Tag Archives: 2018-19

NAHL Recap: Knights Fall 4-3 in Overtime to Open Showcase

The Knights touched down in Minnesota to meet the Topeka Pilots for game one of the NAHL’s annual Blaine Showcase. The contest kicked off with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton controlling the early tempo, outshooting Topeka 10-5 in the first 20 minutes of play. It would be the Pilots however that would strike first.

13 minutes into play, Zeke Zeier broke up a Knights pass in his own zone, speeding up the ice and onto the attack. In the left corner of the Knights zone, Zeier turned the puck back up ice to teammate Dallas Tulik. In similar fashion to a goal scored against the Knights last week, Tulik juggled a puck in his skates and onto his stick, avoiding Knights pressure all the while. Once cleanly in space, he fired a shot past Knights starter Zach Stejskal to build a 1-0 lead.

Four minutes later, number four for the Knights notched goal number one of his junior career. Off a faceoff, Gabe Temple and Sacha Guillemain went to work on the side boards. Guillemain found the puck off of Temple’s poke check, and fired it across the ice to the wide open Davis Pennington. Pennington roofed the puck under the bar, popping Sam Metcalf’s bottle up into the air to knot the game at one.

In the second period, the Knights would capitalize on a carry over penalty to grab their first lead of the game. Behind the net, Jake Fuss would win the puck off the wall to a fast-moving Sacha Guillemain. The latter popped out on the left post, and flipped the puck across the slot to a crashing Gabe Temple. Temple shoveled the puck by Metcalf for his first goal of the season and the Knights 2-1 lead.

Through an evenly played middle period, Metcalf and Stejskal hunkered down to keep the score close. The third period would change the narrative.

The Pilots would surge ahead in the middle of the frame. At 9:09, Tulik would strike for his second goal of the afternoon set up by Quinn Green. A few minutes later, Zeke Teier would notch his second point of the day and first tally of the season when he was set up by Joel Brandinger and goalie Sam Metcalf.

The Knights wouldn’t trail for long. On another power play, Luke Robinson found Sacha Guillemain, who sent a pass to Temple for the game-tying goal. Both forwards would finish with three points on the day.

The score would remained locked into three-on-three overtime. After a brief exchange that ate the first few minutes, Topeka would find the game-winner. Brenden found Brendan, as Rons fed Schultz for the game-winning goal past Stejskal.

The Knights earned their first point but will look for their first victory tomorrow when they take on the Brookings Blizzard at 1:30 PM central. Tune in on www.hockeytv.com and follow along on Knights social media!

Preview: As they Arrive in Blaine, Veterans Look to Lead Knights to New Heights

Photo: Jessica Kovalcin

The Knights opened their regular season this past weekend with a pair of contests against the Johnstown Tomahawks. Neither game went the way the team wanted, but the experience each game provided will serve the team well moving forward.

According to eliteprospects.com, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s roster is the youngest the NAHL when considering the average age of their players. Of the 25 that make up their team, six made their junior hockey debut last weekend. Another six have played in 20 games or less, meaning all would be “rookies,” by NHL standards. In stark contrast, the other half of the roster has combined to play a staggering 947 games in junior hockey. Many of these veterans nearly tasted Robertson Cup glory and few months ago. They’re eager to not only go back, but to bring their young teammates with them.

“You want to be a leader,” said defenseman Luke Robinson. “You want to fill the leadership role. It’s definitely an adjustment period. There’s some younger players with us this year. I can relate to what they’re going through. In practice if they have a bad pass or if they’re nervous going into a drill, I can kind of just talk to them and say ‘Hey, I was in the same situation and I was nervous doing that also. Just work through it and it’ll work out. There’s a reason you’re here-you’re talented enough to be here.’”

Robinson was third on the blue line last year, picking up a goal and 16 points in his first full season with the Knights.

”I want to be some one they can look to. I want to make sure that when I’m on the ice, I’m doing the right things so they pick up on that and realize how to be successful at this league, or how to work your way up the lineup, you have to be doing these things. Working out, stretching, warming up, taking shots after practice, things like that. I want to be that  leader, someone they can look up to, just being a good example.”

Robinson is joined by fellow right-hander Shay Donovan on the blue line, whose resume includes 105 games played in the NAHL.

“Yea I plan on it,” said Donovan on stepping into the role of a leader. “I plan on setting a tone early on, leading the young guys, showing them how you prepare for the season, how you handle yourself in the weight room, on the ice, however that may be. The older you get, the more games you have played and the more that becomes important.”

