Tag Archives: Mathew Kahra

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.”

Knights Select Eight in 2018 NAHL Entry Draft

12 college commitments, six USHL Draft Picks, one East Division Championship; it’s a mantra that is repeated inside the Knights organization nowadays. The 2017-18 NAHL campaign ended a month ago. The group that left the Revolution Ice Centre in May set the bar higher than any previous group.

“Any time you have a team as talented as we did last season, you have to anticipate replacing a lot of players,” said Knights head coach Tom Kowal. “Our staff did a great job scouting, recruiting and drafting last season. The challenge is to do it again. I’m confident in our ability to reload our roster and build a team that will allow us to not only make another run at the Robertson Cup, but also move a lot of players on to higher levels.”

With eight picks in Tuesday’s NAHL Entry Draft, the Knights believe they’ve added eight players that will help raise the bar even higher in 2018-19.

Round 1, Pick 13: Zach Stejskal, Goalie:

Draft day 2018 began with the selection of Zach Stejskal, an 18-year old goalie from Minnesota. Fittingly, the Knights trip to Skejstal’s home state for the Robertson Cup Final Four came thanks in no small part to stellar goaltending.

“We had a chance to take an established junior hockey goaltender that has already committed to a very good Division I school,” said Knights assistant GM Justin Schreiber. “With both of our goalies being drafted to USHL teams we felt like that was an area we needed to address early in the draft.”

Standing at a towering 6-4, Stejskal boasts an impressive resume complete with 32 games played in the USHL plus the aforementioned NCAA DI commitment. Last year he announced his commitment to the eventual 2017-18 NCAA National Champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.

Round 2, Pick 37: Evan Orr, Defenseman:

Orr joins the Knights from a Little Caesars program that has produced an abundance of successful players for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The puck-moving blue-liner produced seven points in 11 games playing at the U16 level last season. For the past two years, Orr has also spent summers participating in Team USA development camps, most recently playing five games in the Selects 16 age group. Now 17, he’s already committed to a DI program in his home state, where he’ll one day join Michigan Tech.

“Evan has one of the best shots for a younger defenseman that our staff has ever seen,” said Knights assistant coach Andrew Whiteside. “His poise with the puck and ability to run a power play make him one of the top ’01 born defensemen out of Michigan. We are very happy to have Evan part of the Knights organization.”

Round 3, Pick 51: Davis Pennington, Defenseman:

With their first selection in the third round, the Knights went right back to the well for another left-handed defenseman from Michigan. Davis Pennington hails from the Detroit Honeybaked youth program after spending prior seasons with Belle Tire.

“Davis is a solid two-way puck moving defensemen who likes to join the rush offensively,” said Whiteside. “He’s been a big piece of the puzzle for every youth team he has skated for in Michigan. We are excited to add Davis to our already offensive blue line.”

Like Orr, Pennington has spent time developing at USA Hockey Camps in each of the past two summers. Playing for Honeybaked in the HPHL last season, Pennington picked up an impressive five goals and nine assists in 16 games played.

Round 3, Pick 61: Mathew Kahra, Forward:

With their second third round pick, the Knights added their first forward of the 2018 draft class, Mathew Kahra.

“Mathew is a pugnacious, yet skilled forward who is always around the puck,” said Whiteside. “His high compete level and playmaking ability makes him a threat in all three zones. He will provide us with the depth needed at the center position next season.”

The ’99 from Brighton, Michigan snipes well with his left-handed shot as he recorded 13 goals as a part of a 30-point season for his high school in 2017-18. Also playing in the Michigan Developmental Hockey League, Kahra averaged over a point per game, scoring 3-7-10 in nine contests for MDHL White last season.

Round 4, Pick 76: Beck Moore, Forward:

Advancing through the age brackets of the Colorado Thunderbirds hockey program over the last several years, Moore has made a name for himself with his well-rounded play.

“Beck is a physically imposing winger who has good size and moves really well,” said Schreiber. “He’s your typical power forward that plays a little bit of a heavier game but he has shown the ability to score and set teammates up as well.”

After being a member of a Thunderbirds roster crowned T1EHL U16 champions in 2016-17, Moore was named assistant captain of his 18U team in 2017-18. He went on to record nine goals and 25 points in 34 games before being drafted by the Knights.

Round 4, Pick 78: Samuel Vyletelka, Goalie:

After seeing both goaltenders from their 2017-18 roster drafted into the USHL last month, the Knights made it a point to restock their crease with premium talent. After adding Stejskal in round one, the Knights picked up their second goalie and second Little Caesars player of the draft.

“Samuel is an extremely athletic goaltender with quick reflexes and a tremendous ability to track pucks,” said Whiteside. “His experience at the international level with Slovakia will do nothing but help him at the NAHL level.”

A native of Slovakia and a past participant on their U18 roster in the Hlinka Memorial Tournament, Vyletelka brings size and skill between the pipes. In 30 games at the AAA level for Little Caesars last season, he kept his GAA to a sterling 2.03, while also maintaining a save percentage north of 90% at the T1EHL level.

Round 4, Pick 85: Will Otwell, Forward:

Otwell joins Reed Robinson and Lincoln Hatten as another player from the Dallas Stars hockey program to be recruited by the Knights.
“William is a very similar player to Lincoln Hatten who we drafted out of the Dallas Stars U16 program a year ago,” said Schreiber. “He has the power forward frame but is very skilled and can skate. He has a ton of potential as a late 2001 birth year.”
Already north of six-feet tall as a 16-year old, Otwell used his impressive size and talent to notch 11 goals and 13 assists in 36 games for the Stars last season.

 

 

Round 5, Pick 109: Ross Bartlett, Forward

With their final pick in the draft, the Knights added forward Ross Bartlett. A true veteran of junior hockey, Barlett comes to the Knights with plenty of experience. Over the past four years, the Florida native has played in 140 games across multiple junior leagues.

“Ross is an extremely skilled forward who has a ton of junior hockey experience,” said Schreiber. “His 100+ points in the Western States Hockey League last season speak for themselves.”

In 51 games in the WSHL this past season, Bartlett recorded 41 goals and 63 assists for the Ogden Mustangs.

Adding four forwards, two defensemen, and two goalies, the Knights have taken another significant step toward building their next contender.

“We came into the draft with a list of names we believed would help make our team better,” said Kowal. “We left the draft with those names on our roster heading into main camp.  We’re excited to get to work.”