By: Matt Mackinder
SPICA TO LAKE FOREST
Matt Spica played his youth, high school and junior hockey in the Chicago area and starting this fall, will stay around by playing Division III hockey at Lake Forest College.
Spica, a 21-year-old from Barrington, Ill., won a North American 3 Hockey League Hurster Cup championship last season with the Chicago Hitmen, but also saw action in seven games with the parent Hitmen in the North American Hockey League.
All along, Spica had aspirations to continue playing at the next level and took matters into his own hands.
“I actually contacted Lake Forest myself,” said Spica. “From there, the Hammersmith's (Mark and Debbie) did a great job to maintain communication with the LFC coaching staff, which was easily able to come to our home games and see me play. I had opportunities to go play on the East Coast, but I wanted to stay closer to home and Lake Forest had the most to offer academically.”
Spica said the 2010-2011 season was probably the biggest of his career in terms of gaining confidence and attention to be able to get the opportunity to play college hockey and eventually, the possibility to play pro hockey in Europe.
“This past season was huge in getting exposure to NCAA teams,” Spica explained. “I was fortunate enough to play in the NAHL early on in the season and go to their showcase in Minnesota. I also gained a lot of exposure in the NA3HL with their showcase and the Top Prospects Tournament, as well as in the Hurster Cup playoffs.”
With 24 goals and 60 points in just 39 games in the NA3HL last year, Spica finished third on the team in scoring. He also tallied one assist in his time in the NAHL.
It was his time in the NA3HL, however, that opened Spica’s eyes to see that the league is on the upswing.
“I foresee the NA3HL getting huge,” said Spica. “This past offseason, they have already picked up four new teams and expanded into new states, so that should change the style of play. I also like the look of having two divisions. There are already some great rivalries established in the NA3HL and this will hopefully create some more.”
Juniors now in the past, Spica is gearing up to call himself a student-athlete come this fall.
“I have really high expectations for the hockey program at Lake Forest, the rink is on campus and they attract a lot of fans,” said Spica, who plans to major in Business and minor in Spanish. “The coaching staff looks great and we have a new coach (Ryan McKelvie) coming in who coached at the University of Alaska-Anchorage. I am really excited to be playing for someone who has coached at the Division I level and I am looking forward to learning a lot at Lake Forest.”
FLINT SIGNS FIVE FOR 2011-2012 SEASON
The Flint Jr. Generals have signed five players for the upcoming 2011-2012 season and all five come from different parts of the world.
From Sweden to Alaska to Wisconsin to the local Flint area, the Jr. Generals are showing that there really is no offseason in the NA3HL.
“With the draft and a bunch of hard work from (head) coach (Jeff) Worlton, head scout Doug Bailey, Midwest scout Rob Worlton and myself, we have literally scoured the globe and the benefits are a starting to come forward,” said Flint GM Kelly Cronk. “The organization feels the start is very, very strong to be sure. We have signed five with many more to come in the upcoming weeks as the excitement builds here with the boys in blue and gold.”
Forward Richard Jansson will arrive in Flint from Gothenburg, Sweden, and played three games last season in the Swedish Elite League – the same league where many NHL-drafted players have played.
“The expectation we have for Richard is to acclimate his game to the USA,” said Jeff Worlton. “We want him to work hard on and off the ice with leadership. This will get him a chance to progress to the college levels to the highest of his abilities. He will be a top-line player on our team and we hope also in our league.”
Colton Thiel, a defenseman from Fairbanks, Ak., played last year for the So Cal Titans of the North American Prospects Hockey League.
“Colton is a player we targeted early on as a need type,” said Worlton. “He makes us hard to play against. His offensive ability is underrated also. The competition he faced in the NAPHL will help also.”
“Colton is the prototypical stay-at-home man,” added Bailey. “His offensive game flourishing in the NA3HL is the added goal. He came from a very well-coached team and that alone makes him better.”
St. Louis-area native Casey Barile plays bigger than his 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame and comes from a solid program in the St. Louis Selects. Bailey calls him a “true top-notch team guy with wheels that can’t be taught.”
“Don't underestimate his offensive ability,” Worlton said. “He’s gritty, nasty and a great teammate who can play in any situation.”
Goaltender Ben Myers is a hard-working type that Worlton calls a “stopper.”
“Ben is what we didn't have at the outset of last year – a stopper,” Worlton said of the Wauwatosa, Wis., native. “We expect Ben to be that guy in between the pipes. His hard work will not only benefit the team, but the other young goalies in the Jr. Generals’ system.”
Flint goalie coach Dave Desander saw how much of an impact player Myers was at the Jr. Generals’ first camp earlier this offseason.
“Ben was a pleasant surprise at how hard he worked on and off the ice at camp,” Desander said. “With a work ethic and the general skill that he already has, we believe he will have a breakout season in the organization.”
Local defenseman Nick Goettel, a Davison High School product, has been eyed by Bailey for a number of years.
“I have been sold on Nick for a couple of years, but really noticed his progression last year and how he just kept getting better and better,” said Bailey. “He is rock-solid defensively with great attitude and work ethic.”
Worlton said he’s banking on Goettel taking the spot of Caleb O’Brien on the blueline after O’Brien signed with the Aberdeen Wings of the North American Hockey League a few weeks back.
“Nick surprised the whole coaching staff with his outstanding play in the recent camp and we have no doubt it will continue and even get better as he settles in,” noted Worlton.
In addition, two skaters from last season will be playing for ACHA teams this fall. Forward Joe McAuliffe is off to John Carroll University, while goaltender Andrew Habasevich will play for Davenport University.
STEAM REPRESENTED AT NHL DRAFT
Tyler Biggs, Toronto’s first round pick June 24 at the NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., is the son of Queen City Steam coach Don Biggs, the 2011 NA3HL Coach of the Year.
Biggs played the past two seasons for the U.S. NTDP and captained the Under-18 team this past year.
Going to Miami University this fall, Biggs is familiar with Toronto as his parents were both born there.
Don Biggs was drafted in 1983 by the Minnesota North Stars (156th overall) and in 1987 played 11 games with the Philadelphia Flyers.
ALUM JACOBSON TO PLAY FOR D-III NATIONAL CHAMPS
Former Quad City Jr. Flames goaltender David Jacobson has committed to play at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., next season.
Jacobson played 46 games in the 2010-11 season with the NAHL’s Janesville Jets, recording a record of 27-16-0 with eight shutouts, a .918 save percentage and a 2.07 goals-against average.
In 2009-2010, Jacobson went 21-15-3 for the Jr. Flames with a pair of shutouts, a .911 save percentage and a 2.87 goals-against average.
St. Norbert won the NCAA Division III national championship this past spring and also won it all in 2008.