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Knights Roster Breakdown I: Knights Veterans Ready to Lead the Way

Part one of two looks at the veterans coming back to Knights training camp

In their second year in the NAHL, the Knights took significant steps forward toward establishing themselves in one of the best junior leagues in the United States. Moving ahead to year three, Knights head coach Tom Kowal is making no bones about his program’s end goal for the upcoming season.

“We’re in our third year now,” he said. “Our goal isn’t just to make the playoffs. Our goal isn’t to get through round one or round two of the playoffs. Our goal is to win a Robertson Cup. Anything short of that, we’re not envisioning it right now.”

To make a run at a title at any level of any sport, experience and leadership are necessary. Bolstering the Knights chances is a strong nucleus of returning veterans.

“They’re the ones that set the tone, they set the bench mark; it’s their job right now,” Kowal said. “I told them veterans have to be veterans. They’re not rookies any more. They’re the ones that have to lead the charge. I’m pretty happy with the way they look right now.”

Returning to training camp are forwards Matt Kidney, Mike Gelatt, Curtis Carlson, Mike Morrissey, Reed Robinson, Mike Gelatt, Andrew Jackson and Adrian Danchenko.

“I think there’s a lot of speed up front,” said assistant coach Andrew Whiteside. “We have a strong, returning group of forwards there.”

Matt Kidney was the Knights first round draft pick in 2016 and lived up to high expectations. The righty forward led the team in points, with 20 goals and 24 assists in 45 games.

“I think it’s the same as last year but I have more experience now,” said Kidney of his role this year at main camp. “I just need to get in touch with younger guys and be a positive influence in our locker room.”

Fellow Middletown, NJ native Mike Gelatt spent many games on a line with Kidney, and looks to build off a solid season in which he tallied 12 goals and 25 helpers in 49 games.

Curtis Carlson was one of the Knights strongest performers down the stretch of the 2016-17 season. He wowed at Knights Main Camp, flashing his trademark speed on his way to generating a high volume of offensive chances. As a veteran with experience in the NAHL dating back to the 2015-16 season, Carlson is in line to be an even bigger contributor this season.

“I hope to play more of a leadership role in the locker room,” Carlson said. “That being said, I don’t need a letter on my chest, just more of a guy to look up to, and if someone has problems they can come to me. I’m looking for guys on my team, for guys that are particularly good in the locker room. That’s the first part, you want good character. Then of course you want skilled guys, but guys that can play a role. You never know where you’re going to end up in the lineup. One night you can be on the first line, the next night you can be on the fourth. You just need to be consistent in your role.”

Carlson is one of the veterans buying into the potential he’s seen from the group competing for to make the roster.
“I want us to go to the Robbie this year,” he said. “Of course, that’s every team’s goal, but I’m a firm believer in that it starts in the first game of the year. You have to set the tempo there and then take it one game at a time. If you’re doing that, you’re doing it right and playing consistently, you’re going to make your way up there.”

The gritty Mike Morrissey is among the Knights organization’s most-tenured players and, like Carlson, stood out at main camp as one of its leaders. Last year he regularly drew opponents’ most-skilled forwards, some that are now playing division one hockey. His role moving in his second year at the NAHL is expected to grow.

Reed Robinson played his most productive hockey down the stretch of the 2016-17 season, scoring four goals and seven assists in his final 13 games. The gifted power forward has a knack for penalty-killing, and with his speed, was a consistent source of shorthanded scoring chances.

“I think we’re really fast, there’s a lot of work ethic out there,” said Robinson after main camp. “I think the biggest thing is going to be consistency. If we’re consistent we have the ability to be a really good team. You definitely have to take on a little bit of a leadership role. There’s a lot of new guys so you have to get them to loosen up, to play their games.”

Rounding out the returners to training camp are Andrew Jackson and Adrian Danchenko. The duo combined to play 94 games last season. The pair have size and speed that can’t be coached and showed versatility in filling multiple roles throughout the lineup over their past two years in the NAHL.

Familiar faces returning on the blue line are veterans Markuss Komuls, Paul Cimilluca and Joey Verkerke.

