By Joshua Boyd / NCDCHockey.com
The Utah Outliers are determined to make just as big a mark in the NCDC as they did in the USPHL Premier over their three seasons. The Premier Outliers earned three straight Mountain Division playoffs and USPHL Nationals berths, one for every season of their USPHL existence so far.
So, nobody will be surprised if they come out of the gate with another powerful team at the NCDC level. The Outliers have carried themselves as if everything has led up to this moment: Friday, Sept. 22, when they will see their first puck drop as a Tier II NCDC team.
“Our staff is excited about the group we have assembled for our inaugural season in the NCDC,” said Head Coach Paul Taylor. “I think we have some solid skill, speed, and players who play hard and are very competitive.”
The Tier II game is expected to be quite a bit faster than they saw with the Premier, so that was one of the skills they built around for this inaugural 2023-24 season.
“I think we have good team speed. Most of our players can get around the ice quickly and I believe that will serve us well,” said Taylor. “I also like the ability our players have shown to move the puck and play a fast game.”
While obviously building towards a higher level of hockey in making their first Tier II team, the Outliers also worked with some of their most recent Premier team’s top junior-eligible players, in order that they could make a run to return with the team. And that they did, specifically the group of Lucas Ouellette and David Utkin, along with late season additions Isaiah Parris, Evan England and Brady Jones.
Ouellette was one of the top six scoring forwards with the Premier team, posting 38 points in 49 games last year and seven points in seven playoff games. Utkin was immediately behind at 34 points in 33 games and six points in seven postseason contests.
Parris, who has two full seasons in the OJHL under his belt, joined for the last six regular season games and finished with six points, and then put up five in seven playoff games. Jones, a defenseman, joined after his Northstar Christian Academy season ended and played a combined seven games with three points. England, out of the Berkshire School in Massachusetts, played in one Outliers game last season.
“Those three players were only with our club for a short time at the end of last season and therefore they did not play many games with us,” said Taylor. “I look forward to the three of them making big contributions this season as we head into the NCDC.”
Even with a good handful of Outliers veterans, the team is taking the approach of watching to see which players out of the entire rostered group rise up as leaders.
“We have not assigned captains yet for this year’s team,” Taylor said. “That being said, we do expect to have a strong leadership group throughout our lineup regardless of who wears the letters.”
In terms of newcomers, the Outliers were able to sign some Tier II hockey veterans that they hope to become such leaders on the ice, off the ice or preferably both.
“I am excited about a lot of our newcomers. I think a couple of guys that should stand out early would be the guys who played at the Tier II level last season. Goaltender Loic Mainguy Crépault along with forwards Garrett Joss and Dylan Hendrick should make an early impact with our group,” he said.
Crepault posted a .910 save percentage and won 10 games for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Swan Valley Stampeders. Joss put up 21 points in 49 CCHL games with the Smiths Falls Bears last year, and Hendrick was a second-year junior player as an ‘05 in the OJHL, scoring 13 points in 50 games for the Stouffville Spirit in 2022-23.
The newcomers go even younger than that, as one of the team’s newest signings was 2023 NCDC Draft Pick Chase Nyitray, an ‘06 defenseman who posted 28 points with Little Caesars 16U AAA team last year, and then added three more points in six USA Hockey Nationals games. He is also a Madison Capitols (USHL) Futures Draft Pick.
“Chase will patrol the blue line for us this season. He is an ‘06 with a lot of potential and I am excited to watch his game grow this year,” added Taylor. “I expect him to have a really solid season with our team and be a solid contributor on our back end.”
The dice begin to roll when the NCDC Mountain Division kicks off for its first-ever games this coming Friday. Even though the division could potentially be a toss-up, the Outliers are not leaving anything to chance. They want to get out there and control the play as best they can throughout the season. This will be an obvious challenge in a determined and hungry new group of Tier II teams.
“I expect the NCDC Mountain Division to be very competitive this season. I know all the teams have worked hard to recruit their rosters and put a solid product on the ice,” Taylor added. “I think the division will have a lot of competitive balance and each night it should be a battle to earn two points. I am excited to play all the teams in the division and also watch them compete against each other.”