The 2022 off-season has brought expansion to the National Collegiate Development Conference. After carrying 13 teams for the last three seasons, the NCDC is bumping it up to 14. The Mercer Chiefs are one of two new teams joining this season.
Mercer comes to the USPHL from the Atlantic Youth Hockey League, and General Manager Rob Broderick will also serve as Head Coach of the NCDC squad this season.
Mercer will compete in the South Division alongside a pair of fellow New Jersey-based teams in the Jersey Hitmen and Rockets Hockey Club.
“We’ve got a great group of young men. We’re really excited to be in the NCDC.” said Broderick in his first statement to league media.
Roster composition is always a point of interest as far as expansion teams are concerned. When the Chiefs make their NCDC debut Friday night, they’ll have a few familiar faces on the bench, including Defenseman Jake Grace (‘02).
“I have coached some pro and many NCAA Division 1 players and Jake is one of my all-time favorites! He is an excellent player on both sides of the puck, and whatever D1 hockey program ultimately gets Jake is getting a great player and teammate!” said Broderick via the Chiefs Facebook page upon Grace’s signing.
Grace skated in 48 NCDC games for Philadelphia Hockey Club last season, scoring eight points last year. He was also a member of the PHC’s former USPHL 16U team in 2018-19, one year before his first season in the Mercer organization.
While Grace’s “homecoming” arc may steal the headlines, there are multiple new Chiefs that deserve some shine, including ‘03 Canadian forward Ryder Nienhuis.
Nienhuis scored 15 goals and tallied 18 assists in 48 games with the GOJHL’s Sarnia Legionnaires last year. This will be the 6’4” Ontario native’s first season south of the border, and his offensive prowess is expected to fit the Chiefs’ scheme well.
“[We] hope to be a highly-skilled team,” said Mercer. “We want to move the puck and play up-tempo. Get better as a team every week.”
The quote above exemplifies the mindset of Coach Broderick well. Mercer wants to use skill to put the puck in the net, but as a brand new team, there is a decent amount of gelling to be done. The team’s ability to buy in quickly will outweigh anything from the stat sheet in terms of importance in the early stages of the season.
The Chiefs will play their inaugural NCDC game on Friday, Sept. 23, when the P.A.L Jr. Islanders make the trip to Hamilton. Puck Drop is set for 7 p.m. inside ProSkate Ice Arena.
Drawing a playoff team in your first game in a new league is tough, but the Chiefs aren’t going to be caught losing sleep over any opponent. They’re focusing on themselves.
Above all, Rob Broderick is happy to take the ice in the NCDC this fall.
“[The rest of] NCDC are really good hockey teams,” Broderick said. “They are very well-coached hockey teams, and it’ll be a great challenge every week, which is what you want.”