Komuls is a solid puck-mover who made a strong transition from tier-III to tier-II with the Knights last season. The Latvian’s ability to skate the puck and dictate possession in the offensive zone placed him second in scoring among Knights defenders last year.

A second-round pick in last year’s NAHL entry draft, Paul Cimilluca will look to take the next step this season. The right-handed defenseman developed a solid two-way game, eating a lot of minutes in his first junior season. He brings both size and strength with his game and showed off a powerful shot in camp.

“I’ve just been working out, trying to get stronger in the gym,” he said of his offseason goals. “On the ice, I’ve been working on my skating, trying to get faster and quicker, and just working on handling the puck better so I can make more plays.”

Now a seasoned junior hockey player, Cimilluca is eager to share lessons he’s learned.

“My advice to the guys here has been to just to go out and play your game, do what you do best, don’t try and do something you’re not used to doing,” he said. “If you’re a goal-scorer, go out and put a few in the net, if you’re a grinder, go out and make a few plays and do what comes naturally to you and what you’re comfortable with. It’s a trial for everyone, we’re all trying to make this team.”

Joey Verkerke joined the Knights roster after the start of the season last year and represented himself well in his junior hockey action. The Michigan-native had a busy offseason, playing in a summer league with names like Detroit Red Wings star Dylan Larkin. The agile defenseman will look to complement a Knights blue line that’s been bolstered by bigger bodies this offseason.

USHL
Two Knights veterans are currently pushing for USHL spots after being selected in this year’s USHL Entry Draft. Should either be released from their USHL teams, the Knights retain their rights and thus can add them back to their NAHL roster.

Paul Maust has been a mainstay in the Knights NAHL lineup for the past two years. Even after joining the team following the first month of last season, Maust still finished second on the roster with 43 points. He was selected 75th overall by the Green Bay Gamblers in the 2017 USHL Entry Draft. At Knights main camp, he helped introduce rookies to grind of playing against junior hockey players.

“As an older guy, you just have to keep the locker room loose, make sure they’re not too nervous-just go out there and have some fun,” Maust emphasized. “I mean the biggest thing for me is don’t get outside your game, do what you’re good at. I think I saw a group that’s going to be able to go on some streaks and sweep consecutive opponents.”

Dorian Dawson has spent the past two seasons ascending to the top spot on the Knights blue line. The Canadian import was deployed in all situations last season, using his size and speed to overwhelm opponents up and down the ice. He was rewarded for his 9-25-34 line and steady defense by being taken in the 7th round of the draft by the Fargo Force.

The Knights report to training camp at the beginning of September and will open their season against the New Jersey Titans at the Revolution Ice Centre at 7:30 pm on Friday, September 15th. Tickets can be pre-ordered by calling (570)-883-1100.

Knights Conclude Main Camp with Goals Both on and off the Ice

The Knights wrapped up their final day of main camp with a pair of all-star games Friday. The team is now moving into the final stages of finalizing their roster, and setting their expectations high.

“We grind pretty hard throughout the year to get campers here,” said Knights scout Justin Schreiber. “Getting guys together we feel that are non-roster invites that could make our team on top of guys we draft and tender-that’s the fun part. Starting with eight teams of 20 guys and whittling them down to the last two teams; it’s a painstaking process but it’s not without it’s fun too.”

In the first game of the day, Navy and White rosters were largely comprised of the most impressive camp invites. Friday’s first goal came from defenseman Paul Luebke as he took a pass from Sean Detloff and let go a dart from the high slot.  Luebke wasn’t done. Before the end of the frame, he gave White a 2-0 lead with his second goal of the game.

JP Natishan and Jake Putnam were catalysts for team Navy as with crisp passing, they set up Alex Morawski’s perfect snipe to make it a 2-1 game in the early second. White’s lead held for the rest of period as both the goaltenders and defense stood their ground.

The trend would continue into the third period before finally Sean Detloff set up Jared Lombardi to give White a 3-1 lead. That score would hold until the final horn.

The day’s second match up featured the best performers from game one matched with the remaining camp standouts. Team Navy made an immediate splash behind the skill of their Knights NAHL veterans. Tic-tac-toe passing from Dorian Dawson and Mike Morrissey allowed Adrian Danchenko to flip a puck inside the post for the team’s first goal.

