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Esmark Stars in the News

Ullianov, McClaine and Keller Selected

Pittsburgh, PA - Pittsburgh-based Esmark Stars AAA Hockey Club has announced that two members of the 2022-23 Stars U15 squad and a new addition to the 2023-24 Stars U18 squad were selected in the 2023 National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC) Entry draft, held on Tuesday, April 25.

Esmark players elected in the 2022 NCDC Entry draft included: Vitalii Uliano, forward, (selected in the seventh round, Jersey Hitmen; Emmet McClaine, forward, (selected in the eighth round), Jersey Hitmen; and Ethan Keller, forward, (selected in the 13th round), Idaho Falls Spud Kings.

Both Ulianov and McClaine skated for the U15 Esmark Stars during the 2022-23 season, under the direction of Head Coach Chris Stern.

Keller, who skated for the Ohio Jr BlueJackets U16 squad last season, was selected at tryouts to Esmark's U18 team for the 2023-24 season.

Both Ulianov and McClaine were selected to Esmark's U16 team for the upcoming season.

The NCDC is a 20-team tuition-free Junior A hockey league that operates as part of the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL). The NCDC East has 14 teams and is located in the Northeastern United States. While the NCDC West is new Division with 6-teams and is located in the Western United States.

Similar to the NHL's Entry Draft, NCDC teams use the draft to help build towards future years teams. Players born between 2006 and 2007 were eligible to be drafted in the 2023 NCDC's Entry draft.

“The idea behind the NCDC Draft is that our clubs are looking long term at younger players," said Commissioner Bob Turow.

"With many of the selected players being from outside of our league footprint, it allows us to better inform players about the benefits of the our Tier II Tuition-Free NCDC and our pathway to college hockey,” Turow added.

Simko, Norkevicus and Volski Recognized

Pittsburgh, PA - A trio of U18 Esmark Stars AAA Hockey players from the 2022-23 18U Esmark Stars AAA Hockey squad have received post-season recognition from the Tier 1 Hockey Federation (T1HF) for their play in T1HF league action this past season.

Goaltender, Nikita Volski, defenseman Ian Norkevicus and forward Brody Simko were all named to the T1HF's All-Season First Team.

"It was great to hear that a player representing all three aspects of the game ... goaltender, defenseman and forward ... were named from our squad," said Esmark Stars U18 head coach Dave Kosick. "It is quite a testament to the desire to play a complete game we ask of our squad."

"I am so very proud of Brody, Ian and Nikita for all being recognized by the league for their level of play among their peers," he added.

The 2022-23 campaign was the inaugural season for the T1HF. The league named first and second team selections from the 18-team 18U Midget Major AAA Tier I division.

Very much as the team would capture three spots on the six-man T1HF first team, the Esmark's U18 Midget Major squad also captured a "hat-trick" of accomplishments within the TIHF, as they won the T1HF League Regular Season Title, the T1HF post-season Playoff Championship and would win the league's inaugural USPHL Cup Championship.

Naletov and Wiseman Recognized

Pittsburgh, PA - A pair of U16 Esmark Stars AAA Hockey players from the 2022-23 16U squad have received post-season recognition from the Tier 1 Hockey Federation (T1HF) for their play in T1HF league action this past season.

Defenseman Liam Wiseman and forward Timur Naletov were both named to the T1HF's All-Season Second Team.

"Liam and Timur both played well in the T1HF," said Esmark Stars U16 head coach Yuri Krivokhija. "I was glad to hear both were recognized for their play."

The 2022-23 campaign was the inaugural season for the T1HF. The league named first and second team selections from the 18-team 16U AAA Tier I division.

Goehring and Kemp Recognized

Pittsburgh, PA - A pair of defenseman from the 2022-23 15U (only) Esmark Stars have received post-season recognition from the Tier 1 Hockey Federation (T1HF) for their play this past season.

Defenseman Robert Goehring was named to the T1HF's All-Season First Team.

And defenseman Julian Kemp was named to the T1HF's All-Season Second Team.