Lincoln Hatten is a 2000-born forward with more than just a powerful build. In his first season, the forward would join fellow rookies in becoming a catalyst for last year’s postseason run. The Texas-native scored a goal in the semi-finals against the eventual Robertson Cup Champion Shreveport Mudbugs.

“We just have to stay focused throughout the season,” said Hatten. “The grind never stops. You’re going, going, and going, but I think when we got to the Robertson Cup last year, we kind of took our eye off the prize a bit. We sat back that first game we were there and they brought it to us. We just gotta keep our foot on the gas pedal, keep moving forward, keep doing what we’re doing and get there. I think this year, being there last year, all the vets have thoughts in their heads about going back, things to differently so we help ensure that we can get it done.”

As far as the advice he offers to those following in his footsteps, Hatten refers them to his coach’s message for guidance.

“I tell them to listen to TK on the ice,” he said. “He just keeps repeating to stay mentally tough. It’s a mental sport. If you let a kid get in your head, like if you’re on the boards as a winger you can’t the puck out, and if you let that start affecting you, you’re not going to get the job done. Just staying mentally strong, just working hard every shift, making sure you get the fine details-making sure you get every little thing done right, that’s how you become successful.”

On a similar note, Robinson stressed that harnessing adrenaline and the mental aspect of the game is crucial to a fast start.

“Honestly, I think it’s feeling those nerves and use that to your advantage on your first shift,” said Robinson. “Just feel nervous, go out and move your legs, get a hit, get a shot on goal, just kamikaze it. Just know there’s a reason you’re here, you should be confident in that, and go play your game.”

“I think the biggest thing, looking around the division, not knowing what everyone else has coming back, but I’d say experience is going to be our biggest asset,” said Donovan. “Just having four guys who are veterans back, that makes a huge difference in bringing the young guys along. It helps everyone grow up really fast. Just heading into games, everyone is so much more experienced. I think we have a lot of skill as well, especially from our draft picks. We added some size and skill, some guys who can really skate with it. I think something that we’re really going to have to work on a bit is the physical aspect of the game. It’s something hopefully us older guys can show the younger guys. TK always stresses clearing the front of the net, being tough in our own end, getting pucks up-we have some really good forwards to go along with it.”

“I’m excited to see what we have in store,” said Hatten. “Practices have been great, high-tempo, a lot of body, and just a lot of grit down in the corners. We’ve put a lot of hard work in.”

“I’m gonna bring the same style, focus more on scoring  goals this year, and getting in a few opponents’ heads,” said Gabe Temple, the team’s newest captain. “I just want to help lead the team back to the Robertson Cup playoffs and hopefully win this year,”

KNIGHTS BLAINE ROSTER:

Forwards:
#9 Zak Currie, RHF
#10 Beck Moore, LHF
#11 Jake Fuss, LHF
#15 Lincoln Hatten, RHF
#16 Sacha Guillemain, RHF
#17 Anthony Starzi, RHF
#19 Jason Stachelbeck, RHF
#22 Gabe Temple, RHF
#23 Mathew Kahra, LHF
#24 Tyler Nielsen, RHF
#25 Brett Postula, LHF
#26 Jacob Badal, LHF
#28 Jeffrey Bertrand, RHF
#29 Will Otwell, RHF

Defensemen:
#2 Greg Japchen, LHD
#4 Davis Pennington, LHD
#8 Blake Krkyska, LHD
#12 Evan Orr, LHD
#14 Joey Verkerke, RHD
#20 Shay Donovan, RHD
#21 Jordan Strand, RHD
#27 Luke Robinson, RHD

Goalies:
#1 Samuel Vyletelka
#35 Zach Stejskal

  • Notes:
    “I think our speed,” said Donvan of what he felt is his team’s most impressive skillset. “To make this team-I think everyone skates really well. I think as a d-corps we skate really well, and that’ll help transition the play up to the forwards. If we can play fast in transition, we should be the fastest team in our division. I think that’d really help us and that’s something that TK and Whitey really look for.”

 

  • “Our ability to transition,” Robinson agreed. “Being able to join the rush, to make it instead of a 3-on-2, a 4-on-2 and just have the confidence that we can even get back if we have a turnover and cover for d. We have guys who are very good skaters on the blue line. If we can beat that first forechecker as a defenseman and move it to an open guy, head-man the puck, we can hopefully join the rush.”

