2024 Spring Season Preview

The NAIHL shores up its skill level range to put 6 solid teams in play in Spring 2024

WINTER 2024 - SEASON PREVIEW

Aaron Froats

1/3/20246 min read

The NAIHL has continued to evolve and strengthen itself as a tight-knit community of players with a dedicated set of captains and rosters. In its effort to narrow down the skill levels within their divisions, player rosters were evaluated and the result was having players moving up to the higher C league and almost an entire team vacating. Now the D league is down to 6 full teams. With only three games each week, all games will be played on Thursdays.

As we move into the Spring 2024 session, let’s take a look at how each team is set up for the new season:

Norse

The Norse bounced back after losing its title defense in the Summer to the Puck Buddies by storming through the regular season, dropping only a single game at the hands of the Classics in Week 5. On the back of league-leader Zach Dunne’s offensive domination, putting up 27 points to finish tops by 11 in the 10-game season, the Norse rolled through the season to a top-seed, then marched their way to a rematch in the Finals versus Puck Buddies where they regained the crown.

The Norse roster will look a different heading into the new season. Top scorer Dunne has moved on, but the Norse added a heavy shot on offense with Bryan Schiraldi and some depth and experience on defense by bringing in JJ Shire, both from the now-defunct Your Mother in Law. Don’t sell the Norse short with the absence of Dunne. Joe Braun and Alex Hancock each averaged over a point per game and Nick D’Agostino tickled the twine eight times in the six games he skated. Expect the Norse to move the puck more east-west with the new look and take advantage of the multiple weapons on their roster to defend their title.

Puck Buddies

The Puck Buddies made a shift to their roster entering the Fall season, but their style of play and their ability to stretch out defenses kept their squad at the top of the pack. The Buddies secured the second-seed entering the postseason, the same seed from which they knocked off the Norse in the Summer. Center Zack Casavant, who finished with a team-leading 13 goals in the campaign, kept up the hot shooting, potting 7 in the playoffs, including a 4-goal performance when the Buddies took advantage of a substitute goalie when facing the Renegades of Puck in the second round. Ultimately, they dropped the rematch in the Finals to the Norse.

The Puck Buddies are bringing back their entire full-time roster, while adding Ronan Morrison from the now-defunct Tenacious D team, as well as newcomers Hunter Havens and Miller Guth. With a full complement of players, the already speedy Puck Buddies should have extra legs at the end of every game in the season and ride the consistent play of Brody Greif in net to a high postseason seed once again.

Classics

The Fall was a big change for the Classics, who looked to new captain Brent Morris to lead the team, along with replacing goaltender Aaron Froats. Froats moved on to the Renegades of Puck full-time, so the Classics sought the services of Omar Soliman to tend the goal for them. While the Classics came out of the gate like a wrecking ball, they dropped their last three of the season, falling to 5-3-2. Unfortunately, the Classics could not right the ship and dropped their first round matchup to Froats’s Renegades in a 3-2 OT bout.

The Classics are undergoing another identity shift entering the Spring campaign. Rob Kotulak has moved away and both Jordan Kiss and Paul Lasalandra have been bumped out of D league eligibility. To help fill those big offensive holes, the Classics have brought in a trio of skaters from defunct Tenacious D – Pavel Tolstov, as well as Caleb and Erica McKenney. Sylvia Groth opted to stay in the NAIHL after Your Mother in Law vacated and will also be assisting the Classics in the upcoming season. While the losses of Kotulak, Kiss, and Lasalandra are significant, the moves made by Morris should lessen the blow to a large degree. The other major change is in net, as Joel McGlothen also comes over from Tenacious to take over from Soliman, who has stepped away from the league this season. The question mark will be how the team will fair without the consistent veteran Steve Morris all season, as he is expected to retire around the mid-point of the regular schedule.

Woollies

The result of consistent growth of the Woollies could not have been more evident than the last four games of the regular season. After getting shelled 8-0 in Week 6 against the Norse, the Woollies fired off four straight wins to end the docket, securing a fourth-seed spot in the postseason. Unfortunately, the Wooliies goaltender Soliman struggled in the opening round match against the Bobcats and exited from contention early.

Jody Packer has his core group back again in the Spring, with Chris Dear moving into a regular roster spot and picking up relentless Helena Ferro from YML. Scott McPherson comes over from the Tenacious fallout to round out the roster. With Soliman leaving the league, the biggest area of unknown will be in the crease. While Christian Mansfield is more than a serviceable tendy, his preference remains skating out, so Packer hopes to go with a committee of Mansfield, newcomer Thomas Peluso, as well as former YML captain Jessie Lapid. Not having a consistent goalie will provide challenges, but the Woollies have proven they are no strangers to overcoming anything thrown their way.

Bobcats

The Bobcats may have been the streakiest team in the league in the Fall. Wins of 7-0 and 6-0 shutouts against Your Mother in Law were offset by a pair of losses to the Norse and trading one-goal affairs with the Renegades. This led to an opening round matchup against the Woollies, where their streaky play worked in their favor in a 7-2 drumming. They were unable to change their struggles against the Norse in round two and fell 4-0.

The Bobcats will certainly feel the loss of high-flyer Zach Turner, who put up 15 points to lead the team. However, Dave Dennis and Stephen Galler settled in towards the end of the campaign and should have no problem stepping up to add more offense. The return of speedy Elijah Jarovich will allow the team to stretch the defenses, which should assist new goaltender Zack Scott to settle in. Having a consistent goaltender will provide some added stability for the Bobcats as their enter the Winter as well, along with having a healthy Tim Remick in the lineup.

Renegades of Puck

Rounding out the teams filling in the schedule for the NAIHL D League Spring 2024 Session are the Renegades of Puck. The Renegades were hamstrung on offense for almost the entire regular season, only averaging just over two goals per game entering the final week of the season. Though Aaron Froats was relatively consistent, the team struggled to find any puck luck or the back of the net. Their continued blue-collar effort paid off though, resulting in a 6-3 win over the Puck Buddies in Week 10, securing the six-seed and a date with the Froats’s former team, the Classics, in round one. The stalwart defensive play that the Renegades have become known for helped move them past the favored Classics in a 3-2 OT win; however, with Froats absent from the net in the second round, the Puck Buddies exacted their revenge to the tune of 9-2.

Captain Charlie Saunier is bringing back his entire lineup, as well as adding John Powenski to his blue-liners, coming over from YML. In turn, expect to see Saunier move up into a forward role with Jon Bellucci moving back to defense. The speed on the back end should help keep the play out of their zone and only strength their already formidable neutral zone play. With chemistry developed up front in the Fall, the Renegades plan to have a healthy squad putting up more goals on the scoreboard on the backs on speedy forwards Alan Zarembski, Zack McCann, and TJ Nielson.

The Spring 2024 season opens up tomorrow night with the Puck Buddies visiting the Classics for an 8:15 puck drop. The Buddies defeated the Classics in their lone meeting in Week 8, 4-2. Second up on the docket is yet another faceoff between the Renegades and the Bobcats. Every single matchup in their histories have been decided by one goal. The night finishes up with the Woollies trying to finally make it a contest against the Norse, dropping all three meetings between the two teams by a collective score of 21-4.

With six teams in the league, each team has a full week’s rest, and will play each other exactly two times. The narrowing of the skill level in the league should bring about more parity and exciting hockey. Will the Norse defend its title? Will the Woollies build on their growth from last season. It will be fun to watch and find out!