Dec. 6, 2013
Notre Dame, Ind. - Notre Dame hockey coach Jeff Jackson today announced that five student-athletes have signed National Letters-of-Intent to attend the University beginning with the 2014-15 campaign.
Signing National Letters-of-Intent in the early-signing period are forwards Jake Evans (Toronto, Ont.), Connor Hurley (Edina, Minn.) and Joe Wegwerth (Brewster, N.Y.) along with defensemen Nathan Billitier (Spencerport, N.Y.) and Bobby Nardella (Melrose Park, Ill.). These five players will join five others who signed national letter-of-intent last year but deferred to the 2014-15 season. That group includes forwards Dawson Cook (Cadillac, Mich.) and Andrew Oglevie (Fullerton, Calif.), defensemen Jordan Gross (Maple Grove, Minn.) and Luke Ripley (Kitamit, B.C.) and goaltender Cal Petersen (Waterloo, Iowa).
In making the announcement, Jackson said, "These five guys are part of a bigger class, including the guys that we signed last year. This is a very important class for us as we replace our 10-man senior class from this season. We have high expectations for this group, both on the front end and on the back end and in goal. This is a very talented group of players. We will rely on the fact that some of them are older but we will have a few true freshmen that will have to make the early adjustment to college hockey. We've looked at different guys to fill needs but it's not all about scoring and skill. It's also about grit and other factors that make this a well-balanced group."
Evans is currently a member of the St. Michael's Buzzers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League while Hurley and Nardella play for the Muskegon Lumberjacks and the Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League (USHL). Wegwerth and Billitier are members of the United States National Team Developmental Program's Under-18 team. Three players - Billitier, Evans and Wegwerth - have been ranked by the National Hockey League's Central Scouting in their preliminary rankings for next June's NHL Entry Draft. Hurley has already been selected in the NHL Draft, as he was a second-round selection, 38th overall, by the Buffalo Sabres in last June's draft.
A 6-0, 172-pound right-handed forward, Evans is in his second full season with the St. Mikes Buzzers and has seen action at both right wing and center. A strong, all around player with above average skating ability, Evans is a skilled offensive player with good vision who can create scoring opportunities. Good with the puck, Evans can create space for himself on the ice and has good hands around the net. In his second season with the Buzzers, he is tied for second in scoring with seven goals and 23 assists for 30 points in 26 games. He has one power-play goal, one short-handed goal and a game winner in helping St. Michael's to second place in the South Division of the OPJHL. As a rookie in 2012-13, Evans had 12 goals and 32 assists for 44 points with three power-play goals and three game winners in a season that saw the Buzzers finish first in the South Division on the way to the OJHL championship. A finalist for the Canadian Junior Hockey League rookie of the year award, Evans has played two years with Team Canada East at the World Jr., A Challenge and was a first team OJHL all-prospect selection. A "B" selection by NHL's Central Scouting in their November rankings, Evans is the highest ranked player from the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Jackson on Evans: "Jake is another real smart player. He's a skilled center man with a great playmaking mind. He has the ability to make plays under pressure and sees the ice real well. He's another true freshman coming from the St. Mike's Buzzers which is a great junior program in Toronto that has developed numerous great players for college hockey and beyond."
Hurley is a 6-2, 174-pound center who is currently playing for the United States Hockey League's Muskegon Lumberjacks. An explosive skater with excellent vision and passing skills, he uses his long reach to protect the puck and create space. He can make plays in traffic and is not afraid to play a physical style. A solid, two-way center, Hurley was the youngest player selected in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft when Buffalo selected him in the second round. This season, in 17 games, he has three goals and eight assists for 11 points with one power-play goal and 18 penalty minutes, as Muskegon is fifth in the USHL's Eastern Conference with a 10-10-4 record. In November, Hurley was a member of the United States team that won the gold medal at the World Junior A Challenge in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. He finished second in the tournament in scoring with three goals and seven assists for 10 points and was named to the all-tournament team. With the U.S. team, Hurley was a teammate of fellow incoming players Jordan Gross, Andrew Oglevie and Cal Petersen. A product of the Edina High School program that has produced current Irish players Steven Fogarty and Ben Ostlie, Hurley helped lead the Hornets to the Minnesota 2AA state championship in 2012-13, leading the team in scoring with 26 goals and 32 assists in 30 games. He then joined Muskegon late in the season, playing in 11 games with a goal and seven assists for eight points.
