24 in 24 Series: Michigan Warriors
September 1, 2014
The 24 Teams in 24 Days series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2014-15 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Friday, September 12th as six NAHL teams take to the ice on Opening Night. 24 in 24 will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2014-15 season, including taking a look at their roster and their strengths as a team. It will also take a look back on the 2013-14 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished. Best of all, 24 in 24 is done to provide the fans of the NAHL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
Head Coach: Moe Mantha (5th year)
2013-14 record: 30-20-10, 70 pts. (2nd in the North Division)
2013-14 leading scorer: Zack Szajner (60 GP, 13 G, 27 A, 40 pts, +5)
2014 Playoffs: Defeated Port Huron in the North Division Finals, 3 games to 1. Defeated by the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in the Robertson Cup Semi-Finals, 2 games to 0.
2014-15 Division: North
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 17th vs. Austin Bruins, 4:30pm
Home opener: Friday, September 26th vs. Johnstown Tomahawks, 7:00pm
During the past four years, only a handful of teams can say that they regularly have been a part of the Robertson Cup conversation. One of those teams is the Michigan Warriors. The Warriors actually mirrored the champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs, as in 2011 the Warriors lost to the Ice Dogs in the Robertson Cup Finals and this past season in 2014, the two teams would face one another yet again with a trip to the Robertson Cup Finals on the line. However, this time it would be played out on Fairbanks’ home ice in the Robertson Cup Semi-Finals and again, the Ice Dogs would come out on top, ending another Warriors bid for the title.
After two subpar years following their Robertson Cup Finals appearance in 2011, last season was just what the Warriors needed as they got back to prominence with 30 wins, a North Division playoff title and a berth in the Robertson Cup Semis. “I was encouraged because we got better and improved as the season went along. We had a team that wasn’t fancy or pretty, but they just loved coming to the rink and playing hockey for each other,” said Warriors head coach Moe Mantha. “They were very enjoyable to coach, mostly because they listened and you could see that in their improvement on the ice. We had a goal in mind and that was to get to the Robertson Cup, so in that sense they gave themselves a chance to win it, so you can’t be too disappointed with the outcome. They worked hard from the start of the season with dry land training, through the end of the season with the long trip to Fairbanks, but they came to play every day, so I felt it was successful.”
Heading into this season, the Warriors major need to add some new offensive weapons to the line-up. The main core of forwards who produced the offense from a season ago is gone including a total of 163 points last from the likes of Zack Szajner, Colin Larkin, TJ Stuntz and Jake Hopfner, who are also all committed to NCAA schools. “The offense was the main area of concern going into this season, but I thought our scouting staff went out and got some very talented young players,” said Mantha. “When you lose that much scoring, there is going to be an adjustment period, so we are hopeful that those new forwards who are going to be on the team this year can produce at this level.”
The Warriors will be put to the test early as they have set up an exhibition game with the USA Under 17 Team in Flint on September 6th. “I think it is great opportunity for our players to play against the elite. The US 17 Team had one of the best teams in their program’s history last season as they showed throughout the season and at our Top Prospects event, so I think it is going to be a major test for us,” said Mantha. “I know what it is all about as I spent three years with the USNTDP program, so I am hoping it will be the test we need before we head to the NAHL Showcase. It also gives our players some great exposure because you know there will be a lot of scouts at the game.”
Mantha believes the strength of this year’s Warriors team will start between the pipes. Back is veteran Trevor Gorsuch, who almost single-handedly carried the Warriors all the way to the Robertson Cup. Gorsuch, who will be entering his fourth and final NAHL season, led the NAHL playoffs last year in goaltending with a 1.23 goals against average and a 96.2% save percentage. Half of his six wins in the playoffs were shutouts. Mantha is also exited about the addition of Ryan Larkin. Larkin, 17, is from Clarkston, Michigan, which is just a half hour from Flint where the Warriors play. Larkin was just named to play in the USA Hockey All-American Prospects game on September 25th and is committed to play NCAA Division I hockey for Miami University. The Warriors also return Robbie Beydoun, who played on the team last year and like Larkin is just 17-years-old.
The Warriors also return three players on defense in Ryan Dougherty, Mitch Wedding and Cody Lichtenvoort. Dougherty and Wedding will both be entering their third season in the NAHL and Mantha says both are solid and mirror the type of style the Warriors play by. “Both those guys know they are doing and they aren’t flashy, but they get the job done. We are a blue collar and ham and eggs type of team and I think that is reflected in the work ethic of our group.”
Mantha said he is intrigued with some of the new players, which includes 1st round draft pick Derek Frentz from Mankato West High School in Minnesota. He is also eager to see forward Conor Durgan, who was a member of the NA3HL All-Rookie Team with the Flint Junior Generals last season. “The Robertson Cup is always in the back of your mind, but you also have to understand that the first half of the season is just staying afloat and spent on discovering your group of players. Players have to understand and grow into their roles and sometimes that isn’t an easy process,” said Mantha. “Last year is a great example… we were a little better than average team right after New Year’s and then played well enough to put us in a position to win. That’s all we can ask for and we have to keep things simple to begin the season, but after that we will let it take its course.”
Next up in the NAHL 24 in 24 series: Minnesota Magicians, September 2nd