MOLINE, Ill. – The Quad City Storm and Peoria Rivermen, as the SPHL’s two northern-most teams, will be seeing a lot of each other during the Storm’s inaugural season. Of the 56 games the Storm will play in the regular season, 16 will be against their nearest rival. Because the Storm will be traveling to Peoria eight times, it’s time to head behind enemy lines to see who the Rivermen have signed already.
Peoria head coach Jean-Guy Trudel is looking forward to the rivalry that is sure to come. “We’re not going to force a rivalry, but there’s always somehow someway when you play a team that many times it always happens. The best thing of it all is that we’re going to be able to have fans from both sides come to the other place’s games, so I think it’s a good thing for both teams.”
Four of the players placed on Peoria’s protected list prior to the expansion draft has returned to the team already. Those four players are Alec Hagaman, Mike Gurtler, Ben Oskroba, and Cody Smith. One player on the list, Dave Pszenyczny, retired to serve as head coach for the Storm. Three players – Justin Greenberg, Ryan Siiro, and Joseph Widmar already signed ECHL contracts with Atlanta Gladiators, Orlando Solar Bears, and Fort Wayne Komets respectively. Nick Neville was placed on Peoria’s protected list as well but spent most of the time with the Reading Royals of the ECHL. Neville played 10 games with Peoria last season but signed an extension with the ECHL team from Reading on July 5th. Four of the players on Peoria’s protected list, Kevin Patterson, Joe Kalisz, Mason Pulde, and Brandon Rumble, remain unsigned.
Hagaman, a forward, is a native to Peoria. He has spent the last five years with Peoria after completing his collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. The right-winger totals so far 201 games played in the SPHL, amassing 65 goals and 85 assists in those games. While in the college ranks, Hagaman appeared in 101 games and scored 36 times. He also added 34 assists in those 101 games. “I think that in my book he was the MVP of the league last year. A kid that’s +35 and has 60 points, and he’s tough as nails, and he’ll do anything for the team,” said Trudel.
Forward Gurtler came out of retirement last season to play in his sixth professional year. A veteran of the Central Hockey League, he suited up for both the Missouri Mavericks and the Arizona Sundogs before playing in the SPHL. Gurtler has played for three SPHL teams in his tenure, having signed with the Fayetteville FireAntz before being traded to the Huntsville Havoc in the 2012-13 season. He was then traded to the Peoria Rivermen, with whom he has appeared in 122 regular season games. Last season Gurtler appeared in all but one game for the Rivermen, totaling 21 goals and 17 assists.
Oskroba has spent the majority of his professional career with Peoria, having played in 213 SPHL games over a span of five years. In 2014-15 the defenseman played 10 games for the Colorado Eagles. In his 213 SPHL games, Oskroba has appeared on the score sheet 18 times with a goal, adding 49 assists. He has also amassed 220 penalty minutes while having a combined plus/minus rating of +47.
Cody Smith will be a second-year pro when October 20th rolls around. The blue-liner split last season between Peoria and Huntsville, totaling 50 games between the two teams. While being scoreless in 21 games for the Havoc, he did add six assists for the Havoc. Smith had a bit more luck with Peoria, scoring four times and picking up assists 11 times on the way to a +15 plus/minus rating.
Dean Yakura signed back with the Rivermen on July 18th. He had originally played for the Illinois-based team during their inaugural season in the SPHL in 2013-14, and played one game the following season for the SPHL team, but returned to the Federal Hockey League (FHL) for the rest of the season. Yakura began his professional career with the Pensacola Ice Flyers in 2010-11, also appearing in five games for the ECHL Idaho Steelheads that season. Yakura has spent most of his career in the FHL with a Danbury, CT based team – whether the Danbury Titans or the Danbury Whalers. While with the Titans in 2015-16 and 2016-17, the forward was named captain. In his 121 FHL games Yakura has totaled 149 points (46G, 103A). Yakura also appeared in 11 ECHL games in the 2016-17 season, two with the Manchester Monarchs and nine with the Adirondack Thunder. Last season he returned to the SPHL, playing 46 games for the Knoxville Ice Bears. In Knoxville, Yakura amassed seven goals and 15 assists.
Will Smith returns to Peoria for his second professional season. His rookie season was cut short in March when he suffered a gruesome injury during a game. While in a corner, Smith took a skate slash to the back of his leg, ending his season. Before his injury, Smith had played 39 games for Peoria on his way to scoring 15 goals and adding 18 assists. He also received a call-up to the ECHL Indy Fuel before his injury, being held off the scoresheet in the five games in which he appeared.
Jake Hamilton joins Peoria out of the collegiate ranks, having spent the last two years at University of Wisconsin – Superior. While there, the defenseman appeared in a total of 54 games, scoring four times and adding as many assists. Ralfs Grinbergs, a Latvian native, spent last season with the RiverKings after playing four games in his native country. In his 51 games with the RiverKings, the blue-liner scored three times, added 14 assists, and served 37 minutes in the penalty box.
Chris Magi, a forward, comes straight out of juniors, playing in the Ligue de Hockey Senior AAA du Quebec (LHSAAAQ), Ligue Hockey Senior A Mauricienne (LHSAM), and Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League (QJAAAHL). Last season Magi played for four teams, three of them being in Quebec. In his lone game in the FHL, Magi scored a hat trick for the North Shore Knights. Olivier Schingh-Gomez, a two-way player, also played in the junior leagues last season, making his mark mostly in the penalty box. In his 15 games with the Gatineau Flames of the QJAAAHL, he served 99 minutes in the penalty box while assisting five times. He spent the rest of the season with the Rockland Nationals of the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL), playing in nine games but racking up 89 penalty minutes. “He’s a kid that played in the major juniors last year, he’s a ‘97, he’s a young kid that’s gonna come in, and I think he’s hungry. He wants to play pro hockey,” Trudel said of Schingh-Gomez.
Mark Petaccio will begin his third year in the professional ranks, last year playing with the Evansville Thunderbolts. The forward scored 18 goals and added 19 assists in 52 games with the Thunderbolts. The year before he spent most of the season with the Watertown Wolves of the FHL, appearing in 32 games for the team. In those 32 games, he averaged almost a point and a half per game with his 30 goals and 15 assists. He also appeared in two games each for the Mississippi RiverKings and Fayetteville FireAntz, as well as 16 games for the Thunderbolts. In those 16 games, he scored five times and assisted seven times. “If he comes in with the right mindset,” Trudel said, “I think the kid could score 35 or 40 for (the Rivermen.)”
Between the pipes for the Rivermen going into training camp are Braeden Ostepchuk and Aaron Taylor. Ostepchuk spent most of last season in the college ranks with Norwich University, playing in 20 games and averaging 2.04 goals against with a save percentage of .924. He also played in one game each for the Greenville Swamp Rabbits and the Ice Flyers. In his two professional appearances, his save percentage was about .883. Taylor spent his rookie season last year with the Danville Dashers of the FHL, playing in 26 games. Taylor’s save percentage was .914, with a goals against average of 3.13.
“I’m a big believer in building from the back out, so I just love to have great goaltending, which we’ll have again this year. And after that we’re going to have our solid defensemen and forwards. We know what we’re getting, we just have to put them in the right situations to succeed,” Trudel said.
Less than six weeks remain until the Storm and Rivermen face off for the first time, and both teams’ rosters need more names before then. The lone preseason game for the Storm is in Peoria on October 13th, with the Storm’s inaugural home opener a week later against the Rivermen.
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