalled a story in 2007 when none other than Steve Yzerman carried Muzzatti’s goaltending equipment bag out of the airport just to help a fellow hockey player. Dignity and Respect personified.

He also spoke about hockey being a ramp, with untold numbers starting from the bottom (Learn to Play, Mites, etc.) and climbing, but many falling off due to a lack of dedication or work ethic, in most cases. Even then, luck plays into hockey fortunes, or lack thereof, at times.

Muzzatti was a first round NHL Draft pick, but a change of general manager with the Calgary Flames saw another goalie selected in the first round the next year, and a new Russian goalie coming in that found Muzzatti in a tougher situation for playing time than expected. Bad luck for another goalie - Sean Burke - in the form of an injury led to a goaltending change in which Muzzatti earned his first win, and then two more in a row that led to his being named among the NHL Players Of The Week in 1995.

Chad McDonald, a former junior player out of Lansing who went on to play four years of college hockey at Ferris State and two years of pro hockey, recently retired to go to law school. He spoke of the importance of being equally as dedicated to education as to hockey. He spoke of the same falling-off process in hockey as Muzzatti and the need to focus on having a plan in case all of your athletic dreams don’t come true. McDonald speaks from experience - he is a three-time WCHA All-Academic selection and winner of the WCHA’s Outstanding Student-Athlete Of The Year Award.

To add to all of this wisdom being passed down was the voice of Kip Miller, whose resume is vast. It includes the Hobey Baker Award (1990) with Michigan State, and a career of more than 400 NHL games and more than 1,200 total pro games. Along the way, he skated alongside legends of the game like Joe Sakic, Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux.

He remarked on those players’ natural gifts, but he and Muzzatti both spoke most highly of their former Michigan State teammate and current Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour.

“A guy like Rod comes to town and you just follow his train,” said Miller. “My full workouts were his warm-ups.”

He also echoed Muzzatti’s point that sometimes luck goes hand-in-hand with that hard work. Some players will be at the mercy of coaches looking for a particular role that needs to be filled on their team. That was the case when he was picked up on waivers by Pittsburgh and found his way onto Jagr’s line.

Overall, the players in attendance got a priceless look at what it takes to play and succeed in hockey at the highest levels as well as in the real world.