By KEN McMILLAN
WEST POINT – The Army hockey team may be receiving a boost in its lineup with the addition of 11 freshmen, including six signings from two of the top junior leagues in North America.
The United States Hockey League and British Columbia Hockey League are considered the second- and third-best breeding grounds for collegiate hockey talent, with many players signing with elite NCAA Division I programs. Never before has Army brought in as many as four USHL recruits in a season, coach Brian Riley said.
What should be interesting is how Riley mixes in the newcomers with a roster that lost only one player, captain Brian Schultz, to graduation. Nine Black Knights played as freshmen last season, including the Nos. 1 and 3 leading scorers, C.J. Reuschlein and Clint Carlisle, and there were 10 sophomores.
Goaltender Cole Bruns broke the USHL record for consecutive shutout minutes, and his 17 blank sheets led the league. The 5-foot-10 Bruns, from Prairie Grove, Ill., posted a 17-8-4 record and 2.27 goals against average for the Omaha Lancers. His addition may help a goaltender lineup that was lackluster last season.
“The best way I can describe [my style] is I’m aggressive, but I know when to be patient,” Bruns told Yahoo Canada. “I’m not the biggest guy so I try to get out and take away that angle.”
Joe Llaurado, of New Berlin, Wis., was a runner-up for his state’s Mr. Hockey award, registering 127 points in his final two seasons of high school play. Llaurado played for the USHL’s Dubuque Saints.
“I just try to bury every opportunity I’m given,” Llaurado told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel two years ago, fresh off a 48-goal, 26-assist season with Marquette High School.
Tyler Pham was a team captain for the USHL champion Indiana Ice, having played 185 games over three seasons. The Denver product had 22 points in 57 regular-season games and five in the playoffs.
Rugged defenseman Michael Preston also played for the Ice, racking up 129 penalty minutes to go with seven points. Preston’s decision to attend West Point was a surprise considering he did not like his three years of prep time at the Culver Military Academy.
“At Culver I didn’t like the military aspect,” Preston told the Indianapolis Star. “It’s funny when you get older and it kind of changes on you. I think it’s really a unique opportunity that I want to do. I think it’s cool to serve your country.”
“He’s the hardest worker. He is in as good a shape as anyone,” Ice coach and general manager Jeff Brown told the Star. “He leads by example and is a great voice in locker room. He’s a typical leader.”
Blake Box and Cody Boyd played in the BCHL. Box played two seasons with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, holding captain honors last season. Box won a contest for the league’s hardest shot, earning three goals and 16 assists. Boyd, from Johnstown, Pa., was captain of the BCHL champion Coquitlam Express, posting three goals and six assists in the playoff run.
Connor Andrle, Nick DeCenzo and Brendan McGuire hail from the North American Hockey League. Joe Shector arrives from the Central Hockey League. Andy Faust competed in the Eastern Hockey League last season before being traded back into the NAHL.
Andrle, from St. Louis Park, Minn., posted 16 goals and 18 assists for the Brookings Blizzard. A former top player in the Minnesota high school ranks, Andrie had 51 points over two seasons with the Blizzard.
DeCenzo is coming off a career-best season with nine goals and 23 assists for the Blizzard. A boost for special teams, DeCenzo, of Hibbing, Minn., had 83 points over three seasons.
McGuire helped lead the Amarillo Bulls to 40 wins and a South Division title in the NAHL. At 6-foot-6, he brings great size to West Point. McGuire had 22 points in 55 games with the Bulls. Previously, he played two seasons with the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Central Canadian Hockey League, tallying 70 points in 130 games.
Shector, a defenseman from Farmington Hills, Mich., posted 68 points in 184 games with the Ottawa Junior Senators over the past three seasons. His special teams skills should prove to be an immediate asset, Riley said.
Faust, from Stillwater, Minn., tallied 30 points in 24 games with the Connecticut Oilers of the EHL before being traded back to the NAHL’s Coulee Region Chill, where he had played 60 games (15 goals, 26 assists) in 2012-13.
“We are so excited about these 11 young men that have decided to attend West Point,’’ Riley said. “They will all be outstanding additions not only to the Academy but also to our hockey program. Each one of these players has the ability to make an immediate impact on the ice.’’
The website, CollegeCommitments.com, reports early 2015-16 commits Ryan Swanson of Holy Family Catholic (Minn.), Nash Worden of the Omaha Lancers, Brendan Soucie of Kent Prep School, Bryan Gerstenfeld and Tipper Higgins of Berkshire Prep and Kyle Patava of the NAHL’s Janeville Jets.