Tuesday, June 11, 2013

UNH Recruit Michael McNicholas to Play for Vernon Vipers

Michael McNicholas
Vernon Vipers

So far, 2013 has been a year of challenges and opportunities for UNH recruit Michael McNicholas. Following a year playing for the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL, McNicholas joined the Nanaimo Clippers of the British Columbia Hockey League for the 2012-13 season. He had a strong first half posting 10 goals and 22 assists in 35 games. He was the third leading scorer on the Clippers. His assists total put him in 8th place among all BCHL players.

Then, on January 7th in a game against Prince George, McNicholas broke a bone in his lower leg. The injury required surgery and Michael was out of the Clippers' lineup for nearly 9 weeks. He was able to rejoin Nanaimo in mid-March for the first round of the BCHL playoffs against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Nanaimo won Game 1 and McNicholas assisted on the game-winning goal. After winning the first two games, the Clippers lost three in a row and were eliminated from the BCHL playoffs. McNicholas played in 4 games.

In the first week in May, McNicholas had one last opportunity to end the season on a positive note. The Nanaimo Clippers hosted the inaugural Western Canada Cup. The Champions of the British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba Junior Hockey Leagues plus the Clippers competed in the round-robin tournament. The top two teams received berths in the Royal Bank Cup Tournament for the Junior A Championship of Canada.

In the WBC, the Nanaimo Clippers won two games defeating the Brooks Bandits (AJHL) 7-2 and the Steinbach Pistons (MJHL) 4-1. McNicholas posted 2 assists in the victory over Brooks. The Clippers lost to the Surrey Eagles (BCHL) 0-4 and the Yorkton Terriers (SJHL) 3-4. Surrey won the Western Canada Cup and Brooks finished second. The Brooks Bandits went on to win the RBC.

When I interviewed Michael last July, I asked him about his plans for enrolling at UNH and joining the Wildcat's hockey team:

C-H-C: Are you and UNH targeting the fall of 2013 or fall 2014 for you to come to Durham?
McNicholas: I am hopeful that I will have an extremely productive season in Nanaimo. I realize that the only way that I will be attending UNH in 2013 is if I fulfill the expectations that Coach Vandekamp and I have for this season. My offensive play must be solid, my defensive game needs to continue to develop as it did in Muskegon, and I need to be instrumental in bringing the RBC Cup to Nanaimo.

Early last month, the decision was made that Michael would defer his enrollment to UNH until the Fall of 2014. Presumably, having his leg broken mid-season and missing 9 weeks of development were factors in this decision. A similar scenario probably effected the decision to defer Andrew Poturalski's arrival at UNH for a year. Poturalski also broke his leg and missed a substantial portion of the season with the Cedar Rapids Rough Rider.

On May 9th, the Nanaimo Clippers traded McNicholas to the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL. In the meantime, the Lincoln Stars of the USHL invited Michael to their Tryout Camp which took place from June 6-9. Tim, a devoted fan of the Stars who runs Black and Blue: The Unofficial Lincoln Stars Blog provided extensive coverage of the tryout camp. Michael scored several goals during the scrimmages, made one of the All-Star teams, and scored a goal in the All-Star game. In a tweet, Tim offered this assessment of McNicholas:
"He had a very good camp. Very impressed with his play. One of the top free agents (undrafted) there. Hope to see him in LNK!"

Chris Dilks, who runs the Western College Hockey Blog, also attended a couple sessions of Lincoln's tryout camp. Dilks' impressions were:
"UNH commit Michael McNicholas had a strong camp as well, scoring a lot of goals."

An informed source has told me that Lincoln offered McNicholas a spot on the team and assured him that he would have a good role. However, Michael has chosen to go play for the Vernon Vipers and compete for the RBC Cup. As the host of the 2014 Royal Bank Cup, the Vipers receive an automatic berth. The Vipers, who are coached by Jason Williamson, have won the Cup six times. Interestingly, the goalie coach for the Vipers is former UNH standout Sean Matile.


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