"Both guys worked hard and made solid impressions within the league," said Esmark Stars U15 head coach Chris Stern. "I am happy that both were recognized for their performance."

The 2022-23 campaign was the inaugural season for the T1HF.

Stars Unveil Head Coaches for 39th Season

The Esmark Stars AAA Hockey Club are pleased to announce their coaching staffs, as well as their skills instructors, for the 2023-2024 season.

The Stars will return their nationally recognized veteran coaching staff at the midget level.

Dave Kosick will return behind the bench as Head Coach of the Stars 18U AAA Midget Major team. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, the '23-'24 season will be Kosick's 40th year behind the bench. He has guided the Stars into three USA Hockey National Championships in the past five years and accumulated a coaching record (W-L-T-OTL) unrivaled in both the Mid-Am District and USA Hockey.

This past season, Kosick's U18 squad captured the regular season and playoff titles of both the Tier 1 Hockey Federation (T1HF) and the USPHL Cup.

Likewise, Yuri Krivokhija will return behind the bench as head coach of the Stars 16U AAA Midget Minor team. Krivokhija, a former draft choice of the NHL's Montreal Canadians, and a long-time professional hockey player on both the International professional and world junior and national team stage, will be returning to the Stars as a head coach for his 17th season.

This past season, Krivokhija guided the U16 Stars to the finals of the Mid-Am Tier I U16 Championship game. He has previously guided the U16 Stars to a pair of appearances at the USA Hockey National Championships during his coaching tenure.

Similarly, Chris "Sluggo" Stern will be returning as head coach of Esmark's U15 (only) Midget (2008) AAA Hockey squad. Stern, who has previously served as Director of Player Advancement for the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite program, has enjoyed success as a coach at every age group of youth hockey, both boys and girls, including winning a USA Hockey Tier 1 National Championship as well as guiding multiple teams to the USA Hockey National Championships ... including 8 of his past 12 seasons as a coach ... where he guided teams to a National Championship, a National runner-up finish and three third-place finishes.

Players under Stern's tutelage have gone on to attain success in all levels of hockey ... including NCAA Division I, NCAA Division III, Junior A Hockey and the NHL. He has also served as a scout over the years, working in both the USHL and NAHL Junior A leagues, and he has also served as a coach and evaluator for USA Hockey player development camps and as a presenter at USA Hockey coaching clinics.

Stern's 2022-23 15U squad captured both the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) and the Elite Prospects Cup Series Championships and advanced to the championship game of the Mid-Am District's Tier I U15 Division.

Kosick, Krivokhija and Stern will team to provide assistant coach coverage to all three Midget Stars teams, providing a veteran coaching core for the Stars Midget teams unrivaled in USA Hockey.

Additionally, Ryan Sweeney and Clay Plyler will both serve as assistant coaches to the Stars' Midget teams. Plyler played three seasons of junior hockey, before playing a season of NCAA Division III hockey for Daniel Webster College and a pair of seasons with Chatham University. Sweeney, who played for Team Maryland and is from Maryland, played four seasons at Duquesne University.

At the Bantam levels, the Stars will have two returning coaches, although at new levels, overseeing their Bantam Major and Minor squads.

Dalton Moore will serve as head coach of the Esmark Stars 14U AAA Bantam Major (2009) Hockey team. Moore, who is a former player and coach within the Stars program, played Junior A Hockey for the Syracuse Stampede and Division III hockey for SUNY Canton. Most recently he served as head coach of the Esmark Stars U13 Bantam Minor team and previously served as a coach with the Pittsburgh Viper Stars program.

Joining Moore behind the bench for the U14 AAA Bantam Major (2009) Hockey team will be Dave DalCortivo. DalCortivo played Junior Hockey for the Philadelphia Revolution and Tier I AAA Hockey for the New Jersey Titans and Mercer Chiefs. He has spent the past three seasons as a coach for the Pittsburgh Viper Stars.

Nate Nehnevajsa will serve as Head Coach of the Esmark Stars 13U AAA Hockey Bantam Minor (2010) team. Nehnevajsa joined the Stars program last season, after having served as a head coach for the previous five seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguin Elite program. He served as head coach of the Stars Pee Wee Major team during the 2022-23 season. Nehnevajsa brings a coaching history that includes head and assistant coaching responsibilities from Bantam Major through Mites.

