The Esmark Stars AAA Hockey Club captured their first North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) Championship as the 16U AAA team skated to a 1 - 0 championship game win over the Rocky Mountain Rough Riders, completing a perfect 5-0-0 run at the league's annual playoffs, and earning their first ever Dixon Cup.
The Stars opened up play in the NAPHL's Gold Division Playoffs as the number four seed (10 team bracket) and drew an opening game match on Friday, Feb. 17, with the number 5 seed Meijer AAA.
Danny Tkac got the Stars on the board first, converting a nice feed from Ty Morin at 9:40 of the first period to give the Stars a 1-0 lead. Meijer would respond later in the period with a power play goal to even the score 1-1 after one.
The Stars would then score four consecutive goals during a seven-minute stretch of the second period to open up a 5-1 lead. JT Schimizzi got the scoring binge started as he scored the second Stars goal at 7:19 of the second period with assists from Andrew Wells and Billy Rapone. Wells would then score the first of three consecutive power play goals at 10:02 as Schimizzi and Justin Adamski earned helpers. Adamski would stretch the lead to three with a power play tally at 13:07, Ethan Webb and Rapone earning assists. Sam Hrabchak completed the power play run with a goal at the 13:55 mark as Rapone, his third assist of the game, and Johnny Macdonald got the helpers.
Meijer would not go quietly into the night though, as they scored a goal late in the second and midway through the third to cut the lead to 5-3 with a little over nine minutes remaining in the game.
Drew Murphy would give the Stars some breathing room as he tallied an unassisted goal at the 10:06 mark of the third period. Meijer would quickly cut the lead back to two as they scored 22 seconds later. But the Stars would close the scoring with an empty netter at 16:11 of the third as Christian Gorscak would score off an assist from Adamski.
Nico Pidro earned the win in goal recording 10 saves.
In game two (Saturday morning), the Stars would upend the number 6 seed New Jersey Jr. Titans, with a 4-0 shutout.
The Stars scored twice in the opening frame as Nicholas Caretta found the back of the net at 3:04, with assists from Billy Rapone and Christian Gorscak, and David Spinler stretched the Stars lead to 2-0 at 6:21, with assists from Gavin Morrison and Sam Hrabchak.
Christian Gorscak would score twice in the second period, the first 36 seconds into the frame on the power play and his second of the period at 6:49. Hrabchak picked up his second assist on the first Gorscak goal and Rapone his second assist of the game on the second Gorsack tally.
Nico Pidro earned his second win in goal, and the shut-out, as he kicked out all 24 shots he saw.
The Stars returned to the ice four hours later for game three of the playoffs and skated to a 3 - 1 win over the eight seeded Thunder Bay Kings.
Justin Adamski opened the scoring as he found the back of the net at 10:58 of the opening period on the power play. Billy Rapone picked up the lone assist.
Thunder Bay would knot the score at 1-1 with the lone second period goal.
But Billy Rapone would collect a pair of power play goals in the third period, at 1:02 and 14:40, to close out the scoring and secure the Stars win. Christian Gorscak earned the lone assist on Rapone's first power play tally and JT Schimizzi the loan assist on Rapone's second power play goal.
Adam Ulan turned aside 26 of the 27 shots he faced to earn the win in goal.
Esmark and three other clubs (Omaha AAA, St. Louis Selects, and the Rocky Mountain Rough Riders) completed round-robin play undefeated and advanced to the league playoffs semi-finals.
Based on goal differential and goal quotient, the four teams were seeded 1-4 for semi-final play, and the Stars, who were seeded third, drew the St. Louis Selects for a Sunday semi-final, while number one seeded Omaha AAA squared off with number four Rocky Mountain.
The Stars would fall behind for the first time in the playoffs as Selects forward Sam Watson opened the scoring with a quick tally slipping the puck through goalie Nico Pidro just 58 seconds into the game to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead.
JT Schimizzi would even the game at 12:24 of the first period, with assists to Andrew Wells and Ethan Webb.
Both teams traded a pair of power play opportunities in the second period, but neither team could find the back of the net.
Andrew Murphy would score the game winning goal 55 seconds into the third period, with assists to Christian Gorscak and Nicholas Carretta, on a power play that continued over from the second period.
Nico Pidro earned his third win of the playoffs in goal as he stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced.
The goal would propel Esmark into the Championship game, opposite Rocky Mountain ... who had upended Omaha 1-0 in the other 16U semi-final ... and a shot at the league's Dixon Cup, awarded to the league playoff champion.
A large crowd gathered to watch the final game of the 16U playoffs at the Troy Sports Center in Troy, MI, on Monday morning (Presidents Day).
Both teams traded a couple of high quality scoring opportunities and a pair of power plays in the opening stanza, but neither team could find the back of the net as Stars goalie Nico Pidro and Rough Riders goalie Andrew Miller stopped all the pucks they saw.
The Stars, however, would solve Miller early in the second period as they converted a picture perfect three on one and Andrew Murphy would convert a Christian Gorscak feed to give the Stars a 1-0 lead, 2:47 into the second period.
