Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
Winners of eight straight games, there’s no hotter team in the NAHL right now than the Owatonna Express, which rolled off three more victories last weekend.
“I’m very pleased with our start,” said Express head coach Pat Cullen, whose club hasn’t felt defeat since the second game of the last month’s NAHL Showcase Tournament. “The experience we returned this season, as well as our play defensively, has led to our early success.”
On Friday, goaltender Mike Shibrowski turned back all 24 shots in the Express’ 2-0 victory over Bismarck. Dan Cecka and defenseman Marian Fiala connected for the Owatonna goals.
Brian McGinty recorded three assists the next night and Fiala added two of his own as the Central Division-leading Express bested the Alexandria Blizzard in a shootout, 5-4. Shibrowski made 22 saves in regulation and overtime and four of five in the shootout.
Shibrowski stood tall between the pipes again on Sunday, steering aside 19 shots in regulation and overtime and another four of five in the shootout in Owatonna’s 2-1 triumph over the Bobcats.
“Our power play was sharp (the Express netted four goals with the man-advantage) and we scored timely goals,” said Cullen, whose team improved to 8-2-1 on the season. “We also played good team defense and Mike made big saves when we needed him to.”
At 8-0-1 to start his season, Shibrowski has been nothing short of outstanding in the early goings. The 18-year-old from Edina, Minn., who played Midget hockey the second half of last season now holds a 2.01 goals-against average (fourth best in the league) and a .927 save percentage.
“Mike is a big reason we are where we are (in the standings),” said Cullen. “He works extremely hard everyday and makes the saves we feel he should make. His consistency has been excellent, and I think he’s a goalie with a very bright future.”
So, too, does Cory Thorson. The second-year forward who was named the Express’ captain by his teammates leads the club in scoring through 11 games with 12 points on eight goals.
“He’s had nice start to the season and has taken a good step forward in his progression,” said Cullen of the 19-year-old from Crystal, Minn. “He’s a definite Division I prospect and he’s getting interest from several schools.”
Few complaints to be had up and down his entire lineup, Cullen is enthusiastic with the mix of players he’s put together and their commitment to success as a team.
“I’ve been impressed with how hard all of our guys have worked up to this point,” said the coach. “Certainly our veterans have looked good, and they’ve also led the way in showing our new guys how hard you need to work and what it takes to have success in junior hockey.
“All of our newcomers have been good, but Shibrowski and (defenseman) Jake Suter have stood out a little more than the others. We have a deep team and look forward to getting more contributions in all areas from the new guys.”
Cullen has been most pleased his charges’ effort in their own end of the ice. The Express has only allowed 31 goals against after 11 games, tied for third-fewest in the league behind the Marquette Rangers (21) and the St. Louis Bandits (29).
“What I like most right now is how committed we are to playing good team defense,” said Cullen. “We always work to get better defensively and we want to get more production in our 5-on-5 play.”
With a pair of players already committed to Division I schools - Ben Persian (Air Force Academy) and Jake Youso (University of Minnesota) - the Express is expecting more good news on the college front with continued success on the ice.
“We hope to have many more,” said Cullen of his team’s NCAA promise. “We played pretty well at the Showcase, so that helped stir up more interest in several of our players.”
This coming weekend, the Express tangles with the second-place North Iowa Outlaws (12 points) in a home-and-home series. The Express defeated the Outlaws in the teams’ only meeting of the season earlier this month, 5-1.
“Our focus this weekend isn't any different than it always is: play good defense, execute our systems and, when given opportunities, we need to find ways to score,” said Cullen. “We never take success for granted; it’s a long season and things can change in a hurry.”
ALASKA AVALANCHE: Goaltender Landon Peterson (Oregon, Wis.) turned aside all 25 shots in the Avalanche’s 4-0 victory over Wenatchee on Friday.
ALBERT LEA THUNDER: Forward Danny Wood’s (Wilmington, Ohio) hat trick accounted for all of the Thunder’s goals in its 6-3 loss to Alexandria on Friday.
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: The team’s leading scorer, forward Kyle Clay (Henderson, Nev.) tallied two goals and an assist as the Blizzard went 1-0-1 last weekend.
ALPENA ICEDIGGERS: Forwards Jimmy McCusker (Novi, Mich.), Sam Cheraso (Brunswick, Ohio) and Ryan Timar (Novi) scored the IceDiggers’ goals in two losses to Marquette.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Forward Ryan Jacobson (Denver) struck for two goals, including the game-winner, in the Bobcats’ 3-2 triumph over North Iowa on Saturday.
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: Forward Kyle Politz (Elko, Minn.) notched a shorthanded marker and an assist as the Ice Dogs downed Kenai River on Saturday, 3-2.
JANESVILLE JETS: Playing against his former team, defenseman Mike Schenfeld (Littleton, Colo.) connected for a goal and an assist in the Jets’ 6-3 win over Traverse City on Saturday.
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Forwards Doug Beck (Canton, Mich.) and Brad Duwe (Soldotna, Alaska) each tallied a goal and an assist as the Brown Bears bested Fairbanks on Friday, 3-1.
MARQUETTE RANGERS: Allowing only three goals against in two wins over Alpena, goaltender Kevin Kissaw (Goodrich, Mich.) continues his solid play between the pipes. “Once again, Kevin has shown that he’s an elite goaltender at this level,” said head coach Kenny Miller. “He’s a very confident player and he’s been our MVP so far.”
MOTOR CITY MACHINE: Logging over 30 minutes of ice time a game, defenseman Mike Monfredo (Shirley, N.Y.) holds a league-best plus-14 rating after 11 contests.
NORTH IOWA OUTLAWS: Forwards Mickey Knox (Warroad, Minn.) and Ryan Bohrer (St. Paul) scored for the Outlaws in their 3-2 loss to Bismarck on Saturday.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Marian Fiala’s (Slovakia) 10 points after 11 games ranks him tied for fifth in scoring among NAHL defensemen.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: Forward Jared Rickord (Skokie, Ill.), a Bentley College recruit, connected for a goal in regulation and one in the shootout in the Jr. Blues’ 4-3 triumph over Topeka on Friday.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: In his Bandits debut, goaltender Tyler Bruggeman (Mankato, Minn.), who started the season with Fairbanks, steered aside 22 shots in St. Louis’ 2-1 win over Motor City on Saturday. “We were excited to bring him in and his performance Saturday reaffirmed that,” said head coach Jeff Brown. “He made every big save he needed to and he earned his win.”
TEXAS TORNADO: In his first two games with the Tornado last weekend, forward J.D. Howard (Canfield, Ohio) notched two goals and an assist. “We’ve struggled a bit offensively this season, and a player like J.D. who was a goal-scorer in Midgets will be a nice addition to our attack,” said head coach Tony Curtale.
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: Former RoadRunner Eriah Hayes, a 2007-08 NAHL All-Rookie Team selection, scored his first collegiate goal for Minnesota State-Mankato (WCHA) in the Mavericks’ 5-2 loss to Minnesota Duluth on Friday.
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: Forward Dan Radke (Orinda, Calif.), a Lake Superior State University recruit, recorded three assists, including one on Kellin Ainsworth’s game-winning goal, as the North Stars knocked off Janesville on Friday, 5-4.
WENATCHEE WILD: Air Force recruit Mitch Torrel (Monticello, Minn.), a forward, connected for both goals in regulation in the Wild’s 3-2 triumph over Alaska on Saturday.
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: Forwards Brian Sheehan (St. Louis) and Tyler Lundey (Middleton, Wis.) each put home a goal and two assists on Friday as the Wildcats dropped Texas, 5-2.