Season Recap: 2018-2019 Recruiting Class

With the USHL recently wrapping up its regular season, it’s time to recap the seasons of all the future Chargers. In this piece, we’ll focus on the incoming 2018-19 recruiting class, which recently grew with the commitments of defensemen Dayne Finnson, Bailey Newton, and Simon Chen. All in all, another solid recruiting class for Coach Mike Corbett:

Forwards

Bauer Neudecker, 5’7, 160, 1998, St. Louis Park, MN, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL) – Following a mid-season trade to Sioux City from Dubuque, Neudecker really took off. In 36 games with Sioux City, he put up over a point per game with five goals and 15 assists, improving his point totals to conclude the season with a respectable 60/5/21/26 slash-line on a below-average Sioux City team. All things considered, his numbers really don’t reflect how good of a season he had. Buried on the depth chart in Dubuque and flanked by younger and less experienced players in Sioux City, Neudecker became a legitimate force in the country’s top junior league by season’s end. His speed, hockey IQ, and creativity served him well in his first (and only) full season of junior hockey, and suggest he’ll continue to get better as he gets bigger and stronger. I expect him to step into a top-nine role immediately and be asked to contribute offensively to a team that’ll have lost its top three point getters up front. Arguably the crown jewel of this recruiting class, Neudecker’s signing is major boon for the program – akin to Max McHugh’s four years earlier. He’s a leader who’ll quickly become a fan favorite.

Jack Jeffers

Jack Jeffers, 6’0, 185, 1997, Oakville, Ontario, Markham Royals (OJHL) – Jeffers had a superb final season of junior hockey scoring 23 goals, 56 assists, and 79 points in 54 games played – good for fifth overall in the OJHL. He was a fixture on Markham’s top line all season long and factored heavily in the team’s success. After he suffered an injury during Markham’s second playoff game, the squad was quickly eliminated from contention. A Second Team OJHL All-Star, Jeffers still exhibits many of the same attributes that had him on NHL Central Scouting’s radar in 2016: exceptional speed, lateral quickness, offensive instincts, and playmaking ability. These skills, combined with four years of high-level junior hockey experience, should result in a quick transition to college hockey. Like Neudecker, he’ll be counted on to help fill the void left by departing seniors Josh Kestner, Tyler Poulsen, and Brennan Saulnier.

Tyr Thompson, 6’0, 180, 1998, Sherwood Park, Alberta, Whitecourt Wolverines (AJHL) – The long-time commit will finally be heading south this fall following three successful seasons in the AJHL. In 2017-2018, he had 16 goals, 30 assists, and 46 points in 54 regular-season games to go along with a goal, seven assists, and eight points in 14 playoff games for a strong Whitecourt team.  Tyr, who is originally from Alberta, played youth hockey all across the continent as his father, Rocky, a former NHL tough-guy and current head coach of the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, worked his way up the coaching ladder. The ever-changing hockey melting pot that he grew up in is reflected in his play: He’s a versatile playmaker who does everything well and can contribute up and down the lineup. As the son of a former enforcer and current coach, it should not come as a surprise that he also has a good hockey IQ and an edge to his game when needed. I anticipate Tyr will be a jack-of-all-trades for Coach Corbett, providing a steady presence both on the ice and in the locker room.

Ben Allen, 5’9, 170, 1997, Allen, TX, Melfort Mustangs (SJHL) – The Texan began the season with the vaunted Penticton Vees in the BCHL, but was traded midseason to the Melfort Mustangs, a team in the neighboring SJHL, where he’d get more playing time. The trade paid dividends, as Allen plotted seven goals and seven assists in 16 games down the stretch for Melfort. He’s another guy whose got a high hockey IQ, really understands the game, and can skate. Similar to Tyr Thompson – who was ironically a teammate of Allen’s in minor hockey – his versatility, leadership qualities, and mature approach make him a welcome addition to the 2018-19 Charger squad.

