By Joshua Boyd / NCDCHockey.com
The South Shore Kings learned a ton in 2022-23. They learned just how much it takes to make it to the Dineen Cup Championships. They learned how to stick together with every curveball and every victory alike. They learned volumes about hockey and life from their first-year head coach Tyler Holske. But in the end, it was the watching and learning how another team can win the Dineen Cup that left a real sting behind.
The Kings fell by a 2-1 series score to the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders in a Dineen Cup finals where they held a lead even late into Game 2, following a Game 1 win. That left a mark on several Kings, so it’s no surprise that many members of last year’s team are back to complete some unfinished business. It is the full and irrefutable belief among the Kings staff and players that the Dineen Cup belongs in Foxboro, Massachusetts. That and full college advancement for all players looking to move on after this year are the clear goals.
“The staff and I are really excited about the group we have in place for the season. We have a nice mix of veteran returners and a nice blend of young talent. I am looking forward to watching the returning group set the bar for the newcomers early on,” said Holske.
The Kings coach felt like his 2022-23 team, younger a year ago, had to spend extra time last season getting used to the pace, physicality and skill level of the NCDC. With many experienced Kings back, there shouldn’t be as much of a learning curve from the start.
“Last year, we had a young and inexperienced group out of the gate. It took us some time to get going,” Holske said. “The younger players from that group really started to gain confidence around January. I believe the experience our returning group of players went through last year, including the playoff run, will help us early on in this new season.”
The Kings wasted little time in naming their 2023-24 leadership group, making the announcement earlier this summer. Confidence is high in the group of Co-Captains Aiden Lindley and Nate Stachowiak and Alternate Captain Culin Wilson, all battle-tested veterans, as well as leaders, during the Dineen Cup run.
“Aiden Lindley, Nate Stachowiak and Culin Wilson will be leading our group this season. Most importantly, I believe we have three young men that are high character kids and culture drivers,” said Holske. “Aiden and Nate were both here from the start of last season. Culin joined our group in November. I was really impressed with how these guys carried themselves last year, especially during the playoffs. The three of them have a good understanding of our team culture here in Foxboro.”
All three were top 10 scorers last year. Lindley, who had previously won a USPHL Premier championship as part of the Charlotte Rush in 2021, put up 19 points in 48 regular season games and then became a point-per-game threat through the playoffs with eight points in eight games.
Stachowiak, a former Frederick Gunn School teammate of Lindley’s, put up 26 points in 47 regular season games, and Wilson (from the Dexter Southfield School) posted 21 points in 34 regular season games.
That trio of lettered leaders is only the tip of the iceberg for the sizable veteran Kings group back and looking to go that one extra yard to become champions.
Kotaro Murase was the team’s third leading scorer and brings back the most points, with 32 points in 44 regular season games plus six in eight postseason matches. The team’s fifth scorer coming back from last year’s Top 10 is Karim Gayfullin, a player who started with the Premier Kings and worked his way up quickly into the NCDC lineup, posting 20 points in 37 regular season games. He also had seven points in eight playoff games.
One of the team’s key defensemen from last year’s playoff run, Salvatore Cerrato, has returned to the team and will be counted on as a D core leader. Cerrato put up 15 points in 40 games in the regular season, following that with three assists in the eight playoff games.
“He will be a big part of the power play this upcoming season,” Holske said. “Also, he’s another Frederick Gunn School alum with Lindley and Stachowiak.”
Tommy Whitford was a regular on the blue line for the Kings last year, playing in 43 regular season games plus all eight playoff matches. Tyler Maxner came in from the Premier Kings for eight NCDC games last year, and scored 15 points in 21 Premier games. He’s ready for prime time with the NCDC squad.
“I look for all of these guys to take a step in their second season of junior hockey,” added Holske. “Obviously, we have a great group of returners. I do expect our new players to push this group of returners early on.”
Among the newcomers, he really likes what he sees in the NCDC goaltending trio. This starts with recent acquisition Ryan Keyes, who played for the Mercer Chiefs and was recently acquired in a trade with Mercer.
“Ryan was one of the top goalies in the NCDC last season,” said Holske, of the third-year NCDC veteran and fifth-year USPHL veteran.
Keyes finished with a .914 save percentage last year and helped the Rockets Hockey Club 16U win the 2019-20 USPHL 16U National title.
Tucker Inabinet, an ‘03, comes in with prior Tier II experience from the Saskatchewan Junior League, while Adam Stevenson (‘05) is a 2022 Kings NCDC Draft pick out of the Bishop Kearney Selects 18U program.
“He will also be competing with Tucker and Ryan. He has had a strong preseason,” said Holske.
Stevenson is not the only Kings draft pick looking to make their NCDC debut this season. The coach points to 2022 selection Michael Minchello as well as 2023 draft picks Amari Sellars and Paul Spino. All three are 2006-born players.
Minchello is a former Dexter Southfield teammate of Culin Wilson, and he is also a draft pick of both the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks and QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts.
Sellars, a forward out of Ontario’s Ridley College, was selected in the fifth round and is also an OHL draft pick of the Owen Sound Attack. Spino, from the Colorado Thunderbirds 16U team, is a third round Kings selection and was also taken in the USHL draft by Sioux City Musketeers.
Ethan Gonyeau is another promising ‘06, a tendered player from the Dallas Stars Elite 16U team, and he is both a Cedar Rapids (USHL) and Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) draft pick.
“I expect all these players to receive interest from NCAA Division I programs,” said Holske.
The Kings’ journey for this new season all begins Friday afternoon in the very first game of the new 18-team NCDC. They will drop the puck against the Northern Cyclones at 1 p.m. on Sept. 22.
“I am excited to get the season going on Friday. Similar to the last few years, I expect to see a lot of parity throughout the NCDC,” said Holske. “Anyone can win on any given night.”