By Joshua Boyd / NCDCHockey.com
The Mercer Chiefs enter their second season knowing that they are on the right track. The Chiefs eliminated the five-time Founders Cup (regular season) champion Jersey Hitmen in the first round of the playoffs last year, but ultimately fell to the eventual Dineen Cup champion P.A.L. Jr. Islanders.
The Chiefs finished with 56 points, the best first year mark to date for an NCDC expansion team (i.e. any team not part of the inaugural 2017-18 campaign), beating by two points the 54 put up by the Twin City Thunder in 2019-20. The staff and returning players know how to win games in this league and now they just need to win more and continue to push players to the collegiate level.
“It’s really a great group of young men. They are working hard every day, and I already see improvement in two weeks which is what you really want to see,” said GM/Head Coach Rob Broderick.
“We were young last year with a large core of ‘04’s. Almost all of those players are back so that has made us older, but I am certainly planning on dressing some of our good draft picks and U16 and U18 players in our pipeline. I think this year we have a little more depth up front,” added Broderick, when comparing the sophomore Chiefs to their first year counterparts.
Helping to lead the Chiefs as Co-Captains are third-year NCDC veteran Tony Thomas and second-year Chiefs veteran Dylan Young. Thomas, a defenseman, joined from the Connecticut Jr. Rangers.
“Tony is so steady, on and off of the ice. The players look up to him and he leads by example,” said Broderick. “ Dylan, from MIchigan, is one of the best young men I have ever known. He is a heck of a player but more importantly he never takes a second off. He works as hard in practice as anyone I have ever coached, and he is a player who is always watching video, training and doing everything it takes to get to the next level. I am lucky to coach two guys like Dylan and Tony.”
Beyond Young, the Chiefs are very rich in returning players, to the point where this second-year team is fourth in total NCDC games played with 358. Out of this large group that will help to drive Year 2 just as they did Year 1, Broderick is looking for big things out of Nikita Moiseev. The ‘03 from Minsk, Belarus, scored 20 points last year.
“To me, Nikita was maybe the most underrated player in the league last year. He is so good and smooth out there that it looks effortless,” said Broderick. “The truth is he plays hard and with an edge and always makes the smart play. I expect him to do great things this year and in the future in this game.”
Several newcomers are sure to garner college attention – and possibly many, many points – during the season.
It starts with former Detroit-based Belle Tire ‘04 teammates in forward Francis Rose and defenseman Cam Carver, and also extends to former Windy City Storm 18U teammates Dom Gatto (goaltender) and Jack Gricus (defense), both ‘05’s.
“Henri Spoof from Finland is a skilled player who plays with an edge,” added Broderick. “Kyle Cupolo [formerly of the USPHL Premier’s Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings] is a steady and smart defenseman from Canada, and Anthony Sparo is a fast, skilled player from the Northwood School.
“Additionally, forward Bryce Terry [of St. Paul’s School and Northern Cyclones Academy], Andrew LaHaie [Nashville Jr. Predators 18U AAA] and Ethan Byrnes [Philadelphia Hockey Club, EHL] will play significant roles this year,” Broderick said.
With new talent all around the league and some powerful returning players, Broderick knows they’ll have it tough to repeat or improve upon their historic first season.
“I expect the league to be even better this year,” said Broderick. “The skill in the league is exceptional and looking forward to moving players into college hockey!”