Defensemen

Dayne Finnson, 5’10, 190, 1997, Arborg, Manitoba, Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL) – Make no bones about it, after losing three of his top six defensemen, Coach Corbett had to sign an impact defenseman who could step in and play top-four minutes. Fortunately, he was able to do just that when he secured Dayne Finnson’s commitment back in March. Finnson, a farm boy from rural Manitoba, plotted an impressive 41 points, including five goals and 36 assists, in 56 games played for the Victoria Grizzlies in the BCHL. His point total was first among defensemen on the Grizzlies, and good for sixth overall in the entire league. He continued his strong play on into the postseason, with two goals, five assists, and seven points in 12 playoff games before the Grizzles were eliminated in the second round.  In sum, this past season was Finnson’s second with the Grizzlies, who brought him out west following a 2-year stint of prep hockey with the New England powerhouse Salisbury School in Connecticut. An excellent skater with good vision and a strong first pass, Finnson will remind many Charger fans of outgoing senior Brandon Parker given his stature and ability to jump up into the play from the back end. Don’t let his height fool you, though: Finnson is tough as nails and can dish out absolutely bone-crushing hits like this one back in November of 2016:

 

Drew Lennon, 6’2, 180, 1998, Bloomington, IL, Lone Star Brahmas (NAHL) – Given the Chargers’ aforementioned need for defensemen, it likely came as a huge relief to the coaching staff when Lennon announced his commitment to UAH towards the beginning of the season. As noted when he first committed, Lennon, who is originally from Illinois, has played junior hockey all over North America these past few years. After a year in Connecticut playing for the Connecticut Oilers (EHL), Lennon went to the opposite coast with Prince George in the BCHL in ’16-17, and then to Texas this season. Regardless of where Lennon’s gone, he’s put up solid numbers and continued to improve. Although the two goals, 16 assists, and 18 points he notched for Lone Star in 58 games this year may not jump off the page, they’re pretty good considering the shutdown role he often played for his team. In keeping with the theme of this class, Lennon is also a strong skater who works hard and plays a heady game. As one scout put it, “his value lies behind the red line,” but he still has some serious upside offensively. It’ll be up to Coach Corbett and whoever replaces Matty Thomas as the defensive assistant coach to unlock Lennon’s offensive potential. In any event, expect Lennon to get playing time early and often as a freshman.

Bailey Newton, 5’11, 190, 1998, Halton Hills, Ontario, Oakville Blades (OJHL) – Newton, a physical blueliner who served as Oakville’s captain this past season, recently pledged his commitment to UAH where he’ll be reunited with former Blade Christian Rajic. Widely lauded for his work ethic, leadership qualities, and character, Newton is bona fide defensive defenseman who does a lot of little things on the ice that are necessary for a hockey team to be successful. The former draft pick of the OHL’s Erie Otters shadows other teams’ top players, kills penalties, and stands up for his teammates, as evidenced by the 124 PIMs that he piled up during the regular season. He wasn’t tasked with being an offensive contributor, and his goal, 16 assists, and 17 points in 53 games reflect that. However, Newton could very well develop into more of an offensive threat, as he – like everyone else in this recruiting class – is a good skater with ample hockey smarts. Hockey abilities notwithstanding, this is a kid who’s been team captain just about everywhere he’s played and is revered by both teammates and coaches alike. There’s no reason to think that won’t be the case in college.

Simon Chen, 5’10, 180, 1997, Beijing, China, Cowichan Valley Capitals (BCHL) – This kid has to have the most unique background of any UAH recruit, ever. Born in China, Chen played minor hockey there until his desire to develop his game exceeded his country’s limited hockey resources. Not knowing that New England prep schools typically recruit their players, he enrolled at the Brooks School and ended up being the only “walk-on” to make the team. Later, after playing for a couple of different U18 teams in the Northeast, he headed out to British Columbia to play for the Cowichan Valley Capitals in the BCHL, where he spent the past two seasons. After his first season with Cowichan, he was invited to attend the Vancouver Canucks Development Camp, where he got a chance to compete with a number of top NHL draft picks and prospects, as well as share his unique hockey background with a larger audience.

His 52/2/9/11 line this year belies the improvements he made in his second season of junior hockey. And given the fact that Chen has really only played top-flight hockey for a few years, he’s got a tremendous amount of room to grow as a player. It’ll be fun to watch him get better, and, hopefully, achieve his goal of playing for China in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. For more detailed info on Chen’s background, check out these other pieces done on him:

That all for this year’s incoming recruiting class. Stay tuned for a write-up about UAH commits for 2019-20 and beyond.

Recruiting: Trades should boost Allen, Neudecker

By Asher Kitchings

Ben Allen

Ben Allen will be joining the Chargers next season.