The 1-0 Esmark lead would stand through the remainder of the second and third periods as both goaltenders and defenses played outstanding hockey.
As the clock wound to zero, the Esmark bench exploded onto the ice and raced to greet goalie Nico Pidro, who recorded the shutout and win, stopping all 22 shots he faced, and Esmark celebrated its first NAPHL Championship.
The North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) has announced its Apex Learning Virtual School Peak Performers for the month of December. The players were selected based upon their performance at the fourth NAPHL event of the season, which took place at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, MN, Dec. 3 - 5, 2016.
Nico Pidro, a goaltender with the Esmark Stars U16 team, was selected as the Apex Learning Virtual School Peak Performer U16 Number One Star - goaltender, for his performance in the Star's four games at the Showcase.
Pidro, 16, was literally perfect in the month of December in NAPHL action, posting two shut-outs in his two appearances during the showcase, as he helped the Stars post a perfect 4-0-0 record at the Showcase and move into second place in the league standings in the 16U division.
The Canonsburg resident (6'1" / 190 lbs.) posted shut-outs over the Colorado Springs Tigers (4 - 0) and Valley Forge Minutemen (3 - 0), turning aside all 26 shots he faced.
"Nico enjoyed a good weekend," said Stars 16U head coach Yuri Krivokhija. "He did what we ask of our goalies in every game ... give us a chance to win. "
Pidro's playing partner, Adam Ulan, was previously recognized by the NAPHL at the league's first and third showcases.
"When your goalies are being recognized for their play at these league events," Krivokhija continued, "you know your team has a greater chance of success."
Pidro has only surrendered one goal in his past three NAPHL starts. His overall NAPHL record stands at 5-3-0 with a GAA (Goals Against Average) of 2.39 while recording three shutouts.
Overall, his record stands at 18-7-2 with seven shutouts, with a GAA of 1.79 in 27 appearances.
The NAPHL is comprised of five regular-season events leading up to its Championship Tournament Series in which the top ten teams in each age division compete for a league championship. The fifth, and final, NAPHL regular season event of the 2016-17 season will take place Jan. 6 - 9, 2017, at the Troy Sports Center in Troy, MI.
After each event the league recognizes three "Peak Performers" at the forward, defense and goaltender position for the U18 and U16 divisions. They also recognize three "Peak Performers" at the forward, defense and goaltender position for the U15 division at events in which the U15s are participating.
Apex Learning Virtual School
With more than 100 online high school courses and 20 years of experience, APEX Learning Virtual School offers players the opportunity to be both successful academically and available for practices and travel. Rigorous curriculum and the support of expert online teachers provide a strong academic foundation. The flexibility to complete online course work when and where it is convenient means school can fit with player's hockey commitments. Enrollment options include full-time to earn a diploma and individual courses to fulfill specific requirements. For players wanting to qualify for Division I and Division III college teams, courses approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) are offered.
The North American Prospects Hockey League held its fourth annual 16U NAPHL All-Star game on Sunday, Dec. 4, at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, MN.
The event was held in conjunction with the fourth NAPHL showcase of the season and for the first time in league history was held in conjunction with the U18 All-Star game.
In keeping with the rich tradition of the league, the NAPHL named the All-Star Teams this season after two legendary builders of youth hockey in the United States and the NAPHL, Dean Dixon and Bob Suter. Each of the two All-Star teams consisted of 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders.
Esmark Stars 16U AAA forwards JT Schmizzi and Christian Gorscak and defensemen Billy Rapone and Ethan Webb were selected to represent the Stars and helped guide Team Suter to an impressive 6-2 win.
Gorscak led all scorers as he found the back of the net twice, scoring the first and sixth goals. Rapone picked up an assist on Team Suter's second goal of the game.
"I was very happy for the four players that were selected to participate," said Esmark's 16U Head Coach Yuri Krivokhija, "they have worked hard all season and obviously gained attention from the selection committee."
"But I would have welcomed additional selections from our squad," Krivokhija continued, "as I believe another four or five players could have been easily included in the final mix. I felt bad they were left out of the mix ... but I am proud of the performance our kids showed."
Several NAHL coaches were on hand and joined dozens of junior and NCAA scouts and a near capacity crowd to watch the young stars battle.
The 2016 NAPHL All-Star Games featured players who are leading the way in the NAPHL, many of whom are considered top prospects in North America in their respective birth-years.
Following nominations from team coaches, the All-Star teams were selected based on player evaluations from NAHL Central Scouting throughout the first three months of the season. The number of players selected from each team was determined based on the team's overall standings in league play.
Last season, 77 NAPHL players were tendered or drafted into the NAHL and USHL in large part because of the showcase events like the NAPHL 16U and 18U All-Star Games. 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 Games.
“Both NAPHL All Star Games are great events and it makes it extra special this season that they are being played in cooperation with one another for the very first time. The NAHL Central Scouting team of scouts did a tremendous job tracking the league throughout the season and providing feedback on the top players in the NAPHL,” said NAPHL Director Lucas Trombetta. “Finalizing the rosters was a very difficult task.”