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Esmark 18U defenseman gets call to the NAHL

By AK 01/19/2018, 2:00pm EST

Webb to be in uniform for Tomahawks Jan. 19 & 20

The Esmark Stars of the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) are pleased to announce that 18U defenseman Ethan Webb has been called up to the Johnstown Tomahawks of the North American Hockey League (NAHL).  He is scheduled to be in uniform for games this weekend (Jan. 19 & 20, 2018) against the division leading Philadelphia Rebels.

Webb, a 6’0"/160 lbs. native of Lexington, SC, is a longtime member of the Stars organization. He has played the past three seasons in the NAPHL with either the 16U or the 18U team.

So far this season, Webb has collected 12 points (2 goals, 10 assists) in 17 NAPHL games.  Overall, he has tallied 35 points (5 goals, 30 assists) in 44 games for the 18U squad.

Webb,  who is 17, signed an NAHL tender agreement with the Tomahawks back in November and was named to the 2017-18 NAPHL 18U All-Star Game to play for Team South on Jan. 27, 2018.

Last season, Webb helped lead the Esmark Stars 16U team to their first ever NAPHL Dixon Cup Championship. He recorded 12 points in 22 regular season NAPHL games and added another two points in five playoff games on the way to the Dixon Cup Championship.

Webb was also named to the NAPHL 16U All-Star Game in 2016-17 where he played for Team Suter.

Esmark Stars Preview Jan. 20 - 21

By DLG 01/19/2018, 12:30pm EST

U16 and U14 Teams in Action

The U16 and U14 AAA Esmark Stars return to the ice this upcoming weekend, Jan. 20 & 21, 2018.

Esmark's U16 AAA Stars travel to Bowling Green, OH, and the campus of Bowling Green State University for a pair of games against the U16 Culver Academy Eagles.  Face-off is set for 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and 8:30 a.m. on Sunday.  Both games will be held at the Slater Family Arena, home of the NCAA Div. I Bowling Green Falcons.

Meanwhile, the U14 AAA Stars welcome Mid-Am rival the Cleveland Barons to the Pittsburgh Ice Arena for a pair of games on Saturday, Jan. 20.  Games are schedules for 12:00 Noon and 6:10 p.m.  Admission is free.

The U12, U15 and U18 Stars have the weekend off.

Esmark Stars Recap, Jan. 13 & 14

By DLG 01/16/2018, 2:15pm EST

All Five Esmark Stars in Action

This past weekend, Jan. 13 & 14, all five of the Esmark Stars AAA teams were in action.

Esmark's three midget teams (U18, U16 & U15) traveled to Columbus, OH, to visit their Mid-Am rival Ohio AAA Blue Jackets.  And all three squads split their two-game series.

The U15 Stars opened their road weekend with a 3-2 win over the Jackets, but Columbus skated to the "W" on Sunday with a 7-1 win.  The U15 Stars overall record now stands at 21-20-4-3.

The U16 Stars likewise opened the weekend with a win over the Blue Jackets, 7-2, but fell by the score of 2-0 on Sunday.  The U16 Midget Minor Stars overall record stands at 25-16-2-2.

Meanwhile, Esmark's U18 squad opened the weekend dropping a 3-2 decision on Saturday, but rebounded with a 4-3 win on Sunday.  The Columbus weekend improved the U18 Midget Major Stars overall record to 23-13-2-6.

The U12s and U14s Esmark teams were both in Buffalo, NY, to participate in The Cup AAA Tournament.

The U14 Stars continued the "split theme" as they opened the tournament with a pair of wins face the Utica Jr. Comets, 4-1, and the Niagara North Stars, 4-2, on Friday.  Unfortunately, the Stars ended up on the wrong end of a pair of 5-0 defeats on Saturday to the Buffalo Regals and Barrie Colts.  The U14 Bantam Stars overall record now stands at 26-15-3-1.

The U12 Stars also participated in the showcase tournament and dropped games to the Buffalo Regals, Brampton 45s, Team Carolina, and the Niagara North Stars in round-robin play.

