2016 Wildcats Alumni Report
Thursday, 11.03.2016 / 11:05 am CT
The Wildcats’ trend of moving players on to the next level of hockey has shown no signs of halting. Though they did not lead the league in college commitments last season as they did the season prior, they still committed a whopping 13 players from the 2015-2016 roster to colleges, with 11 of them heading to Division I programs.
College – Thirty-two former Wildcats are currently active players on college teams across the nation. Twenty-five of them play D1.
The Air Force Academy has been the most popular D1 destination for Wildcats in recent years. Four ex-Cats are on the Falcons’ roster: Juniors Ben Kucera (’12-’14) and Tyler Ledford (’12-’14), sophomore Matt Koch (’13-’15) and freshman Erich Jaeger (’14-’16). Ledford is third on the team in points with five in six games, with Kucera right behind him with four in five games. Matt Koch has tallied an assist while Jaeger awaits his debut.
Evan Okeley (’13-’15) played at Air Force last season, but transferred to St. John’s University (D3) where he just scored his first goal as a Johnnie last Friday night at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, MN.
Members of the Atlantic Hockey Conference, the 3-2-1 Air Force Falcons will face several former Wildcats teammates this season. On the schedule are the likes of Niagara University’s Nick Farmer (’12-’15), Denver’s Evan Cowley (’12-’13), Colin Staub (’12-’15) and Rudy Junda (’12-’14), and Army’s Nash Worden (’11-’12).
Despite Niagara’s poor start to their season (0-5-2), Farmer continues to contribute solid numbers to the Purple Eagles, with two goals and an assist to start his sophomore year. Denver Pioneers Junda (JR) and Staub (SO) have had slow starts to their years, while Florida Panthers draft pick Evan Cowley (SR) stopped 19 of 21 shots in his first start of the season in a loss to Boston College.
The US Military Academy at West Point, like Denver, is off to a strong start to their campaign. Sophomore Nash Worden has not gotten rolling yet, but another former Wildcat has. On Friday, October 21st, Army took on UMass-Amherst at the Mullins Center. Freshman forward Jonny Lazarus (’14-’16) notched two assists in the Minutemen’s 3-2 victory over West Point, handing them their first loss of the season.
A part of the Wildcats’ 2016 championship run, Lazarus is off to a booming start at UMass. He is the highest scoring freshman on the team and is third on the Minutemen in points with two goals and three assists through six games.
The 2015-2016 Wildcats were the most successful bunch in the franchise’s history. While on the subject, we’ll delve into their college ventures.
Eight players from last season’s roster are currently on college rosters. Jaeger and Lazarus, Jacob Dalton (Bowling Green), Austin Beaulieu (Alabama-Huntsville), Justin Kapelmaster (Ferris State), Max Reisinger (RPI), Trent Dillinger (Norwich), and Noah Gilreath (Amherst College).
Dillinger (’16) and Gilreath (’15-’16) were the two Division 3 commits from last season’s Wildcats. Dillinger just played in his first game for the Norwich Cadets last Friday night, registering a shot on goal against Endicott. Gilreath and junior Will Vosejpka (’12-’14) will be teammates at Amherst as they wait for their season to start on November 18th.
Dalton (’15-’16) made an unexpectedly early start to his college career at Bowling Green State. He is the youngest former Wildcat currently on a college roster at just 19 years old. He’s already played in all but two of the Falcons’ first eight games of the season and has tallied seven shots on net as a freshman defenseman.
Beaulieu (’14-’16) was regarded as an iron man while in Wichita Falls, missing just one game in two years as a Wildcat. Things don’t appear to have changed at UAH, where he has played in nine of ten games as a freshman. His former-turned-current teammate Cam Knight (’14-’15) has played in all of the Chargers’ games this season and has scored a goal and an assist along the way.
Reisinger (’13-’16) was the longest-tenured Wildcat when he was traded to the Minot Minotauros in January last season. Now at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Austrian winger logged his first game as an Engineer on Saturday, October 22nd.
Kapelmaster (’15-16) was the backbone of the Wildcats’ historic season. As a freshman goaltender at Ferris State, most were unsure as to whether he’d get much playing time. However, he’s been the Bulldogs’ best net-minder thus far. He helped his team get its first win last Saturday in his very first start against Minnesota State University-Mankato, stopping 28 of 31 Maverick shots. He relieved Ferris’ starting goalie the night prior and stopped all six shots he faced. The Coral Springs, FL native now boasts a 2.13 goals against average and an impressive .919 save percentage.
Three more noteworthy alumni to mention are North Dakota’s Tucker Poolman (’11-’12), Michigan’s Sam Piazza (’12-’14), and Bemidji State’s Kyle Bauman (’12-’14).
A draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets, Poolman leads all UND defensemen in points with six in seven games. Former Wildcats captain Sam Piazza also appears to be having a breakout junior year with the Wolverines, having already scored three goals and three assists in seven games this season. Finally, former Wildcats iron man Kyle Bauman is tied for third in scoring on the Bemidji State Beavers with five points in eight games.
USHL – Ten former Wildcats currently play in the United States Hockey League, the only Tier 1 junior hockey league in the United States. Not surprisingly, eight of them were on last season’s roster. Tommy Apap (’14-’15) and Kevin Charyszyn (’14-’15) mark the only two exceptions. Apap starts his second season with the Youngstown Phantoms before heading to Michigan State while Charyszyn leads the way offensively for the Waterloo Blackhawks, scoring 11 points in as many games.
