The North American Hockey League (NAHL) announced today that two more players have announced their commitment to NCAA Division I schools to play hockey this fall. Goaltender Jake Williams of the Alexandria Blizzard will be attending Mercyhurst College and forward Nate Sliwinski of the Texas Tornado will be attending American International College. Both schools are members of the NCAA Division I Atlantic Hockey Association conference.
Both Williams and Sliwinski represented their respective divisions at the second NAHL Top Prospects Tournament this past February in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Williams represented Team Central and Sliwinski represented Team South.
Williams, 21, led the Blizzard to the Central Division title last season as was in the Top 10 in NAHL goaltending statistics for wins (24), games played (45), minutes played (2,468) and shutouts (3). Of Williams last 14 appearances last season, he did not lose a game in regulation during that stretch. In the final game of the regular season, he made 30 saves as the Blizzard won the division title on the final day of the regular season.
“The end of the season was one of the best team moments I’ve had in hockey. It was just one of those junior hockey experiences I have will always remember,” said Williams. “I've had the luxury of playing for some great teams in my time in the NAHL and I believe that learning how to win is the biggest thing I've added in the past two years. Top Prospects was great from a personal standpoint because it always feels good to be recognized. As for the hockey, aside from the Robertson Cup tournament it was the most intense weekend of hockey I've ever played and really was encouraging to see all the scouts there. I owe a lot of thanks to my coach Doc DelCastillo, my goalie coach Brian Daccord and former Bismarck coach Byron Pool.”
As for Nate Sliwinski, he thrived in Texas under head coach Tony Curtale after arriving to the Tornado in an early season trade with Wenatchee. Sliwinski, 20, was almost a point-per-game player in his 51 regular season games with the Tornado. He was named NAHL South Division Player of the Week back on February 14th right before participating with Team South in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament. Sliwinski finished 3rd on the Tornado in assists (34) and 4th in points (54).
“I feel like after I arrived in Texas, the system that Tony (Curtale) had in place really allowed me to display my talents and allow me an opportunity for success. I also had great teammates so it made it easier for me to be creative and contribute the way I knew I could,” said Sliwinski. “The system in Texas is based on hard work, experience and becoming a better player. If you buy into it and work hard, it is going to pay off and it eventually did for me. I have to really thank Tony and the Tornado coaching staff for helping make this happen.”
Like Williams, Sliwinski said that the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament was also instrumental in helping the players get noticed by NCAA coaches and scouts. “The level of competition at Top Prospects was the first thing I noticed. Every game was so competitive there because it isn’t just a meaningless all-star game like some other leagues. It was about showcasing your skills for the scouts and every player on all four teams was there to do the same thing I was. You wanted to impress, but at the same time you have to learn to work and adapt with players you don’t normally play with. It was one of the best experiences of my junior hockey career,” remarked Sliwinski. “All of us playing in the NAHL want the opportunity to play NCAA Division I hockey and I am very happy that I stuck with it, worked hard and believed in the system.”