Jackson on Hurley: "Connor Hurley is a dynamic player with great instincts and great puck skills. He skates really well and has tremendous potential to be a great player. His biggest adjustment will be to get physically stronger to play at this level. He will be a true freshman, just one year out of high school hockey. He has the potential to be an impact player for us next year. He's another player from Edina and we've had a number of high quality players from Edina. I'm not sure what the chemistry is there, but those kids usually have a real solid character. They appreciate the value of the education and they are good players. Every player we've had from Edina has been a big factor for us."
Wegwerth rounds out the group at forward. He is a 6-3, 230-pound forward who patrols the left side for the USA Under-18 team. A prototypical power forward, Wegwerth is big, strong and tough to stop. He's got good hands and is an offensive-minded player who continues to improve all aspects of his game. Strong on his skates, Wegwerth is good in the corner and in front of the net and is does not stray far from the physical play. In 21 games this season for the Under-18 team he has two goals and three assists for five points and leads the team with 58 penalty minutes. He helped the U.S. to a silver medal at the Four Nations Tournament in Finland in early November. He started the season by being selected to play in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects game held in Pittsburgh in late September where he scored a goal for Team Mullen. Last season with the Under-17 team he had seven goals and six assists for 13 points in 27 games in a season cut short due to injuries. He is a "C" selection by NHL's Central Scouting in their November rankings.
Jackson on Wegwerth: "Joe Wegwerth is more of a big, physical grinding winger with good hands for a big guy. He can add a physical presence to our lineup. He's strong along the walls and has the potential to be more than just a grinding type of forward. He needs to play a power game because he has the skill level to do something with the puck. He missed quite a bit of hockey last year with an injury so this year is his first year to be able to play at a high level with the national program."
Billitier is a 5-10, 181-pound left shot defenseman who is a teammate of Wegwerth's with on the USA Under-18 team. A strong skating, steady defenseman, he sees the ice well and has the ability to find the open man. Billitier moves the puck quickly in his own zone and is strong in transition. He has the ability to run the power play and has a good accurate shot from the point. This season, Billitier has seen action in 22 games for the Under-18 team and has four assists for four points and four penalty minutes. Earlier this year, he helped the U.S. to a silver medal at the Four Nations Tournament in Finland and also was selected to play in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects game held in Pittsburgh in late September. In 2012-13 with the Under-17 team, Billitier had three goals and five assists for eight points with all three goals coming on the power play. A product of the Rochester Stars Jr. A program, he had two assists in 37 games in the 2011-12 campaign. He received a "C" ranking by NHL's Central Scouting in their November ratings.
Jackson on Billitier: "Nate has good puck skills. His feet are what make a difference for him as they allow him to be a great defender while also allowing him to be a guy who can contribute by jumping into the play in transition. He's got a solid skill set and is a smart player. He's gone a little unheralded in the national program with some of the big names they have there. I think he can be an extremely good college defensemen who has the potential to be a great player here."
Nardella rounds out the five early signees and is a 5-9, 160-pound left shot defenseman who currently plays for the Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League (USHL). A talented, playmaking defenseman, Nardella moves the puck well in his own zone and has good vision on the ice. He has the knack for finding the open man and has the skills to quarterback the power play. Nardella has excellent hockey sense and makes things happen when he has the puck on his stick. The has played in 18 games for Sioux City and has one goal with three assists for four points as the Musketeers are fourth in the USHL's West Division with a 12-7-1 record. A product of the Chicago Mission midget program, Nardella was a first round selection of the Musketeers, eighth overall in the 2012 USHL Futures Draft. He was selected to play for Team USA in the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Tournament held in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in August. In five games, he had one assist as the U.S. won the silver medal, falling in the title game to Canada. In August of 2012, he was a member of USA Hockey's Under-17 team was 5-0, winning the gold medal at the Five Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic. Nardella's father, Bob, played college hockey at Ferris State and played professionally for the Chicago Wolves in the American Hockey League and was a member of Italy's National Team in two Olympics.