Navy didn’t relent. Camp invite Jake Sandomeno drove down from the blue line to hammer home his team’s second goal of the period with apples credited to Josh Fricks and Cory Ellerton. Not long after, Curtis Carlson flashed through the offensive zone to create a rebound that Jack Olmstead ripped through to build a 3-0 advantage

Late in the first, White snapped Navy’s momentum with a Lincoln Hatten rebound goal, set up by a shot from Bobby Freiling and a pass from Paul Cimilluca.

Reed Robinson capitalized on another juicy rebound a few shifts later on assists by Jake Goldowski and Matt Kidney to bring White within one at the end of the first.

Veterans Mike Gelatt and Andrew Jackson set up Goldowski, a Penn State commit, who’s wrister from the slot brought White even at three mid-way through the second frame. A failed power play for Navy and Lincoln Hatten’s near-goal, spurned only by a great Navy save were the closest efforts to finding another score before period’s end.

The tie was finally broken in the third, as the line of Gelatt-Jackson-Goldowski took over. Their first tally of the period came when the wingers found Jackson open on the back door off a rush. The second was a product of St. Thomas commit Elijah Latimer sending a puck to Jackson, who then fed it on to Goldowski who skipped the puck to the twine.

Off the back of five unanswered goals, team White skated to a 5-3 victory to close out Knights Main camp. With Friday’s games concluded, the Knights have their best idea yet of what talent they’ll bring to 2017-18 season.

“I think we have a lot of speed up front with our forwards, along with a strong returning group of veterans there,” said NAHL assistant coach Andrew Whiteside. “One thing we’ve wanted to work on is beefing up our blue line and adding some size, and we’ve been happy with that. The goal-tending has been really consistent as well.”

The Knights next step in the offseason will be when the team reports to training camp in early September. Head coach Tom Kowal is excited for the season to get started.

“The message we’re gonna send to our guys once they make it is that the hard part starts now,” he said. “We come back in a month, and Blaine’s only two months away. That’s the Super Bowl of the North American Hockey League besides the Robertson Cup. We’re hoping that motivates them to be better. Like I said a couple days ago, our goal isn’t to get to the playoffs. Our goal is to get out of playoffs and get the Robertson Cup. Anything shy of that, we’re not envisioning it right now.”

Knights Close out Rebels for Weekend Series Win

Hard fought finale puts Knights on top

On Sunday, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights and Northeast Generals met for the rubber match of a weekend, three-game series and for the seventh time this season. Fittingly, the contest proved to be their most competitive tilt yet.

Things got started in a hurry when Matt Kidney (10) scored his first goal since his return at 5:50 into the first period with assists coming from Reed Robinson (12) and Dorian Dawson (17). Dawson’s assist marked his sixth straight game with a point and Kidney’s goal tied him Paul Maust for the team lead.

Just under two and half minutes later, former Knight Kohei Sato (7) tied the game after he beat Colt Hanks on a solid set up by Michael Egan (7) and Luke Perunovich (11).

Kidney would grab sole lead of the Knights goal lead with his 11th score of the year at 14:12 when he bested Northeast netminder David Fessenden with help in the form of Khrisitan Acosta’s 19th assist of the season.

The 2-1 lead was indicative of a relatively one-sided period, one in which the Generals could only muster four shots on goal and took two penalties. Still, the Knights finished the frame 0-2 on the man advantage meaning they’d have to settle with taking just a one-goal lead to the dressing room.

The Generals would renew their attack on the other side of the intermission, finding the equalizer just over five minutes into play on a powerplay tally from Egan (6) from the assists of Christian Thomas (7) and Kohei Sato (10).

The Knights would again outshoot the Generals in the second but failed to find the twine. The power play’s first period slump extended into the second, as its first two trips to the ice proved unfruitful and worse, were both ended by Knights penalties prior to their natural expiration. The third Northeast penalty would carry over to the third period, leaving the door open for the Knights to regain control of the momentum they were lacking.

