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Previewing the NAPHL: Esmark Stars

August 25, 2015
Over the course of the next two weeks, the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) is proud to feature a new series that will preview each of the 38 teams in the NAPHL for the 2015-16 season. Each day, leading all the way up to the first event of the season at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, MN, the league will feature a different organization and take a look at both their teams.
Esmark Stars 16U
The Esmark Stars come into the 2015-16 season looking to continue a strong tradition in the NAPHL’s 16U division and again qualify for the NAPHL playoffs.
The Stars consistency starts behind the bench where head coach Yuri Krivokhija returns.  A veteran of 18 seasons of professional hockey, a former draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens and a former member of the Russian and Belorussian Olympic and National teams, Krivokhija has served as the head coach of the 16U program during their entire tenure in the NAPHL.
Joining Krivokhija behind the bench again this season is Esmark’s 18U head coach Dave Kosick.
The combination of Krivokhija and Kosick has proven a successful tandem for the Stars program in both developing talent and moving players. They will look to continue that effort again this season.
This season’s Esmark 16U squad will see a considerable amount of turnover and change as only two players return from the 2014-15 roster.  But that will not serve as an excuse according to Krivokhija as he expects big things from both of the returning Stars, forwards Alex Singley and Billy Carr.
“Both Alex and Billy are capable of having huge seasons,” Krivokhija offered.  “I look for them to grab a fair share of attention over the course of the season.”
Manning the pipes this season for the 16U Stars will be newcomers Tyrik Barkley and Jake Kucharski.
“Goaltending and defense will again be key for our team,” said Krivokhija.  “If we play well in our zone then we have a chance in every game.”
Some strong words of wisdom from a man who made his living professionally for 19 seasons manning the defense side of the ice.
The Stars will also have eight players in their line-up who skated for the nationally recognized U14 Esmark Stars last season.  That team captured the second NAPHL BTS Championship in Troy, MI last season … completing the event with an impressive 5-0-0 record.
“This group of young men were the backbone of a successful team last season.  The key for them will be in seeing how long it takes for them to adjust to Midget hockey,” said Kosick.  “They are all talented kids who will have to make necessary adjustments to grasp the midget game … and hopefully flourish.”
This season the Stars will also offer both a national and international flavor to their line-up, as they have added four players from Slovakia and skaters from North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio.
Disappointed with how the NAPHL Playoff season came to a close last year, look for the Stars to double down on their effort to get back to the post season.  With Krivokhija at the helm and a talented line-up it is looking like this could be another successful season for the Esmark Stars. 
Esmark Stars 18U
 The Esmark Stars 18U team approaches the 2015-16 NAPHL season with the same mantra as in past seasons … defense first.
And that approach has served the club and veteran head coach Dave Kosick well.  Since Esmark joined the NAPHL in 2010-11, the Stars have advanced into the 18U Championship game twice.  And although last season ended short of the Stars goal, capturing a NAPHL Championship, as they were eliminated by the eventual league playoff champion New Jersey Titans, the goal remains the same according to Kosick.
“The NAPHL is a strong league that continues to improve its product and caliber of talent,” said Kosick, who will be entering his 34th season behind the bench.
“Our philosophy continues to strive to be the last man standing,” he added.  “And we recognize that that task will be even more difficult given the talent and mix of a strong field of old and new clubs.”
But if history teaches us a lesson, then look for the Stars to be contention come February.
Joining Kosick behind the bench again this season will be Yuri Krivokhija, Esmark’s 16U head coach.  That tandem has developed a strong list of tenders and draft choices in the NAHL, USHL and NHL and looks to continue the tradition again this season.
The 2015-16 version of the 18U Esmark Stars will feature a combination of returning veteran players, players from last season’s NAPHL 16U playoff squad and some exciting new faces.
Five members of last seasons squad return to the line-up this season, including, forwards Matt Amelio and Austin Martz , defenseman Kenny Dee and James Unger, and converted defenseman Andrew Koziara,
“These guys are veterans of NAPHL play and we will count on them to provide some veteran leadership,” Krivokhija said.
The Stars will also have eight members of last season’s 16U team in their line-up, including defensemen Cole Barney, Shane Riley and Ty Rickabaugh; and forwards Ben Friedland, Beau Heakins, Brendan Johns, Max Milan, and Cameron Williams.
“These guys were all high-end U16 players,” Krivokhija offered.  “We will be counting on them to quickly establish themselves.”
In goal the Stars will see the return of Joseph Hubert, who played for the Stars 16U team during the 2013-14 season, and goaltending partner Tre Lowe.  That tandem will be following a rich history of elite goaltenders who wore the Stars crest and Kosick identified it as the key component of a successful season.
“We have had some of the best goaltenders in the nation man the pipes for us the past
couple of seasons, Kosick said.  “Joe and Tre are following a strong tradition and I expect them to rise to the challenge.”
Rounding out the club will be newcomers Michael Lamison, a forward with world-class speed, 6’2” power forward Dawson Richard, and 6’4” forward forward Tanner Orr.
“Adding high-end quality players like Lamison and Richard to our line-up is a good plus to have,” Kosick added.
The coaching staff is certainly looking forward to getting this team to Blaine for the league’s opening event in September.
“The guys are pumped for the Blaine event.  We know the challenges that lie ahead of us and we want to get after them,” Kosick said.
“There is no other event in youth hockey that comes close to the atmosphere of the Blaine event. The platform that event provides for these kids to showcase their skill set is second to none.”
Next up in Previewing the NAPHL: Everett Jr. Silvertips
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