Jackson on Nardella: "Bobby is a dynamic defenseman. He's not a big guy but he plays a big game with the puck. He has great instincts and great vision. He will be a different defenseman than what we've had the last few years because of his instincts and skills. He has the ability to make a play from the blue line. Playing in the USHL this year will help him develop his physical skills while also helping with the maturing process of playing against bigger and older players."
The five players who signed players who signed letters-of-intent last season are all playing in junior hockey this season, four of them in the United States Hockey League and one in the British Columbia Hockey League. Dawson Cook is a 6-1, 198-pound left-handed center in his first season with the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers. A product of the USA Hockey's Under-18 team, Cook is known of his defensive game. He's a strong skater who is a physical presence on the ice. An excellent two-way center, he has an offensive upside to his game that he continues to develop. A native of Cadillac, Mich. where he was a multi-sport athlete, Cook had four goals and four assists in 25 games last season for the Under-18 team. This season, he has played in 20 games for Green Bay and has a goal and six assists for seven points in helping the Gamblers to third place in the USHL's Eastern Division with an 11-5-4 record.
Jackson on Cook: "Dawson is a kid who will be a big center man who will be used in a defensive role. We think that this year in Green Bay will help him get some of his offensive prowess that he had in high school hockey in Michigan. He's a product of the national program and is a real solid player. This year is going to help him get the mental toughness to be ready for college hockey. He's got the body and the basic skill set and a mind for the game. We recruited him to play a defensive role, but I see him developing his offensive game."
Jordan Gross is a teammate of Cook's with the Gamblers and is a 5-10, 178-pound right-handed defenseman with excellent offensive skills. In his second season in Green Bay, Gross is among the top offensive defensemen in the USHL. Last season with the Gamblers, Gross played in 64 games with seven goals and 24 assists for 31 points to tie for 11th among USHL defensemen. This season, the Maple Grove, Minn., native has one goal and 10 assists for 11 points in 16 games and that ranks him eighth among league blue liners. In November, he was a member of the United States team that won the gold medal at the World Junior A Challenge in Nova Scotia along with Connor Hurley, Andrew Oglevie and Cal Petersen. In four games, he had four assists. During the 2011-12 season, Gross played at Maple Grove High School in Maple Grove, Minn., where he had 17 goals and 30 assists for 47 points in 30 games as he helped lead Maple Grove to its first Class 2A State Tournament appearance. He was a Minneapolis Star Tribune All-Metro first team selection.
Jackson on Gross: "Jordan is a good, offensive-minded defenseman. I think his skating and his puck skills allow him to be aggressive offensively. He can play the point on the power play and make plays and shoot the puck. He isn't afraid to jump into the rush and make plays. Our defense is going to be making a big transformation with the type of defensemen we are graduating and those that we are bringing in, smaller, good decision-making defensemen."
Andrew Oglevie is in his third season with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and has seen action in 10 games this year, scoring four goals with four assists for eight points on a 12-5-1 RoughRider team. He missed games in November while he was a member of the United States team that won the gold medal at the World Junior A Challenge in Nova Scotia along with Jordan Gross, Connor Hurley and Cal Petersen. In the tournament, he collected one goal in four games. The first Irish player from the state of California, the 5-9, 156-pound right wing will bring tremendous speed to the Notre Dame lineup. In his second season with Cedar Rapids in 2012-13, he had nine goals and 11 assists for 20 points in 64 games. His first season was in 2011-12 and he had six goals and seven assists for 13 points. Oglevie has seen action playing for the United States as he participated in the 2011 Under-17 Five Nations Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he had six assists in five games. He also played for the United States Under-18 Select team in the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in August of 2012.
