Twin City Thunder’s Nick Rashkovsky pulls away from Jersey Hitmen’s Tyler Borsch during an USPHL NCDC junior hockey game in Auburn on Dec. 14, 2019. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — After a long offseason, the Twin City Thunder are ready to finally begin their second season in the USPHL’s National Collegiate Development Conference.

The junior hockey team opens 2020-21 with games Thursday (1 p.m.) and Friday (11 a.m.) against the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs at Norway Savings Bank Arena.

The games won’t be open to the public because of the 50-person limit for indoor facilities because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have never seen anything like it,” Twin City Thunder co-owner Dan Hodge, who in his first year as the Thunder’s head coach, said of the offseason. “Again, I am excited to play some games and I think we got a pretty good group of guys here. We will see what happens when we put it to the test on Thursday.”

Twin City will look to returner Nick Rashkovsky for leadership and production. The 20-year-old from Los Angeles, California, who has been selected as the team’s captain for the 2020-21 season, was fifth on the team last season in points with 20 goals and 16 assists in 49 games.

Rashkovsky earned the “C” for his hard work during the team’s recent main and training camps. Another returner, Martin Moioffer, also earned a letter as an assistant captain.

“Not so much surprised me, but more it was expected — he exceeded expectations — is Rashkovsky,” Hodge said. “He has come in here, he has been a great leader. And Martin Moioffer; Marty didn’t get a lot of ice time last year and didn’t play in a lot of situations, but they have been both great leaders and we are really excited. Rashovsky is going to be our captain and Moioffer is going to be one of his assistant (captains). We are still working on the other assistant (captains).”

Twin City Thunder’s Martin Moioffer, left, gets off a shot on goal Despite being harassed by Connecticut Jr. Rangers’ Garrett Kessler during a January game at Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Rashkovsky said he learned last season what it takes to be successful at the Tier II junior hockey level.

“It’s definitely an honor to be named captain at this level, and it’s not something that I will take lightly,” Rashkovsky said. “I think I owe a lot of that to my experience from last year. I am coming into the season more prepared, just knowing the league and being familiar with the team. I am obviously going to take that seriously and I want to do my best day in and day out to be successful for myself and to help the team win.”

Hodge said he also is expecting forwards Troy Ladka, Nate Chickering and Tyler Fox to be key contributors this season.

Ladka played club college hockey last season at Lehigh Valley, where he scored eight goals and had three assists in 20 games. He’s reuniting this year with Chickering, his former teammate at Proctor Academy. Chickering scored seven goals and had 11 assists in 25 games for Proctor last season. Fox (22 goals, 24 assists in 40 games) is coming from the Toledo Cherokee of the USPHL Premier League.

Chickering and Fox have found a place on Rashkovsky’s line during the practices and scrimmages so far this preseason.

“Nate Chickering and Tyler Fox, my linemates, they have been great to play with, they are fast and speedy guys. I will find success with them,” Rashkovsky said.

The Thunder forwards are expecting to shoot the puck more this season. Rashkovsky said the team wants to put 30-40 shots on goal per game.

“That’s how you score more goals,” Hodge said. “The more shots you take, the more chances you have to score. We got to do a better job of shooting the puck, and I told them we got to be a shoot-first team. As many shots we can get, we need to get them to the net so goalies can make saves.”

As for Twin City’s defense, Rashkovsky likes the size that Jack Gilligan and Philip DeCresce add to the team.

The Thunder will start the season with Devon Bobak and Connor Leslie in the crease. Draft pick Noah Ping is still battling a lower-body injury that he suffered in training camp. He’s expected to be out for another month. Both Bobak and Leslie were two of the 40 goalies competing for a spot at the beginning of Twin City’s main camp last month.

HESSINGER GETS A TRYOUT

When the Maine Nordiques’ started their training camp last week, defenseman Derek Hessinger wasn’t expecting he’d be on the other side of the Androscoggin River this week.

Derek Hessinger, right, of the Maine Nordiques and Clark Kerner of the Northeast Generals compete for the puck during a 2019-20 junior game. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The Twin City Thunder brought in Hessinger, who played last season with the Nordiques, for a tryout after he cut last week near the end of the Nordiques’ camp. Hessinger currently is not on the Thunder’s active roster.

“No, I was not expected to be here, but I am happy to be here,” Hessinger said.

Hessinger had one assist in 44 games last season for the Nordiques.

Hessinger skated with Thunder assistant coach Cam Labrie over the summer and reached out to Labrie this past weekend to see if there was an opportunity with the Thunder.

Currently, there are two other players with Nordiques ties on the Thunder’s NCDC roster: forward Sergei Anisimov and defenseman Daisuke Egusa.

One of Hessinger’s former teammates at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Fairbault, Minnesota, was Alexander Kozic, a goalie for the Thunder in 2019-20 who is currently at Bowdoin College.

“He told me he had a great experience. I know he had a different coach but he had a good experience with the coach,” Hessinger said. “He only had good things to say (about the Thunder).”

THUNDER HAVE OPTIONS

Hodge has told the current players that bringing in players — such as Hessinger — for evaluations might not be uncommon early in the season, especially with some junior teams deciding to sit out the season because of the coronavirus.

The United States Hockey League — the lone Tier I junior hockey league under the USA Hockey League umbrella — had the Madison (Wisconsin) Capitals and the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Roughriders decided to suspend operations. In the NAHL, the lone Tier II junior hockey league under USA Hockey, the Kansas City (Missouri) Scouts, Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays, Springfield (Illinois) Junior Blues and the Jamestown (New York) Rebels all decided to sit out the season.

“(The players) got to be ready. At any time, (other) players are going to be available,” Hodge said. “The players here have to make themselves irreplaceable.”

The Thunder brought in forward Gabe Potyk at the start of training camp. Potyk played with Corpus Christi last season and is currently on the Thunder’s roster.

“It’s unfortunate what’s going on, but hopefully it will make our (team) stronger and the rest of the league stronger,” Hodge said.

MONARCHS WITHOUT COACH

The New Hampshire Junior Monarchs will come to the Norway Savings Bank Arena without their head coach, Ryan Frew, who is currently in a New Hampshire hospital with a serious health issue.

“They will definitely have some emotion on their side,” Hodge said. “Ryan is a great guy and a great coach and we wish him well. (Thunder assistant coach) Alex Drulia and I were just talking; we just saw (Frew) two weeks ago up in New Hampshire playing games and he was fine. You would have never known anything was wrong.”

THUNDER OPENING DAY ROSTER

Goalies: Devon Bobak (free agent), Connor Leslie (free agent), Noah Ping (draft pick, on the injured list).

Defensemen: Andrew Cole (draft pick), Philip DeCresce (free agent) P.J. Donahue (free agent), Daisuke Egusa (free agent), Jack Gilligan (tender), Matt Herrick (free agent),  Joey Potter (tender).

Forwards: Jimmy Akouri (free agent), Justin Angle (draft pick, currently away from the team for personal reasons), Sergei Anisimov (free agent), Ben Charboneau (free agent), Dominic Chasse (returner), Nathan Chickering (tender), Tyler Fox (free agent), Noah Furman (free agent), Danny Klatt (free agent). Troy Ladka (free agent), Martin Moioffer (returner),  Gabe Potyk (free agent),  Nick Rashkovsky (returner), Alex Ray (draft pick), Hunter Schmitz (draft pick).


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