With the man advantage set to play out for the first 1:26 of the final frame, the Knights used their advantage to apply significant pressure to the offensive zone, so much so that just five seconds before the end of the penalty, Northeast took another. 1:39 into their sixth powerplay chance, the Knights finally cashed in. Paul Maust (11) pushed one past Fessenden with assists being credited to Matt Kidney (15) and Sabatini (11) to give the Knights the lead. The score tied Maust and Kidney back atop the Knights goal sheet once again.

Despite the setback, the Generals pushed back with vigor. Despite being outshout once again, Northeast spent long shifts in the offensive zone, but failed to solve Colt Hanks. With the help of solid goaltending and an empty Generals cage, Sam Antonitsch put the game away at 19:03 with the empty net goal.

With the win, the Knights improved to 17-18-1-1, just one game under .500. The Knights will have the chance to meet that mark for the first time in NAHL franchise history this Saturday, January 14th when they take on the defending Robertson Cup Champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs at 7:30 PM.

 

Knights News: Valentine is East Star of the Week, Kubachka Returns, Hamacher Commits

Valentine Earns Division Star of the Week Award:

In what has become a happily recurring pattern in recent weeks, the Knights again find one of their own in the spotlight. For his play against Northeast on Thursday and Friday, Grant Valentine earned East Division Star of the Week.

In two games played, Valentine stopped 62/65 shots on goal, good for a save percentage of .954. He also boasted a GAA of 1.50 in 120 minutes. The duo of solid performances brought Valentine’s monthly totals to a 5-3 record with a save percentage of .917 and a goal’s against average of 2.97 in 8 games played.

Kubachka Returns:

A familiar face is back in the fold for the Knights offense. Joey Kubachka will wear #26 in his second stint with the Knights. The 6-3 210 lbs forward spent 14 games with the Knights last season before playing his next 32 with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL. Kubachka, a 1998 birth year, began last season on the Central Scouting’s NHL Watch List and brings both added size and physicality to the Knights lineup.

Hamacher Makes College Commitment:

Another former Knight is heading to a division one school. Jake Hamacher, who spent 2013-14 with the Knights 16U team as well as 46 games with the NAHL team last year, has committed to RIT. Currently with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, Hamacher is known for his scoring touch. In his time last year with the Knights, he racked up 12 goals and and 28 assists. The Knights would like to congratulate Jake and wish him the best of luck in his hockey career!

 

2016-17 Schedule Released

On Wednesday the NAHL released official schedules for each of its 24 teams. On September 9th, the Knights will being their second season in the NAHL at home against the Johnstown Tomahawks. This year, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will battle for the East Division title with four other teams; The Aston Rebels, The New Jersey Titans, the Johnstown Tomahawks and the expansion Northeast Generals. They will play each team 12 times in the regular season, breaking down into six home games and six road games in each head-to-head series.

Over the course of the season, the Knights will once again play eight games against both of the NAHL’s Alaskan clubs; the Kenai River Brown Bears and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. The Ice Dogs are the most recent recpients of the Robertson Cup after being crowned champions this past May. The Knights went 2-0-2 against Fairbanks last season and 3-1 against the Brown Bears. The trek to Kenai River in March marks the Knights longest road trip of the season, measuring in at a mere 3,326 miles.

In addition to 56 games played in normal, regular season format, the Knights will partake in the NAHL Showcase September 21-24. The NAHL’s annual interleague competition will have Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will square off with four teams that have yet to be determined. All four games will be held at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota. A select number of Knights will also have the opportunity to play in the annual Top Prospects Tournament which is set to take place in Plymouth, Michigan at the USA Hockey Arena. The event is scheduled for Monday, February 27th and Tuesday the 28th.

Looking to take the next step forward as a franchisse, the Knights will look to improve upon their first round elimination from the Robertson Cup Playoffs with a steady dose of familiar, yet rebuilt foes. Opening Night is just 70 days away.

