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24 teams in 24 days: Michigan Warriors

September 1, 2013
The 24 Teams in 24 Days series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2013-14 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Friday, September 13th as eight NAHL teams take to the ice on Opening Night.  24 in 24 will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2013-14 season, including taking a look at their roster and their strengths as a team.  It will also take a look back on the 2012-13 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.  Best of all, 24 in 24 is done to provide the fans of the NAHL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
Michigan Warriors
Head Coach: Moe Mantha
2012-13 record: 19-32-9, 47 pts. (8th in the North Division)
2012-13 leading scorer: Martin Gruse (60 GP, 10G, 24A, 34 Pts, -19)
2013 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2013-14 Division: North
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 18th vs. Brookings Blizzard, 4:30pm
Home opener: Friday, September 27th vs. Port Huron Fighting Falcons, 7:00pm
Michigan Warriors head coach Moe Mantha admitted going into it that last year was a rebuilding year… and it was. With one of the three youngest teams in the league, the Warriors found it tough sledding in the North Division with the likes of seven other very competitive teams. Michigan’s start did not help things as they won only two of their first 13 games and three of their first 18 games.  However, there were times last season when things clicked like the stretch of 12 games in January when the Warriors were 8-3-1.  29 of Michigan’s 60 games were also decided by a goal, so the team was competitive.
Despite the tough season, the draw at the box office for the Warriors was a success story.  For the first time in franchise history, the team averaged over 1,000 fans per game. That included a crowd of over 4,000 fans in a 4-2 home win over Johnstown on January 4th.  It equaled a 35% increase over the season before and was one of the big reasons the NAHL continued to see an increase at the turnstyles last season.
“We knew it was a rebuilding year going into it, but we didn’t feel too bad about it because the guys worked hard, they didn’t quit and for the most part, they were competitive,” said Mantha. “I think the most encouraging thing to me was when the season was over and the guys were getting ready to go home, every one of them had a sour taste in their mouths and pledged to get better and stronger over the summer. Now that we have come back to training camp this year, it looks like they have backed up that pledge and really worked hard in the off-season. They trained the right way over the summer to make sure there isn’t a repeat performance from last year.”
Mantha admitted that the one area that was really lacking last season was scoring, and the numbers don’t lie.  The Warriors ranked 23rd our out of 24 teams in the NAHL in goals scored per game with just 2.27 per contest. Their goals against average was actually very good and under three goals a game, which ranked in the middle of the pack.  However, the lack of putting the puck in the net had Mantha searching in the off-season for some scoring.
“Goal-scoring was priority #1 for us to address in the off-season. We simply needed more guys that could put the puck in the net, create some chances and pay the price,” said Mantha. “We also wanted to pick up some mobile defensemen who could get the puck up the ice quickly. Creating the type of offense we are looking for requires a good initial first pass to get out of the zone.”
Now that the tough rebuilding year is over, Mantha and the Warriors hope to get back to the form that led them all the way to the Robertson Cup National Championship game back in 2011.  One of those building blocks of success is between the pipes and the Warriors have two veteran goalies back this season in 19-year-old’s Trevor Gorsuch and Dillon Kelley.  They start out the 2013-14 season as one of the experienced and proven goaltending combinations in the league, and also one of the biggest. Gorsuch (6’2/205) had some great stats last year despite a 13-17-6 record. He ranked 6th last year in the NAHL in save percentage (92.5%) and saves (1,158). He was also in the top 10 in games played. Kelley (6’5/205) has a couple years of junior experience in both the NAHL and NA3HL and will push Gorsuch for playing time right from the beginning of the season.
If two returning goalies didn’t sure up a defense, six returning defensemen will. That’s what the Warriors and Mantha have coming back this season. Jake Faiella is one of those returning defensemen. He led all Warriors defensemen in scoring last season with 12 points. Sean Campbell also returns after joining the Warriors for 39 games last season after being traded from Kalamazoo. Zach O’Hara, Ryan Dougherty, Mitch Wedding and Josh Shellman also return to the line-up as veterans. “They are still young, but having that one season under their belt will make them better,” said Mantha.
Up front, the Warriors return three of their four top scorers from a season ago, including Zack Szajner, Connor Lyons and AJ Marcinek, who were 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively in goal scoring on last year’s squad. Other key forwards returning include Jake Hopfner and Colin Larkin.  In all, the Warriors will return 15 veterans from last year’s squad, which includes seven forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. “Even the guys who were role players are guys that are going to be able to make a difference this year,” said Mantha.
Mantha said that the core of his new players are there to provide scoring. He mentioned John Nugent, who spent 17 games with the Soo Eagles last season. Michigan’s 1st round pick in the draft, Alex Pellegrino, is another with an offensive upside. Colin Horton, who played some junior hockey in Canada last season, in another and Mantha also raved about Scott Cuthrell, the NA3HL Rookie of the Year last season with the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks. Cuthrell had 47 goals last season to lead the league and Mantha said he is a pure goal-scorer. “The NA3HL is a good, proven league, so the fact Scott was able to put up 47 goals as a rookie tells us he has great potential to score at the NAHL level,” said Mantha. “I think we have improved all areas of our team and with the veteran leadership we have, I think the mindset of this team will be on the right track from the start.”
Next up in the 24 in 24 series: Minnesota Magicians
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