NAPHL Names Five U16 Stars to All-Star Game

By AK 01/10/2018, 11:55pm EST

Kuzitskiy, Ferri, Hastings, Kosterau and Perry Earn All-Star Honors

The North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) has announced rosters for the fifth annual NAPHL 16U All-Star Game, to be held on Saturday, Jan. 27, 6:00 p.m., at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, MN.

The U16 Esmark Stars AAA team had five members of their team named to the game, as forwards Anton Kuzitskiy and Cole Ferri, defensemen Ryan Hastings and Aliaksei Kosterau, and goaltender Craig Perry were announced as members of the NAPHL East Squad.

The NAPHL All-Star Games will feature players who are leading the way in the NAPHL and many of whom are considered top prospects in North America in their respective birth-years.

At the 2017-18 16U All-Star Game, both the East and West teams will consist of 23 players (12 forwards, 8 defensemen and 3 goaltenders).

Team East

Video: Meet the East All-Stars

“The NAPHL All-Star Game is a great event each season and highlight's the league’s best players up to this point in the season," said NAPHL Director Tony Zasowski.

This year's All-Star Game was pushed back a month in order to give scouts plenty of time for evaluation.

"The NAHL Central Scouting team of scouts has done a tremendous job tracking the league throughout the season and providing feedback on the top players in the NAPHL,” Zasowski added. 

The NAPHL All-Star Games are a part of the NAPHL’s fifth regular season event of the season, which will feature all NAPHL 18U and 16U teams competing in the final regular season event of the 2017-18 season.

Last season, a record number of players were tendered or drafted into the NAHL and USHL in large part because of showcase events like the NAPHL All-Star Games, along with the 18U Top Prospects tournament at the end of the season.  With a strong handful of NCAA commitments, USHL call-ups and NAHL tenders already signed, the NAPHL is expecting another banner year in terms of player advancement, including those players appearing in this year’s All-Star Game.

The All-Star teams were selected based on nominations from coaches and player evaluations from NAHL Central Scouting throughout the first four months of the season.  Additionally, consideration was given to the overall standings when determining the number of players selected from each team in addition to those players who have already signed NAHL tenders or made NCAA Division I commitments

The NAPHL All-Star Games will be broadcast live and in HD through HockeyTV.

NAPHL Names Three U18 Stars to All-Star Game

By AK 01/10/2018, 11:30pm EST

Webb, Rossi and Brown Earn All-Star Honors

The North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) has announced rosters for the fifth annual NAPHL 18U All-Star Game, to be held on Saturday, Jan. 27, 8:00 p.m., at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, MN.

The U18 Esmark Stars AAA team had three members of their team named to the game, as defensemen Ethan Webb and Blake Rossi and forward Parker Brown were announced as members of the NAPHL South Squad.

The NAPHL All-Star Games will feature players who are leading the way in the NAPHL and many of whom are considered top prospects in North America in their respective birth-years.

At the 2017-18 All-Star Game, both the South and North teams will consist of 23 players (12 forwards, 8 defensemen and 3 goaltenders).

Team South

Video: Meet the South All-Stars

“The NAPHL All-Star Game is a great event each season and highlight's the league’s best players up to this point in the season," said NAPHL Director Tony Zasowski.

This year's All-Star Game was pushed back a month in order to give scouts plenty of time for evaluation.

"The NAHL Central Scouting team of scouts has done a tremendous job tracking the league throughout the season and providing feedback on the top players in the NAPHL,” Zasowski added. 

The NAPHL All-Star Games are a part of the NAPHL’s fifth regular season event of the season, which will feature all NAPHL 18U and 16U teams competing in the final regular season event of the 2017-18 season.

Last season, a record number of players were tendered or drafted into the NAHL and USHL in large part because of showcase events like the NAPHL All-Star Games, along with the 18U Top Prospects tournament at the end of the season.  With a strong handful of NCAA commitments, USHL call-ups and NAHL tenders already signed, the NAPHL is expecting another banner year in terms of player advancement, including those players appearing in this year’s All-Star Game.