Jackson on Oglevie: "Andrew is a great skating right winger who has played center. He's got good speed and skating ability with the puck. He makes good decisions on the ice. He hasn't transformed into what we expected him to be from an offensive perspective although he is having a good year in the USHL. When he played midget hockey, he was a real dynamic offensive forward and we hope he can still develop that ability. Regardless, he has the potential to use that speed to use that speed in more ways than just five-on-five."
Cal Petersen is the lone goaltender of the group and is in his second season with the Waterloo Black Hawks. The 6-1, 175-pound puck stopper catches with his right hand and is a competitive and athletic goaltender who plays a technical style in goal. In 13 games this season, he is 11-2-0 with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage with one shutout, as the Black Hawks are third in the Western Conference with a 15-5-0 record. Petersen was a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. Team at the World Junior A Challenge in Nova Scotia where he was 3-0-0 with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .873 save percentage. The Waterloo, Iowa native was selected in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round, 129th overall. In his rookie year with the Black Hawks, Petersen was 21-11-1 with a 2.97 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage on the team that advanced to the USHL Championship series against Dubuque. He was a teammate of future teammates Hinostroza and Wade as he played for Team USA in the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Tournament in the Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Prior to 2012-13 season, Petersen was selected to play in the first-ever CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects game in Buffalo, N.Y. There, he played for Team McClanahan and made seven saves in the first 30 minutes of a 5-2 win.
Jackson on Petersen: "Cal is a goaltender who is getting another year's experience in the USHL. We are hoping that he can come in here and compete to be our number one guy. Chad Katunar is here gaining experience this year and I am hoping that they can compete with each other. Cal isn't as big as Chad but he's got great athleticism and great instincts for a goaltender. He's a right-handed catching goalie, which is something that I have always wanted here. They present a different perspective for a shooter with the glove on the other side. He has the potential to be a great collegiate goaltender."
Rounding out the five early signees is defenseman Luke Ripley who signed his letter of intent in the spring. A member of the Powell River Kings, Ripley is a 6-4, 197-pound left shot defenseman. He played in 46 games last season, scoring two goals with 11 assists for 13 points while racking up 85 minutes in penalties. He helped the Kings to fourth place in the BCHL's Mainland Division with a 20-25-2-9 record in the regular season. During the year, he was selected to play for Canada West in the World Junior A Challenge that was held in Yarmouth, N.S. His squad lost in the gold medal game to the USA Select team that included current Irish center Vince Hinostroza. This season, in 17 games, Ripley has no goals with five assists for five points as the Kings are in first place in the BCHL's Island Division with a 20-4-2-1 record.
Jackson on Ripley: "Luke is the opposite of the other defensemen that we are bringing in. You can't have just all small defensemen. He's got a real positive upside and is a big, lanky kid in the mold of Shayne Taker. Luke plays more of a physical game and has more of a defensive edge where Shayne plays more of an offensive game. Luke has the potential to be a defensive-type defenseman who has the ability to make a play with the puck."
Class of 2014-15
Player Pos. Ht. Wt. S/C Hometown/2013-14 Team Nathan Billitier D 5-10 181 L Spencerport, N.Y./USA Under-18 Team ** Dawson Cook C 6-1 198 L Cadillac, Mich./Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) Jake Evans C/RW 6-0 172 R Toronto, Ont./St. Michael's Buzzers (OJHL) ** Jordan Gross D 5-10 178 R Maple Grove, Minn./Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) Connor Hurley C 6-2 174 R Eagan, Minn./Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL) Bobby Nardella D 5-9 160 L Rosemont, Ill./Sioux City Musketeers (USHL) ** Andrew Oglevie RW 5-9 156 R Fullerton, Calif./Cedar Rapids Rough Riders (USHL) ** Cal Petersen G 6-1 175 R Waterloo, Iowa/Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL) ** Luke Ripley D 6-4 195 L Kitamit, B.C./Powell River Kings (BCHL) Joe Wegwerth LW 6-3 230 L Brewster, N.Y./USA Under-18 Team
** Signed national letters-of-intent in 2012-13 but deferred to 2014-15.