 

  • The Knights most experienced tender from last year is also one of their youngest, as Alaskan standout Jeff Bertrand returns in 2018-19. The future Nittany Lion cut his teeth in the NAHL in the best possible way, playing in a handful of regular season games before joining the roster for the entirety of the 2018 playoffs. The big right-handed shot scored his first goal with the Knights against the then-named Philadelphia Rebels en route to the Knights sweep of one of their arch rivals last postseason. This year, Bertrand scored the Knights first goal of the season on their first shot in their home opener Friday.

 

  • Jacob Badal is one of the few players younger than Bertrand on the Knights roster this season. He scored his first goal of junior hockey on Saturday night against Johnstown on a sharp-angle snipe.

 

  • Three graduates of the Knights EHL roster combined for a goal on Friday. Anthony Starzi and Jake Fuss fed Tyler Nielsen for his first goal of the season.

 

  • Zach Stejskal, the Knights most recent first-round pick, comes to the team following a year in the USHL with the Central Illinois Flying Aces. From the moment he steps on the ice, Stejskal can’t be missed. The hulking netminder stands at 6-5 but moved with the quickness of a smaller goalie at Knights main camp. The team is excited about the Minnesota-native’s arrival.

 

  • “He just has a great mentality in net. It’s the type of mentality you need in net to say ‘Screw this I’m not getting scored on’ type of mentality. He’s super calm-no freak outs-he’s always supportive of his guys, and he’s got some really good experience to go along with that.”

Penalties Spoil Opener for the Knights in Close Loss to Johnstown

The 2018-19 NAHL season kicked off for the Knights on Friday afternoon, as the team welcomed the Johnstown Tomahawks to the Revolution Ice Centre. Game one of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s East Division title defense began with the Tomahawks jumping out to a fast start, as their high-paced forecheck quickly established a physical presence.

Knights 2018 first round pick Zach Stejskal was tested early and often, but responded with a flurry of impressive saves, using his 6-5 frame to dismiss Johnstown’s initial chances.

Following the expiration of the game’s first penalty just minutes into the first, Jeffrey Bertrand hopped out of the box and into an interception as the Nittany Lion commit plucked an exit pass off the Johnstown blue line before starting in on Tomahawks goalie Kade Phipps. Alone in front, Bertrand ripped a shot through to give the Knights their first goal and lead of the season (unassisted).

Stejskal and the Knights penalty kill would withstand Johnstown’s steady barrage through the remainder of the period, leaving the ice with a 1-0 lead.

The second period followed a similar pattern; Johnstown controlling the pace, while Stejskal and the defense stood tall. A disallowed goal in the period only motivated Johnstown as their forecheck redoubled their efforts to solve Stejskal.

The Tomahawks would finally break through just shy of 37 minutes of being held off the board. After Stejskal fought through a pair of screens, he lost his balance trying to make a save on a blocked shot from Anthony Mastromonica. A falling Mitchell Hale found and poked the loose puck into the open net for the game-tying goal. Chris Trouba tallied the secondary assist on the score.

Heading into the third, penalties continued to sap any rhythm from the Knights forecheck, with Johnstown continuing to win the 200-foot battle.

Finally, the Knights found their stride four minutes into the third period. In transition, Anthony Starzi found Jake Fuss streaking through the Johnstown slot on an odd-man rush. Alone in front, Fuss waited for Phipps to commit to moving forward, before handing a quick pass off to Tyler Nielsen. Nielsen buried the open-net goal to complete the Knights EHL-alumni trifecta, re-establishing the one-goal lead.

The lead held through more Johnstown pressure, as the Knights protected their advantage well into the second half of the period. One Tomahawks near miss came when Chad Merrell rang a shot off the crossbar, missing the equalizer by mere millimeters. Not to be deterred, Merrell tried going high again at the 13:21 mark and was rewarded, as his perfectly placed snipe beat Stejskal to again even the score (Colin Price, Alex Wilkins).

Another Knights penalty would prove costly in the game’s final four minutes. After going a perfect four of four on the kill through 56 minutes of play, the Knights kill team was finally bested for the Tomahawks first lead. Off of a Hunter Toale pass, Samuel Solensky found himself parked in the middle of the slot with the puck. Waiting until Stejskal moved to answer the challenge, Solensky slid a perfect backdoor pass to a waiting Cameron Hebert, who ripped the puck home for the Tomahawks first lead with just under four to play.

The Knights attempted rally saw a few chances and an extended time in the attacking end after Stejskal was pulled for the extra attacker, but Johnstown held on to secure the 3-2 win.

