The Fourth of July is a distant memory, and even the Labor Day weekend is in the books. That can only mean one thing - it’s time for some serious junior hockey to happen.
The South Shore Kings brought their NCDC players in ahead of the holiday to get underway with training for a season that will begin on Sept. 23, two weeks distant from the publication of this story. The players are working hard every day on the ice, in the widely-acclaimed Edge Performance Systems off-ice facility and even staying on ice after practice to work on skills.
It is all towards the goal of having complete and total depth at every position when the Kings’ NCDC season begins two Thursdays from now against the Islanders Hockey Club, the very first game on the 2021-22 NCDC calendar.
“We have a lot of depth. Even having 20 NCAA commits last year, I look at this team as potentially deeper, with some great surprises,” said third-year Head Coach Drew Omicioli. “Right now, we actually have five powerful lines and 10 defensemen, so we have three to four cuts to make and those are going to be extremely difficult.”
Last year, the Kings moved up from 11th in Omicioli’s first year (when he was working largely with a previous coach’s recruits) to fourth overall by winning percentage in 2020-21, so you know the Kings are only looking upwards from here. Teams all across the NCDC have lost many of their top players to NCAA Division I ranks, while the Kings bring back one of their D-I commits who absolutely lit up the league last season.
Chikara Hanzawa joined the Kings in November of 2021, and he finished sixth in goals (21), 12th in overall points (40) and 14th in points per game (1.21). Along the way, he committed to Sacred Heart University for 2022-23 while in the early stages at Hub City Tampa, the movement of the whole league to Florida that unquestionably saved the 2020-21 season and put the USPHL squarely in the junior hockey spotlight last winter.
Hanzawa is confirmed to be playing on the first line once again with two very exciting NCDC newcomers, including Tim Heinke and Pavit Mehra. Heinke (‘01) was a standout during his time at Avon Old Farms School, and Mehra (‘04), who was with the Cape Cod Whalers program the last few seasons.
“Heinke is a very strong player. He’s not committed yet, but we are talking to teams right now, so he will be early on,” said Omicioli. “Mehra is one of many strong ‘04’s, including also defenseman Emerson Miller and forwards Sett Ursomarzo and Liam Cochrane.”
Miller and Ursomarzo are both OHL draft picks who are more interested in pursuing the NCAA route, the coach added.
Additionally, the Kings are excited about their older players as well, such as ‘01’s Yotaro Nakadate (from Japan, like Hanzawa), and Canadian defensemen Jaxsen Wyatt and Cole Leal. Leal is a former USPHL player, having played with the Northwood School. He skated in 25 total USPHL games, including the 2018 and 2019 USPHL 18U playoffs.
Nolan McDonough and Cam Collins, a pair of ‘02’s, represent the Kings signing some of the top local talent available in Massachusetts. They hail from the Winchendon School and St. Sebastian’s, respectively.
Looking at the 2021-22 NCDC season, Omicioli is hoping and expecting that the league will continue in the vein of attracting overall better players and featuring greater parity as was seen in the landmark 2020-21 season, when the NCDC was one of the only junior leagues in North America to run a full season in its traditional calendar time frame.
“Everything is about parity and having great games across the board. You see in other leagues blowouts, and teams going undefeated, but the NCDC is all about parity and having that great level of competition,” Omicioli added. “I feel confident with where we are going to be as a league - I think we’ll be right back where we were and I think we could be stronger. Those are the expectations of what I want and what everyone should want, and I am confident with the organizations that we have in the NCDC that they will all live up to that expectation.”