Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
With the NAHL Midget Showcase Series in town last weekend, the St. Louis Bandits took center stage to commemorate their 2007 national title with a ring and banner presentation highlighted by a two-game series against the Central Division-leading North Iowa Outlaws.
“Anytime you have a special event to honor a championship with a number of people from the league, colleges, the NHL and amateur hockey in attendance, you don't want to go out and lay an egg,” said Bandits coach-GM Jon Cooper.
St. Louis did anything but, knocking off the Outlaws twice, starting with a 4-1 win on Friday. Mike Merrifield struck for two goals, including the game-winner, in that contest, while goaltender Cal Heeter turned aside 36 shots.
The next night, with St. Louis Blues defenseman Erik Johnson on hand to present the championship rings, the Bandits skated to another 4-1 victory. Ben Miller and Kyle O’Kane both recorded a goal and an assist for St. Louis, while Heeter and Mike Johnson combined to stop 43 shots.
“I think it was a good measuring stick for us,” said Cooper, whose team holds a league-best 21-5-1 record. “We’ve been playing a number of solid teams that are at the top of their divisions and to take points from a team like North Iowa is great for our confidence.”
The Bandits have been getting exceptional play from their veterans of late, in particular O’Kane, Ben Warda, Mike Leone, Sam Bozoian and Mike Murray.
“They’ve all started to elevate their play on the ice as well as their leadership and we’re going to need that in the second half if we want to stay where we are in an extremely tough and competitive North Division,” said Cooper.
The Bandits are also going to need continued clutch performances from their goaltending tandem of Heeter and Johnson. Both have 10 wins on the season with save percentages north of .900.
“We’ve been very fortunate over the years to have solid goaltending and this year has been no different,” said Cooper, whose team won its national championship last season with NAHL Rookie of the Year Pat Nagle between the pipes. “You can have 18 all-stars upfront, but if a team doesn’t have confidence in its goaltending, it’s hard to win games.
“Our team thrives off of those two and I can't imagine where we’d be without them.”
With only five players returning from last year’s national championship team, Cooper wouldn’t have bet the farm his team would be sitting atop the entire league halfway through the season, but he certainly isn’t complaining.
“The 18 new guys have really rallied around our success the past few years and challenged themselves not to be the proverbial 'rebuilding-year team,’” said Cooper. “I couldn’t ask any more out of them, they’ve been a great group to coach.”
And for a program boasting a long line of players in the high-level college ranks, this recruiting year should be no different. Three Bandits have already committed to Division I schools – Andrew Hamburg (Colorado College), Bozoian (Harvard) and Mike Hull (Army) - with plenty more to follow, according to Cooper.
“I know what type of players we have, and, like previous years, we’ll have 12-15 commitments when were done.”
Just like last year, St. Louis’ season will end at the Robertson Cup Championship. The Bandits receive an automatic bid to the four-team tournament, which crowns USA Hockey’s Tier II Junior A national champion, as hosts.
“Our big thing is not to burn out,” said Cooper. “It’s been great playing a lot of top teams in the league because of our unbalanced schedule and that can only help us as we move forward.”
AROUND THE NAHL
MISSION, MERCER CROWNED MIDGET CHAMPS: Chicago Mission (U18) and the Mercer (N.J.) Chiefs (U16) were crowned champions of the season’s second NAHL Midget Showcase Series event held last weekend at The Summit Center in Chesterfield, Mo.
LITKE RESIGNS: Dane Litke resigned as Bismarck’s head coach. He was replaced by Byron Pool, who accepted the position of interim head coach. Pool was serving as the Bobcats’ assistant coach under Litke.
MERRIAM PACES ROADRUNNERS: Topeka goaltender Bryce Merriam, 19, backstopped the RoadRunners to a two-game sweep over Springfield last weekend, allowing only two goals in two starts. Topeka has won 10 of its last 12 games.
CARDWELL KEEP CRUSING: Adam Cardwell, 20, continues to shine offensively, racking up three more goals, including his league-leading sixth game-winner of the season, and two assists in two Wildcat wins over Texas last weekend. “Adam was great for us, both offensively and defensively,” said Wildcats coach-GM John Bowkus. “He competes hard and is doing everything a true captain should do to help his team be successful.”
COLLEGES CALLING: Wichita Falls goaltender Mike Jarboe, 19, picked up his league-leading 15th and 16th wins of the season last weekend against Texas, allowing only four goals on 70 shots. “He has lots of schools recruiting him and I feel that whoever gets him will see him becoming the No. 1 go-to guy very quickly,” said Wildcats coach-GM John Bowkus.
CAMPER HONORED BY CCHA: University of Miami-Ohio freshman forward Carter Camper (Cleveland Jr. Barons, 2004-06) was named the CCHA Rookie of the Week after scoring three goals and two asssists in two Redhawk victories last weekend.
COOL HAND LUKE: With a goal and two assists in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Fargo-Moorhead, Alexandria forward Luke Nesper, 20, extended his point-scoring steak to nine games (17 points).
ON THE FAST TRACK: Southern Minnesota forward Ben Beaudoin, 20, added to his team-leading point totals last weekend with two goals and two assists in the Express’ two-game sweep of Bismarck.