Fresh off their appearance at the 2012 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament one week ago in Troy, Michigan, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) are pleased to announce that forward Gabe Levin and defenseman Justin Woods have announced their respective NCAA Division I college commitments. Gabe Levin has announced his commitment to the University of Denver (WCHA) and Justin Woods has announced his commitment to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (CCHA).
"Both Gabe and Justin have worked very hard this season and are a big part of our success," said Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart. "It is great to see them not only get rewarded with the selection to the Top Prospects Tournament, but then announce their NCAA Division I plans. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs organization is very proud of them and congratulates them both."
Levin, 20, is a true developmental ladder success story. Prior to playing in the NAHL, the Marino del Ray, California native played for the California Titans of the North American Prospects Hockey League (PHL) during the 2009-10 season. During that year, he ranked second in league scoring with 36 points 19 games and then followed that up by leading the Titans in points during the 2010 PHL Championship series as California won the PHL 18U Championship.
“I don’t think I would have had the opportunities to move onto the next level in the NAHL in Fairbanks if it weren’t for playing in the PHL and my coach in California, Scott Yorkinson,” said Levin. “It is a great organization and a great league to develop in. Every event had scouts that would follow your progress as the season went along and I believe that was instrumental in me signing a tender and then playing the next season in Fairbanks.”
Once Levin (5’8/165) arrived in Fairbanks to play in the NAHL, his career took off because he was more than prepared. In his rookie campaign in 2010-11, Levin registered 58 points in 55 games and led the Ice Dogs to their first ever Robertson Cup National Championship. In the process, he was named to the NAHL All-Rookie 2nd team. This season has been even better for Levin, who finds himself leading the league in scoring with 79 points in 47 games so far this season.
“I am convinced that Fairbanks was the perfect place to go for me. I think the organization as a whole is the best I have ever been around. They treat the players like gold and focus on your development and advancement as a player,” said Levin. “It also has the best and most passionate fan base in the league. Almost every game is sold out and it really gives the players a lot of motivation to have success at home.”
Levin said that his participation in the recent NAHL Top Prospects Tournament was one of the best experiences he has had during his time in the NAHL. “It is such a great event because you feel proud to be recognized as a player, and then when you get there you see all the scouts and realize that it is a pretty big deal. There is definitely a sense of pride and determination among the teams because you want to show everyone what you can do.”
Levin will continue his hockey career with the University of Denver Pioneers of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), which is one of the most storied NCAA Division I hockey programs in the Nation. The Pioneers rank second in all-time NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championships with seven. Since the creation of the WCHA in 1959, the Pioneers have won nine WCHA Regular Season Championships and 14 WCHA Playoff Championships.
“It was my top choice because it’s the University of Denver… the name and tradition says it all,” said Levin. “I am so excited for the opportunity to go to school and play hockey there. So much of the credit of this commitment goes to the staff in Fairbanks including Rob Proffitt, Trevor Stewart, Geoff Beauparlant and last year’s coach Josh Hauge. It means the world to me to have gone from the PHL, to the NAHL to the University of Denver in just three seasons.”
Woods, 18, is another PHL to NAHL success story. Prior to playing in the NAHL this season, the Fairbanks, Alaska native played last season for the California Titans and head coach Scott Yorkinson. Woods, a 6’2/210 lbs. defenseman, led the Titans in scoring for all blueliners then signed a tender to play for Fairbanks this season.
“The PHL really helped me develop a player because the coaches have an understanding of what coaches at the junior level are looking for,” said Woods. “Practices and games had the same type of intensity of what I am experiencing now in Fairbanks, so it really prepared me in advance of what to be ready for at the NAHL level.”
So far this season, Woods has had a great rookie campaign with the Ice Dogs, appearing in 43 games and scoring nine points, while being a +14. Playing for Ice Dogs has had special meaning for Woods, who is a native of Fairbanks, so playing in front of the home crowd has been a special experience for him. “When you look up in the crowd and see your name on jerseys, and then people come up to you after the game and know your first name… it is a pretty cool experience. I enjoy playing in front of a lot of people I grew up with and know in the community.”
Woods was selected to be a part of the NAHL 18U Selects team at the recent Top Prospects Tournament in which he scored a goal and drew plenty of attention from NHL scouts. “I like to play with a lot of intensity and the Top Prospects Tournament had plenty of it, which I really enjoyed,” said Woods. “I think the 18U Selects team was on a mission to prove they could play with the rest of the teams there. There was a lot of team chemistry from the get-go and I think we left proud of the way we played.”
Woods said seeing all the NHL scouts in the building during the games have him extra motivation. “That’s my ultimate goal is to play in the NHL, so it kind of fired me up seeing so many scouts in one place.”
Following the Top Prospects event, Woods made his NCAA Division I commitment known and that he will be staying home to attend and play hockey for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). “I am thrilled that I get to stay in town and continue my hockey career. I know a lot about the University and what it has to offer, so I felt very comfortable committing there and hopefully I can come in and make an impact in the line-up and improve as a hockey player.”