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 Twin City Thunder come in for their fifth NCDC season after debuting at the start of the 2019-20 season. The Thunder have been a consistent threat to all of the North Division, and have made playoff appearances the past three seasons, making the North semifinals twice. Dan Hodge is the Thunder mastermind, being Head Coach, General Manager and Part-Owner of the franchise. He has taken the Thunder to great heights and will continue to develop players for very productive college careers.
All quotes in the sections below come from Dan Hodge.
The Thunder have a great foundation from the start, as they bring back two NCDC All-Stars from the Young Guns game last season. A pair of ‘04’s in Ben Portner and Nolan Leonard put up terrific performances all season long and earned their nomination to the big game on Feb. 22, with Leonard putting up an assist in the 4-2 game.
“We will be leaning on ‘04 forward Ben Portner to lead the way and improve on his season where he earned a Young Guns All Star game selection. Ben has great skill and hockey IQ. We are looking for him to be a big key to our offense next year.
“Nolan Leonard has unmatched speed and really came on as a playmaker towards the end of the season. His assist on Tristan Rand’s OT winner vs. the Advantage in our play-in game was a great play by a player who has a tremendous upside.”
Portner was fourth in team scoring with 24 points in 41 games and then turned it up for seven points in six postseason games. Leonard posted 18 points in 49 games before matching Portner with seven postseason points in six games.
Hodge is also excited about a strong trio of veteran ‘03’s in Patrick Last, Pierce Blaeser and James Tatro, all of whom showed they are ready for greater roles as the elder statesmen of the program this year. Last scored 10 goals and 15 points in 45 games, while Blaeser and Tatro both performed very well in lesser games. Tatro put up 14 points in 27 games and Blaeser contributed five points in his 19 contests.
“Patrick Last scored some timely goals last season and none bigger than the series-clinching goal in Game 3 of the North Division finals. James Tatro’s energy and leadership will be key especially early on in the season. Pierce Blaeser was a player who split time with the Premier and NCDC teams. His work ethic and willingness to go to the dirty areas to earn pucks makes him a player that can play anywhere in the lineup.”
Additionally, ‘03 Tyler Fisher and ‘04 Will Sinclair will return to the blue line, after both making a big impression as first-year Thunder.
“Tyler and Will are expected to build on their first seasons and to be keys on the blue line,” said Hodge. Fisher played in 14 games, while Sinclair skated in 33 and posted three assists.
Matteo Pero – Ontario Jr. Reign (USPHL Premier)
Registered 25 goals and 36 assists for 61 points in 33 games, placing fourth in scoring and first in points per game (1.85) for the Jr. Reign.
“His ability to score goals and create offense will add an offensive dimension to our team.”
Gavin Frack – Las Vegas Thunderbirds (USPHL Premier)
An ‘03 forward from Redding, Conn., he posted 28 goals and 33 assists for 65 points in 43 games for the Las Vegas Thunderbirds.
“Gavin’s work ethic and ability to produce points will make him a player to watch.”
Gavin Graham – Atlanta MadHatters (USPHL Premier)
Two-year MadHatters veteran and 2022-23 team captain.
“An ‘03 forward, he scored 10 goals and 30 assists for 40 points in 42 games and, as captain, led the ‘Hatters to a postseason berth.”
Leo Mantenuto – Maine Nordiques Academy 16U AAA
Leading scorer for his team as a defenseman with 38 points in 43 games.
“An ‘06 defenseman and a player for whom we used a tender and draft asset as we see him as a key player in our organization.”
Mason Budde – St. Louis Jr. Blues 18U AAA
2004-born blueliner with experience with Jr. Blues as well as CarShield AAA programs.
“His skating, skill and puck moving ability will be a huge asset for the D corps.”
Andrew Toomey, Boston Hockey Academy – Boston Hockey Academy 18U AAA
Led Boston Hockey Academy defensemen in scoring with 29 points in 67 games.
“An ‘05 defenseman from Boston Hockey Academy via Mount St. Charles has a great skill set that will translate well in the NCDC. He has a great ability to get pucks to the net and make skilled plays all over the ice.”
Samson Haver – Rocky Mountain Roughriders 18U AAA
Posted 14 goals and 20 assists for 34 points in 54 games for the Roughriders.
“Offensively gifted ‘04 defenseman who can shut down players in the D zone.”
Scott Lagos – New Hampton School
New Hampton’s third-leading scorer with a 15-19-34 line in 35 games
“An ‘03 forward, he has an exceptional hockey IQ, has a great ability to read plays, and he knows where to be on the ice.”
Matt Donegan – Philadelphia Hockey Club 18U AAA
Tied for the team lead in defenseman scoring in NAPHL 18U play with 11 points in 16 games.
“Strong, steady ‘04 defenseman who has a tremendous shot has a potential to be a constant presence on the blue line.”
“We drafted some very talented players who will all have the opportunity to win jobs on the roster. We are looking to not only build for this year but also for the future. If we can give young players opportunities and they earn them, then they will be on the roster.”
Cole Blaeser – St. John’s Prep
Scored a team-leading 10-24-34 line in 23 games to lead St. John’s Prep. Joined brother Pierce (2022-23 Thunder) in helping St. John’s Prep win Massachusetts HIgh School hockey Division I title in 2022. A 2022 Draft Pick by the Thunder.
“An ‘05 forward, he captained the Eagles to the tournament again this past season. Has a great work ethic and attitude that makes him a great asset for any team.”
Axel Favreau – Cushing Academy
A Maine native, he put up six points with an always powerful Cushing Penguins team that has yielded a lot of NHL talent. Selected in April’s 2023 NCDC Entry Draft.
“Talented two-way player who has developed quickly and has good potential.”
Tommy Anderson – Thayer Academy
Only ‘07 in top 10 of scoring for Thayer, put up 14 points in 27 games. Also had 35 points in 36 games for Neponset Valley River Rats 15U AAA team. Selected in 2023 Draft.
“Highly-skilled player who will be a tremendous asset for our team in the future.”
Zach Holeschek – Sioux Falls Power 16U AAA
Another 2023 Draft Pick, split 2022-23 between Seacoast Performance Academy (36 points in 31 games) and Sioux Falls (seven points in 15 games).
“He will be a player to keep an eye on and see his development with Ice Mavericks Academy this season.”
The Road Ahead
“Our staff is working hard to find the right players who want to earn the opportunity to wear the Thunder jersey and play in the NCDC. We will be attending the USPHL Summer Showcase in Wayne, N.J. (July 17-18) and will be taking any and all opportunities to recruit players for next season. We are looking forward to to the summer, but realize that September is right around the corner.”