Two Mahoning Valley Phantoms defensemen have made their college plans for next hockey season, as Carl Nielsen has committed to play for Michigan Technological University (WCHA) and Cullen Lundholm signed on with Robert Morris University (CHA), both for the 2009-10 season.
They are the 15th and 16th players who competed in January's NAHL Top Prospects Tournament to commit to a Division I program following the event.
Nielsen, an assistant captain on the Phantoms’ blue line, will head to Michigan Tech - located in Houghton, Mich., - following a five-goal, 14-assist campaign that saw him among the NAHL’s top 15 defensemen in plus/minus with a plus-17 rating in 48 regular-season games.
“It’s exciting to know I’ll be moving on to the next level,” said Nielsen, a Lorain, Ohio, native. “I’ve been playing junior hockey for three years and it’s been a hope of mine that I would commit.
“It’s nice because now I’ll be able to focus solely on the playoffs without having to worry about what next year holds for me.”
Nielsen says MTU came to him with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“They told me that I’d step in and be able to play and contribute right away,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to go somewhere and ride the bench for a year. (Huskies head) Coach (Jamie) Russell and his staff were very sincere about me stepping in next year and being a real part of the program.”
Fellow defenseman Lundholm’s commitment to nearby Robert Morris, located in Moon Township, Pa., outside of Pittsburgh, comes on the heels of a prolific offensive season that put him among the top-scoring defensemen in the NAHL.
Lundholm, who racked up 33 points on eight goals and 25 assists - the third-highest total league-wide amongst defensemen - says his future as a Colonial is a very recent development.
“Everything happened pretty quickly,” explains the Plymouth, Mass., native, “(RMU) came to me with a great offer and (head) Coach (Derek) Schooley’s staff has a great track record of developing and advancing players from the college ranks into the pros, so it’s a great situation.”
The decision was not something Lundholm took lightly after leaving Mercyhurst College’s team during the 2007-08 season, citing a bad fit within both the program and the school.
“Robert Morris has a great business program, which is something that I want to pursue after college, while Mercyhurst is a school that’s more oriented toward pre-med,” he said. “RMU is definitely a better fit for me. I’m very excited.”
He is the second current Phantom to sign with the Colonials for 2009-10, joining forward Stefan Salituro.
The 14 other NAHL players to commit to a school after the Top Prospects Tournament are: Bismarck Bobcats goaltender Matt Grogan (University of Connecticut); Fairbanks Ice Dogs defenseman Brandon Martell (Ohio State University) and goaltender Phil Cook (Minnesota State-Mankato); Marquette Rangers forward Chad Pietila (Northern Michigan University) and Reed Rushing (Bowling Green State University); Motor City Machine forward Ryan Misiak (Mercyhurst College); Springfield Jr. Blues forward Trent Frey (Mercyhurst); St. Louis Bandits defenseman Tyler Elbrecht (Minnesota State-Mankato) and goaltender Keith Kinkaid (Union); Topeka RoadRunners goaltender Bryce Merriam (RPI) and forward Steve Shafer (Canisius College); and Wenatchee Wild forwards Ducan McKellar (Bemidji State University) and Mitch Torrel (Air Force) and goaltender Mathieu Dugas (Bemidji State).