By Joshua Boyd / USPHLNCDC.com
We’ll be taking time over the month of June to look at how some NCDC teams are working on building their 2023-24 squads through the acquisition of tenders, commitments from returning players and past draft selections they continue to evaluate.
The South Shore Kings made the Dineen Cup Finals for the first time in their NCDC history (going back to 2017), going three games against the eventual champion P.A.L. Jr. Islanders under first-year Head Coach Tyler Holske, also the youngest head coach in the NCDC. They continue to produce NCAA Division I talent, including standout forward Jack Hillier, who is heading to Sacred Heart University, where he will join former King Chikara Hanzawa. The drive is on to pull together another strong roster, and below are some of the top candidates to wear the Green and Black off the bat in 2023-24.
All quotes in the sections below are from Head Coach Tyler Holske.
“We return a nice group of players up front. Culin Wilson, Kotaro Murase, Aiden Lindley, Nate Stachowiak, Logan Ganz and Karim Gayfullin. All of these guys played hard minutes for us during the regular season. The line of Ganz-Gayfullin-Lindley was arguably the best line in the playoffs. Sal Cerrato and Thomas Whitford are returning on the back end.”
A first-year NCDC forward as an ‘03 last season, Wilson put up a 5-16-21 line in 34 games after spending all his previous years over the age of 14 with the Dexter Southfield School and Boston Jr. Eagles AAA split season program. He contributed a goal and an assist during the Kings’ eight postseason games.
An ‘03 forward from Japan, he registered 11 goals and 32 points in 44 games, and added a 1-5-6 line in eight playoff games. Murase is also a two-time member of Japan’s World Junior Championship team. He posted 10 points in the WJC Division IB tournament to lead his home country to a gold medal and promotion to Division IA for next year (one level below the top field of Canada, U.S. et al). His eight assists were also the best for Japan.
An ‘03 forward, he registered 10 goals and 19 points in 48 regular season games and was a point-per-game producer in the playoffs, with a line of 4-4-8 in eight games. A member of the Charlotte Rush’s 2021 USPHL Premier National Championship team, he came to the Kings from the Frederick Gunn School.
An ‘04 forward, he led the National Young Guns team during the 2023 NCDC All-Stars event by posting a goal and two assists. A former Buffalo Jr. Sabre and Frederick Gunn School teammate of Aiden Lindley and returning defenseman Sal Cerrato, he put up an even 13-13-26 line in 47 games and added two points in the postseason. He was the Kings’ hits leader in 2022-23 with 54, and brings a physical edge to his all-around game.
An ‘04 forward, he joined the Kings later in the season and put up five points in 16 regular season games before posting a huge eight points (5-3-8) in the eight postseason games. Came up out of the CarShield AAA program at the 16U and 18U levels and also put up 113 points in 23 games in his final season with Freeburg-Waterloo High School in his home state of Illinois.
Gayfullin (‘03) started out with the USPHL Premier’s Kings, but after posting 13 points in eight games there, it was clear he possessed NCDC talent. Over 37 NCDC games, he put up a 7-13-20 regular season line and he added a goal and seven points in eight playoff games. He also led the Kings with a +17 rating on the season. The Russian native last played for the Okanagan Hockey Club Europe U20 team out of Austria prior to joining the Kings.
As aforementioned, he was a Gunn classmate of Lindley and Stachowiak. An ‘04 defenseman, his 318 takeaways are the most for any returning King and he also contributed to the offense with a line of 4-11-15 in 40 games, and he added three assists in eight playoff games. A native of St. Louis, he brought experience from the St. Louis Blues AAA and CarShield AAA programs prior to landing at the Gunn School.
A native of Pennsylvania, this ‘04 defenseman is a product of the highly-regarded Pittsburgh Penguins Elite AAA program. His rookie NCDC season saw him post two assists and a +11, tied with Cerrato for highest plus-minus for a returning Kings blueliner. His 123:14 in shorthanded time was second among all Kings defensemen last season.
Lucas Kickhofel – St. Thomas Academy (Minn.)
Kickhofel, an ‘05 forward, put up 22 points in 26 games last season for St. Thomas Academy, ranked 10th among Minnesota High Schools by Myhockeyrankings.com.
“Lucas is a skilled winger with a good motor and a high IQ.”
Brenden Gruber – Notre Dame Academy (Wis.)
An ‘05 forward, Gruber helped Notre Dame finish 28-0-0, win the Wisconsin State Championship and finish the year as the No. 1 ranked Wisconsin high school on Myhockeyrankings.com. He put up 36 points in 22 games for Notre Dame and added seven points in 18 games for Team Wisconsin, for which he has also played the last few seasons.
“Brenden is a player that plays with good details. He is more of a playmaker. He also has good separation speed and can create off the rush.”
Tye Battipaglia – Notre Dame-West Haven (Conn.)
An ‘04 forward from a school ranked No. 1 in its state, Battipaglia was named his conference’s Player Of The Year and helped Notre Dame win the 2022 state title.
