By Joshua Boyd / NCDCHockey.com
The Bulls are back, but it’s an all new era for the team in Pueblo. Now elevated to Tier II, the Bulls are gearing up for what they hope will be an outstanding debut season in the National Collegiate Development Conference.
Knowing before the 2022-23 season that they would be elevated from Tier III, they put together a potent USPHL Premier team to close out their time there.
Throughout, the Bulls braintrust combed through North America and Europe continuously to prepare for their first NCDC Draft in April as well as several camps leading up to Game 1, to be played Sept. 22 when they host the Utah Outliers.
“After having our first NCDC Main Camp, we are very excited for the team we have put together so far,” said Head Coach Chris Wilhite, who has been at the helm behind the bench since Day 1 of the Bulls’ USPHL existence in 2020. “We are a close group that likes to compete. With that recipe, it has made for a competitive training camp and strong weeks heading into our first games.
“We are a fast, hard-working team that likes to make plays with the puck,” Wilhite added. “Our veterans have done a good job of getting the younger guys acclimated to the junior schedule of getting up early and going to work every day with a purpose. Without having a preseason game, our guys are hungry to start playing other teams.”
What is going to make the Bulls dangerous once that first puck hits the ice in one week’s time?
“First and foremost, our willingness to compete. Secondly, our ability to make plays at high speeds,” he added.
When Wilhite looks around the room, he sees many leaders, but it is premature a week out, from the Bulls perspective, to declare this person or that person captain.
“As far as Captains, that has yet to be determined. As for leaders, we have a great group of them in our locker room,” added Wilhite. “We have a good group of experienced players at the Tier II level, including players like Will Sinclair, Eddie Paulissian and Ethan Thombs. We have a mixture of players setting the bar everyday from all age groups. There is a high standard every day and the players do a great job of holding each other to that standard.”
Sinclair joins from the NCDC’s Twin City Thunder, coming over in a June trade, and Eddie Paulissian (acquired the same day) helped the Jersey Hitmen win their fifth straight Founders Cup, awarded to the league’s regular season champions. Paulissian registered 31 points in 38 NCDC games last year, and from the blue line, Sinclair had three points in 33 games. Thombs was with the Ontario Junior League’s Lindsay Muskies prior to this season, scoring 17 points in 50 games as a junior rookie.
While those players have good familiarity with the Tier II world, the Bulls are also happy to bring up a couple players who have familiarity with the Pueblo Bulls themselves. Forwards Thomas Soucy (‘03) and Owen Ames (‘04) both earned the promotion to the NCDC Bulls.
“Both players are going on their third year of experience playing for the Bulls and the great fans in Pueblo,” added Wilhite.
Three impressive ‘06’s are also ready to start their NCDC careers, in the form of Mykita Bondariev, Felix Pomerleau and Ryan Mitchell.
“We are excited to see our 2006-born players enter their first season in the NCDC. Mykita, Felix and Ryan have all earned their way onto the roster and are set to have great starts to the season,” said Wilhite. “They have exceeded our expectations the first four weeks of practice and we are excited to see what they do this season.”
Bondariev comes out of Ukraine, which he represented for the Under-18 World Championships entry, and he played last year for the Rocky Mountain Roughriders. Pomerleau was on the blue line for the Granby Inouk of the Quebec Junior League last year. Mitchell last played goal for the Colorado Thunderbirds. These three may not end up being the youngest Bulls to don the jersey.
“Time will tell, but we do plan on having a few of our 2023 draft picks in games this season,” Wilhite added. “We feel very confident in our draft picks and their development with their respective teams. I have a strong feeling we will be seeing a few of them this season.”
One Friday from now, the NCDC Mountain Division will make its long-awaited debut, eagerly anticipated since the promotion was announced in the summer of 2022.
“We have high expectations for the Mountain Division and the NCDC as a whole,” added Wilhite. “We expect fast pace hockey with a very high compete level. With the fan bases we get here in the west, we are very excited to showcase the new division.”