When you consider all that AAA squads have accomplished last season and also the fact that Atlanta youth hockey has a junior hockey team of its own- then you can measure just see how far southern hockey has gone in a very short time frame.
Despite the fact there is no more NHL Atlanta Thrashers professional hockey team to rally around and motivate youth players the game is still thriving.
It could have been a crushing blow, but hockey remains a passion in Atlanta.
Just less than years almost no one would have dared to project that youth players in Georgia and other parts of the south would be able to land on developmental squads that could take them to Division I,II, and III tier hockey programs and possibly beyond.
The Marietta Ice Center (MIC) has had success with its juniors program and has gone on to win titles in NCAA competition.
Trevor Cope was MJHL Player of the Year (2010) while with Atlanta and holds the Knights record for single season points (143) and career points (231). Cope was a two time first team MJHL All-star selection and was and remains the most prolific player in Knights history.
Cope gains NCAA honors by being named Freshman Player of the Week by the SUNYAC, a top Division III conference in the NCAA. The talented freshman forward recorded six points in a league weekend sweep of Geneseo and Brockport.
Former Knights Trevor Cope and forward Carlo Ahee (2011") form a core of talented freshman for the Potsdam Bears, and have helped lead the Bear to an impressive start in league play.
Cope led all SUNYAC freshmen in points per game.
Former College and NHL Coach Jay Leach will be the Head Coach for the U18 program that will play in the Tier I Elite League next season. Furthermore, Coach Leach will be the Director of Player/Coach Advancement for the club, working directly with the coaching staff and insuring players get the best possible training from the organization staff.
With TPH Thunder developing direct connections with the USHL and the positive play of former Thunder standout defenseman Zach Yoder opening more doors, there is no question about the growth potential of southern hockey.
In reference to Leach TPH Nathan Bowen said “The bottom line is, Jay is a pro in all sense of the word. He has worked with NHL stars Alex Ovechkin, Alexandre Semin and many of the other top players in the game.
He knows what it takes to play the game at the highest level, how to put a plan in place to get the most out of players and how to effectively coordinate and support a staff to carry the plan out.
At Maine he recruited and developed over 20 NHL draft picks and will be able to use those same skills to recruit elite student/athletes into our program, while also helping our players move on into Junior and College opportunities, just as he did this season with Zach Yoder and Muskegon in the USHL."
Coach Leach will assume his new roles immediately and has some goals clearly laid out for the Thunder program. He added in the press release announcing his appointment:
"It is time for a culture change in this program and I am looking forward to being a part of that. We want kids that want to be hockey players, not guys that just want to play hockey. I see the commitment and support that Thunder families make as a whole and I assure you that they will get that same level of passion and commitment from the Thunder coaches and staff. I am very proud to be a part of this program, it is one of the top places to play, learn and develop in the country, no question" said Leach.
Coach Leach is a former NCAA Division I coach and longtime NHL coach. Early in his coaching career, Jay coached at the University of Maine and led the team to the NCAA Final Four. He has been an assistant coach at several NHL teams, including the Hartford Whalers, LA Kings, Atlanta Thrashers, New Jersey Devils, and the Washington Capitals.
This season the U18 Thunder program took another step forward in the player advancement department led by 94 defenseman Zach Yoder. Yoder finished up the season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL (www.ushl.com) where he joined former Thunder coach and Stanley Cup Champion Jim McKenzie who serves as the teams head coach.
While in Muskegon Yoder collected 1 goal and 4 assists in 12 games played.
The strength of both the Thunder and Jr.Knights’s is that alumni have been drafted to and/or are playing in the NHL, NCAA, USHL, NAHL, EJHL, and the OHL squads.
The proof is in the pudding and both organizations are continuing to build on their success in the south providing a viable alternative to yoth players who desire to take their talents to a higher level.