By Joshua Boyd / USPHLNCDC.com
We’ll be taking time over the next month 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.
Our first squad we’re looking at are the Mercer Chiefs, who made a huge splash in Year 1 of their NCDC existence by standing atop the standings for a brief time in early January and then later upsetting the top-seeded Jersey Hitmen in the first round of the playoffs. They put up a good fight against the eventual Dineen Cup Champion P.A.L. Jr. Islanders, pushing them to overtime in both of their playoff games. Below is a breakdown of how they are working on their 2023-24 roster by category.
The Chiefs start out with a solid returning core of nine players, including NCDC All-Star selections Felix Bisson, Greg Diamond and David Van Iterson, all of whom are ‘04’s. Diamond was selected as a Player of the Game for the NCDC American Young Guns Team after scoring both of that team’s two goals. One was assisted by Van Iterson.
With 11 points in 43 games, Bisson was the leading ‘04-born scorer for the Chiefs last year, with Van Iterson posting nine points in 40 games and Diamond putting up two points in 18 contests. Nickita Moiseev is likely to be the top returning scorer. The ‘03 from Belarus put up 20 points in 46 games on the season.
Dylan Young, an ‘03 junior rookie from Michigan’s Fox Motors program (as well as prior years with Belle Tire) was impressive with 10 goals, which tied for fifth for the Chiefs last year.
The team is also bringing back ‘04 forward Ryan McKenna, who played the majority of his games this past season with the Chiefs’ 18U team, but saw action in nine NCDC games. McKenna is a former USPHL 16U All-Star, having appeared in the 2020 16U All-Star Game while with the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders organization.
Returning ‘03 forward Jake Swiatek put up 11 points in 30 games last year and has a history with some of the country’s top midget programs such as the Rocky Mountain Roughriders, Team Illinois and the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals.
Goaltender Peter Pirone registered the Chiefs’ best save percentage at .922 this past year, posting a 5-3-0-1 record along the way. Another in a long line of promising ‘04’s for the team, he comes out of the Team Maryland and Washington Little Capitals programs.
Not a returning player but an NCDC veteran, Tony Thomas joined the Chiefs in a trade from the Connecticut Jr. Rangers. The ‘03 from Warwick, N.Y., brings a strong defensive acumen as well as leadership, serving as an alternate captain for the Jr. Rangers last year. He comes out of the North Jersey Avalanche and New Jersey Titans AAA programs.
Cameron Reel – Toledo Cherokee
A 2003-born forward originally with the Tri-State Spartans made his junior debut in 2022-23 with 57 points in 43 games for the Cherokee, who reached the National Quarterfinals at USPHL Nationals. He had 10 points in six postseason games.
Jacob Ammar – Toledo Cherokee
Ammar (‘03) has been a teammate of Cameron Reel’s for no less than six years. The two have played not only with the Cherokee, but also with the Tri-State Spartans and Indy Jr. Fuel. Ammar posted 48 points in 37 games with the Cherokee during the regular season and added 10 points in six games during their extended postseason run. Ammar and Reel were also longtime Tri-State Spartan teammates with Keaton Lipsett, who was the Chiefs’ second leading scorer this past season.
Jake Lindstrom – Elite Hockey Academy
A 2004-born native of Colorado, Lindstrom was the top scorer for the always-impressive Elite Hockey Academy from Connecticut. He posted 73 points in 66 games, and helped EHA win the 2022 East Coast Elite League Championship.
Ethan DeGroat – CarShield AAA
DeGroat, an ‘04 forward from St. Louis put together an impressive 10-14-24 line in 59 games for CarShield, which finished the season ranked 16th nationally among 18U AAA teams by Myhockeyranking.com.
Brian Ericsson – Phoenix Jr. Coyotes
The 2004-forward from Gilbert, Ariz., has been with the Jr. Coyotes since the 15U level and has put up 35 points in 62 combined regular season games at the 15U, 16U and 18U levels with the Phoenix squad.
Colin Nemacheck – Marquette Senior High School
Nemacheck, an ‘04 defenseman, is coming off a strong four-year varsity career at Marquette Senior High School in Wisconsin, where he put up 40 points in 71 games.
Francis Rose – Belle Tire
Rose, an ‘04 forward from Clarkston Township, Mich., has enjoyed success at four different top Michigan-based programs, including Meijer, Little Caesars and Victory Honda before putting together a solid 10-game season with Belle Tire.
Hollis Humphries – Jersey Hitmen 18U
Humphries was second in Hitmen scoring in the Tier 1 Hockey Federation, posting 23 points in 18 league games. He also played for the nearby Morristown-Beard School, where he finished as their all-time leading scorer with 164 points in 79 games.
Chris Fotopoulos – Indy Jr. Fuel
The ‘04 forward from Woodbury, Minn., finished in a tie for the scoring lead on the Indy Jr. Fuel by posting 54 points in 50 games. He came in with a long resume of strong play with the Minnesota Moose Midgets program.
Anthony Sparo – Northwood School
Sparo played his past two years with Northwood and put up 32 points in 116 games after also having played in the past with Holy Ghost Prep and the Valley Forge Minutemen in his native Pennsylvania.
Clay Spencer – Detroit Country Day School
Spencer, an ‘05 defenseman, was a goal-per-game player this past year for DCDS, posting 25 goals and 40 points in 25 games. He improved his points totals over the last three years from two to 28 to 40.
“We have so many good players who will be looked at for being on the team. We are looking to get even younger and if the player has the skill, as a 2006 or 2005, they will certainly be given a very hard look” – Head Coach Rob Broderick.
Evan Sofikitis – Little Caesars (2023 Draft Pick)
Sofikitis is “just a fantastic player” who posted 40 points in 66 games for the third-ranked Detroit Little Caesars team that went to the 16U Nationals. A 2022 USHL Futures Draft selection of the champions Youngstown Phantoms, with whom he made his USHL debut this year.
Dom Gatto – Windy City Storm (2022 Draft Pick)
An ‘05 goaltender, Gatto put up a 1.59 goals against average with the 33rd-ranked Windy City Storm U18 AAA team this year. He had previously been a 20-game winner with the Chicago Young Americans as a 15U player in 32 games in 2020-21.
Luke Rubin – Team Maryland
The 27th overall selection in the 2022 NCDC Draft, the ‘05 Rubin did just about the same at the 18U level as he did at the 16U, hitting the 80-point mark in both. He led team Maryland this year with 80 points and 51 goals in 54 games, after posting 83 points in 62 games the prior season.
Bryan Wiggins – Team Maryland
Another 2022 NCDC Draft selection and a longtime teammate of Luke Rubin, Wiggins brings size (6-4, 214 pounds) and a good two-way game. He put up 39 points in 58 games this year.
The Road Ahead
The scouting and recruiting never stops until the team names its 23-man roster in September, so the Chiefs coaching staff is working hard this late spring and summer.
“Between myself and my new Assistant Coach J.T. Tarantino, we will be hitting a couple of USHL camps, along with the USPHL Summer Showcase in Wayne, N.J.,” said Coach Broderick.