NAHL Alumni Update
March 31, 2016
Back On March 3, 2013, Casey Nelson, a defenseman for the Johnstown Tomahawks of the North American Hockey League, officially committed to play college hockey at Minnesota State. Already 20 years old at the time, the Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, native didn’t have much for Division I scholarship offers before the Mavericks came calling. As a freshman, Nelson struggled to stay in the lineup. He played in 19 of Minnesota State’s 40 games and finished the year with five points. He was also minus-5. “My freshman year, I was kind of thrown in pretty early,” Nelson said recently. “Couldn’t handle it. Was out of the lineup there for awhile.” Starting his sophomore year, however, Nelson never left the Mavericks’ lineup, compiling 55 points over the next two seasons and was plus-33 over that time. Along the way, NHL scouts and higher-ups began to take notice. His name went to the top of a lot of free-agent prospect lists. At the end of this season, he was named first team All-WCHA and was the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. Nelson picked up an assist and was plus-1 in his first NHL game on Saturday night and topped that on Monday in Detroit by assisting on two goals and finishing the game plus-2. In a three-year span, Nelson’s stock skyrocketed, going from being barely recruited in his final season of junior hockey to a struggling freshman to being one of the most coveted college free agents in the nation to scoring a point in an NHL game. Talk about the embodiment of hard work and persistence and not letting adversity squash dreams of playing professional hockey, no matter how far-fetched they might have seemed as a teenager. Buffalo media wondered why Nelson wasn’t drafted as an 18-year-old, not realizing, perhaps, that he stood just 5-foot-10 then and was heading to Alaska to play in the NAHL. “Late bloomer,” Nelson said. “Very late bloomer. I’ve kind of had to fight my way through each step here. Excited for this one.”
When the 2016 NCAA Division I Frozen Four faces off next weekend there will be a total of 16 NAHL alumni spread amongst the four teams: Boston College, Denver University, the University of North Dakota and Quinnipiac. Denver University leads the way with eight NAHL alumni on their roster.
The St. John’s IceCaps, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Montreal Canadians, announced former Bemidji State forward Cory Ward has signed a 25-game amateur tryout contract to play out the remainder of the season. The Las Vegas, Nev., native and former NAHL and Aberdeen Wings player will play out the remainder of the season with St. John’s, which includes 12 regular-season games, with the hope of catching on with the organization for the 2016-17 campaign. Ward spent two seasons playing for the Aberdeen Wings. In 113 games with the Wings, Ward recorded 120 points (67 goals, 53 assists). Ward was named to the 2010-11 NAHL All-Rookie First Team and the 2011-12 NAHL All-Central Division Team. Prior to playing in the NAHL, Ward played in the NAPHL during its inaugural 2009-10 season for the Nevada Stars 16U team.
Former NAHL’ers Pat Egan and Cory Dunn were named to the uscho.com All-Rookie Team for the 2015-16 season. Egan, a forward for SUNY-Plattsburgh, played last season for the Lone Star Brahmas in the NAHL. This season, Egan had 27 points in 25 games played as a freshman. Former Austin Bruins defenseman Cory Dunn was also named to the team. Dunn, who played the past two seasons in the NAHL for the Bruins, recorded 31 points in 29 games played as a freshman for Adrian College.
Former Topeka RoadRunners, Wichita Falls Wildcats and NAHL forward Michael Hill has signed with the ECHL’s Missouri Mavericks. Hill, who played in parts of three NAHL seasons, first for Wichita Falls in 2008-09 and then for Topeka from 2009-11, played in 101 career NAHL games and recorded 125 career points. He has played the last three seasons for St. Norbert College, who just lost in the NCAA Division III National Championship Game to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Another member of the Amarillo Bulls Alumni will hit the ice in the professional ranks starting this weekend. The Greenville Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL announced they have signed former Amarillo Bulls forward Matt Johnson. Johnson, 24, completed a three-year career at Lake Superior State University in March, recording four assists and 23 penalty minutes in 27 games earlier this season. Overall, the Clinton Township, Michigan native notched 18 points (4g, 14a) and 93 penalty minutes in 93 contests. He played two seasons at Lake Superior State with Swamp Rabbits forward Andrew Dommett from 2013-15. Prior to his college career, Johnson spent three seasons at the junior level with the Albert Lea Thunder and Amarillo Bulls of the North American Hockey League (NAHL). He set career highs in goals (21), assists (28), points (49) and plus-minus (+18) with Amarillo during the 2010-11 campaign and served as co-captain the following season. Overall, the 6’1, 204-pound forward earned 108 points (42g, 66a), 147 penalty minutes and a +22 rating in 159 NAHL games.