Assistant Coaches at the Bantam level will be announced shortly.

At the Pee Wee level, the Stars will again utilize a coaching tandem with two returning coaches joining forces to guide the Stars' Pee Wee aged players.

CJ Stellabotte will return this season as the Head Coach of the Esmark Stars 12U AAA Hockey Pee Wee Major (2011) team. He will be joined by Luke Kopchak who will serve as Assistant Coach of the 2011 team. Stellabotte, who served as both Head Coach of the Stars U11 team and and Assistant Coach of the Stars U12 squad last season and head coach of the U12 Esmark Stars team during the 2021-22 season. Stellabotte played Junior Hockey for New York Apple Core, Boston Jr Shamrocks, and the Bridgewater Bandits.

Luke Kopchak will return to the Stars in a head coaching capacity this season, as he takes over the reins of the Esmark Stars 11U AAA Hockey Pee Wee Minor (2012 birth year) squad. C.J. Stellabotte will serve as the team's assistant coach.

Both Stellabotte and Kopchak, who are graduates of the Stars program, will form a coaching tandem designed to oversee the Stars' Pee Wee program.

And new this season, the Stars will unveil a Squirt AAA team.

Wade Conlan will join the Esmark program as head coach of Esmark's newest team, the Esmark Stars 10U AAA Hockey Squirt Major (2013 and 14 birth years) squad. Conlan, who is from Connecticut, played three seasons of Junior Hockey before moving onto and playing for Duquesne University.

Dave Kosick, founder, owner and general manager of the Esmark program, will return as General Manager, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the program.

Yuri Krivokhija, will return as the Esmark Stars Director of Skill and Training Development, overseeing those activities across the breadth of the Stars AAA program.

Likewise, Nilan Nagy will return to the program as a Skills and Training Director. Nagy, a graduate of the Stars program, played Junior hockey at Traverse City (NAHL), Youngstown Phantoms (USHL), NCAA Hockey at Holy Cross University and professionally for the Alaska Aces and Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL and Újpesti Torna Egylet in Budapest, Hungary. 

Additionally, Nick Mish will return as the Stars Goaltending Instructor and serve as Junior Development Coordinator. In those capacities, he will continue to be responsible for working with goaltenders across the breath of the Stars organization and in assisting in player movement from the Midget level to both Junior and Collegiate opportunities.

This upcoming year will be the 39th season of the Stars program.

Esmark U18 AAA Wins USPHL Cup

By DLG 03/13/2023, 12:31am EDT

Stars Midget Major Squad Capture Title

Wayne, NJ - The Esmark Stars U18 AAA squad skated to the title of the USPHL Cup this weekend in Wayne, NJ.

The tournament, brought together top teams from the Tier 1 Hockey Federation (T1HF), including regular season and playoff champion Esmark Stars U18 AAA, and the USPHL league to decide an overall champion.

The Stars opened play on Friday evening with a 7-0 shutout win over the New Hampshire Jr Monarchs of the USPHL. Brody Simko (2G, 1A), Hudson Howard (1G, 1A), Cole Bianchin (1G, 2A), Mark Trischler, Max Rutkowski and Wes Schwarzmiller scored goals. Trischler's goal came on the power-play as the Stars scored on their only man-advantage. They also killed all three Monarch power plays. Aaron Stawiarski (2A), Brooks Willoughby-Ray (2A), Owen Cross, Evan Ng, Ian Norkevicus and Liam McClaine added assists. Peter Baldwin turned aside all 16 shots he faced to record the win and shutout in goal.

On Saturday, the Stars posted a 4-0 shutout win over the Boston Advantage. Ian Norkevicus (1G, 1A), Zack Hardy, Brooks Willoughby-Ray, and Cole Bianchin scored goals for the Stars. Norkevicus' goal came while the Stars were shorthanded. Willoughby-Ray and Bianchin scored power play goals as the Stars were 2 for 4 with the man-advantage. The Stars also killed all six Boston power plays. Wes Schwarzmiller (2A), Max Rutkowski (2A), Brody Simko and Derek Pietrzyk picked up assists. Nikita Volski, stopped all 26 Boston shots he faced to earn the win and shut-out in goal. 