In the loss, Zach Stejskal was excellent, stopping 51 of 54 shots on goal. On the opposite end, Kade Phipps was steady in the win, making 16 saves for Johnstown on his way to his first victory of the 18-19 season.

The pair of teams will rematch today at 3:30 pm EDT. The game will be broadcast on www.hockeytv.com. Follow Knights Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for in-game updates!

 

 

NAHL Trade: Knights Acquire Sacha Guillemain from Kenai River Brown Bears

In a homecoming of sorts, the Knights added to their forward group Tuesday night, completing a trade that brought them the talents of Sacha Guillemain. A native of Mont-Saint-Aignan, France, Guillemain has a number of ties to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton organization.

For starters, he’s already played for the Knights once before. In 2015-16, Guillemain wracked up a combined 30 goals and 28 assists in 55 regular season games between the Knights 16U and 18U teams (NAPHL and AYHL). In the NAPHL 16U postseason, he posted a lucrative nine goals and three assists in just four games played.

“I’m pretty excited-excited to come back to a place that knows me, and a place that I can add to,” he said. “I want to make a big playoff run. Last year I didn’t get the chance with Kenai. Last year the Knights did pretty good, so I hope that I can help them have an even better season that they did last year.”

After his first stint with the Knights had concluded, Guillemain’s efforts gained the attention of another prominent youth program: Meijer AAA Hockey. Alongside the familiar faces of future Knights players Tyrone Bronte and Brett Postula,  Guillemain potted 14 goals and 19 assists in 26 games in 2016-17.

“It’s just fun to know that you’re coming back to see familiar faces that you’ve played with before,” he said. “I’d say that I’m a pretty offensive forward. I like to use my hands and speed. I’m sure I’m going to be a good fit with everybody.”

Following the signing of a tender agreement with the Kenai River Brown Bears, Guillemain ascended to the NAHL ranks last season with a solid rookie campaign.  In 56 games, he notched 7 goals and 22 assists, including one helper in his first game back at the Revolution Ice Centre.

“I really worked on my conditioning this summer,” he said of how he’s spent the time since. “Last year I felt like I wasn’t at 100% all the time, so I worked out a lot this summer. I think I’m in great shape to start the year this year.”

“Sacha is a player we have some familiarity with,” said Knights head coach Tom Kowal. “We’ve seen him as a member of our organization and as a member of others, and he’s consistently been an impact player wherever he’s been. You can’t have enough playmakers on your hockey team. We feel that by bringing Sacha back into our program we’ve added a player who’s not only talented, but has improved since we last saw him.”

Guillemain will join the Knights as they prepare for their preseason contest against the New Jersey Titans, with puck drop set for this Friday, September 7th at 6:30 pm EDT. The game will be free to all those who attend. Follow Knights social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as the Knights embark on their journey to #SeizetheThrone in 2018-19!

Knights Trade for Tendered Defenseman, Jordan Strand

Shortly after their 2017-18 season came to a close, the Knights made a trade for 2018-19, acquiring tendered defenseman Jordan Strand in a trade with the Chippewa Steel (formerly the Coulee Region Chill).

The 19-year old spent most of 2017-18 as a key presence for a Sioux Falls JR. Stampede U18 team that went to the NAPHL’s playoffs this past February. After a regular season that saw him record a goal and eight assists in 15 games, Strand produced at a point-per-game rate on the biggest stage, scoring two goals and four points in four playoff games. Offense however, is his not his primary focus.

“I’m more towards a two-way defenseman, he said. “I take care of the d-zone first. That’s my main goal; to shut down the other team’s top line and then chip in on the offense too. I go into every game with the mentality that I really, really enjoy playing the good teams and shutting down their top players. Coming from Minnesota high school hockey, we had a bunch of top-notch players and that was my favorite thing. Going against these guys that get drafted in the NHL or are going division one, and I go against those guys and shut them down. When I’m on the ice, I just want to make sure those top guys don’t get points. For the offensive side, I guess I go into every game hoping to get a point or at least help my buddy or my line mate get a point, but I like to be a shutdown d, that’s my main thing.”

“Jordan is a steady shutdown defenseman that has the ability to log big minutes on the back-end,” said Knights assistant coach Andrew Whiteside. “We are excited to add Jordan to the right side of our defensive core.”

Strand has already had a taste of NAHL hockey, after playing a pair of games with the Minot Minotauros in 2017-18.

