Ever since Nate Leaman became the Union College men’s hockey coach five years ago, he has looked at the western Canadian junior hockey leagues as a prime source of talent, but the finances to make those trips weren’t there.
Now, the finances are available, and as a result, the Dutchmen continue to get more players from the west.
Four of the seven incoming players for 2008-09 are from western Canada, the team announced Friday. Three of those players come from the British Columbia Junior Hockey League — forwards Randy Hanagan and Kelly Zajac of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, and defenseman Nolan Julseth-White of the Langley Chiefs.
The fourth western Canadian player is defenseman Taylor Reid of the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Fort McMurray Oil Barons, the team that produced two other Dutchmen defensemen,
senior Lane Caffaro and junior Mike Schreiber.
The Dutchmen will have 12 of 28 players who played in western Canada when they start practice on Oct. 4.
“It’s been something that I’ve targeted since I’ve become the head coach,” Leaman said. “Our first couple of years, we didn’t quite have the funding to do that. We’ve basically gotten that support. It takes a little bit of time to build the relationships that you want to, to ultimately get the players that you want from that area. We’re starting to see the fruits of our labors in our last couple of classes.”
Zajac, whose brother is New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac, was second on the Silverbacks in scoring with 21 goals and 41 assists in 60 games. The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder was a BCJHL all-star.
“Kelly is a very cerebral, crafty player,” Leaman said. “He’s a little bit more of a playmaker. I think he’s a guy who can step in, and make an impact for us.”
Hanagan, who is 6-0 and 190 pounds, had 29 goals and 24 assists in 60 games. He led the team in playoff scoring with five goals and nine assists.
“He’s a big forward that has a
really good set of hands around the net,” Leaman said. “He’s a very smart player. He’s a pretty good skilled player for his size. We think he can be like a Tomas Holmstrom [of the Detroit Red Wings] for us. He’s
going to complement any player that he plays with on our team.”
The 6-2, 210-pound Julseth-White was a BCJHL all-star after collecting eight goals and 26 assists in 39 games.
“He has very good hands, and a heck of a shot for a big kid,”
Leaman said. “There’s going to be an adjustment period for him coming into the college game.”
Reid, who is 6-1 and 175 pounds, had four goals and 24 assists in 55 games for the Oil Barons. He also played in the BCJHL, with Nanaimo (2005-06) and Westside (2006-07).
“He’s kind of a cross between Caffaro and Schreiber,” Leaman said. “He’s got a little bit of an offensive side like Schreiber, and he’s a very conscious defensive player like Lane.”
The Dutchmen went across the Atlantic Ocean to get one recruit. Defenseman Carl Ekstrom (6-0, 170 pounds) is from Sodertalje, Sweden. He had two goals and 22 assists in 36 games for Sodertalje SK of the J20 SuperElit League last season. He is the first Swede, and third European, to play for Union at the Division I level.
“It was a situation where we had some people we entrusted that were overseas, and they put us in contact with him,” Leaman said. “We were able to watch him on video quite a bit. He’s very
mobile. He’s got a skill level where he could run a power play.”
Six-foot, 180-pound forward
Brian Yanovitch had 18 goals and 33 assists in 45 games for the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s Bridgewater Bandits. An EJHL all-star, Yanovitch ranked 12th in league scoring.
There is one transfer student joining the Dutchmen. Goaltender Brett Bothwell comes to Union from Wayne State, which dissolved its hockey program in March.
Bothwell, who will compete for playing time with sophomore
Corey Milan, was 8-13 last season with a 3.36 goals-against average, two shutouts and a .879 save percentage. He had a 42-save effort in a 3-2 win at St. Lawrence Nov. 23.
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