(Summaries by Joshua Boyd)
Forward: Tyler McNeil, Jersey Hitmen
One of the most shining examples of #USPHLAdvancement in NCDC history, the former Fresno Monster and USPHL Premier Pacific Division All-Star (2021-22) is leading the NCDC in scoring with nine goals, 13 assists and 22 points through just 14 games. McNeil, a 2002-born native of Valencia, Calif., started out red hot with 14 points in his first seven NCDC games. He went on to add another eight points in a three-game stretch between Oct. 12-22.
McNeil has played a fast and clean game, racking up just 12 penalty minutes, while seeing opponents rack up 14 minutes in infractions against him, showing just how much his elevated skill set is frustrating foes. With 16 hits (third on the Hitmen), he is also not afraid to play the physical game, making the most of his 5-9, 160-pound frame.
Forward: Michael Herrera, Utica Jr. Comets
Clicking at close to goal-per-game pace, Herrera (‘02/Syracuse, N.Y.) is back in the USPHL after spending two years with the NCAA Division III Nazareth College. After obviously gaining valuable experience there, Herrera has his eyes set on a Division I opportunity and scouts at that level can’t ignore his 10 goals in 11 NCDC games early on. He has also added seven assists during the season for 17 points. Herrera has scored goals in seven of 11 games and registered points in all but two.
Herrera grew up in Syracuse and played for the prestigious Nationals program as well as the Rochester Coalition and the USPHL 15U’s own Northern Cyclones before signing on in 2019-20 with the then-newly-minted Jr. Comets. In 35 Premier games that year, he registered 18 points and was a point-per-game man in three playoff games. He also registered two NCDC games that year and earned his NCAA commitment to Nazareth, with whom he played 11 games and scored three points between 2020 and the start of the 2021-22, before returning to Utica and playing seven NCDC games last year.
Forward: Billy Shields, Connecticut Jr. Rangers
A Michigan product, the 2003-born Shields is certainly having a massive Year 2 in the NCDC. After scoring 10 points in 36 games last year, Shields blew past that even before Halloween of this year, registering eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points through just 14 games.
Shields has been a strong two-way presence for Jim Henkel’s team, standing in a tie for second in plus-minus (+10). Ranking second in the NCDC points race has a lot to do with registering points in 11 of the Jr. Rangers’ 14 games, while helping the team stand at second in the South at 9-3-2-1, and tied for third league-wide.
Sean Melso, Jersey Hitmen
A veteran presence on the Hitmen blue line, Melso (‘02/Philadelphia, Pa.) helped the Hitmen defend their 2021 Dineen Cup Championship – which he also helped them win – by earning the 2022 Cup as well. In this third season, Melso is putting up offensive numbers – standing at 12 points in 14 games – but also standing in a tie for third league-wide in plus-minus at +12 (Billy Shields is also part of that four-way tie).
Melso has registered 94 takeaways as well, showing it’s tough to keep the puck away from both him and the Hitmen. At 103 games played, Melso is 12th among NCDC defensemen in that category and he is second among active blueliners in the same category behind only the Northern Cyclones’ Austin Rice (115 games).
Melso is second all-time in points by an NCDC defenseman at 86, and he is close to passing former Hitman and current Dartmouth College star Tanner Palocsik (88 points).
Jonah Copre, Rockets Hockey Club
The Quinnipiac recruit is currently leading the NCDC in points by a defenseman in his first year with the NCDC squad, though he came in with two prior years of Tier I and Tier II experience – and it shows every time he’s on the ice.
A 2003-born native of Elgin, Ill., and a product of the prestigious Chicago Mission program before starting his junior career, Copre has put up 13 assists and is in a three-way tie for the league in helpers with the Hitmen’s Tyler McNeil and Nick Ahern.
Along with four goals, his 17 points rank first in the league among blueliners as do his 1.17 points per game average, six power play assists and nine power play points.
J.J. Cataldo, Jersey Hitmen
This is placed in the “most obvious thing ever” category, as Cataldo leads the league in every conceivable category and only recently took his first regulation loss to stand at 9-1-0-0. Cataldo won his first nine games out of the gate, with six of those being shutouts. The ‘03 from Stuart, Fla., was a member of the 2022 Dineen Cup Champion Hitmen as well, and needs just a couple more wins to equal his wins total from all of 2021-22.
Overall, his 0.90 goals against average and .970 save percentage are remarkable as league-leading numbers and no one comes close to his six shutouts. He is one doughnut away from tying former Hitman Damon Beaver’s seven shutouts set as the league single season record in 2020-21.
He put up three straight shutouts between Oct. 12 and 21, compiling a shutout streak of 182:27 that encapsulated portions of five games.
Note: This First Installment Of Players of the Month includes stats and games from September 2022, as well.