The Stars hooked-up on Saturday evening with the Jersey Hitmen of the T1HF in the final game of round play. Both the Stars and Hitmen both took the ice knowing they had already clinched a spot in the tournament championship game and a scheduled rematch on Sunday. In the concluding round-robin game, the Stars would drop a tough 3-2 decision in a shootout, following a five-minute 3-on-3 overtime and a 2-2 regulation score. Hunter Furman and Max Rutkowski scored goals for the Stars. Rutkowski's goal came while the Stars had the man-advantage. The Stars finished 1 for 3 with the man-advantage while the Hitmen were 0 for 3 on the powerplay. Ian Norkevicus, Wes Schwarzmiller and Brooks Willoughby-Ray each picked up an assist. Peter Baldwin suffered the loss in goal despite turning aside 32 of 34 Hitmen shots he faced in regulation and in 3-on-3 overtime action. The Hitmen scored the lone goal in a 3-man shootout to claim the win.

In the championship game on Sunday, the Stars and Hitmen would battle to a 1-1 tie through regulation, as each team scored once on the power play. Aaron Stawiarski scored the Stars power play goal on assists from Alex Paluso and Cole Bianchin The Hitmen finished 1 for 4 with the man advantage, while the Stars would finish 1 for 3 on the power play. Nikita Volski recorded the win in goal stopping 32 of 33 Hitmen shots he faced in regulation and overtime. The Stars outshot the Hitmen 39-33 through the first 56 minutes of regulation and overtime. In the opening 3-man shootout both the Hitmen and Stars would score one goal each with Cole Bianchin netting the Stars goal. That forced a sudden-death shootout between the clubs that would last three additional rounds. Bianchin would again find the back of the net in round six and Volski, who kept the Hitmen off the board after the opening shot in the shootout, closed the game and victory with his fifth save of the shootout sending the Stars home as USPHL Cup Champions. 

Ruffner, Norkevicus and Baldwin Honored

Pittsburgh, PA - The Esmark Stars U18 AAA squad received some more post-season recognition as the team had three players named to the TIER Hockey Federation (T1HF) 18U Super Six All-Tournament Team following the Stars capturing the inaugural T1HF Playoff Championship.

Stars selected to the 18U AAA All-Tournament Team included goaltender Peter Baldwin, defenseman Ian Norkevicus and forward Colin Ruffner.

During the Stars three victories, en route to the league playoff championship, Baldwin would stop 43 of 46 shots he faced and pick up a pair of wins, including the 3-1 win over the PAL Islanders in the league championship game.

Norkevicus, who picked up three assists in the three games, helped lead the Stars defense who limited their opponents to a total of of four goals in three games.

And Ruffner scored three goals, one on the power play and one shorthanded, and added an assist in three games top help lead the Stars on the offensive side as they netted 10 goals in the three games.

Three Stars Named to All-Dixon Cup Playoff Teams

By DLG 03/13/2023, 12:20am EDT

Hewitt, Haley and Trovato Recognized

Troy, MI - Three Esmark Stars AAA players have been recognized by the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) for their performances at the recently completed NAPHL Dixon Cup Playoffs.

In the 15U Midget AAA Division, captured by the Esmark's 15U (only squad), forward Marshall Hewitt and goaltender Tyler Hayley were recognized.

In the 14U Bantam AAA Major Division, defenseman Raymond Trovato was recognized.


By DLG 03/11/2023, 12:30am EST

Esmark Stars U18 Going for their Second Cup

Wayne, NJ - The Esmark Stars U18 squad is back in action at the USPHL Cup in Wayne, NJ, this weekend (March 10-12).

The Stars open play on Friday evening, facing the New Hampshire Jr  Monarchs at 8:15 p.m.