 

Knights Schedule by the Numbers:

60 regular season games

48 regular season meetings with division opponents

28 homes games

28 road games

12 games against teams outside the East Division

10 different teams the Knights will play this regular season

4 games at a neutral setting in Blaine, Minnesota

4 games against the  2015-16 Robertson Cup Champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs

2-0-2 WBS Knights record against the Ice Dogs last season

7:30 pm New standard puck drop time for Knights home games on Fridays and Saturdays

12 Old Boston Road, Pittston, PA: Our home ice. Come see us!

Calendar Schedule Link

Home Schedule Link

 

Zaitsev Drafted by Capitals

It’s been a whirlwind year for Dmitriy Zaitsev. From manning the Wilkes-Barre blue line, to representing Russia at the IIHF World U18 Championships, Zaitsev’s talent and profile have grown. In 53 games for the Knights, the 6-1 195 Moscow native registered seven goals and 15 assists.

“Dmitriy is one of those guys you love to have on your blue line,” said Knights head coach Tom Kowal. “He brought a lot of energy, and was routinely one of our better performers. He’s a guy that was an anchor for us.”

Beyond his physical and heady play in all zones, Zaitsev often acted as quarterback of the Knights powerplay, leading all defensemen with three goals and four assists on the man-advantage. In games in which he registered at least one point, the Knights went 10-6-5.

“I thought he was an asset from the moment he stepped on the ice,” said Kowal. “It’s going to be really hard to replace him. We’re all extremely proud of how far he’s come and what he’s accomplished.\”

Zaitsev joins Ivan Provorov (2015, 1.07 Philadelphia Flyers), Daniel Sprong (2015, 2.46 Pittsburgh Penguins), Nikita Pavlychev (2015, 7.197 Pittsburgh Penguins) and CJ Yakimowicz (2014, 6.172 St. Louis Blues) as Knights taken in the NHL Draft. Zaitsev is the first player drafted from the team\’s NAHL program.

Huffman Advances to AHL

Kerry Huffman is on his way back to the Flyers. The former NHL defenseman is rejoining the organization through their AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Huffman will step into the role of assistant coach for the team, working with the organization’s defensemen.

“I'm very grateful," said Huffman. I'm honored by the opportunity; I've known Ron Hextall for a long time. I'm excited to get to work, especially with the talent coming up through the Flyers organization.”

Huffman’s resume with the Wilke-Barre/Scranton dates back three years. In that time he’s served as a head coach at the U16 level, assistant coach at the U18 and NAHL levels, general manager and director of player development. Prior to coming aboard he served as a volunteer consultant.

“The Knights are a great organization with a lot of really good people," said Huffman. "Louis DeNaples is an owner who puts the players' needs first. Tom Kowal is a coach and a friend that I've learned from. We've learned a lot from each other. You're lucky when you work with people like that."

Throughout his tenure, Huffman's penchant for setting a high standard on and off the ice is reflected in the number of Knights advancing to higher levels of hockey. This past season a total of ten rostered players made commitments to play at the collegiate level.

“It's great to see players move on to higher levels" Huffman said when pressed on the most rewarding part of his job. "When they're able to take their careers to the next level, that's what makes you proud."

Perhaps the best witness to Huffman's impact is Tom Kowal, head coach of the Knights and Huffman's successor as GM.

"Coaching with Huff the past three years has been a really enlightening, knowledge-broadening experience," said Kowal. "This organization is where it is because of his influence. I wish him the best of luck. I'm gonna miss him."

Huffman's legacy won't end with his promotion. The roster the Knights field in 2016-2017 will consist largely of players he and Kowal recruited, drafted and traded for over the past 12 months.

"I believe the Knights will be a contender this season," he said. "With the incoming draft class, the players that are returning and TK at the helm, they're capable of being a force."

Knop Commits To Lawrence University

The WBS Knights of the North American Hockey League are proud to announce that  graduating forward Carson Knop has committed to play collegiate hockey for Lawrence University.
He will be joining fellow Knight Matt Beranek in the Lawrence hockey program.

Knop, the Lake Bluff, IL native, tallied 13 goals and 14 assists in 42 games for the Knights this past season.

“We are very grateful to Carson and how hard he played for us this past season,” noted head coach Tom Kowal. “Carson was one of those veteran guys we added that really helped us turn our season around. He battled through a shoulder injury and you could see our team was not the same when he was out of the lineup. We wish him well and know he is going to have an outstanding collegiate hockey career.”

