Jonah Mortenson participates in a warmup drill Tuesday with the Twin City Thunder at the beginning of their practice at the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The Twin City Thunder are trying to establish a new identity for the upcoming season in the United States Premier Hockey League’s Tier II National Collegiate Development Conference.

“I think with the direction the league is going, into a younger direction, we are heavy (on 2004-born, 2003-born players) this year,” Twin City Thunder co-owner and coach Dan Hodge said. “There’s more skill and less deliberate hockey this year — there will be more pace to our game.”

Currently, the team has four 2004-born players and 11 others that are 2003-born players. There are also seven 2002 players in their final year of junior hockey eligibility.

Hodge wanted to get players with more skill and speed because that’s the new norm in the sport. The Thunder had trouble with speed and skill in the first-round playoff loss in three games to the Junior Bruins last year.

“Last year’s team was a good group, but we didn’t finish the job when we had the chance,” Hodge said. “We won the first game and in Game 2, for a lack of a better term, we laid an egg; they came out and took it to us. The last game was double overtime. It’s one of those situations, you know, where you need to get to in order to be successful. This year, we have changed gears; we are a little less methodical and a little more speed.”

Jack O’Rourke, left, and George Goodwin participate in a warmup drill Tuesday with the Twin City Thunder at the beginning of their practice at the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Twin City opens the 2022-23 season in Marlborough, Massachusetts, against the Jr. Bruins in a two-game set Saturday and Sunday. Only three players that played the majority of the season on last year’s team return. They are forwards Trace Norwell and Tommy Gannon and defenseman Blake Tierney.


Norwell, the sixth-leading scorer (13 goals and 19 assists) on last year’s team, sees the difference in team speed so far in the preseason.

“I think we are a lot more talented than we were last year — not to say we weren’t talented (last) year — but we have a good group of forwards and the (defensemen) move the puck well,” Norwell said. “I think we are going to try to play with speed and a lot of talent and catch the opponent on their heels, especially early on in games. I think a lot of our philosophies we are trying to implement are aimed to trying to push the (defensemen) back and the other team back, catch them early and get on the attack.”

Hodge said Norwell is one of the centerpieces of the Thunder’s new offensive game plan.

“It’s going to be a big year for Trace,” Hodge said. “He’s going to be a leader and he has great potential. Again, he plays with pace.”

The organization focused on bringing in speed and skill through the tender process in the offseason. Forwards Nolan Leonard and Ben Portner are some of those players.

“A lot of the tenders like Portner are still here,” Hodge said. “He’s a good, skilled kid, and Nolan Leonard plays with speed. We are excited about those guys.”


Portner had 12 goals and 18 assists in 29 games for Lakeville South High School in Minnesota last season.

Leonard, an 18-year-old Braintree, Massachusetts, native, who had 14 goals and seven assists last season for Braintree High School, said the team is finding success getting teammates open in the slot for scoring chances during preseason scrimmages.

“We have been chipping pucks (into the offensive zone) and fore-checking really hard,” Leonard said. “If you can chip the puck in and fore-check, take contact from the (opposition) defensemen, we have been finding guys high in the slot or cycling (the puck) to get another shot.”

A free agent who made the team that fits the new direction is Andy Potyk. The 20-year-old is 5-foot-10 and 198 pounds, far different than his older brother, Gabe, who played for the Thunder two years ago. Gabe is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds.

Hodge said Andy is a faster skater than Gabe.

Twin City will test the new look offense with seven games that are either on the road or showcase games out of state. The first home game at Norway Savings Bank Arena is Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 1 p.m. against the Boston Advantage.


“We will learn to win on the road,” Norwell said. “We will learn to play with bus legs, tired legs, and maybe a rink that’s not favorable to us. I think it’s better to learn that early on.”

Gavin Simopoulos, left, participates in a drill Tuesday during the Twin City Thunder practice at the Norway Savings Bank in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal


The Thunder have three players from the state of Maine on the NCDC roster, with Lewiston’s Damon Bossie and Nick Pomerleau and Cape Elizabeth’s Gavin Simopoulos making the team.

All three players played for the Thunder’s Tier III Premier League team in 2021-22. Pomerleau did play a handful of game games with the NCDC team last season.

It marks the fourth straight season the Thunder have had a Lewiston native on the NCDC roster. Previous players include Jeromey Rancourt and Dom Chasse (2019-20), Alex Rivet and Chasse (2020-21), and Chasse and Pomerleau (2021-22).

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