The North American Hockey League (NAHL) today announced the Divisional Stars of the Week presented by Easton Hockey for the week ending January 31, 2016. The Easton Hockey Divisional Stars of the Week is a weekly feature during the 2015-16 regular season that honors the top performing players in each of the four NAHL divisions. Only players that are nominated by their respective teams are considered for the Divisional Players of the Week award.
Central Division Star of the Week: Gunner Rivers, goaltender, Minot Minotauros
Minot stayed hot with a weekend road sweep of the Aberdeen Wings and newly acquired goalie Gunner Rivers got the win both nights for his new club. The 20-year-old native of Atlanta, Georgia, stopped 52 of 55 total shots during the weekend as the Minotauros stayed in the race for the top spot in the Central Division. On Friday, Rivers (6’0/170) made 26 saves in a 4-3 overtime win over the Wings in his Minotauros debut. The next night, he posted his first shutout of the season, making 26 saves in a 3-0 win. Prior to this weekend, Rivers had spent the previous 17 games playing for the Odessa Jackalopes in the NAHL. “We acquired Gunner last week and he had an immediate impact on our group. He was very solid in both wins on the road against Aberdeen and looked very comfortable in his new surroundings,” said Minot head coach Marty Murray.
2nd Star: Hunter Shepard, G, Bismarck Bobcats
Honorable Mention (alphabetical): Jake Cass, D, Minnesota Magicians – Derek Frentz, F, Minot Minotauros - Austin Heakins, F, Aberdeen Wings – Matt Pulver, F, Aberdeen Wings – Cole Souto, D, Bismarck Bobcats
East Division Star of the Week: Michael Merulla, forward, Aston Rebels
Even through the Aston Rebels dropped two of three games over the weekend to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights, that didn’t stop forward Michael Merulla from producing some points. The 20-year-old native of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, had eight points in the three games and was a +2. On Friday, Merulla (6’0/190) had a goal in a 3-2 loss in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. On Saturday, he exploded for a hat-trick, including the game-winning goal, and three assists for a six-point game in a 10-2. On Sunday, Merulla added an assist in a 5-3 loss. For the season, Merulla leads the Rebels in scoring with 36 points in 30 games played. “Mike has played fantastic hockey since we acquired him in mid-October. He just keeps getting better. Some NCAA school is going to be very fortunate to get him as his best days are still ahead of him,” said Aston head coach Joe Coombs.
2nd Star: Jacob Hamacher, F, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights
Honorable Mention (alphabetical): Kristofers Bindulis, D, Aston Rebels – Blake Busch, F, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights – Casey Linkenheld, F, Johnstown Tomahawks – Kelly O’Brien, F, Johnstown Tomahawks
Midwest Division Star of the Week: Jakob Stridsberg, defenseman, Fairbanks Ice Dogs
Veteran Fairbanks Ice Dogs defenseman Jakob Stridsberg helped the Ice Dogs to a three-game weekend home sweep of the Kenai River Brown Bears. Not only did the 21-year-old native of Jonkoping, Sweden contribute offensively with four point in the three wins, but he also help shut the door defensively helping his team allow just one goal in the three wins and finished with a +6 rating. On Thursday, Stridsberg (6’1/185) was a +3 in a 5-1 win. On Friday, he scored two goals, including the game-winner, in an 8-0 shutout win and on Saturday he added a goal and an assist in a 3-0 win. For the season, Stridsberg has 27 points in 38 games played. “Jakob had a very solid weekend. He got pucks to the net and was rewarded for it,” said Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart.
2nd Star: Tyler Tomberlin, F, Fairbanks Ice Dogs
Honorable Mention (alphabetical): Isak Bergland, F, Minnesota Wilderness – Dominik Florian, F, Coulee Region Chill – Nico Luka, D, Coulee Region Chill – Anthony Tzveyn, F, Springfield Jr. Blues – Nathan Viberg, F, Springfield Jr. Blues
South Division Star of the Week: Aleksi Poikola, forward, Wichita Falls Wildcats
It was a big weekend for Wichita Falls Wildcats forward Aleksi Poikola as his team split a weekend series in Topeka against the RoadRunners. The native of Espoo, Finland, had five points in the two games, which included three goals. On Friday, Poikola, 19, had a goal and two assists in a 6-2 win. On Saturday, Poikola (5’11/180) scored both Wildcats goals in a 5-2 loss. He was also a +3 for the weekend. In 40 games played for the Wildcats this season, Poikola has 29 points (9 goals, 20 assists). “Aleksi has worked extremely hard to adjust to the quick pace of our league and playing stronger in traffic. It is great to see his work paying off. He competes in all three zones and was rewarded for his play and dedication to improve,” said Wildcats head coach John LaFontaine.
2nd Star: Joey Molinaro, F, Amarillo Bulls
Honorable Mention (alphabetical): Tyler Hall, D, Amarillo Bulls – Brad LeLievre, F, Corpus Christi IceRays – Ben Lown, F, Wichita Falls Wildcats – Juho Niku, G, Topeka RoadRunners – Quinn Preston, F, Topeka RoadRunners