“Tye is a 6-foot-4-inch power forward that has a high ceiling. A player that loves to shoot the puck.”
Xavier Vaillancourt – Tabor Academy
This ‘04 forward from Montreal, Que., put together 18 points in 27 games for Tabor Academy, where he finished his prep career with 40 points in 52 games since 2021.
“Playmaking winger that can play in all situations. He has good hands and a long reach. He thinks the game at a high level and can make plays in tight areas.”
Alec O’Connor – Tabor Academy
A two-year teammate of Vaillancourt’s, this ‘04 defenseman scored 25 points in 54 games between 2021-23 at Tabor.
“Alec is a two-way defenseman that will play all situations for us in 2023-24.”
Jackson Faughnan – Milton Academy
An ‘04 defenseman from Binghamton, N.Y., Faughnan has a history with the Kings, playing for their 18U AAA Prep team in 2021-22. For Milton Academy, he has put up 10 points in 39 games over the last two seasons. He has also played for the Cape Cod Whalers 18U and 16U teams.
“Jackson is a steady defensive-defenseman that is hard to play against. He is strong below the dots in the defensive zone and makes it hard for the opposing team to get into inside ice.”
Mattix McMullen – Brighton High School (Mich.)
An ‘05 defenseman playing for a Top 10 Michigan high school team, he was named to the All-State Division I team after putting up 26 points in 25 games.
“Two-way defenseman that makes a good first pass. He also likes to jump into the offense.”
Michael Gravina – Christian Brothers Academy
The ‘05 blueliner from Colts Neck, N.J., split this past season between Christian Brothers and the New Jersey Colonials 18U team. He put up 21 points for Christian Brothers Academy, the No. 2-ranked New Jersey prep team.
“Smart two-way defenseman that plays a simple and smart game.”
“We were able to bring 15 young men into our organization on draft day. I am very pleased with the overall talent level we were able to select. We selected a good amount of 2006 birth year players. The majority of them will be coming to camp with an opportunity to make our final roster. We selected two 2007 birth years that will also be coming to the camp. This will be a good experience for them and will allow myself and the staff an opportunity to get to know them. We also have a good amount of players from the 2022 NCDC Draft class attending Main Camp [including players named below].”
“We also have Free Agent invites and a handful of players that played at the Premier level attending Main Camp that will be competing for spots. We will have some difficult decisions to make at all positions.”
Michael Minchello – Dexter Southfield School
An ‘06 forward, Minchello was selected by the Kings in the 2022 Draft, and he was also drafted by teams in the USHL (Futures Draft) and QMJHL (American Draft) the same year. He put up 13 points for Dexter Southfield this past season as well as 23 points in 31 games for the Boston Jr. Eagles 16U AAA split-season squad.
Hunter Dickey – Trinity-Pawling School
An ‘05 forward, Dickey put up 13 points in 24 games for Trinity-Pawling and 13 points in 23 games with the Buffalo Regals 18U AAA team. He’s been with the Regals for several years, except for one season with the Rochester Coalition playing for their 15U and 16U teams. Along with being drafted by the Kings in 2022, he was also selected by Owen Sound in the 2021 OHL Priority Draft.
Ethan Woolcott – Loomis Chaffee School
A longtime former Anaheim Jr. Ducks player, this 2005 forward played 2022-23 exclusively with Loomis Chaffee, posting 15 points in 26 games. He was a 2022 Kings Draft Pick.
Ben Jarosz – Franklin High School (Mass.)
Jarosz, an ‘05 forward, played for the Kings’ 18U AAA Prep split season team in 2022-23, in addition to putting up 17 points for Franklin, a Top 10-ranked squad in a very competitive Massachusetts high school scene. He is another 2022 Draft selection for the Kings.
Adam Stevenson – Bishop Kearney Selects
An ‘05 goaltender, and veteran of the always strong Phoenix Jr. Coyotes programs, Stevenson put up nine wins and a .905 save percentage for the Bishop Kearney Selects in 2022-23. He is a 2022 Draft selection for the Kings.
The Road Ahead
The Kings are preparing to head out to California to run their NCDC California Combine June 23-25 at L.A. Kings Ice At Pickwick Gardens. That is just one team tryout event in a stacked tryout and recruiting summer as they continue to work for their best Opening Day roster of NCAA prospects they can find.
The Kings’ Main Camp will be held July 14-16 at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., from which they will take two All-Star teams to the USPHL Summer Showcase at Wayne, N.J., July 17-18.
“I attended the Liberty Bell Games last weekend down in Wayne, N.J. This event had some top talent from the Southeastern district. I will be heading to the Sioux City Musketeers camp June 15-18 as I am the Assistant Director of Scouting for them. This is a good opportunity for me to identify a younger player that may not be quite ready to play at the USHL level. I will also attend the USA Hockey Player Development Camps in Amherst, N.Y., during the month of July. Aside from that, we have the Chowder Cups going on in our home arena. These are staple events every summer.”