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Wildcats bring in 10: 7 forwards, 3 defensemen join 20 hockey returnees at Northern Michigan University

Connor Marritt, center, handles the puck along the boards in a game for Vernon in the BCHL during the 2019-20 season. (Photo courtesy Vernon Morning Star/Roger Knox)

“This class includes former Mr. Hockey winners, state champions, national champions and players that were voted captains of their teams.” — Grant Potulny, head coach, NMU hockey

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MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University hockey team will have a large class of newcomers for the 2020-21 season as 10 players — seven forwards and three defensemen — will join the Wildcats this fall.

“We are very excited to add this group of players to our team,” NMU head coach Grant Potulny said in a sports news release from the university. “This class includes former Mr. Hockey winners, state champions, national champions and players that were voted captains of their teams. All 10 players are outstanding people and will add different athletic qualities to our hockey club.”

The Wildcats return 20 players from last season who represent nearly 70 percent of their scoring, including three of their top four scorers and nine players who recorded at least 10 points last season.

Aberdeen Wings forward Mack Byers, right, puts a hit on a Minot Minotauros player during their Jan. 14 game played in Minot, North Dakota. (Photo courtesy Minot Daily News/Alex Eisen)

Here is a brief sketch of each newcomer, starting with the seven forwards:

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Mack Byers of Long Lake, Minnesota, played three years of junior hockey, competing in the British Columbia, U.S. and North American hockey leagues. Most recently, he was a member of the NAHL’s Aberdeen, South Dakota, Wings, playing 35 games last season and leading the team with 19 goals and finishing second in points with 43.

A 5-foot-11 forward, he also played for the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Roughriders of the USHL last season with five points in 11 games.

He spent part of 2017-18 and all of 2018-19 with the Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL, accumulating 33 points in 74 games. Also in 2017-18, he spent 15 games with the Philadelphia Rebels of the NAHL.

Ian Malcolmson of the Sioux City, Iowa, Muskeeters. (Photo courtesy eliteprospects.com/Dan Hickling)

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Mike Colella of Turnersville, New Jersey, played for Trail as a forward last season, where he totaled 68 points in 58 regular-season games, including 27 goals. He was third in the BCHL in scoring and tied for third with 41 assists.

Before Trail, Colella skated for three Nebraska-based USHL teams in the 2018-19 season — the Omaha Lancers, Tri-City Storm and Lincoln Stars.

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Grant Johnson of Grand Forks, North Dakota, played three seasons as a forward with the Bismarck, North Dakota, Bobcats of the NAHL, where last season he led his team in assists with 29 and tied for the most points with 43.

Brett Willits is shown as a Chilliwack Chief during the 2019-20 season in the BCHL. (Photo courtesy Chilliwack Chiefs)

He interrupted his stint with Bismarck to play for the Lincoln Stars of the USHL in 2018-19, taking part in 53 games.

On his high school squad, Grand Forks Central, Johnson tallied 29 goals and 56 assists for 85 points in just 26 games, all team highs. In three seasons at Central, Johnson scored 202 points, including 76 goals, and averaged more than 2 1/2 points per game. In 2018, he was named Mr. Hockey in North Dakota.

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Ian Malcolmson of Waukesha, Wisconsin, was named Mr. Hockey Wisconsin in 2018 while playing for Waukesha High School.

He spent parts of the last three years in the USHL, most recently at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he appeared in three games and had three assists as a forward.

Prior to the Stampede, he spent two seasons with the Sioux City, Iowa, Musketeers, serving as team captain in 2019-20. In 106 games with the Musketeers, he had 49 points, including 19 goals. He also appeared in seven games for the Waterloo, Iowa, Black Hawks of the USHL as well as dressing for the Janesville, Wisconsin, Jets of the NAHL from 2016-18.

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Connor Marritt of Kelowna, British Columbia, spent the previous three seasons with the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL, including as captain last season, at forward.

He led all playoff scorers in his league with 12 points prior to its premature ending due to the coronavirus.

In 165 games for Vernon, he recorded 97 points, including 35 goals.

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Rylan Van Unen of Kamloops, British Columbia, joins his twin brother, Michael, at NMU this fall as a forward.

He spent the last four seasons with the Merritt Centennials of the BCHL, totaling 89 points in 212 games. He had a career-high 28 points last season, including 17 goals, as team captain.

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Brett Willits of London, Ontario, spent the previous two seasons with the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs, appearing in 112 games with 71 points as a forward.

Last season, he finished fourth in scoring on his team, totaling 34 points with 12 goals.

He attended Salisbury School in Connecticut from 2016-18 where he led his team with 38 points during his final season with the Crimson Knights.

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Colby Enns of Minot, North Dakota, is a defenseman who played 24 games for the USHL’s Lincoln Stars last season following a semester at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where he appeared in one game.

He also spent time with the Central Illinois Flying Aces of the USHL in 2018-19 and Minot, North Dakota, Minotauros of the NAHL in 2017-18. At Minot, he had 27 points with nine goals in 58 games before jumping to the USHL, where he tallied 15 points with three goals for Central Illinois.

Most recently, in 24 games at Lincoln, Enns had three goals and 13 points.

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Tim Erkkila of downstate Brighton is a defenseman who returns to his home state.

He spent last season with the Fairbanks, Alaska, Ice Dogs of the NAHL, playing in 49 games with 18 points, including two goals, as he was named to the league’s all-rookie team.

Erkkila was a four-year player on the Brighton High School team, including serving as captain as a senior. In 111 games, he had 87 points, including 18 goals.

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Noah Ganske of Bloomington, Minnesota, is a 6-6, 203-pound defenseman who spent the past two seasons with the USHL’s Green Bay, Wisconsin, Gamblers, appearing in 84 games total and recording 26 points, including eight goals. That was four goals and four assists in 2017-18 and four goals and 14 assists last season.

He spent part of the 2017-18 season in the NAHL with the Minot Minotauros and Minnesota Magicians. In 28 games with the Magicians, he totaled six points and recorded a plus-three on-ice rating, adding five more points with the Minotauros.

At Bloomington Jefferson High, he played three seasons and had 74 points in 74 games.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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