Daniels Murnieks, left and Levente Keresztes are a big part of the offense for the Twin City Thunder. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — The average age of the Twin City Thunder National Collegiate Development Conference team is 18.82 years old.

Right now, two of the hottest players on the roster are a pair of 17-year-olds in Levente Keresztes and Daniels Murnieks. Since the turn of the new year, Keresztes has three goals and five assists in five games while Murnieks has two goals and four assists.

For the season, Keresztes has five goals and 14 assists in 24 games while Murnieks has eight goals and three assists in 20 games. Keresztes is fourth among U18 players in scoring in the NCDC and Murnieks is the eighth. Maine Nordiques tender and University of New Hampshire recruit Cy LeClerc of the Islanders Hockey Club leads all U18 players in the NCDC with 34 points (12 goals and 22 assists).

They are both currently on the top line — Keresztes on the left wing while Murnieks sits on the right wing with Andrew Kurapov, the team’s leading point-getter, centering them.

“We have played really well the past five games with the team and our line too,” Keresztes said. “The three of us are smart, we know where the other guy is.”

The move to put the two youngsters with Kurapov, who’s a 20-year-old, was to balance the lineup.

“I think it was just looking how we can be more impactful from top-to-bottom,” Thunder coach Doug Friedman said. “(Nick) Rashkovsky and (John) Kondub had done a good job with Kurapov, but they were a singular line. Now, Rashkovsky and Kondub are with (Christian) Blomquist, it gives us an added offensive threat on top of our other two lines. It was more to spread (the offense) out, but not to thin it out.”

Levente’s and Daniels’ style of play compliment each other.

“It’s pretty nice, he’s a passing player,” Murnieks said. “I like to shoot a lot, he usually passes to me, good passes, usually right on the tape, so I have a good chance to score all the time.”

One reason they are playing with a lot of confidence is both spent December with their respective national teams. Keresztes helped Hungary win the gold medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Division IB Under-20 World Junior Championship, where he was second on the team in scoring, with five goals and four assists in nine games.

“I was the youngest on the Hungarian team, but I got a lot of ice time,” Keresztes said. “It was a good opportunity for me to play there, we won the gold medal.”

Keresztes enjoyed playing against his former teammate, goalie Artur Ogandzhanyan, who was on the Ukraine team. Ogandzhanyan was traded by the Thunder to the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs after Christmas.

Murnieks, meanwhile, played for his home nation Latvia, which he competed for on the U18 team at a Four Nations tournament, along with the Lativian U20 B Team, Belarus U18 team and Kazakhstan U18 team. Murnieks had two goals in three games.

It was his dream to play for his country.

“I always wanted to play for the national team, maybe it gave a little confidence,” Murnieks said. “I want to play (the best) I can.”

For Keresztes, he got off to a blazing start to his junior career this season, with six assists in his first five games before going pointless in his next five games.

“I think I started the season (off) real well with Andrew and Zach Egber,” Keresztes said. “I think it was good, but after I didn’t get a lot of ice time, I didn’t play well. So, it was hard because I (wasn’t) getting the points.”

Murnieks had to earn his way on to the NCDC team, as he started the season playing games with the Thunder’s Premier League team and on the midget hockey team, the Twin City Lightning.

“I was kind of disappointed I couldn’t play NCDC (at the start of the season),” Murnieks said. “Now I have proved myself at the Premier level and played pretty good there, now I am happy to be in the NCDC.”

Murnieks had three goals and four assists in 10 games with the Premier League team. He had a goal and an assist in two games with the Lightning team.

Friedman likes how Murnieks was patient waiting for his call-up to the NCDC team.

“He trusted us and what we are trying to do with him and the process,” Friedman said. “He played some Premier games, he played U18 (midget) games. You could see and tell there was something there with him.”

With both players, Friedman wasn’t concerned with the stretches when they weren’t putting points on the board. He was more concerned how they were adjusting to new surroundings.

“For us, especially early on the year, it wasn’t about them producing a lot,” Friedman said. “It was about them getting adjusted here to the game and learning our systems and just competing harder. Like I said, the skill has always been here and they showed they can do that. Again, you have Levente, who’s on the power play, Daniels is getting some power-play time and Daniels is an effective penalty killer. They are multifaceted in their games.”


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