On Saturday, the Midget Major Stars take the ice for two games. First up is a 11:45 a.m. opening face-off with the Boston Advantage. Then at 5:15 p.m., the Stars and Jersey Hitmen will close round-robin play.

The top two teams from round-robin play will advance to the championship game on Sunday at 1:15 p.m. for the right to hoist the USPHL Cup. All games will be played at the Ice Vault in Wayne, N.J.

Esmark U18 Win T1HF Midget Major Championship

By DLG 02/28/2023, 11:58pm EST

Capture Inaugural T1ER Hockey Federation Championship

Wayne, NJ - The Esmark Stars U18 Midget Major AAA squad claimed the inaugural Tier 1 Hockey Federation (T1HF) Championship this past weekend (Feb 24 -26, 2023) in Wayne, NJ.

The Stars, who had claimed the T1HF regular season crown for the 18U AAA Division, which earned them a first round bye in the double elimination championship tournament, opened the tournament with a 3-2 win over the PAL Jr Islanders on Friday at the Ice Vault in Wayne, NJ.

Nathan Burlando would send the Stars home victorious in the as he collected the game-winner :29 seconds into overtime. Max Rutkowski and Ian Norkevicus picked up assists. In regulation play, Brody Simko opened the scoring :19 seconds into period two. Wesley Schwarzmiller and Colin Ruffner picked up assists. Then Max Rutkowski would knot the game at 2-2  midway through the third period on assists from Ruffner and Simko. Peter Baldwin secured the "W" in goal, stopping 15 of the 17 PAL Islander shots he faced. For the game, the Stars outshot the Islanders 34 - 17.

In their second game of the tournament, the Stars would take down the nation's #19 club, the New Jersey Rockets 4-1. Colin Ruffner would pace the offense as he scored a pair of goals. Wes Schwarzmiller (1G, 1A) and Derek Pietrzyk also scored goals. Ian Norkevicus (2A), Brody Simko (2A), Aiden Tarasovich and goaltender Nikita Volski all picked up assists. Volski was the winning goaltender, stopping 29 of the 30 shots he faced. The Stars outshot the Rockets 38 - 30 for the game.

The win vaulted the Stars into the league championship game and a rematch with the PAL Jr Islanders. Derek Pietrzyk would open the scoring a little over two minutes into the game, burying a rebound to give the Stars a 1-0 lead. Wes Schwarzmiller and Max Rutkowski picked up assists. The Stars would double their lead in the second, as Liam McClaine would score the eventual game winning goal on the power play mid-way through the second stanza. Nathan Burlando and Max Rutkowski picked up assists. Colin Ruffner would push the lead to 3-0 scoring an unassisted shorthanded-goal with a little over six minutes remaining in regulation. The Islanders would get on the board late, but the Stars held on for a 3-1 final to claim the inaugural TiHF league banner. Peter Baldwin earned his second win of the tournament, and second over the Islanders, as he turned aside 28 of the 29 shots he faced. The Stars outshot the Islanders 32 - 29 in the Championship game.

Hepler Signs Pro Contract with Huntsville

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Lebanon Valley College's Cole Hepler has signed a professional contract with the Huntsville Havoc and will report to Huntsville immediately. The Havoc are members of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
"We're very excited that Cole is getting this opportunity to play professional hockey," said Lebanon Valley's head men's ice hockey coach Don Parsons. "Cole is an asset in every aspect of the game, including in the locker room, and on and off the ice. I have no doubt in my mind that he'll do a tremendous job and be welcomed on the Huntsville Havoc hockey team. I have had the opportunity to play with Coach Detullio (the coach of the Havoc), and I know the type of player he was and that he'll love the way Cole plays the game."
Recently, Hepler capped an impressive career wearing a Flying Dutchmen sweater. Earlier this week, the team captain was named to the All-Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) Second Team for the third straight season, after amassing 15 points this season, good for second on the team. He scored seven goals, which was tied for first, and notched eight assists. He paced the offense with three power-play goals, as well as one game-winning goal and one short-handed tally.
In both his junior and sophomore seasons, Hepler also garnered All-MAC Second Team honors. In 2018-19, he finished third on the team with 25 points and tied for second with 17 helpers. During his sophomore season, he ranked third on the squad with 10 goals and 21 points, while leading the Dutchmen with three short-handed goals.
In LVC's return to the NCAA during his freshman year, Hepler led the squad with 32 points and 16 tallies. He earned ECAC West Rookie of the Year honors and was an Honorable Mention pick. Lebanon Valley College plays is a Div. III NCAA school who plays in the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC).
"LVC has molded my ability on the ice and in the classroom to the person I am today," said Hepler. "I'm thankful to Coach Parsons to the opportunity to play college hockey as a Dutchman. I have gained many memorable experiences and friends that will last a lifetime. I'm excited to start my pro career and am looking forward to where it will take me."

