For those who compete in junior hockey, the goal is often to move on to the next level of hockey. For most players in the North American Hockey League, the only Tier II junior league in the United States, that dream next level is collegiate hockey.
Over the past few seasons, the NAHL’s Bismarck Bobcats have helped to send dozens of players on to college hockey.
Perhaps most impressive is the team’s development of goalies, as nine consecutive Bobcat goaltenders have gone on to play Division I college hockey. They are:
- Aaron Walski – Bismarck 2004-2005 & North Dakota 2005-2009
- Tim Krystosek – Bismarck 2005-2007 & Air Force 2007-2009
- Jake Kremer – Bismarck 2007-2008 & Minnesota 2008-2012
- Matt Grogan – Bismarck 2007-2009 & Connecticut 2009-present
- David Bosner – Bismarck 2008-2009 & Air Force 2009-present
- Ryan Faragher – Bismarck 2009-2011 & St. Cloud State 2011-present
- Ryan Massa – Bismarck 2009-2010 & Nebraska-Omaha 2011-present
- Jake Williams – Bismarck 2009-2010 & Mercyhurst 2011-present
- Tommy Burke – Bismarck 2010-2012 & Bowling Green 2012-present
Of the former Bobcat goalies currently playing college hockey, only Grogan, Bosner, Faragher, and Burke have seen regular season action this season.
Bosner has only played one game. Grogan, Faragher, and Burke, however, have had an impact on their teams.
On December 29, 2012, Grogan, a senior at Connecticut, made his first start since January 29, 2011.
Making up for an almost two-year hiatus, he has been on a roll since.
Grogan leads the Atlantic Hockey conference with a .944 save percentage and a 1.75 goals against average. Those numbers are second and seventh in the nation, respectively. In 15 games (12 starts), Grogan is 8-3-2.
St. Cloud State sophomore Faragher was thrust into the starting role last season as a freshman when regular starter Mike Lee went down with an injury. In 24 games (23 starts), he posted a record of 9-11-3 with a 2.75 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
With Lee leaving school a year early to go pro, Faragher has started 28 of St. Cloud’s 30 games this season. And he has shined, leading the team to its current first-place position in the WCHA and twice being named WCHA Defensive Player of the Week (Nov. 27 & Jan. 22).
He currently has a 17-10-1 record in goal with a 2.19 GAA and a .918 save percentage.
While his statistics are nowhere near Grogan’s and Faragher’s, Burke has played 12 games (9 starts) as a freshman for Bowling Green, splitting time with senior Andrew Hammond. Burke is 4-4-2 with a 1.97 GAA and a .916 save percentage.
Burke has temporary sole control of the starting goalie position, as Hammond is day-to-day with a knee injury suffered during a Feb. 6 practice. Hammond hasn’t played since, but the team hopes he will return for next weekend’s series versus Northern Michigan.
With Hammond graduating after this season, expect to see Burke in goal in the future. His experience this season as a freshman should prove valuable.
Continuing the Trend
The odds are high that the Bobcat tradition of sending goalies to the next level will continue, possibly with both current goalies.
Aaron Nelson and Bryan Nies have shared time in goal this season, with Nelson having 29 games played (28 starts) and Nies having 17 (15 starts).
After leading the Bobcats to a Robertson Cup appearance with a 5-1 record in last season’s Central Division playoffs, Nelson started this season with the USHL’s Fargo Force. Back with the Bobcats, Nelson has gone 19-6-3 with a 1.76 GAA and a .937 save percentage.
Nies was well known among hockey fans in North Dakota prior to this season with the Bobcats. As a senior at Red River High School (Grand Forks) last season, he led his team to an undefeated regular season, posting a 21-0-0 record. With the Bobcats, Nies is 8-6-1 with a 2.66 GAA and a .907 save percentage.
Both Nelson and Nies have a year of junior eligibility remaining, unless the next level comes calling before then.