By: Collin Schuck – IceRays Staff
Jun. 27, 2017
The North American Hockey League (NAHL) continues to set records for player development and continuing hockey careers through the NCAA hockey route. Last season was another banner year for players committed to NCAA programs for the league, which draws a lot of attention from players and parents that want to move on and earn their own commitment.
However, one of the largest benefits is the attention of players already committed to NCAA Division I programs looking to continue their development. On the Corpus Christi IceRays roster last season, the program had four players already with locked in to collegiate programs when they walked in the doors to the American Bank Center. Programs want to see their future players continue development so when they reach the collegiate level they are ready to go. If a program does well, relationships are built between coaching staffs, which allows for future opportunities for committing players and having already committed players develop in said program.
So when the IceRays signed forward Kevin Obssuth to a tender contract for next season, those that understand the process realize why a NCAA Division I commit would join the team next season.
“I’ve heard great things about the [IceRays] program,” said Obssuth. “My coaches at Canisius College have had these success stories of getting kids in Corpus Christi and sending kids there. So, I’m definitely excited about it.”
Obssuth, a 19-year-old commit to Canisius College, is reaping the benefits of the previous relationships between the IceRays and the NCAA Division I program. The 6-foot-2, 181-pound winger earned his future destination in late February during the 2015-16 season while playing for the P.A.L. Junior Islanders 18U of the U.S. Premier Hockey League (USPHL). At that time, former IceRays defenseman Michael Bevilacqua, who is also a Canisius College commit, was playing first pairing minutes in South Texas, and now IceRays Director of Scouting Mike Mondoux was researching another Canisius commit: forward David Baskerville, who would be drafted by the IceRays that off-season and be one of the best two-way forwards in junior franchise history.
Add a commitment by defenseman Logan Gestro into those webbings, and that conjures a recipe for a tightly-woven relationship between two rising programs, something Obssuth was hinted to by the Canisius coaching staff and IceRays head coach Brad Flynn that helped make his decision.
“The coaches from Canisius like [Assistant Coach] Scott Moser have said a lot of great things about the program. When I talked to Coach Flynn, he basically told me about the program and why the NAHL style of play is beneficial. He said it was more of a college-style and gets players prepared to play at the next level, whether it be college or professional.”
“Kevin is another highly skilled player with size,” said Flynn. “Our head scout Mike Mondoux is extremely detailed. He is from Buffalo and did a great job researching Canisius College’s upcoming recruiting class. Knowing we were losing some offense on our wings with Brad Power aging out, Nate Bryer graduating and the status of both Larry Jungwirth and Griffin Loughran cloudy with the USHL, Mike did a good job of finding someone who can help with our offensive output.”
Obssuth grew up in Morristown, N.J., a town of around 20,000 people nestled about 33 miles west up Route 24 and Interstate 78 to New York City. About 10 miles before the big city, you’ll reach the Prudential Center, the home of the New Jersey Devils since the 2007-08 season, and with three NHL teams in a small area, the sport of hockey can grow much faster, especially when more players reach higher levels.
17 different players born in New Jersey have made the NHL with seven of those coming before 1980. Since then, the other 10 players are currently playing or have played in the last three seasons. One of those players, forward Kenny Agostino of the St. Louis Blues organization, is also from Morristown, N.J.
For a player like Obssuth growing up and developing in that area, there are a lot of people to look up to and recent examples of success stories to help encourage pursuing dreams in a budding hockey state.
“There’s been a lot of great players that have come out of here from Long Island, New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” said Obssuth. “So it’s definitely a great experience playing around here. You just have so many great programs so close to each other and a lot of great leagues like the NAHL expanding out east. It’s a great area for hockey.”
He’s spent his entire hockey career in the Northeast so far, playing for Delbarton School, a college prep program right in his hometown, then going to the Jr. Islanders. After putting up 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 27 games with the 18U program in 2015-16, Obssuth added another 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 41 games with the Premier program, totaling 62 points in two seasons in the USPHL. His U18 season helped with garnering attention, not only from his future college program but also the USHL, being selected 305th overall (19th Round) by the Lincoln Stars in the 2016 USHL Phase II Draft, which was also after earning his college commitment.
Despite some of the attention received, the focus has been on sticking with what got him to this point and not letting college commitments or other hype deter the process of development.
“I think it’s important to not change your mentality. You always want to prove yourself and never be complacent. You keep training, keep practicing, keep trying. The way that [a college commitment] could help is stress relief. It’s nice to know that a program trusts you and is willing to commit to you.”
It will be the first time that Obssuth has played outside the Northeast during his hockey career, but a player heading into his final year before going to Canisius will always be able to bring a lot of experience and size to a program looking to restock for next season both from a development standpoint as well as a competitive look. Baskerville, Bevilacqua and Gestro have played a large role in the program during the last three years, and that pipeline between the IceRays and Canisius College is hoping to produce another strong component of the roster heading into next season.
“With our returners, we felt we weren’t going in to a rebuild but a reload,” said Flynn. “The guys who were here last year are a very solid core. We wanted to add more older veterans to give us some more pop offensively next year. With tendering Kevin, he is a guy that we will rely on to play his game and gives us veteran work ethic and compete levels day in and day out.”
Obssuth is excited for the opportunity, and the IceRays are thrilled to gain another player that extends a strong, continuous relationship with a NCAA Division I program.
Collin Schuck is the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations for the Corpus Christi IceRays. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CollinDSchuck.