Two members of UAH’s 2018-2019 freshmen class were on the move this past week in trades that were likely perpetuated to give both players more ice time in their final seasons of junior hockey.

Ben Allen (Allen, Tex.), a 1997-born forward who had been with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, returned to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, where he played last season. The Vees had 10 — yes, TEN — forwards committed to NCAA D-I hockey programs alone, so it’s no surprise that ice time was hard to come by.

Allen, who had four goals and seven assists with Penticton, will now be on a playoff-bound Melfort Mustangs squad where he’ll be counted on to play top-six minutes and put up points.

Bauer Neudecker (St. Louis Park, Minn.), the aptly named former Mr. Hockey candidate from hockey-mad Minnesota, was traded from the team that drafted him this past May, the Dubuque Fighting Saints, to the Sioux City Musketeers.

The trade is already paying dividends as Neudecker scored a goal, his first of the season, in his first game as a Musketeer in the U.S.’s top junior circuit, the USHL.

Expect these two future Chargers to see a spike in productivity with increased roles on their new squads.

Hoof Beats: Stat pack and recruiting update

Josh Kestner

Josh Kestner has been on a goal-scoring pace not seen at UAH in over a decade. (Photo by Todd Thompson/RiverCat Photography)

Some statistical analysis as we hit the halfway point of the season:

• The 6-9-1 overall record may not seem like much, but it is the Chargers’ best 16-game start since the 2005-06 season, when they started 8-7-1.

• UAH is only 1-7-0 on Fridays, with the lone win coming against last-place Alaska Anchorage at home. The Chargers are 5-2-1 on Saturdays, with the two losses coming against non-conference foes Notre Dame and Cornell on the road and both currently ranked in the top six. Five of the eight series this season have been win-loss splits, including the last three weeks.

• The Chargers are scoring 3.30 goals per game in WCHA play, second in the league behind Minnesota State (3.80). UAH is tops in power play efficiency in conference games at 25.0 percent.

• Josh Kestner has 10 goals in 16 games this season, already a career high for him and more than his team-leading nine goals last year. He’s the first Charger to reach double-digit goals at this point of the season since both Jared Ross and Bruce Mulherin did it in the 2004-05 season. Kestner is third in the WCHA in overall goals scored and first in power play goals with five. Nationally, Kestner is 19th in goals per game (0.62) and tied for fourth in power play goals (five).

• Now that Jordan Uhelski has played over 1,500 career minutes at UAH, he qualifies for ranking in the program’s all-time leader boards. His .907 save percentage would be sixth all-time and fourth in the modern Division I era, just behind Cam Talbot (2007-10). His 2.81 goals against average would edge him over Steve Briere (1997-2000) for fourth all-time and second in the modern Division I era (behind Scott Munroe’s 2.76).

• For those of you who still care about goaltender win-loss records, Uhelski already has 12 career victories in two seasons, matching Carmine Guerriero’s four-year total. Uhelski has made 33 starts, while Guerriero made 72. Uhelski is getting more goal support now that the Chargers are scoring about a half goal per game more than last season, and about 1.5 goals per game more than Guerriero’s first season (2013-14).

Recruiting update: Last week, UAH received a commitment from Drew Lennon, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound defenseman playing for the Lone Star Brahmas in the NAHL. Lennon, who is originally from Illinois, has played junior hockey all over the continent these past few years. After starring with Rocky Mountain Roughriders U16 AAA team in 2014-15, he went on to play for the Connecticut Oilers in the EHL in 2015-16, and the Prince George Spruce Kings in the BCHL last season. Drew is known for his strong defensive play and skating ability. His size and reach make him difficult to play against, and he’s yet to reach his offensive ceiling. Through 27 games this season, he has two goals and five assists, but has a goal and three assists in his last eight games, so he’s starting to heat up.

Bauer Neudecker signed his National Letter of Intent with UAH, so he’ll be a member of the 2018-19 freshmen class. He has five points in 17 games for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, the same team the produced UAH captain Max McHugh.

