By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports
The North American Hockey League is a revolving door. The Tier-II developmental organization features players 16 to 20 (at the beginning of the season). They cycle in, they cycle out.
It’s bittersweet for fans, who are lucky to get three seasons out of a player. Garrett Steele was a bit of a unicorn, as the Shreveport Mudbugs captain recently finished his career after four seasons in town.
“I don’t spend any time waiting to get attached to guys. I love them,” Mudbugs head coach Jason Campbell said after his team was swept out of the NAHL South Division Final by Oklahoma last weekend. “Everybody is different — the certain things they bring on and off the ice, that’s what makes teams good and that’s what makes teams special. I’m lucky to be a part of it and I’m thankful to be a part of it.
“I don’t worry about getting too close to guys. I want to try to build a relationship – you get a lot out of that player-coach relationship.”
However, the ice hadn’t yet begun to melt on George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum when Campbell began to look toward the 2023-24 season. It’s the reality of the ever-revolving junior hockey world.
“The process starts almost immediately,” said Campbell, whose team finished third in the South Division with a 37-16-7 regular-season record. “The turnaround is pretty quick. We have to get focused.”
With exit meetings complete, many players have already headed home.
Steele is one of eight players on Shreveport’s roster who will age out (born in 2002) from this season’s roster. There’s sure to be more departures; those will be determined through training camps this summer.
Six of the eight players who will definitely depart are forwards. Also included is Simon Bucheler, who became the first Mudbug to capture the NAHL Goaltender of the Year award. He is committed to Mercyhurst University.
Those players account for more than 53 percent of the team’s goal production, including leading scorer Drake Morse, and 28 of its 37 victories between the pipes.
“We’re very thankful for the time they put in here because we ask a lot of these guys,” Campbell said. “My heart breaks for them, but they’re welcome anytime.”
The future of at least three other players — defenseman Logan Heroux (10 goals and 40 points in 2022-23), forward Kason Muscutt (seven goals and 13 points in his rookie season) and goaltender Nikola Goich (1.25 goals-against average in nine regular-season games) — is in question after they were selected in the (Tier-I) United States Hockey League’s 2023 draft.
Up first on the Mudbugs’ offseason checklist: prepare for the 2023 NAHL Draft set for June 14. Shreveport must complete tenders by June 11 and a pre-draft protected list (likely around 25 players) a day later.
Shreveport will then turn its attention to Main Camp, again scheduled for The George. Players must report to town by Aug. 11. The weeklong camp will produce the group that will advance to training camp. Cuts will continue to be made until the season begins in September.
The 2023-24 NAHL schedule should be released in early July.
The Mudbugs will aim to replace a slew of forwards and look to fill the void that plagued the team in the postseason.
Shreveport officially played eight games in the 2023 postseason, but including overtime, the time on ice equaled more than 10 games. The Mudbugs scored just 11 total goals, including one each in the final four postseason games.
“That tenacity — a little bit of tenacity around the net and some poise,” Campbell said. “We could have been a little better there.”
The search is on.
Mudbugs who will not be eligible to play in the NAHL next season
Logan Gotinsky (25 career goals, 55 points with Mudbugs; three seasons)
Drake Morse (29, 66; two seasons)
Garrett Steele (47-103; four seasons)
Eric Vitale (17-37; one season)
Jaden Goldie (8-36; one season)
Jake Mack (28-58; three seasons)
Matthew Danzinger (2-17; one season)
Simon Bucheler (35 wins, eight shutouts; two seasons)
Contact Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @roylangiii