DUBUQUE, Iowa – Nine new faces are expected to hit the ice for Miami this fall, and three of them are playing on the same juniors team.
And all three of USHL Dubuque’s RedHawks-to-be contributed in a pair of home wins at Mystique Ice Arena last weekend.
Defenseman Zane Demsey and wing William Hallen have signed National Letters of Intent with Miami, and blueliner Michael Feenstra is expected to ink one soon.
Miami has had success over the years with Dubuque players, with Gordie Green being the RedHawks’ most recent success story, although there’s no pipeline – the Fighting Saints happened to have more skaters either not committed or de-commited.
“We were looking for who could keep pucks out of our end and simplify the exits and the breakouts and then who can defend against anybody,” Miami assistant coach Barry Schutte said. “We felt like Dubuque, in general, was coached that way, played that way and had some talent that could do just that, so that’s what attracted us to those guys.”
Stabilizing the defense corps is obviously a major priority for Miami, which allowed 144 goals this season.
“It’s hard for D to transition from juniors to the NCHC,” Schutte said. “But if you can get guys that have done for a couple of seasons and play a bunch of games in the USHL against the best in the country or at that level and they’ve learned how to do it, then those are the types of players that they’re going to see in our league.”
Feenstra picked up the primary assist shorthanded on the winning goal and Hallen found the net on a high-skill goalie deke in a 4-3 win over Muskegon in the opener.
Game 2, a 5-3 victory over former RedHawk Jason Deskins’ Youngstown team, saw Demsey earn a helper on the eventual game winner. Demsey finished the home set plus-4.
View From the Glass takes a first look at the commits from Dubuque:
Vitals: USHL experience is huge for incoming Division I players, and Feenstra has plenty of it. The 6-feet-4 left defenseman has logged 176 games in that league, all with Dubuque. Feenstra has not been a big points producer, scoring just five goals and notching only 46 points in his USHL career, but his game is defending, and he’s very good at it. The assistant captain skates on the top pairing and has had a positive rating four straight seasons. He is one of the first over the boards on the penalty kill and in late-game shut-down situations.
Game 1 highlights: Early in the third period, Feenstra stripped a puck at his own blue line, starting a 2-on-1, and he centered a pass through a defender to teammate Shawn O’Donnell, who eventually scored on his own rebound two minutes into the third to give Dubuque the 4-3 lead that would ultimately stand. A quality defensive play by Feenstra minutes later led to another 3-on-2 that was squelched by an off-sides call. He threaded a pass through traffic to create a scoring chance for league stud Stephen Halliday in the first period. He won more defensive battles than he lost in corners largely thanks to his long reach.
Game 2 highlights: Feenstra didn’t play as much in this game, although he was on the ice for two minutes straight at the end of the third period to help seal the Dubuque win, canceling out multiple potential scoring chances in the slot and around the crease. He put two shots on net and finished plus-1. Despite the dip in ice time, but he was still one of the team’s top penalty killers.
Overall thoughts: Feenstra is a league veteran that plays like one. He’s almost always in position and knows when to jump in on the play and when to stay back, which was most of the time in these six periods. He also covered the right side multiple times and did not miss a stride. A shut-down D-man on the left side is something desperately needed by Miami, which finished 2021-22 with the second worst goals-against average in college hockey.
Schutte’s thoughts: Miami’s coaching staff is unable to comment on Feenstra until he officially signs an NLI.
Vitals: Also a left-handed left defenseman, Demsey is in his second season with the Fighting Saints after being traded from Waterloo in early 2020-21. He is listed on Dubuque’s third pairing, but based on the situations he plays in and his TOI, the Fighting Saints consider him one of their top D-men. His points total has ballooned, from five in 31 games last season to 19 in 58 games this campaign. His plus-33 rating is tied for fourth in the league. He has invested time to improve the offensive side of his game with his coaching staff this season by taking extra reps.
Game 1 highlights: Despite being listed on the third pairing, Demsey may have played more than any other defenseman. He shut down potential scoring chances on a 1-on-1 and a 2-on-1, squelching the latter with a well-timed poke check. He made a quality one-time pass on a shot that was denied, and his lone shot was from the left point was right on goal, handcuffing the Muskegon netminder.
Game 2 highlights: He started a tic-tac-toe goal with a long feed through the slot from the left point in the second period, and he carried the point through the neutral zone before completing a pass that eventually led to a marker in the first. Demsey laid out a big hit in the second period along his own end boards. He finished with three shots on goal and all were well-placed and were not gloved cleanly. Demsey and Feenstra played a two-minute shift together in the closing minutes (culminating in a Dubuque ENG), which tells you how the Fighting Saints trust Demsey in clutch situations.
Overall thoughts: After watching six periods of both, Feenstra and Demsey are both quality defenders but Feenstra seems to rely on his reach and positioning while Demsey plays a more physical game. Like Feenstra, Demsey used sound judgment to decide when to jump into a play, and the results outweighed the risk for both over the weekend. Demsey has gone from changing NAHL teams in 2019-20 to a major cog on a very good USHL team in two years. That represents a major rise in the 20-year-old’s stock price in two years.
Schutte’s thoughts: He does so many things consistently well, over and over and over again. And he respects the game, that’s the biggest thing. If it calls for a five-foot, indirect pass, he’ll make it, if it calls for a little reverse play, he’ll make it. If he needs to hoist the puck out because it’s the right play, he’ll do it. The biggest part about him is just the type of a human he is. He’s an elite, elite human being. He operates at a high level, on the ice, off the ice, in the classroom, there’s no corner-cutting there.
Vitals: Hallen, from Goteborg, Sweden, moved to the U.S. last year, and his first season has been nothing but obstacles. In addition to adjusting to life on a new continent, he suffered through a mono-like illness that affected him for over a month. Hallen had visa issues and had to return to Sweden because of COVID issues. He also recently played through an undisclosed LBI last weekend, but he appeared back at full and was on Dubuque’s first line for Tuesday’s game. He scored 18 goals in 51 games in Swedish juniors.
Game 1 highlights: He was on the fourth line so his ice time was limited, but in the second period he forced a turnover in his defensive zone then accepted an outlet feed in the slot, which he shifted from forehand to the backhand then shoveled into the back of the net. He defended very tightly and seemed to always know how to get the puck of trouble in his own zone. Hallen also battled in the corners on numerous occasions and more than held his own.
Game 2 highlights: Hallen moved to the third line but saw limited ice time in the second period and was not on the bench for the third because of his lower-body injury. But he still made a great cross-crease feed for a one-timer that was fanned on, and he again made multiple quality decisions with the puck in the D-zone.
Overall thoughts: The defensive skills Swedish skaters are taught are the envy of the world, and it’s evident Hallen can defend. Despite playing hurt much of the weekend, he showed how tough he is to play against. Hallen turns 20 on Friday and although this season has not gone as hoped, he has three goals in four games and a ton of upside. Even when he’s not scoring he looks like he can earn ice time in a grinding role. He’s also from the same Vastra Frolunda juniors program as soon-to-be teammates Ludvig Persson and Hampus Rydqvist.
Schutte’s thoughts: We saw him early in the year and really liked his skill set and thought that he played the game the right way. He’s got some higher-end stick skills, he’s got a good hockey IQ and he’s got a 200-foot game. He’s a versatile player – he can play up and down your lineup, with your best players, against your best players. There’s more offense in him and it’s starting to come now, the second half.