“Last year I was kind of going in blind,” he said. “I didn’t quite know what I was getting into. From my high school, I’m one of the first players to go on to play junior in quite some time. Now I know what I’m getting into. Playing in Sioux Falls this past year has gotten me way more prepared to go into it. Seeing the NAHL practices with Minot, playing in games, you realize how fast it is. That’s prepared me for this offseason training and going into next season.”

So what does the Cottage Grove, Minnesota native know about a junior hockey team from Pennsylvania? The Knights most recent trip to the State of Hockey grabbed his attention.

“I heard a little bit,” he said of the Knights. “The teams that made it to the Robertson Cup final four, I was looking up. Being with Minot, I knew about Wilkes-Barre. I knew that they were a good team, a talented team. I didn’t know about the coaching staff, or where they were located, before I was traded, but I knew they were good.”

“Nowadays you can’t have enough skill on the blue-line,” said Knights head coach Tom Kowal. “We wanted to add a player with Jordan’s ability to play good defense in his own zone, while also having the ability to transition into a playmaker up the ice. Bringing him into the fold helps not only our defensive depth, but continues to add versatility to our team as a whole. It was an easy trade to make.”

In trading for Strand, the Knights believe the benefits extend beyond just the ice. A former captain for Park High School, Strand leads by example.

“I’m not really a big talker, I like to show it on the ice,” he said. “That’s my big thing, my work ethic. I like to go in and try to motivate guys on my team to work harder because of my work ethic. I do less talking and more working. Some guys are good at the talking part, but I’m more of the work-hard, guys notice it, and then they work hard as well.”

With the opportunity to secure a place on an NAHL roster, Strand is motivated to achieve not only his personal ambitions, but to help continue the Knights ascent, heading into their fourth season in the NAHL.

“Team goals-obviously you want to go to the Robertson Cup and win the Robertson Cup. That’s my big thing, I love winning. Coming from a team this past year that made it to nationals for U18 and made it a good, successful year. I really loved it. I want more, so I’m hoping to win that Robertson Cup. Personally, I want to start talking to colleges. Get a college offer, and if that doesn’t come this next year, than the year after. I’d also like to get 30 points or so this year, play on the power play, be a good team player. That’s my goal.”

The Knights will get their first chance to see Strand at their rink, when the organization holds their main camp on July 20th at the Revolution Ice Centre. Strand will have the opportunity to make a team that shares his aspirations of winning a Robertson Cup.

“I’m just really looking forward to it,” said Strand. “I’ve heard really good things about the coaching staff, really good things about Wilkes-Barre. I’m really excited to get out there and get going.”

Jason Stachelbeck Signs Tender with Knights

Last week, the Knights added another member to their tender class following forward Jason Stachelbeck’s signing of a 2018-19 tender. A native of Brampton Ontario, Stachelbeck played last season in the OJHL where he split 52 games between the Aurora Tigers and Whitby Fury.

“Jason is a power forward with a terrific skill-set,” said Knights assistant coach Andrew Whiteside. “He has experience at the junior A level and we are excited to add him to our group of forwards.”

“I like to think I’m a power forward,” said Stachelbeck. “I have a good shot and pretty good hands around the net and I’m pretty good at making plays. I bring some energy. Hopefully a couple of big hits every game to get the boys fired up, some goals scored, and putting up some points with my teammates.”

The right-handed forward was adept at both scoring and making plays last season, recording 24 goals and 11 assists in 2017-18.

“Jason is a player that checks a lot of our boxes,” said Knights head coach Tom Kowal. “We like to have a good blend of size and skill in our forward group and he has both. His  previous experience playing junior hockey in Canada should help him adjust. We’re excited to bring him into camp to see how he can help our team.”

After playing over 100 games of junior hockey in Canada, the right-handed shot is ready and eager to make the move to the NAHL.

“I heard the NAHL’s a good league and that it’s high-paced,” he said. “Obviously I want to do well with the team, but I’m also looking to get a scholarship this year. I’m looking to put up quite a few points if I can. I’m looking to go far in the playoffs and hopefully win a championship. I’m looking forward to getting started. I think I’ll do well there.”

The Knights recent run to the final four of the Robertson Cup Playoffs is the new standard in the organization. Stachelbeck took notice of the team’s efforts this past spring, and it helped bring him around to the idea of signing a tender with the Knights.

“It just struck me as a good organization,” he said. “I saw they did really well last year, and that there was good coaching there. That really sold me on coming to the team.”

