Half-dozen NAHL California products make NCAA decisions
It’s that time of year when junior hockey players start to make plans for the future by way of NCAA commitments.
Recently, six California natives – Connor Chilton (Simi Valley, Division III Aurora University), Kyle Mayhew (Anaheim Hills, Division I University of Denver), Garrett Nieto (Yorba Linda, D-I Union College), Jake Rosenbaum (Trabuco Canyon, D-I University of Minnesota Duluth), Nick Schultze (San Diego, D-III Tufts University) and Matthew Wiesner (Newport Beach, D-III Babson College) – chose their college destinations.
All six skated for North American Hockey League (NAHL) teams during the 2017-18 season.
Chilton is another great example of an NAPHL to NAHL to NCAA ladder of development success story. He just completed his second and final season playing in the NAHL for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. During the 2017-18 season, Chilton had 22 points (four goals, 18 assists) in 43 regular-season games.
Chilton joined the Ice Dogs during the 2016-17 season after signing a tender to play for the club in Feb. 2016. During his first season with the Ice Dogs, he had 18 points in 52 games played.
Prior to playing in the NAHL, Chilton spent five seasons playing for the California Titans in the NAPHL. During the 2015-16 season, Chilton led the NAPHL 18U Division and the Titans in scoring. In 25 NAPHL regular-season games that season, Chilton recorded a league-leading 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists). He was also selected to and played in the 2015-16 NAPHL 18U All-Star Game, where he scored two goals for Team OT Sports in their 7-3 win.
“It’s very humbling,” said Mayhew, who played for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks and San Diego Jr. Gulls as a youth before two seasons in the NAHL, mostly with the Ice Dogs. “(Denver has) so much talent every year and they’re such a prestigious program, they’re always in a contention for a national title. It means everything, and I can’t thank everyone enough for helping me along.”
For Nieto, he was one of the top NAHL goaltenders this season with the Janesville Jets, going 21-5-2-2 with a 2.00 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and three shutouts in the regular season.
“I’m excited for this opportunity to play for Union,” Nieto said. “I can’t thank the guys in front of me enough, and the coaches for helping me a lot, too. I’ve matured a lot from my first two years [in juniors] to this year. I just want to take that maturity to the college level, both on the ice and in the classroom. This year, I’ve made a huge step in that department and it’s really helped me out.”
Nieto will likely get to play against his brother, Gavin, who is also a goaltender at Brown University, during ECAC Hockey conference play. He credited the atmosphere and hockey culture at Union as key factors in his decision to play there.
“Hockey-wise, it’s one of the top places to play,” said Nieto. “They pack the house every weekend and it’s a very loud and noisy environment. From what my brother told me, you don’t want to be the opposing goaltender there for how loud it gets.”
During his youth days, Nieto played for the Los Angeles Jr. Kings.
“He’s proven himself as one of the best goalies in the league by his game and numbers, so I think it was only a matter of time (before he committed),” Jets head coach Gary Shuchuk said. “He never let anything bother him. He just went out and proved what kind of goalie he was. I’m really happy for him and he’s going to a great program. He doesn’t let a lot of things bother him – he’s very poised back there in the net. He doesn’t get flustered. He lets a goal in, he gets right back at it.”
Rosenbaum, who played for Santa Margarita Catholic High School and the Jr. Kings, was acquired by the Minot Minotauros via trade in late November and made his debut the first weekend of December getting an assist in each game of a weekend split with the Aberdeen Wings. He went on to post six goals and six assists in 38 regular-season games with the Tauros. Rosenbaum posted three assists and a plus-6 rating in the playoffs for the Tauros as they pushed all the way to the Robertson Cup national championship game.
As for his future plans, Rosenbaum said he chose defending national champion UMD “because of their outstanding hockey reputation, the high-level coaching staff, and the number of players they move onto professional hockey, which is my ultimate goal.”
Schultze, another former Jr. Duck and Jr. Gull, began the season with the Topeka RoadRunners, but was traded to the Springfield Jr. Blues in late January. Between the two teams, Schultze registered 31 points in 63 games.
“Nick has been everything we thought he would when we traded for him,” said Jr. Blues head coach Tyler Rennette. “He is a great kid and Tufts is getting an excellent student-athlete who will make everyone around him better.”
Wiesner also skated for the Jr. Kings and played for the Northeast Generals, where he tallied 20 goals and 40 points in 57 games this year.
“Matt is an incredibly hard worker who has done a great job improving his game this year,” said Generals GM Bryan Erikson. “He went home after last season for three weeks and was right back working with head coach Joe Lovell every day for three hours getting better, and it has shown in his game this year. As a captain, he is one of the main reasons for our great turnaround from last season to this one. He is just a great kid.”
— Matt Mackinder
(June 19, 2018)