Hepler skated six seasons for the Stars program (from 2008 through the 2014 season), spending seasons with the Stars U14 (two seasons), U15, U16 and U18 (two seasons) squads. He wrapped up his amateur career with the Stars 18U Midget Major AAA squad during the 2013-14 season.

"This is great for Cole," said Stars General Manager Dave Kosick.  "You talk about a classy young man who plays the game the right way and brings a passion and love for the game to the rink every night ... that's Cole."

Following the 2013-14 season, Hepler signed an NAHL tender with the Kenai River (AK) Brown Bears. He would go on to skate the 2014-15 and 2015-16 season with the Elliot Lake Wildcats of the NOJHL.

 The Huntsville Havoc are 25-14-3 so far this season and sit in fourth place in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). The regular season wraps up in early April, with playoffs to follow.

Tkac Earns Roster Spot with Team Slovakia

Former Esmark Stars forward Daniel Tkac has made Team Slovakia’s final roster for the 2020 World Junior Championships.

The 19-year-old, who was born in Pittsburgh and who currently skates for the Merritt Centennials in the British Columbia Hockey League, a dual American-Slovakian citizen, was invited to Team Slovakia's camp earlier this month and was named to the finalized roster for the event.

“Every kid growing up wants to make that tournament,” said Tkac upon his invitation to camp. “It’s the biggest tournament in junior hockey. When you get that chance, you want to make it happen.”

This year’s World Junior tournament is taking place, Dec. 26 - Jan. 5, in Ostrava and Třinec in the Czech Republic, right near the Slovakian border, which means Slovakia should have plenty of support all tournament long.

“I think there will be a lot of fans there,” said Tkac. “It would be amazing to play in that kind of atmosphere. I’ll be really excited.”

Although he was born in the U.S., Tkac and his family moved back to Slovakia seven years ago and that’s the country he currently calls home. He played most of his youth hockey in Slovakia, but decided to come back to North America to further his hockey career.  He skated for Yuri Kroivokhija's U16 Esmark Stars squads during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.

Last year, he had 14 points in 46 regular-season games for the Centennials, but so far this year he’s the team’s third-leading scorer with 23 points in 29 contests.

Slovakia is in Group A of the World Juniors along with Finland, Kazakhstan, Sweden and Switzerland.

Tkac and the rest of his teammates are scheduled to open the tournament Dec. 27 against Kazakhstan.

Former Star on Cusp of Junior World Championship Roster

Former Esmark Stars forward Daniel Tkac, who currently skates for the Merritt Centennials of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), has been invited to Team Slovakia’s selection camp for the 2020 World Junior Championships.

The 18-year-old is a dual American-Slovakian citizen who was born in Pittsburgh, but both of his parents are from Slovakia.

He left for training camp in Slovakia this past Saturday.

“I have to go into camp and play my best hockey and see how that goes,” he said. “But the opportunity is unbelievable to get that chance. You’ve just got to work hard and play your best hockey when you get there. I can’t wait.”

This year’s World Junior tournament takes place from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Ostrava and Třinec in the Czech Republic, right near the Slovakian border, which means Slovakia should have plenty of support all tournament long.

“I think there will be a lot of fans there,” said Tkac. “It would be amazing to play in that kind of atmosphere. If it does happen, which I really hope it does, I’ll be really excited.”