Stachelbeck will have his chance to join the Knights cause this July at Main Camp, which is set to kick off on July 20th at the Revolution Ice Centre. To stay up to date on all Knights tender signings click here.

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Brett Postula Signs Tender with Knights

Brett Postula, an 18-year old forward from Michigan, has agreed to a tender with the Knights for 2018-19. The ‘99 has spent the last several seasons with Meijer Hockey, a youth hockey organization that is lauded for producing junior hockey players, including another Knights tender Zak Currie and veteran forward Tyrone Bronte.

”No I haven’t had the chance to speak with Tyrone yet-he’s been pretty busy,” said a laughing Postula, during the Knights Robertson Cup Semifinals. “He was a great player here though and was a great teammate when he was here. Meijer is a great organization. Coach Sherry is a wonderful coach and it’s truly a wonderful place to play.”

This past season, Postula wracked up 23 goals and 20 assists playing AAA and Midget hockey for Meijer.

“I’m a go-hard type of guy,” said the 6-0, 170-pound forward. “I can go win battles on the walls and in the corners. I’m aggressive in front of the net and I can score.”

”Brett is a talented player who can fill a lot of roles throughout a lineup,” said Knights assistant GM Justin Schreiber. “He really came on strong toward the end of his midget season and caught the eyes of our staff.”

Postula was one of many following the action in this past weekend’s Robertson Cup Playoffs. The Knights were among the final four teams left in the playoffs before being eliminated by the eventual champion, the Shreveport Mudbugs. He believes he can be a part of the next step.

”I want to come in, work hard and win a Robertson Cup,” he said plainly.

Postula will get the opportunity when the Knights resume work following the NAHL Draft on June 5th with Main Camp from July 20th-22nd.

Stay up to date with all Knights news and happenings by visiting www.wbsknights.con and by following Knights social media:

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Knights Captain Curtis Carlson Commits to Nichols Bison

The Knights return home from Minnesota this week marked an end to an era of sorts, as the team will see five 97-born players move onto college next season. All five have been instrumental to the program’s growth in the NAHL since the team’s arrival in 2015-16. One of the longest-tenured Knights among that group, and the most recent captain, Curtis Carlson, has announced he will attend Nichols College in the Commonwealth Coast Conference to play NCAA DIII hockey.

Carlson, who was briefly a member of the Knights inaugural 2015-16 NAHL roster, returned to the team full time in 2016-17 after developing in the NA3HL. He improved each year to become a centerpiece to a Knights team that just earned its first trip to a Robertson Cup Semifinals. Carlson’s next step will be to join the Nichols Bison, a DIII school located in Massachusetts this fall. The Bison are fresh off an NCAA Quarterfinals finish, their fourth NCAA tournament berth in the last ten years.

“They’re very family-oriented,” said Carlson of his future home. “Through the recruiting process, they reached out to my mom as well as myself, and that really gave me the feeling that they’re very family-oriented, and you know, that’s a great fit for me, as I’m family-oriented as well.”

The Bison are led by head coach Parker Burgess, a St. Thomas alum who has guided Nichols to a record of 50-10-8 in his first two seasons on the job. Carlson is excited to lend his talents to the program.

“I bring dynamic offense, and a lot of speed to the table-a fan favorite right? he said laughing. “I just bring a lot of offense and a lot of speed to the team. Hopefully, in a few years, I can bring leadership as well.”

Leadership is a role Carlson has become familiar with this season, after rising to the captaincy in his second full season with the Knights at the NAHL level. He was voted captain for 2017-18 by his teammates and was joined by long-time Knights veteran Michael Morrissey (Colby College), and NAHL journeyman Mike Gelatt (Skidmore College) as assistants.

“Curtis is a lead-by-example guy,” said Kowal. “He’s a highly competitive player and someone who’s committed to doing things the right way.  He won a lot of respect in this locker room and from our staff with the amount of effort he puts into improving his game and the type of teammate he is. He’s the guy that will do just about anything to help improve his team.”

“It’s helped me look at things from a different perspective,” said Carlson of wearing the chief letter on his sweater this season. “You get a lot of different points of view from other people. Most importantly it’s developed me into a better person, mainly for that same reason. Being the older guy that everyone can come talk to with their problems, whether its on the ice, at home, and whatnot. It made me grow up more off the ice.”

