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22 in 22: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights

September 10, 2015
The 22 Teams in 22 Days series features a look at all 22 teams in the NAHL for the 2015-16 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Friday, September 11th.  22 in 22 will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interviews with all 22 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2015-16 season, including taking a look at their roster and their strengths as a team.  It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.  Best of all, 22 in 22 is done to provide the fans of the NAHL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights
Head Coach: Tom Kowal (1st Year)
2014-15 record: Did not play in the NAHL
2014-15 leading scorer: n/a
2015 Playoffs: n/a
2015-16 Division: East
First regular season game: Friday, September 18th vs. Johnstown Tomahawks
Home opener: Friday, September 18th vs. Johnstown Tomahawks
New to the NAHL this season is the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. Along with the Aston Rebels, Johnstown Tomahawks and New Jersey Titans, the team’s will make up the new East Division of the NAHL in 2015-16. The Knights were officially announced as members of the NAHL on May 1st and will be the only expansion team in the league this season.
The Knights are under the ownership of Dr. Louis DeNaples Jr. In 2008, DeNaples bought the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights organization (in order to provide a hockey opportunity for youth in the area). Later, he purchased the Revolution Ice Centre, where the NAHL team will be based. The Knights mission to develop young athletes in a junior hockey environment and present them with an opportunity to train and develop into next level players. The Knights home at Revolution Ice Center is a two-rink facility that seats approximately 1,600+ in the main rink. The Knights have a dedicated locker room, office and training space.
The head coach of the Knights is Tom Kowal. Coach Kowal is a native of Anchorage, Alaska and is entering his second season overall with the Knights organization and is bringing extensive knowledge to the club. Tom grew up playing AAA hockey in Anchorage, Alaska. He went on to play junior hockey for the Omaha Lancers (USHL) and Division I college hockey at both the University of Alaska-Anchorage (WCHA) and the University of Nebraska-Omaha (CCHA). After college Tom broke into coaching as an assistant coach in the USHL with Omaha Lancers and the Tri-City Storm. He then moved over to the NAHL where he spent time coaching as an assistant coach for the Youngstown Phantoms.
Kowal said he is excited for his first stint as a head coach in the league. “We have a great organization, so it is a dream come true for me to be a head coach in a great league at a high level with a team and in area that I really like,” said Kowal. “The NAHL has a great reputation and it is a league that I have seen grow over the years to one of the best in the world. I look forward to bringing a new and exciting level of hockey to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area. We have some staff that have played at the higher level of juniors, in the NCAA and in professional hockey, so we will rely heavily on that experience and those relationships to help our team be a success in our first season in the NAHL.”
Being the only expansion team in the league this season, the Knights had to start from scratch in constructing their roster.  Kowal said that some of the focus was going to be bringing in a handful of players that had junior hockey experience. “We went after a combination of half older, half younger type of team. I think the older players with more experience will really help us at the start of the season, while the younger guys are able to adapt to junior hockey. We tried to take care of building around the older guys with experience first,” said Kowal.
In goal, the Knights have three goalies on the roster right now in Anthony Yamnitsky, Andrey Svistunov and Spencer Wright. Yamnitsky is a Cleveland native and spent a couple years in the NAPHL before playing for the Cleveland Barons 18U team last season. Kowal said he was just returned to the team from Madison in the USHL. Svistunov is a product of the Wilkes-Barre youth hockey system and has put up some great numbers the last three years. Wright is a draft pick of the Knights and played last season in Michigan high school hockey. “Our goaltending situation is solid because of the depth, but there are some unknowns there because we went a little younger and there isn’t a guy who has NAHL experience, so we are going to see who steps up the first month of the season,” said Kowal.
On defense, the Knights have some size led by Canadian citizen Nick Criminisi, who is a 6’4/200 lbs. blueliner that played prep school hockey last season at The Hill Academy in Canada. Jake Rosenbaum is a defenseman that the Knights took from their tryout camp and has impressed the staff. Rosenbaum played for the Los Angeles Jr. Kings 18U team last season. Another defenseman with size and experience is Dorian Dawson, who like Criminisi, is from Canada. Dawson played last season in the CCHL and stands at 6’2/207 lbs.
Up front, Kowal said that the Knight will look to players like Braden Brown (Little Caesars 18U), who was the #1 overall draft pick from this summer’s 2015 NAHL Draft. In addition, Kowal expects production from Pontus Okerblad (WBS Knights/EHL), Matt Beranek (Odessa Jackalopes), Kohei Sato (North Iowa/NA3HL) and Paul Maust (Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 16U). “I think just because we are the only expansion team, that should not allow us any room for excuses.  However, it also means that I think we have to take the season in small chunks like going month by month. We have to make sure we are competing and focused. I think the first month of the season, which includes the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, will be a great indicator of what type of team we have and what type of work we have to do. We need to figure out what works as a team with chemistry and who has the ability to play at the NAHL level,” said Kowal. 
This concludes the NAHL 22 in 22 series, thanks for reading!
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