Junior

The NAHL Top Prospects pipeline to the NCAA

By Alex Kyrias

One of the many benefits about the annual NAHL Top Prospects Tournament is that not only are players rewarded for their outstanding achievement during the regular season with a spot on one of the six rosters this week, but they get an opportunity to shine and showcase their skills in front of NCAA scouts. And, that’s all it takes … an opportunity.

One look at last year’s NAHL Top Prospects rosters shows further evidence that the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament is doing its job in exposing the players to NCAA coaches and scouts. However, the ultimate credit goes to the players who seized their opportunity while participating in the event and who are now transferring that success to their respective NCAA teams.

Take for example Ross Mauermann, a veteran of multiple NAHL Top Prospect Tournaments. The former Janesville Jet and NAHL standout is currently the leading scorer for Providence this season. Most impressively however, is the fact he is a freshman.  So far this season, the former Janesville Jet has 20 points in 26 games. “I’ve got the ice time from the start, and I’m trying to make the most of it,” Mauermann said. “It’s hard to believe I’m playing hockey at this level after everything I went through, but it’s an exciting time right now and I am glad I had the opportunity to show what I could do at the junior level.”

All former Coulee Region Chill forward Connor Gaarder needed was a chance to show what he had to North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. After signing with UND this past summer, Gaarder worked hard and waited for his time to come. That time came this past December and January when Gaarder finally got the chance to play. He played so well that on Jan. 4, he was honored as the WCHA Rookie of the Week and had a stretch where he registered six points in five games.

Nardo Nagtzaam was a scoring machine for the Alexandria Blizzard last year, but it wasn’t until last season’s Top Prospects Tournament that he solidified his place at the next level and committed to play hockey at Mercyhurst.  All Nagtzaam has done during his freshman season at Mercyhurst is lead the Lakers in scoring with 25 points in 28 games. Nagtzaam has won the Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Week award twice so far this season and is already gaining some interest from the professional ranks.

Former Texas Tornado goaltender Dan Sullivan has parlayed his NAHL Top Prospects experience in 2010 to a standout career at the University of Maine. Now in his sophomore season, Sullivan is in his second year of being the starting goalie for the Black Bears. Last season, he was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team.  This season, Sullivan has been a key part of Maine's success as the Black Bears have won 11 of their last 15 games.

One of the Top Prospects alums to have made the biggest impact this year has been former Bismarck Bobcats goaltender Ryan Faragher. After leading the Bobcats to the National Championship in 2010, Faragher appeared in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament last season, helping Bismarck to another Central Division playoff championship. As he entered St. Cloud State this season, his playing time was expected to be limited as a freshman goalie. That all changed back on Oct. 15.

Faragher got his first taste of NCAA Division I hockey on Oct. 15 in Marquette, Mich., getting the start between the pipes in the Huskies’ 3-2 loss to the Northern Michigan Wildcats. While going into a first college start on the road always is a daunting task, the next series of starts for Faragher ended up being at one of college hockey’s most well-known facilities in the Ralph Engelstad Arena versus North Dakota.  Because of an injury to the starting goalie, Faragher was thrust into the spotlight. “I kind of had a hunch that our goalie had hurt himself in practice and it was right about then that I started to prepare for the weekend as if I was going to be playing,” Faragher recalled.

Going into one of the most hostile arenas in all of NCAA hockey proved to be no big issue for the freshman as he turned aside all 44 shots that came his way to earn his first-ever college win and first-ever college shutout. “It was a great environment to get my first win, for sure,” enthused Faragher, who tied a St. Cloud record with 24 saves in the second period. “It was especially big for me to be back in North Dakota, as well, as I had played my last two seasons there with the NAHL’s Bismarck Bobcats and I knew that there was a lot of people back in Bismarck who were watching the game on TV.”

Faragher isn’t the only Top Prospects alum making waves between the pipes. Current Bemidji State freshman and former Dawson Creek Rage goaltender Andrew Walsh has played so well this season that he was named the Hockey Commissioners’ Association National Rookie of the Month in December.

Walsh posted a 4-0-1 record in five starts between the pipes for BSU in the month of December, posting a 1.04 goals-against average, a .961 saves percentage and two shutouts. Twice named the WCHA Rookie of the Week, he helped the Beavers log an impressive 6-1-1 team record. In his last four starts, he allowed just two goals on 109 shots for a .981 saves percentage and a 0.50 goals-against average, while backstopping a penalty-kill unit that was a flawless 18-for-18. He also put together a shutout streak of 163:02 over four games.

Last season, Walsh was playing for the Dawson Creek Rage in the NAHL where he posted a 8-19-1 record with a 3.70 goals against average and a .902 save percentage, recording one shutout. Walsh also played in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in Ann Arbor back in February of 2011 where he represented Team West as they posted a 2-1 record against other divisional prospect teams of the NAHL.

These players and hundreds more of the NAHL alumni who have used the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament as a springboard to the next level are proving that the formula is working for them and that the event is a beneficial one for the players and NCAA hockey teams they hope to make an impact for.  It is all about seizing the opportunity, something that the players above have done and several more on this year’s NAHL Top Prospects rosters hope to do in the future after showcasing their skills this week.