On the ice, Carlson excelled in creating big plays in the Knights push to the Roberston Cup semifinals this year. He recorded a career-high 24 goals through the regular season and playoffs, to go along with 20 assists. His hockey IQ led him to be a fixture on both sides of special teams play, recording one short-handed goal and five power play tallies and four assists in 2017-18. His impressive play resulted in his naming to the NAHL’s Top Prospects Tournament where he recorded two goals in two games with the East Division’s team.

“With his experience, his nose for the puck, and his speed, we felt comfortable putting Curtis out there in all situations,” said Kowal. “He’s a versatile player who consistently delivered big plays in big moments for us and that’s exactly what we want and expect from our veterans.”

Playing 135 games in the North American Hockey League over the past three seasons has given Carlson plenty of opportunities to showcase his talent while building his game. He attributes this time to sharpening his focus.

“Playing at this level has prepared me by teaching me what you need to do to become an impact player in the North American Hockey League,” he said. “The North American Hockey League is one of the best junior leagues in the country. It teaches you to show up every day and try to get better. If you’re not getting better, there’s always somebody else getting better that’s trying to take your spot, whether it’s in your locker room or in another team’s locker room. Knowing that really helped me keep the right attitude and focus coming into work every day.”

Carlson’s competitiveness did not prohibit his ability to take in and appreciate the finer moments of his journey. Through his many games, he made his fair share of memories.

“I’ll give you my two favorites,” he said. “My first one was obviously winning the East Division and sweeping the Philly Rebels this year. We got swept by them the year before, so to return the favor was unbelievable. I know for a fact it was a great feeling the older guys, the guys that have been a year or two. That same feeling was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had playing junior hockey.

“The other I think would be all the road trips I’ve had with the guys, especially going to Alaska two years in a row. You kind of form together as a team in Alaska. You gel a little bit, whether it’s on the ice, or at the hotel by the river in Kenai, or taking a walk in Fairbanks. It’s just about how the guys gel and I felt guys really connected with each other, so that’s I think a really cool second to go along with the first.”

His fondness for his team extended to his head coach. In each of the past two seasons, Kowal was the head man from which Carlson absorbed what he felt were the most valuable lessons.

“TK has really made me the man I am today,” he said. “Without him I don’t think I’d be going to this school. He believed in me when nobody else did. He’s been my mentor the last two and a quarter years here.”

“Curtis Carlson is a great example of what we’re here for, and what the NAHL is here for,” said Kowal. “He was one of our original NAHL guys. He’s a player who was given an opportunity to play high-level junior hockey. He worked for it, he earned his place here, and not only that, he became a great player at this level. We’re happy we were a part of his journey, and we’re proud of how far he’s come. I wish him nothing but the best of luck.”

The Knights congratulate Curtis on his commitment and join coach Kowal in thanking him for all his hard work and upholding the Knights standard. The Knights wish Curtis the best of luck in all his future endeavors!

Tyler Watungwa Commits to Finlandia University

Another day and another Knight is heading off to college. Tyler Watungwa, a crucial mid-season addition to the EHL team, and an elemental piece to the Knights second-half run has committed to Finlandia University. The Lions compete in the highly-competitive NCHA Conference in NCAA Division III hockey.

“First off, it came highly recommended by coach Fusco, him being an alumni of their program and a former player for its head coach Joe Burcar,” said Watungwa. “He had nothing but good things to say about both Finlandia and the coaching staff there. That was a huge part of it. Once I was started looking into it a little more, they had the program that I was looking for. It’s called physical therapist assistant and that’ll lead me down a path of exercise science, hopefully allowing me to be an athletic trainer once hockey is all done.”

“I was just doing my job as a coach and reaching out to other coaches at the college level to talk about my 97’s,” said Fusco. “One of the schools I talked to was my alma mater Finlandia. Coach Joe Burcar, was my coach. I know what what he likes and what he demands out of his players. I wanted to help him out and ultimately help Tyler. Burcar wants hockey players and he’s getting one in Tyler.

The Ottawa native came to the Knights in mid-December, while the team was still finding their footing in the Eastern Hockey League. After returning from a two-year absence, the roster was filled with talented, but young players, many that were still new to the junior level of hockey. Watungwa saw through that and reached out to a place he felt he could help.

“He actually reached out to me,” said Fusco. “We were playing the Boston Junior Rangers and East Coast Wizards and I got an email from Tyler expressing an interest in playing for us. He wanted to come to an organization with a good reputation and some prestige while getting some exposure to scouts. I took a look at some clips of him, talked to his coach, and even had the benefit of having Austin Weber, one of his former teammates, already on our roster. Web backed up what I saw and that was that Tyler was a good hockey player who worked hard, was strong and hard to move off the puck. At the end of the day, he was a ‘97 who wanted to be here, who wanted to be a Knight and that worked out perfectly.”