Tyr Thompson, another forward expected in the 2018-19 recruiting class, has been playing at a near point-per-game pace this season (31 points in 29 games) for his Whitecourt Wolverines (AJHL) squad. Thompson and Neudecker headline what is shaping up to be another solid recruiting class for Coach Corbert and his staff. — Asher Kitchings

WCHA media poll: The Chargers are currently sixth in the latest WCHA Media Poll, conducted by Tech Hockey Guide. UAH fell a spot from fifth after the Chargers split at Northern Michigan over the weekend.

UAHHockey.com has a vote in the poll, which has a representative covering each WCHA program.

Recruiting roundup: Star prospect Flynn commits to UAH

by Asher Kitchings

With junior hockey seasons set to begin, here’s a rundown on UAH’s current commitments:

Aidan FlynnAidan Flynn (6’0″, 155 lbs., forward from Spring Hill, TN): Flynn, born in 2002, is one of, if not the, youngest commit to UAH ever. He led his TPH Thunder U14 AAA team last season with 67 points in 57 games, and was the sole skater from that team to be selected for TPH’s U16 squad this year. At only 15 years of age, he’s already on NTDP, USHL, and OHL scouts’ radars. His combination of size, skating ability, and two-way play gives him a projectable upside that few in his age group possess. If he has a strong season, an invite to the vaunted NTDP Final 40 Camp is not out of the question. For those of you that don’t know, the United States NTDP (National Team Development Program) is the country’s premier training ground for elite U.S. hockey players at the U-17 and U-18 levels. The two teams are based out of Plymouth, Michigan, and play a schedule that includes USHL teams, NCAA Division I teams, and international competition. Its alumni include NHL superstars like Patrick Kane, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Seth Jones, James van Riemsdyk, etc. UAH has never had a recruit who played for the NTDP. A commitment from a player of Flynn’s caliber and youth is a very positive signal for the program’s future.

Bauer Neudecker (5’8″, 194 lbs., forward from St. Louis Park, MN): With one of the best names in all of hockey, the 2016-2017 Mr. Hockey finalist for the State of Minnesota recently cracked the 30-man roster for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. His speed, versatility, and playmaking abilities will give him a great chance to stick with a squad that is perennial contender in the U.S.’s top junior circuit. I expect him to compete for a top-six role given the numbers he put up last season with his high school team (35 games/39 goals/34 assists/73 pts.) and with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in the NAHL after his high school season ended (11/5/4/9). In the event he’s cut from Dubuque when they trim their roster to the league-mandated 23 (doubtful), he’ll probably head back to Fairbanks where he’ll be counted on to be one of the team’s top point producers. Regardless of where he ends up this season, his ability to pile up points will determine whether he heads to Huntsville in 2018-19 or 2019-20.

Hank Sorenson (6’1″, 190 lbs., defenseman from Plymouth, MN): The gritty, hard-nosed defenseman will be back with the Waterloo Blackhawks in the USHL this season. He’s the top returning rearguard for legendary Waterloo coach P.K. O’Handley after putting up a solid 41/4/10/14 slash line for him last season. He’ll undoubtedly be relied upon to play top-four minutes. From everything I’ve seen, he appears to be a lock in the 2018-2019 freshmen class. If he continues to develop, UAH may have to fend off other programs for his signature. Sorensen is one to watch closely throughout the season.

Tyr Thompson (6’0″, 185 lbs., forward from Sherwood Park, Alberta): Tyr, the son of one of the top up-and-coming coaches in North America, Rocky Thompson, was just traded from the team he played for the past two seasons, the Olds Grizzlys, to the Whitecourt Wolverines (both of the AJHL). He’ll be one of Whitecourt’s top forwards having played at an almost point-per-game pace last season. Like Neudecker, he’s a versatile playmaker that can be used in a variety roles up and down the lineup. I believe Tyr will be on campus for the 2018-2019 season barring something crazy happening.

Joey Baez (5’8″, 165 lbs., forward from Tampa, FL): The second-youngest of all UAH commits, Baez will be making the jump to junior hockey this year with the Johnstown Tomahawks in the NAHL. After tearing it up for one of the top youth programs in the country, the York Skipjacks, this season will be an important one for Baez’s development. He’s a speedster who can score, and that’s what he’ll be expected to do at the next level. A solid season with Johnstown could see the Florida native get drafted by a USHL team to play at a higher level in 2018-2019. Even though he’s not expected to be a Charger until 2019-20 at the earliest, he could be the most electrifying player currently committed when it is all said and done.