Knop is the tenth player to have secured his college commitment and played for the expansion Knights hockey club this season.

The Knight’s organization wish Carson all the best!

 

Knights Enthusiastic Post-Draft

Tim Mullhaupt, wbsknights.com

Exuberance would befit the expression of Kerry Huffman as he stepped back from the draft board following his team’s 13th and final selection of the NAHL Draft.

“This is a good draft boys,” he said with a smile to fellow coaches Tom Kowal and Andrew Whiteside.

Up on an easel at the end of the room sat the summary of the staff’s work for the afternoon and the previous months. 11 new forwards and three defensemen will have the opportunity to make this year’s edition of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. With the benefit of a full offseason of scouting, the confidence in the group is high.

“This draft went even better than we expected. We took a lot of the guys that we wanted and we feel all of our picks can play in this league,” said Huffman.

The competition for roster spots certainly won’t be easy. What is now a list of many names will need to be whittled down before the start of the regular season. Taking stock of the Knights’ picks, plenty of talent will have an opportunity to make their case to be on that final list.

With the fifth pick in the first round the Knights began their afternoon with the selection of Matt Kidney, a forward from the North Jersey Avalanche U18 (T1EHL). The right-handed skater brings with him a lengthy resume, headlined by his 28 goals and 30 assists in 54 games played between the AYHL 18U and T1EHL U18 levels last season.

“It was great to see my name come off the board. I know they have great coaches and a good program. I can’t wait to get started,” said Kidney. “I’ve been playing hockey with Tim Gelatt my whole life, so it’ll be great to skate with him again.”

Kidney’s familiarity with the Knights’ defenseman extends to his brother Mike, formerly a forward for the New Jersey Titans. All three call Middletown, New Jersey their hometown, and all three are now reunited on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton roster.

The Knights’ value on chemistry and prior shared playing time would prove evident early on in their second and third selections. With two picks in the second round, the Knights selected centerman Nick Fea and defenseman Paul Cimilluca, both from the same North Jersey Av's pipeline as Kidney.

Fea, a left-handed shot and 97 birth year, was a line mate to Kidney last season and likewise put up impressive numbers. He scored 19-33-52 in 52 games played between AYHL 18U and T1EHL U18. Cimilluca, also born in 1997, served as a steady two-way, right-handed defenseman with totals of 5-16-21 in 54 games played.

“The Avs were the top team in the U18 Atlantic District this year,” said assistant coach Andrew Whiteside. “I went to a couple games, the three guys we ended up taking distinguished themselves right away. When you’re able to land the best players from the best team, it puts you in a good place.” 

The Avalanche streak of selections would end in the fourth round as the Knights picked up an offensive-minded defenseman in Markuss Komuls from the EHL’s Vermont Lumberjacks. The Latvian native not only played represented his country as an assistant captain at the IIHF World U18 Junior Classic, but tallied points in bunches, scoring seven goals and 30 assists in 39 games. 

Ben Allen, was next to hear his name called to Wilkes-Barre. A forward from the Dallas Stars U18 team in the T1EHL (32 GP, 12-11-32), Allen spent two games in the NAHL with the Aston Rebels in 2015-2016, coincidentally scoring his lone NAHL goal against the Knights.

A familiar face followed with the Knights electing to keep Elijah Latimer at home. From Clifford Township, PA, the left-handed shot earned time at both the 18U and the NAHL levels last season. The ‘97 birth year was the final defenseman taken by the Knights on draft day. 

In the 7th, 8th and 9th rounds the Knights looked again to their forecheck, picking up forwards Alex Adonoff, Lucas Sowder, and William Steele. Andonoff, a Richmond, Michigan native, played for Little Caesars U18 in the HPHL, registering a solid 8-8-16 line in 23 games played. Sowder, among other strong performances, distinguished himself playing well at the USA-S17 tournament, scoring six assists in five games played for Team Gold. Steele played for Selects Hockey Academy 18U racking up six goals and 12 assists in 21 games.  

With two picks in the 10th round, the Knights used their surplus to send the 221st pick to the New Jersey Titans for forward Mike Gelatt. The aforementioned brother of Knights defenseman Tim Gelatt, Mike brings with him more than just NAHL experience. 