The World Juniors have become a holiday tradition in Canada and it’s often said that no one cares about the tournament as much as Canadians, but for someone who’s lived in Slovakia and the U.S. his whole life, the tournament is still something he’s always dreamed of playing in.

“Every kid growing up wants to make that tournament,” said Tkac. “It’s the biggest tournament in junior hockey. When you get that chance, you want to make it happen.”

This isn’t the first time Tkac has represented his country on the international stage as he played for Slovakia at the IIHF Under-18 World Championships in 2018.

“It was an unbelievable experience to play against the top guys around the world,” he said. “It was really nice to see what that kind of hockey is like.”

Although he was born in the U.S., Tkac and his family moved back to Slovakia seven years ago and that’s the country he currently calls home. He played a lot of his youth hockey in Slovakia, but decided to come back to North America to further his hockey career.

After playing in the U.S. for the Stars, he ventured north to Merritt in 2018 to start his junior career.

With any hockey player, there’s always an adjustment period when they make the jump to the next level and Tkac was no different.

Last year, he had 14 points in 46 regular-season games, but so far this year he’s at almost a point per game with 20 in 24 contests.

“It’s a really fast league,” he said. “You have to make decisions quickly, so you have to get used to it. It took some time, but I think I’m used to it now.”

Slovakia is in Group A of the World Juniors along with Finland, Kazakhstan, Sweden and Switzerland.

Slovakia opens the tournament Dec. 27, 2019, against Kazakhstan.


Pittsburgh, PA - The Esmark Stars AAA Hockey Club of the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) have announced that 18U goaltender Connor Strobel has been called up by the Youngstown Phantoms Junior A club of the United States Hockey League (USHL).

He will join the Phantoms (16-17-0-6) for a weekend series, Feb. 7 & 8, 2020, with the Des Moines Buccaneers (18-17-0-3) at the Mystique Ice Center in Des Moines, IA

The 17-year old Butler, PA native, a senior at Butler High School who is in his first season with the U18 AAA Stars, has an overall record of 21-1-3-1 in 26 overall appearances, with a .941 save percentage and a goals against average (GAA) of 1.47, with seven shutouts.

In nine North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) appearances this season, Stobel (6'2", 170 lbs.) has a 7-0-0-1 record, with a .940 save percentage, a goals against average (GAA) of 1.50, and has recorded three shutouts.

"What a great opportunity for Connor," said Esmark 18U head coach Dave Kosick. “From the long bus ride, to the crowd, to the entire junior environment.  It is an opportunity well earned.”

Strobel recently signed a tender for the 2020-2021 season with the Johnstown Tomahawks of the North American Hockey League (NAHL).

J.T. Schimizzi and Blake Rossi share a 'Latrobe connection'

Reprinted from the Post

by Jack Gleckler 

J.T. Schimizzi and Blake Rossi hobbled out from the locker room, skates on and panting from that day’s practice.

Rossi and Schimizzi share a friendship that has forged over the last decade. They are roommates, teammates and have what they call “the Latrobe connection.”

The Pennsylvania natives are as close as two teammates can be. Both were raised near Latrobe, a suburb of Pittsburgh, and grew up 15 minutes away from each other. They began playing hockey at young ages, and both began skating before they were in kindergarten. 

The duo played together on the same team for nine years — from elementary school to the Esmark Stars 18U team. Rossi tallied 18 points in 26 games, and Schimizzi totaled 29 points in 30 games over two seasons.

“It’s an awesome organization,” Rossi said. “We played our whole entire lives, but the past two years we were both on (the Stars), and last year, we made it to nationals, which is the first that team had made it in probably 10 years.”

The nine-year streak was broken when Rossi joined the Amarillo Bulls and Schimizzi joined the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the North American Hockey League last season. Neither saw much action. They can count on one hand the number of games they played for their respective teams. The two returned to the Stars at the end of the season. 

Scouts took notice of the duo during their time at Latrobe and with the Stars. Former assistant coach for Ohio Mike Gugin approached each of them with offers to join the Bobcats. Schimizzi had family ties to Ohio, his older sister and cousins were alumni. The offer was too good to pass up.