“Where I was before, I wasn’t really sure if I was getting these looks,” explained Watungwa. “I came back to the EHL, where the goal is getting looked at as much as I could. I knew coming in, this is the spot to do it. The league showcases are amazing in terms of all the scouts that are there. The team and the league as a whole put a whole a lot of effort into moving guys up, which is awesome.”

Once aboard with the Knights, Watungwa immediately made his presence known as an explosive and gritty playmaker. In his first seven games, he scored five goals and two assists while installing himself as crucial piece in all situations.

“He came in, and I thought he was going to be a middle six forward, a kind of a grinder guy, but right off the bat he proved he could be a goal-scorer,” said Fusco. “It let me put him on a line with Tyler Nielsen and Cody Rumsey for a good portion of the season, and that was a really solid combination for us. On the ice, his best skill to me, is his puck handling. He’s a skilled guy and a really strong player. He’s hard to push off the puck. He makes a lot of good plays with his vision. Ultimately his ability to move the puck, to get down low and win possessions for us, and keep it on his blade made him a really essential forward in our lineup.”

“I think I just bring compete level,” said Watungwa. “That’s what I tried to bring to the Knights program, just working hard every shift. Whether it’s making a hit, blocking a shot, making a play offensively or defensively, I’m always going to try to do it at 100%.”

Beyond the stat sheet, leadership is another trait Tyler exudes. It wasn’t lost on his coach or his teammates.

“That early production really grabbed the attention of our locker room,” said Fusco. “His work ethic, his habits, his effort in practice, that all combined to create a really positive influence for our guys. He was the prime example of leading by example. He brought the same effort and enthusiasm every day and really that’s exactly what you want from one of your veteran players.”

With his junior career now over, Watungwa is preparing for his next team, and like his entrance to the Knights, he’s thrilled for the opportunity.

“They (Finlandia) are in a rebuild year, but they are definitely really excited about where the program’s going,” he said. “I was really happy to get in when I could to help be a part of that rebuild. Honestly the big thing I’m excited about is that I get to play hockey for another four years. Obviously I’m excited to go to school, to get that part of my life started, but I get to do a thing I love for another four years, and I think that’s just awesome.”

Under Coach Burcar, the Lions program is looking to get back to its earlier success in his first stint as the team’s bench boss. In the last four seasons of that stretch, Burcar guided Finlandia to a 57-43-7 record, including an MCHA postseason conference championship in 2006-07.

“Finlandia is a tight knit community that loves and is passionate about their hockey,” said Fusco. “They have strong support from the school. Coach Burcar is back there rebuilding the program in a very strong conference and it’s very exciting to send one my players there. It means a lot that I can help move a player to his goal of division III college hockey, but also exciting and sentimental to send him to coach Burcar and Finlandia. It’s a great fit, Joe is excited and Tyler is excited-it’s a perfect fit.”

In parting, Watungwa isn’t going without fond memories. The season may have ended a few games earlier than he had hoped, but he’s happy to have been on for the ride.

“Making 20 new friends,” he said of his favorite part of wearing the Knights sweater. “Every team you go to, you’ve got 20 guys you’re going to war with every night. All those guys in our locker room, I consider brothers. I’d say the relationships that I made over the last three and a half months were pretty awesome.”

His gratitude was not limited to just those he skated with.

“First and foremost, I want to thank my mom,” he said. “She’s been a big part of getting me into sports. She drives me to all these crazy places in the middle of nowhere just to play hockey. She’s been a real inspiration for me. A huge thank you to coach Fusco and the whole Knights organization for giving me the ability to play at a level where I could be in front of all of these scouts and giving me the right coaching and the tools I needed to get to the next level. I want to thank all the teammates that I had this year and past years who helped make me a better player and a better person.”

Fusco shared the sentiment but reversed its direction.

“I want to thank Tyler for being a part of this year with us,” he said. “It takes a special type of player to accomplish what he did in our dressing room and on the ice. He’s an incredibly ward worker, and a great person. I’ll be following his career eagerly, and I wish him only the best in hockey and in his life beyond.”

The Knights join coach Fusco in thanking Tyler and wishing the best of luck at Finlandia and in all his pursuits in life!