Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
With a 9-1 record in their last 10 games, fewer teams are hotter right now than the Alpena IceDiggers, who stuck to their winning ways last weekend with a pair of victories over the Marquette Rangers.
“We realize it’s only January, but this division is very tight so every point counts,” said IceDiggers coach-GM Kenny Miller, whose team improved to 21-12-2 on the season. “But right now, we’re concentrating on each game as it comes and not looking too far ahead.”
Goaltender Nick Graves turned aside all 19 shots on Friday as the IceDiggers blanked the Rangers, 3-0. Russell Anderson tallied a goal and an assist in the win, with Ryan Timar (game-winner) and Erik Peterson notching the other Alpena goals.
The next night, Jon Puskar struck for two goals, including the game-winner, as the IceDiggers doubled up Marquette, 4-2. Isaac Vaiu added two assists, and goaltender Nate Pellegrino made 27 saves.
“We had solid goaltending both nights and you can tell the guys are coming to the rink ready to play every night,” said Miller.
Graves, who was picked up earlier in the season from Southern Minnesota, and Pellegrino have been exceptional of late. Both hold save percentages over .900 and have been instrumental in Alpena’s recent surge.
“The coaching staff and the players have total confidence in either guy that plays,” Miller said of his tandem between the pipes. “They find ways to get the job done.”
And that’s led to a move up the North Division standings, where the IceDiggers now sit in second-place, 13 points behind the front-running St. Louis Bandits.
“We’re getting solid play from both the veterans and the rookies; every guy has stepped up his game,” said Miller. “Guys like Peterson, Anderson and Graves all the way down to the younger guys like (Tyler) Pilmore and (JC) Gulch are chipping in each night to give us a chance to win. The entire team is doing what it takes right now.”
Timar and defenseman Jerrod Hartman, both first-year players, have also been playing keys roles in Alpena’s success. The 18-year-old’s constant improvement since Day 1 has drawn the praise of their coach.
“These two guys have made major strides since we started the season,” said Miller. “Both of them have been playing with lots of confidence since the holiday break.”
The entire defensive unit, Nick Grasso among them, has gelled into one of the league’s finest over last six weeks, with balanced scoring coming from all directions. That recipe has left the IceDiggers, who finished last season with the sixth-best record in the league with 79 points, in good position with 23 games left in the season.
“We thought after the season we had last year and the keys guys we lost to college that the returning guys would have to step up and the new guys coming in would have to play their roles and, up to this point, they’ve done that,” said Miller.
And the IceDiggers’ rejuvenation is expected to generate more college opportunities. Miller anticipates interest heating up for Peterson, Puskar, Jimmy McCusker, Viau and Anderson, among others.
“There’s a few other guys who will start getting serious interest if they keep playing the way they’re capable of,” said Miller. “I think we have a good group of guys that can play at the college level.”
Alpena is hoping to keep with its winning ways this coming weekend when they travel to Mahoning Valley for the Phantoms Showcase, which will be held January 18-21.
“We talked about wanting to go into the Showcase on a high and we’ve done that,” said Miller. “Now it’s important that we keep playing as a team each night and giving it everything we got when we step out on the ice, whether it is for practice or a game.”
AROUND THE NAHL
PHANTOMS SHOWCASE APPROACHES: The Phantoms Showcase will kick off on Friday at the Boardman Ice Zone in Boardman, Ohio. Visit nahl.com for more information on the four-day event.
NAHL’s TOP SCORER TO UAF: Third-year Wichita Falls forward Adam Cardwell, 20, has committed to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (CCHA) for next season. The Long Beach, Calif., native leads the NAHL in scoring after 34 games with 58 points (21 goals).
GENS TO ALASKA-FAIRBANKS: Fourth-year Topeka defenseman Aaron Gens, 20, has committed to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (CCHA) for next season. The Baudette, Minn., leads the NAHL in scoring among defensemen with 32 points (nine goals) after 28 games.
NAHL ON NHL RADAR: Fourteen (14) players with NAHL ties were recognized by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau on its midterm rankings of 2008 draft-eligibles released last week, including second-year Mahoning Valley defenseman Eric Ringel, 17.
BOURBONAIS TO FLY WITH AIR FORCE: Traverse City forward Clinton Bourbonais, 18, has committed to the Air Force Academy (Atlantic Hockey) for the 2009-10 season. After 32 games this year, the Whitmore Lake, Mich., native has five goals for 17 points.
HARRIS BROTHERS TO BISMARCK: Bismarck traded forward Kurt Weston, 19, to Kenai River for twins Jeffrey and Kevin Harris, 19.
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 two goals and an assist in the RedHawks’ two-game sweep of Nebraska-Omaha.
TOP PROSPECTS ROSTERS UPDATE: Rosters for the first annual Top Prospects Tournament, which will be held February 17-19 at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, Mich., will be released on Monday, January 21.
SHOW STOPPER: Goaltender Thomas Callaghan, 19, continues to leads the Texas’ resurgence, backstopping the Tornado two a pair of wins over Kenai River last weekend, including a 25-save shutout on Friday (2-0). “Tommy is playing the best hockey I’ve seen from him in two years and it’s coming at a great time as we push to make the playoffs,” Tornado coach-GM Dwight Mullins said.
FANTASTIC PHANTOM: Mahoning Valley forward Derek Graham, 19, struck for two goals and three assists last weekend as the Phantoms split a pair of games with the U.S. Under-17 Team. "Once again, Derek was our best player in all three zones," said Phantoms assistant coach Curtis Carr of the Ferris State recruit.
BEGGS TO DIFFER: North Iowa goaltender Matt Beggs, 19, picked up two wins and a no-decision as the Outlaws went 2-1 last weekend. “Matt has elevated his play the past few weeks and has been a big part to our success while (goaltender Robby) Moss has been out,” said Outlaws coach Dave Boitz. “He's been seeing the puck well, controlling his rebounds and making the big saves when we needed him to.”