“I let (Rossi) know that OU was gonna be my plan, and he was like, ‘Well, now I got to look into it, too,‘“ Schimizzi said. “It really worked out for the best that we were able to come here together.”

Rossi and Schimizzi are looking to refine their skills together again this season. They’re only two of an 11-player freshmen class, and they both want to prove they can step into key roles immediately. Schimizzi plays center and is actively looking to be more defensive-minded. Rossi wants to be more aggressive around the net and develop a stronger presence on the ice. 

Improving is how the pair plans to contribute to the cause this season. The goal of any team is to win the national championship, but the Bobcats say it’s now or never. The two want to give back to the seniors that have provided for them by winning the American Collegiate Hockey Association national championship. The Bobcats lost in the national quarterfinals last year to Iowa State.

“The consensus from the seniors this year is that we gotta win this year,” Schimizzi said. “These guys have been working their butts off for years to get to that point, and we both just want to contribute and make that happen.”

Schimizzi and Rossi will get their chance to contribute once the season kicks into gear with the Green and White scrimmage on Sept. 14.

Kucharski Selected in 2018 NHL Draft

Pittsburgh, PA - Former Esmark Stars AAA Hockey goaltender Jake Kucharski was selected by the Carolina Hurricanes on Day Two of the 2018 NHL Draft.

The 6’4"/193 lbs. native of Erie, PA, who began his climb up the ladder of development with the Esmark program's U16 club during the 2015-16 season, was selected in the seventh round, 197th overall. 

During the '15-'16 season, Kucharski posted a 1.77 goals against average and .917 save percentage for the Stars, including three shut-outs, in 14 NAPHL games. Overall, in 32 Esmark 16U AAA game appearances, he finished with a .896% save percentage and a a 2.41 GAA with five shut-outs.

After the '15-'16 season, Kucharski signed a tender agreement with the Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey League (NAHL).  In addition, he was also selected in the ninth round of the 2016 USHL Draft, pick #140, by the Chicago Steele.

Kucharski spent most of the 2016-17 with  Austin. where he played in 34 games with a save percentage of .894 and posted a goals against average of 3.31.

During the 2017-18 campaign, Kucharski skated for the Des Moines Buccaneers in the USHL, where he returned for the current campaign.

Kucharski has also signed a letter of commitment to play NCAA Division I hockey for the Providence Friars beginning with the 2019-20 season.

"I was very proud to see Jake get selected in the Draft," said Esmark Stars U16 head coach Yuri Krivokhija, who himself was selected by the Montreal Canadians in the 10th round of the 1988 NHL draft. "He has worked really hard and stayed focused on achieving his goal," Krivokhija added, "and he is now one step closer to reaching it," 

Kucharski joins former Stars players Grant Lewis (2004 draft, second round, 40th overall) and Miles Liberati (2013 Draft, seventh round, 205th overall) in being selected in the annual NHL draft.

"As both Lewis and Liberati did, Jake has parlayed the opportunity that playing with the Stars provided him ... to chase his dreams all the way to the NHL Draft," said Stars founder and General Manager Dave Kosick.  "Proving that dreams, mixed with sweat and hard work, can come true."

Former Stars Earn All-MAC Honors

Two former members of the Esmark Stars AAA program were among four players from Lebanon Valley College Dutchman that were named to the  2017-18 All-Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) Teams, as chosen by the league's coaches.

Forward Cole Hepler and goaltender Tyler Perhac each garnered Second-Team recognition for the league’s inaugural All-League Teams.

Hepler picked up 20 points this season, and was fourth on the team in goals, with nine, and fifth on the squad in assists, with 11.  He netted four goals on the man-advantage, and led LVC with three short-handed goals, including two in LVC's outdoor game against Chatham last month. The assistant captain also registered two game-winning goals on the year.

Perhac enjoyed a breakout season in 2017-18, going 6-3-1 and recording one shutout. The sophomore allowed just 2.62 goals per game and had a saves percentage of .913. His lone shutout of the season came at the Dutchmen Outdoor Classic where he stopped all 16 shots he faced against Chatham.