Austin Albrecht (’13-’16), Jeff Baum (’14-’16), Nick Bowman (’16), Adam Goodsir (’15-’16), Ben Lown (’15-’16), Nick Rosa (’15-’16), Michael Rounds (’15-’16) and Rourke Russell (’15-’16) were all a part of the Wildcats’ championship-contending roster last season and have all seen playing time in the USHL.
Leading the Wildcats in scoring last season with 60 points, Albrecht has not missed a beat with the Sioux Falls Stampede. He leads the entire USHL with 16 points in his first 11 games and is clearly taking advantage of his last season in junior hockey. He will join Lazarus at UMass-Amherst next season.
Baum (Dubuque), Rosa (Sioux City) and Charyszyn (Waterloo) are all in their final years of eligibility and the jury is still out on their college commitments.
As for Goodsir (Denver), Lown (Miami of Ohio), Rounds (Ohio State), and Russell (Miami of Ohio), this season is all about developing before playing college hockey next season. Bowman will likely play another year in the USHL before joining Lown and Russell at Miami.
Professional – Fourteen ex-Wildcats are currently playing professional hockey in North America. One plays in the Federal Hockey League, six play in the Southern Professional Hockey League, six play in the East Coast Hockey League, and one plays in the American Hockey League.
The lone FHL participant is Nikita Litviak (’14-’16), who played his first professional games in North American last weekend with the Watertown Wolves, tallying a shot on goal in his debut.
Dakota Klecha (’10-’11) highlights the SPHL group, leading the Peoria Rivermen in scoring with six points in just five games. His former-turned-current teammate Tyler Green (’10-’12) has had a rock-solid start in net for the Rivs, boasting a .961 save percentage and a 1.12 goals against average.
Daniel Gentzler (’09-’10), Steven Hoshaw (’10-’11), Chris Leone (’09-’11) and Chris Rial (’09-’10) have also each seen time in the SPHL this season.
Long-time ECHL superstar and Kelly Cup Champion Chad Costello (’04-’05) continues to dominate with the San Jose Sharks’ affiliate Allen Americans. He has led the ECHL in scoring two years in a row and served as captain in last year’s Kelly Cup Championship season.
St. Louis Blues draft choice Zach Pochiro (’11-’12) was recently traded in a deal involving first overall draft pick Nail Yakupov from the Edmonton Oilers. Pochiro just started this season with the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals, where he had a goal in his debut.
Luke Salazar (’06-’08) is off to a good start with the Colorado Avalanche affiliate Colorado Eagles, with ten points in eight games. Ian Young (’09-’10), Dennis Kravchenko (’11-’12) and ex-Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Cal Heeter (’06-’07) have also started this season on ECHL rosters.
Zach Trotman (’08-’09) played in 38 games with the Boston Bruins last season and scored seven points before being traded to the Los Angeles Kings. To start this season, Trotman has played with LA’s top farm team, the Ontario Reign, where he has an assist through six games.
Europe – Five former Wildcats have taken their talents across the Atlantic. They include Renato Engler (’11-’12), Konstantin Chernyuk (’14-’15), Zach Josepher (’06-’07), Dan Sexton (’05-’06), and André Pison (’15-’16).
Engler was the first-ever Swiss-born player on the Wildcats and has returned home after four years at Lawrence University. In 13 games played with Hockey Thurgau of the Swiss National B League this season, Engler has three goals and six assists.
Chernyuk returned to his home country of Russia after spending last season with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL. He currently plays for Dynamo St. Petersburg in the MHL—Russia’s top junior league—where he has four points in 14 games.
Josepher now plays in the Polish Professional League for Stoczniowiec 2014 Gdansk.
Former Anaheim Ducks forward Dan Sexton is now starting his fourth season with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, Europe’s top professional league. He’s been nearly a point-per-game player throughout his KHL career.
Pison played with the Cats last season and scored arguably the biggest goal in Wildcats history: a game-winning goal in double-overtime against the Topeka RoadRunners to clinch a berth in the Robertson Cup Semi-Finals. The Denmark native is now in the Danish Metal Ligaen playing for the Gentofte Stars, where he has seven points in twelve games.
Wildcats Head Coach Tony Curtale coached a number of current pros, as well. French winger Stéphane Da Costa from the Texas Tornado in the ’06-‘07 season is another who has also taken his talents across the pond to play in the KHL. Since leaving the Ottawa Senators three years ago, Da Costa has scored 87 points in three seasons with CSKA Moskva.
Two of Curtale’s former Tornado goaltenders, Al Montoya and Ben Bishop, are each playing in the NHL and have had remarkable careers. Now serving as the backup to Carey Price, Montoya is in his eighth NHL season and is off to a terrific start this year, backstopping the Montréal Canadiens to a .955 save percentage in his first four games played with the Habs.
Bishop has had a shaky start to his fifth season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but has had an undeniably brilliant young career. At just 29, He is entering his seventh NHL season and already has a Stanley Cup Finals appearance under his belt. Lifelong fans may remember Bishop’s dominance during the Wildcats’ inaugural season in ’04-’05, during which he visited the KYC five times and defeated the Cats in four of those appearances.
What does all this mean for the 2016-17 Wildcats? Little is certain. But something that is certain is that both Tony Curtale and the Wildcats organization have a reputable track record of helping to advance players to the next step in their hockey careers.