“We really like Mike Gelatt. He’s a guy who scored 20 points at the NAHL level last season,” said coach Tom Kowal “He’s a big skater with competitiveness and grit. That’s what we’re looking for.”

At 6-1, 197, the bigger, yet younger of the two rostered brothers scored three goals and four assists in 13 games against the Knights last year. The staff believe they’ve not only acquired a feel-good story and a good system fit, but a leader as well.  

Four forwards rounded out the Wilkes-Barre draft class: Griffin Uftring (Selects Hockey Academy 18U, USPHL 18U), Carson Beckett (Team Comcast 8U, AYHL 18U), Jared Lombardi (Philadelphia Jr. Flyers, T1EHL U18) and Jordan Seyfert (T1EHL U16).

Uftring’s work ethic stood out in pre-draft camp, and his familiarity with William Steele through their shared experience with Selects Hockey Academy could prove to be a bonus. Carson Beckett is a bigger right-handed shot at 6-0 foot with some relative youth as a ‘98 birth year. Jared Lombardi played his fair share of games against other members of the Knight’s draft class in the T1EHL, including each of the top three picks and Ben Allen. Having been born in 1999, Jordan Seyfert, the youngest Knights’ pick, showed enough for the North Jersey Avalanche U16 team (32 GP, 18-24-42, T1EHL) to not only be taken as a third round pick in the USHL draft, but also to make a college commitment to Division I Merrimack for the 2018-2019 season. 

“I just want to acknowledge all the hard work Kerry Huffman and Andrew Whiteside put into making our draft,” said Tom Kowal. “We feel that we have players within this group that will make this team a competitor.”

All 13 draft picks will be invited to the Revolution Ice Centre in Pittston, PA for prospect camp from June 17th-19th. 

“To make this team we’re looking for a team-first attitude and good character on and off the ice,” said Huffman. “We’re really pleased with the depth we bring to camp this year. We just can’t wait to get started.”

 

Knights Proud Of Success But Not Satisfied

Player advancement as strong as ever, but Knights still set sights higher

Tim Mullhaupt, ESPN Williamsport Broadcaster

Staring up at their home scoreboard as their season came to a close, it’s a safe bet the Knights were not in a reflective mood. Their year had been a long one, not without its challenges, but not devoid of more than a few rewards. A bow out in the first round of the Robertson Cup Playoffs won’t satisfy coaches, players or fans, but setting the standard in player advancement will.

In total, the Knights have seen 10 of their players commit to college and had over a dozen current and former players from all levels of the organization selected in this year’s phase two USHL entry draft. Among those to make the Tier-I draft jump were NAHL regulars Braden Brown (forward), Jake Hamacher (forward), Paul Maust (forward), Paul DeNaples (defenseman) and Joseph Campolieto (defenseman).

Head Coach Tom Kowal made no bones about where his organization’s priorities lie, “This organization has always been proud of its ability to develop players and move them on to higher levels. That is something we are most proud of. We obviously want to win but first and foremost is our will to move players on to college or Tier 1 Jr. hockey.”

Though one objective may have been checked off the list, winning is something the Knights are craving more of moving forward. In their inaugural season in tier-II the team received a blunt welcome. In its infancy, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton roster carried just one player with prior NAHL experience; its captain, forward Matt Beranek. With nearly the entirety of the roster still getting acclimated to the next level of junior hockey, the team started the year on an eight-game losing streak.

General Manager Kerry Huffman kept perspective on the learning curve, “Losing our first 9 or 10 games is something we will not soon forget but we learned from it, made some corrections and are stronger now as an organization because of it.”

In the opening weeks of October, corrections came in the form of new skates. Through a flurry of moves the Knights secured their eventual top-line wingers Blake Busch (from Brookings) and Jake Hamacher (from the Minnesota Wilderness) to play alongside number one draft pick, Braden Brown. Once settled together, the trio would pace an offensive revival, combining to score 48-67-115 while wearing a Knight’s sweater.