The All-Star teams were selected based on nominations from coaches and player evaluations from NAHL Central Scouting throughout the first four months of the season.  Additionally, consideration was given to the overall standings when determining the number of players selected from each team in addition to those players who have already signed NAHL tenders or made NCAA Division I commitments

The NAPHL All-Star Games will be broadcast live and in HD through HockeyTV.

Kucharski Named to NHL's Central Scouting

By DLG 12/27/2017, 11:15pm EST

Also Named to CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game

The Esmark Stars are pleased to announce that former Stars goaltender Jake Kucharski was recognized by the National Hockey League (NHL) in the ‘November Prospects to Watch’ list for 2018 draft-eligible players and the release of NHL Central Scouting's "players to watch in North America and Europe." 

Kucharski, who skated for the 16U Esmark Stars during the 2015-16 season, was one of three former NAPHL alumni recognized by the NHL's November Prospects to Watch’ list.

This continues the recent trend of NAPHL alumni garnering recognition by NHL teams. Earlier this summer, two former players, Jeremy Swayman and Cole Hults, were selected in the 2017 NHL Draft.  During the past five NHL Drafts a total of 23 NAPHL alumni have been selected.

Kucharski, who is currently skating for the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL, manned the nets for the NAHL's Austin Bruins during the 2016-17 season.

Earlier this season, in September, Kucharski, a 6'4", 205-pound 18 year-old netminder, was selected, along with 41 other American-born NHL draft-eligible players, to participate in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y.

The NHL Central Scouting list, comprised of "A," "B" and "C" players for the upcoming season in each of the major junior hockey leagues, are sent to NHL team scouts for the purpose of tracking the top draft-eligible players entering the 2017-18 season.  All "A" skaters have been identified as potential first-round picks, while "B" players are considered second- or third-round candidates. The players on the "C" list are thought to be fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round possibilities. Central Scouting's preliminary rankings were revealed in November. That list included the top 25 prospects for each of the various leagues throughout North America and Europe.

NHL Central Scouting will release its midseason rankings of 2018 draft-eligible players in January, followed by its final rankings in April.  The Dallas Stars will host the 2018 NHL Draft at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Next year's Draft will be held over two days on June 22-23.

Kucharski’s plan moving forward will take him from Des Moines, to Providence, Rhode Island, next fall, where he will be a member of NCAA Division I Providence College’s 2018-19 freshman class.

But he would appreciate taking a detour through Dallas in June. “I always believed I could (get drafted), and always thought it would be awesome if I could,” he said. “To have made it to this point is a big accomplishment. But I know I’ve got a ways to go if I want to fulfill the ultimate goal.”

Former Star Chasing Pro Hockey Dream in Quebec

By Bill Ballou Telegram & Gazette Staff 12/27/2017, 10:00pm EST

Braeden Virtue is Youngest Player on QMJHL's Quebec Remparts

WORCESTER — Maybe more than any other sport, professional hockey is a family affair.

Check any roster in any league and you are likely to find a cousin, brother or son of another pro player, so it is not surprising to find that the most recognizable name in Worcester, MA hockey history, Terry Virtue, has a son on the first rung of the ladder to the pros.

Former Esmark Stars defenseman Braeden Virtue, 16, is the youngest player on the Quebec Remparts, in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), one of the most storied franchises in Canadian Junior hockey history.

“I’m enjoying it so far,” Braeden Virtue said in a phone interview from Quebec. “I think I’ve improved a lot and feel I’m better off here than playing hockey back home.”

Home has been Worcester for the Virtues for about 2½ years.

Terry was an original Worcester IceCat and played six seasons there in two different stints, from 1994-98 and then again from 2002-04.

Braeden, who was born in Hartford when his dad was playing for the WolfPack in 2001 and was pretty young during Terry’s playing days, was attending high school in Worcester before choosing to head up to Quebec ... where he is doing much of his schooling online.

