As one of the team’s returning players, Mike Egan understood that the Northeast Generals of the North American Hockey League almost had to be better this year.
“The way we looked at it, we had to go up,” Egan said. “From where we were last year, there really was no way of not improving.
“I thought throughout training camp and main camp we looked pretty good.”
Less than a month into the season, however, the Generals are doing more than just improving.
They lead the East, which appears to be the strongest of the NAHL’s four divisions, although the returning Robertson Cup finalist Philadelphia Rebels and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights have games in hand and better winning percentages. With a 7-2 start, the Generals have already blown past their win total from last season when they had the NAHL’s worst record at 4-53-3.
Some new faces have helped.
“Last year, obviously things didn’t go our way,” Egan said. “This year, we’ve had a pretty good start.
“Everyone’s a good team player and everyone works hard.”
The Generals have been getting their most significant production from some of the players who stuck it out through last season’s struggles and came back for more.
Colin Bilek, last season’s team points leader, is back, serving as captain and leading the team in goals with five.
“He’s a great captain,” Egan said. “He definitely leads the team well.”
Egan, the team’s third-leading scorer a year ago, is tied for second in the league in points behind only linemate Matthew Wiesner. Wiesner was close behind Bilek and Egan in the second half of last season after joining the team near the midway point.
The Generals return four of the seven players who accounted for at least 19 points last season — co-goal-scoring leader Justin Jallen is the other — and they are the team’s top four scorers. They also bring back their top scoring defenseman, Luke Perunovich, who shares that distinction so far this season, and their No. 1 goalie.
David Fessenden, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound, 19-year-old goalie from Parker, Colorado, has improved along with the team.
“He takes up a lot of the net and he’s quick,” said Egan, who passed up chances to move into NCAA Division III hockey this season to come back and try to boost his Division I hopes. “For a guy to be huge and quick, that’s a pretty good combination.”
Rookie Marko Sturma is 4-0, but Fessenden has the better numbers with a 2.66 goals against average and .912 save percentage after being at 4.31 and .899, respectively, in a 4-22-2 season.
Progress for Fessenden and his teammates was immediately evident.
Playing the opener for the entire league Sept. 13, the Generals hosted the Johnstown Tomahawks in Attleboro, Massachusetts.
Fessenden stopped all 20 shots he faced in the first two periods and Egan needed only 4:45 to come up with the first NAHL goal of the season.
“We got the puck in deep,” Egan said of the goal that sent the team on its way to an opening 4-2 win and two wins in the three-game weekend series. “I moved it up to [Colin] McCabe and he got it back to me.
“It was a pretty nice pass and I was able to just slot it five-hole past the goalie.”
The Generals showed their improvement to the entire league by going 4-0 at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota.
Fessenden had a 30-save shutout in a 1-0 win over the Austin Bruins and had 35 more in a 3-2 overtime win over the Amarillo Bulls when Egan and Wiesner assisted newcomer Brady Gaudette on the winner just 13 seconds into the extra session.
“We have some good chemistry,” Egan said of the line that includes Wiesner and Gaudette, whose older brother, Adam, plays at Northeastern University.
The offense made it easier with five goals in each of the other two Showcase wins.
Wiesner has three game-winners already among his four goals, to go along with eight assists. Egan has four goals and six assists in eight games and went plus-5 at the showcase.
“Mike worked so hard last year and this offseason to improve,” Generals general manager Bryan Erickson said in a league website story announcing Egan’s selection as East Division Player of the Week after his performance in the Showcase. “It was great to see him rewarded on the NAHL’s biggest stage.
“He’s a great leader who put up points in pressure situations.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.