Also crucial in sparking the turnaround were pickups of two-way forward and special teams ace Carson Knop (from Janesville), grinder forward and eventual assistant captain Zed Dietrich (from Brookings) and a stout defenseman in Austin Redders (from the Minnesota Wilderness). Knop scored the shootout game-winner in the Knight’s first-ever NAHL win against Johnstown on October 10th. Once paired alongside line mates Paul Maust and Zach Remers, the team found itself in possession of a potent top-six that regularly allowed them to compete with a highly physical and offensively-potent Eastern division.

Said Kowal on his team’s progress relative to their rivals “This season we learned a great deal about just how good and strong the NAHL is. Our division is very strong and by the last half of the season any team could beat any team on a given night.”

Perhaps most elemental in setting the tone for the lineup on a given night was the line composed of three 95ers, Matt Beranek, Tanner Bennett and Stephen Kelly. Though consistently listed as the third line, it was not uncommon for Kowal to roll the trio out as starters throughout the season. Bennett and Kelly, born a day apart and lifelong friends from Columbus, Indiana had palpable chemistry to go along with Beranek’s unrelenting grit and toughness. Never was that chemistry more evident than when the “Columbus Connection” took the ice on the penalty kill. The pair combined to score four of the team’s 10 shorthanded goals, including the winner in a thrilling overtime win at home against Fairbanks on December 12th. Kelly picked the pocket of an oncoming forward and feathered a perfect lead pass to the streaking Bennet on the breakaway goal.

Jimmy Elser, Aiden Beck, Zed Dietrich and Isaac Cirinna tooks turns rotating between lines throughout the year but also played valuable fill-in roles when members of the top-six were injured. All four brought the level of compete and physicality expected of checking liners throughout the season.

Leading the way defensively was Dmitriy Zaitsev. The Russian native not only possessed puck-moving ability, but a nose for the net, as made clear by his 7-15-22 line in 53 games played. Nothing spoke higher to his potential then his promotion to the Russian U18 roster for the IIHF U18 World Championships in mid-April. There he tallied one assist in five games played. There is speculation growing that he may even hear his name called at the NHL draft in late June.

Not to be left out, defensemen Paul DeNaples and Dorian Dawson both excelled offensively down the stretch of the regular season combining to compile 6-23-29 on the year. Dawson spent most of his time paired with fellow Ontario native Nick Criminisi with both players weighing in at over 200 lbs (Dawson is listed at 6-2 and Criminisi at 6-4) the pair formed one of the more physically intimidating blue lines in the NAHL. Tim Gellatt and Joseph Campolieto earned more playing time later in the season. Gellatt was rostered all year at the NAHL level and scored two goals and four assists in his final 11 games played. Off the ice, the Middletown, NJ native was honored with the Eastern Division Community Service award. Campolieto spent time bouncing back and forth from the 18U team to the NAHL roster, but impressed enough to be selected in the phase two of the USHL entry draft.

Between the goal posts Grant Valentine got the majority of the starts, rewarding the Knights with a number of solid outings, highlighted by his shutouts recorded against Aston and Johnstown on October 17th and February 20th, respectively. Andrey Svistunov provided more than solid depth, and at times showed dominance, recording two wins of 45 saves or more and a shutout win against Kenai River in his best performances. He recorded a save percentage of .920% in 29 games played on the season.

The results went beyond just the individual box score. The Knights would split the regular season series at eight games apiece with the eventual Eastern division champion Aston Rebels. Even more impressive was a 2-1-1 record in four games with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, a team crown Robertson Cup Champions this past Sunday.

Still, the Knights look for more. A simple yet sound argument can be made that more wins equates to more opportunities to display skillsets for Tier-I and college scouts. Nothing sells the idea of talent more than success, and even though it’s only May, if you ask the head coach and general manager, next year is already brimming with potential.

“I think what excites me the most about next year is just that we learned so much this past season. We have some excellent returning players who will be more mature and should have very big seasons for us,” said Kowal.

Huffman was similarly optimistic. “Last season we acquired the franchise very late and did not have an opportunity to scout properly and prepare for the draft and player acquisition like every other team did.  This year we have spent a great deal of time preparing and scouting. Our staff has watched a lot of hockey and attended many showcases and games to be ready to go. 2016-17 is going to be a very good year for the Knights.”