“I think I remember us living in Worcester, but just a little bit. It’s not that clear,” Braeden said. “But I saw him play, for sure, when he was in Austin and Binghamton but that’s about all I can recall.”

Braeden and family returned to Massachusetts after playing in Pittsburgh, where Braeden skated for the Stars during the 2014-15 season, while Dad Terry served as a co-head coach (along with current 16U assistant coach Mark Hastings).

A good student who would like to be a dentist if pro hockey does not work out, Braeden felt he had two potential roads to a hockey career — major junior or NCAA — and went with junior hockey as Plan A.

“I had some interest in college hockey,” he said, “but when I looked closely, it didn’t sound as promising ... so I came up here for 48 hours to see what this was like and I thought that this might give me the best chance to play (pro).”

Braeden is a defenseman, like Terry, and like almost every dad, the Worcester Hockey Hall of Famer thinks his son is better than him.

“He’s got more skill than I did,” Terry said, “but does play with an edge like me, and that’s what he’ll wind up playing like.”

Quebec is arguably the best city in Canada to play junior hockey in. The Remparts are in an NHL-ready building and in recent seasons have averaged bigger crowds than some NHL teams.

“It’s a pretty cool environment,” Braeden said.

Terry and wife Lori make the drive to Quebec as often as possible and it is a fairly manageable one, but their son is still a long way from home.

“You know what — that’s been pretty hard,” Terry said, “because we’ve done everything together since he was a little guy. He’d always come to rink with me when we had optional skates, even when he was a little baby. We’ve always been two peas in a pod, so it’s tough, and you do miss him that way.

“My wife misses him a ton, and it was her biggest fear. She kept saying, ‘I won’t let it happen, I won’t let it happen’ but it’s what he’s always wanted and this is what’s best for him, and six hours isn’t that far.”

Braeden played U16 hockey last year for the Islanders Hockey Club, based out of Tyngsboro, and the "Q" is a big adjustment from that.

“It’s huge step, obviously,” said. “I’m not playing against guys my own age. Some are 20 years old and it’s crazy, but I’m playing against some first-round picks. I’ve gotten better with speed and strength, and being younger, it can be hard to compete at their level.”

Braeden has played in a little more than half the Remparts games, 19 to date, and has picked up a pair of assists (0-2-2), along with 15 penalty minutes, including his first fight.

Terry played for 17 different teams in 17 seasons as a pro hockey player. It is a not a life for everyone, but seems to be part of the Virtue DNA.

“He has been into hockey his whole life,” Terry said. “I can say that I have never regretted what I did, my hockey career. I made a lot of friends and saw a lot of the world. One regret is that I didn’t get an education, and we’ve been pushing that on (Braeden), to get an education no matter what.”

He is getting one in Quebec, both online and on-ice.

(Reprinted from Original Story in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette)

Parker Brown Tenders with Fairbanks Ice Dogs

By DLG 12/18/2017, 9:45pm EST

ESMARK 18U FORWARD SIGNS NAHL TENDER

The Esmark Stars of the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) are pleased to announce that 18U forward Parker Brown has signed a North American Hockey League (NAHL) tender agreement with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the NAHL’s Midwest Division.

Brown, 18, a native of Hanahan, South Carolina, has enjoyed a productive first half of the 2017-18 season, as he currently leads the U18 Stars in scoring with 37 points (13 goals and 24 assists) in 40 games played, including 3 power play goals.

Brown has registered 13 points (8 goals, 5 assists) in 14 NAPHL games so far this season, pacing the Stars to a 7-3-1-3 NAPHL record to date.

"Parker has demonstrated to all this season that he is on a mission to play Junior A hockey," said Stars 18U head coach Dave Kosick.   "He shows up to each practice and game determined to be a better player and never asks why." 

"He reminds me of a former Stars player, Jake Hetz, who also went on to play for Fairbanks," Kosick added.  "Hetz utilized that opportunity to secure a scholarship to Division I Ferris State."

Brown is the second Esmark player to sign an NAHL tender this season.  Teammate and defenseman Ethan Brown inked a tender with the Johnstown Tomahawks of the NAHL's East Division earlier in the season.

