The NAHL Knights will be joined by an affiliate EHL franchise with the beginning of the 2017-18 season. Three years ago the Knights boasted one of the EHL’s best rosters. In the 2014-15 season, the team finished with a 28-14-2 record, good for the sixth-best point total in the league. Though the team fell just short of its goal of an EHL Championship, the team sent many players to its NAHL team which made its league debut the following season.
“This is a great opportunity for us to field a team in a competitive tier-III league,” said Knights Director of Hockey Operations Tom Kowal “It will allow us the opportunity to develop players and measure them against quality competition. It will give them the chance to play for our tier-II Knights in the NAHL.”
Last season the Knights had a team in the NA3AHL that acted as an affiliate to the NAHL program, with many of its players skating with the Knights throughout the season.
“We had a lot of guys this past season come up and skate with the NAHL players and make a positive impact,” said Kowal. “Some of them were able to carry that over into games. I think that not only helped us from a team performance standpoint but also helped the players and their development by giving them a real understanding of what it takes to play in a fast, physical league like the NAHL.”
The EHL Knights will be coached by Josh Fusco who’s fresh off directing a team to a championship appearance in the NA3AHL. Several of his players ranked at the very top of the tier-III points list, with a few record-setting performances along the way. Now the coach is focused on making the move to the EHL.
“At this level of hockey, we’re focused on building winning teams, but most importantly we want to help our players improve their game,” said Fusco. “We feel that competing here will give our players not only a chance to make our NAHL team, but also to prepare them for playing in college.”
The Eastern Hockey League has been an excellent junior league that produces dozens of college commitments each year.
“It’s a well-established league,” said Kowal. “Their level of competition is one that is great for preparing players for higher levels of junior and hockey after their junior careers are over.”
The Knights priorities lie with moving their players on to higher levels of hockey. They also are committed to building successful rosters.
“We plan on fielding competitive teams,” said Kowal. “The players we roster will be given the opportunity to make the jump to the NAHL. Some of our key contributors in the NAHL this season came through the EHL at one point in their careers.”
Former EHL players on the Knights NAHL roster from this past season included their captain Tim Gelatt, their leading scorer Matt Kidney, a top pair defenseman in Markuss Komuls and scoring, power forward Mike Gelatt.
Last season former members of the EHL Knights, Tanner Bennett, Stephen Kelly and Zach Remers played significant roles in the Knights inaugural NAHL team. All three now play college hockey.
“To have both a tier-II and tier-III program at the same rink as a part of the same organization is a win-win situation,” said Fusco. “I saw it this past year. Some of our best performers from the tier-III team earned some time with the NAHL roster and performed well. That exposure and that incentive really brings out the best in guys. Everyone wants to keep moving up.”
With the EHL addition set to take place this fall, the Knights will spend the late spring and summer actively filling rosters for both their tier-II and tier-III squads and will continue their search for players looking to advance their hockey careers.
The series of offseason camps the Knights will host this summer will be used to fill both their NAHL and EHL rosters. The first camp will take place May 19-21 at the Revolution Ice Centre and is open to anyone born between 1997-2001 to sign up.
Related: Pre-Draft Camp, May 19-21, Revolution Ice Centre
The second camp will take place at St. Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights, Minnesota from June 16-18. This camp is an open tryout with sign up being available to all 97-01 birth years.
Related: Open Tryout Camp, June 16-18, St. Thomas Ice Arena
The final camp of the offseason will be the Knights Main Camp, taking place at the Revolution Ice Centre July 20-23, and will be invite only.
“We want players that want to win and that want to succeed,” said Kowal. “Our organization being a part of these leagues will give them every opportunity to do so, and will make us a better program for it.”