Peyton Francis (5’11″, 165 lbs., forward from Oakville, Ontario): Another forward in the Carleton Place-to-UAH pipeline, Francis will look to follow in the footsteps of former Carleton Place and current Charger forwards Jordan Larsen, Andrew Dodson, and Connor Merkley. Francis, a 1999-birthdate, was an affiliate player for Carleton Place last year, but should compete for top-six minutes this season. He’s in a situation similar to Baez’s in that he’s not expected on campus for a couple more years. Nonetheless, I feel like he’ll another guy that could develop into another solid recruit for Coach Corbett and his staff.

Ryland Mosley (5’10”, 180 lbs., forward from Arnprior Ontario): Another young recruit (2000 birth year), Mosley is the most recent forward from the CPC to commit to UAH. This past summer, Mosley was drafted third overall by the North Bay Battalion in the OHL’s inaugural Midget Draft, which was put in place to allow OHL teams to draft the best Ontario-born midget players that were not selected in its annual Priority Selection (featuring U15 players) the year before. Mosley is skilled forward with good speed and creativity who amassed 56 points in 45 games at the Ottawa region’s highest level of youth hockey competition last year. He’s currently tearing it up for CPC’s second-tier team, and may find himself on the roster full-time later this season. In any event, he’ll have a few more years to develop before he comes on campus, and it won’t be a surprise to see him come south of the border to play more competitive hockey in the meantime.

Be on the lookout for commitments to the 2018-2019 freshmen class. We’ll lose forwards Max McHugh, Josh Kestner, and Brennan Saulnier; defensemen Brandon Parker, Cody Champagne, and Richard Buri; and probably goaltender Jordan Uhelski. And with only one forward (Thompson) and one defensemen (Sorensen) definitely coming in, there could be a number of new commits here soon.

2017-18 signing class announced

UAH announced eight signees for the 2017-18 season on Tuesday. Here are some tidbits about these new Chargers:

Josh Astorino (G, 6-2, 175): Astorino committed to UAH last month as one of two goaltenders in this year’s signing class. Astorino was the Ontario Junior Hockey League goaltender of the year with a 1.93 goals against average and .936 save percentage.

Andrew Dodson (F, 5-9, 180): Dodson played the last four seasons with the Carleton Place Canadians of the CCHL. Dodson, who committed to UAH last winter, is the Canadians’ captain and leads the team with 64 points (24 goals, 40 assists) last season.

Connor Merkley (F, 6-1, 190): Merkley was an alternate captain at Carleton Place last season, announcing his commitment to UAH in May. He was named to the CCHL Second All-Star Team last season with 66 points (29 goals) in 61 games.

Dodson and Merkley will reunite with UAH forward Jordan Larson, who played for Carleton Place from 2014-16.

Christian Rajic (F, 5-10, 165): Rajic played the last four seasons with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL, committing to UAH in 2016. He scored 124 points the last two seasons.

Ted Rotenberger (D, 5-11, 180): The eighth Huntsville native to play at UAH, Rotenberger comes home after a year with the NAHL’s Shreveport Mudbugs, who are coached by Charger alum Karlis Zirnis. With Josh Kestner, this will be the third time UAH will have two Huntsville natives on the roster. Rotenberger committed to UAH back in 2013 when he played for another UAH alum, Nathan Bowen, with the TPH Thunder AAA midget program.

Mark Sinclair (G, 5-11, 170): Sinclair had 2.59 goals against average and a .910 save percentage in 45 regular-season games last season with Chilliwack of the BCHL. In the postseason, he had a 2.22 GAA and .923 save percentage in 23 games.

Connor Wood (F, 5-8, 180): Wood will be the fifth native of the state of Georgia to play for the Chargers, hailing from Buford (current UAH forward Adam Wilcox is from Alpharetta). Wood committed to UAH in 2014, and was also a product of TPH Thunder. He had 20 points in 48 games with Odessa of the NAHL last season.

Levi Wunder (F, 5-9, 165): Wunder was a teammate of Wood’s at Odessa last season, with six goals and 13 points in 35 games. He also scored eight points in 22 games with Lone Star.

The current UAH roster features 15 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goaltenders. In addition to the eight freshmen, there are five sophomores, seven juniors, and seven seniors.

The 2017-18 season begins Oct. 6 at Notre Dame.