A tender is a contract, of sorts, a player signs announcing his intentions to play for that particular NAHL team and that NAHL team only. Once a player signs a tender with an NAHL team, his playing rights belong to that team within the NAHL and he may not be recruited by any other NAHL team. Each team is granted ten (10) tenders, which include two (2) tenders exclusively used on players from the NAPHL - plus or minus any trades - which became active on Nov. 1. Tendered players are not eligible for the NAHL draft, which will be held on June 5, 2018.

Ethan Webb Tenders with Johnstown Tomahawks

By DLG 12/18/2017, 9:40pm EST

Esmark 18U defenseman signs NAHL tender

The Esmark Stars of the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) are pleased to announce that 18U defenseman Ethan Webb has signed a North American Hockey League (NAHL) tender agreement with the Johnstown Tomahawks of the NAHL’s East Division.

Webb, 17, a native of Lexington, South Carolina, has played the past three seasons for Esmark (15U in 2014-15, 16U in 2016-17, and this season with the 18U squad).

Webb has registered 7 points (1 goal, 6 assists) in 10 NAPHL games so far this season, and 25 points (3 goals, 22 assists) in 32 overall games, pacing the Stars to a 17-10-0-5 record to date.

"Ethan is to be congratulated for this opportunity," said Stars 18U head coach Dave Kosick. "He has worked hard ... followed the plan, as designed for him by our coaching staff for the past three seasons ... and stayed focused on creating this opportunity."

Last season, Webb helped lead the Esmark Stars 16U team to their first ever NAPHL Dixon Cup Championship. Webb had 12 points in 22 regular season games and another two points in five playoff games. He was also named to the NAPHL 16U All-Star Game in 2016-17 where he played for Team Suter.

During the 2015-16 season, Webb had three points in five games for the Esmark 16U team.

Webb is the first Esmark player to sign an NAHL tender this season.

A tender is a contract, of sorts, a player signs announcing his intentions to play for that particular NAHL team and that NAHL team only. Once a player signs a tender with an NAHL team, his playing rights belong to that team within the NAHL and he may not be recruited by any other NAHL team. Each team is granted ten (10) tenders, which include two (2) tenders exclusively used on players from the NAPHL - plus or minus any trades - which became active on Nov. 1. Tendered players are not eligible for the NAHL draft, which will be held on June 5, 2018.

Green Puck Showcase Recap

By DLG 12/18/2017, 9:25pm EST

U15 and U14 Stars Teams Enjoy a Successful Visit to South Bend

The Esmark Stars Midget U15 and Bantam Major U14 squads were both in South Bend, IN, last weekend, Dec. 15 - 17, participating in the Green Puck Showcase presented by SuperSeries AAA Elite Hockey.

The U15 Midget Stars open play on Friday with a 6-0 shutout win over the Dayton Stealth.  They returned to the ice for a pair of games on Saturday, skating to a 3-2 win over Omaha AAA in a morning game, before dropping a 5-0 decision to the Colorado Evolution in an evening game.  On Sunday, they closed the showcase with a 5-0 shutout win over the Pittsburgh Predators.  The 3-1-0-0 showing at the Green Puck Showcase improves the U15 Stars record to 17-19-4-3.

The U14 Bantam Major Stars opened play on Friday with a pair of games.  They dropped a tough 2-1 decision in the opening morning game to the AIC Prospects out of St. Louis, MO, and a little more than three hours later, skated to a 3-3 tie with the Connecticut Jr. Rangers.  On Saturday, the Stars again hit the ice twice for a pair of games.  First up was an early afternoon game against the Colorado Evolution, in which the Bantam Major Stars skated to a 6-0 shutout win.  Later in the evening they added a 6-1 win over Omaha AAA to the "W" column.  They close the showcase with a 5-1 win over the Indy Racers on Sunday.  The 3-1-1-0 showing at the Green Puck Showcase improves the U14 Stars record to 22-13-3-1.