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NCDC 2023-24 Team Preview Series: Utica Jr. Comets

By Joshua Boyd / NCDCHockey.com 


The Utica Jr. Comets certainly have gotten a good look at what their new New England Division will look like when they begin divisional play in mid-October. Four of the six New England teams already got underway in the NCDC’s opening weekend between Sept. 22-24. Only the Jr. Comets and the Twin City Thunder remain to open their season, both kicking off at the BJB Shootout, which will include all 12 Atlantic and New England Division teams. 

So, the Jr. Comets’ life in their new division will feature games against their former Atlantic Division-mates to kick off the season at both the Shootout and the following weekend’s Jersey Hitmen Classic. What type of team will people see when they first take the ice at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Mass., on Saturday against the Connecticut Jr. Rangers? 

“We have a good mix of returners and new faces. We are looking for our returners to build off of last year and make our team a much more structured group,” said Head Coach Louis Educate, who is starting his third season in that position. “We are putting together a team that will go out every night and compete.

“I believe we have a more mature group who will have much more attention to detail, leading to less mistakes and more wins,” added Educate. “We played with a lot of pace last year and will continue to do that this year.”

The team returns several players to the NCDC team, including 2023 Young Guns All-Star Game selections second-year veteran Waylon Esche (goaltender) and third-year Jr. Comet Niko Benjamin (forward). Additionally, the team welcomes back forwards Payne Gatewood, Seth Ferguson and Peyton Kimball, and defensemen Cam Lowe, Billy Moloney and Nick Dimatos and third-year veteran Jason Shafer. In addition, Cam Manley is joining Esche once again in net. 

“With as many returners as we have we expect our guys to have a deep understanding of the direction we want to go with our team,” added Educate. “Our large returning group should all play massive roles on the ice and in the locker room bringing in knowledge and experience that a successful team needs.”

The newcomers group includes some players who already picked up valuable NCDC and other Tier II experience. This includes Louie Kamienski (20 points in 47 NCDC games), Alexander Keller (seven points in 33 games) and Marc LaFrance (42 NAHL games). 

“They all bring a veteran presence to the room. Adding these experienced players should go a long way into building a very deep team,” said Educate. 

The team can look at a long track record of regularly bringing in players who have come up through the Jr. Comets system.

“We have several homegrown players on our NCDC team which speaks to the development that goes on in our organization,” added Educate. “Peyton Kimball, Jason Shafer, Andrey Simonchyk, Waylon Esche, and Cam Manley have all played youth hockey for us and worked their way to the NCDC level.”

The Jr. Comets are hoping to make a big first impression on the big stage of the Shootout, and make some headway early on in the New England Division. 

“I believe the NCDC league as a whole continues to grow,” Educate said. “The parity in the league the last couple of years has been better than ever, and I expect that to continue with both divisions in the East.”

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