Pilots future is bright for the 2019-2020 season

The Topeka Pilots still have a few months before the 2019-2020 season, but with the North American Hockey League (NAHL) draft just weeks away, the Pilots are already looking to set a strong precedent for their second season in Topeka.

Topeka currently has 12 tendered players for the upcoming campaign, including several players who skated in a Pilots uniform last season.

A tender itself is a contract, of sorts. A player signs, announcing his intentions to play for a particular NAHL team and that NAHL team only. Once a player signs a tender with an NAHL team, his playing rights belong to that team within the NAHL, and he may not be recruited by any other NAHL team. Each team is granted ten (10) tenders – plus or minus any trades. Tendered players are also protected from the NAHL draft.

“We’re excited about the mix of youth and experience we have on our tender list, as we look to replace some of the departing players from last season,” Pilots head coach Simon Watson said.

All players in the NAHL in the 2019-2020 season will fall into the birth years of 1999-2002, meaning a wide range of ages and experience levels can accompany each roster.

These are the currently tendered players for the 2019-2020 Topeka Pilots season, including their positions and birth years:

Nick Nardecchia, forward, 2001. Nardecchia played in one game for the Pilots in the 2018-2019 season, on Nov. 24. The Macomb, Mich. native suited up for the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies for the remainder of the season, amassing an impressive 27 goals and 27 assists, as he looks to be a goal-scoring threat in the NAHL.

Photo of Nick Nardecchia

Jakub Dobes, goaltender, 2001. Dobes also suited up in one game for the Pilots last season, the final contest of the year versus the Corpus Christi IceRays. Dobes, a native of the Czech Republic, played much of last season with the St. Louis AAA Blues. In 19 contests, Dobes had 2.38 goals against average and a respectable .921 save percentage. He is expected to compete for the primary goaltender role.

Dominic Sandoval, forward, 2001. Dominic will enter Topeka alongside his twin brother Lucas for the upcoming season. A native of Colorado, Dominic has spent the last three seasons with the Colorado Thunderbirds, first with the U16 squad and finishing with the U18. In 16 games during the 2018-2019 season, Dominic tallied five goals and nine assists for 14 total points.

Lucas Sandoval, forward, 2001. Like his brother, Lucas has spent the last four seasons with the Colorado Thunderbirds. A right-handed shooter, unlike Dominic’s left-handed shot, Lucas had a strong showing in his 27 games with the U18 squad. His 14 goals and 19 assists gave him 33 points, which tied him for the top scorer on the roster.

Isaiah Huempfner, forward, 2001. Native to Grand Rapids, Mich., Huempfner joins the Pilots after four solid seasons with the Fox Motors organization. In 27 games last season on the U18 roster, Huempfner tallied nine goals and seven assists, for 16 points.

Jake Frankenfield, defenseman, 2000. A New Jersey native, Frankenfield will look to build off a solid 2018-2019 campaign with Virtua Hockey 18U. In 21 games, he garnered 13 points to lead all defenseman on the roster. Frankenfield joined the Pilots for two games this past season, Jan. 18-19 versus the Odessa Jackalopes.

Photo of Jake Frankenfield

Drake Semrad, defenseman, 2001. Spending his last three seasons in the Madison Capitols organization, Semrad signed his tender with the Pilots in January 2019. Semrad, native of Wisconsin, recorded 17 points in his 54 total games in Madison.

AJ Martinelli, defenseman, 1999. Hailing from Michigan, Martinelli joins the Pilots with seven NAHL games already under his belt. Spending much of last season with the Willmar Warhawks of the NA3HL, Martinelli also competed in five contests with the Northeast Generals and two more with the Austin Bruins. A member of the 2019 Top Prospects Tournament for the NA3HL, the 6’2” Martinelli tallied 17 total points with the Warhawks.

Alexander Öberg, forward, 1999. Joining the Pilots after playing in Sweden to this point in his hockey career, Öberg will look to fit right in with returning fellow Swede, Hugh Quinn. Playing last season with Södertälje SK J20, he ranked 12thon the roster with 14 points on the season.

Hugh Anderson, defenseman, 1999. Looking to bring experience and poise to the roster, Anderson joins the Pilots after three solid seasons in the GOJHL. Playing for the Stratford Warriors, Anderson amassed 52 total points with the club. The 6’2” Green Bay native also played 10 games during the 2017-2018 season with the NAHL’s Philadelphia Rebels, tallying two assists.

Austin Cleveland, defenseman, 2000. From the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, Mo., Cleveland suited up for the Pilots twice last season, amassing two assists. The 18-year-old split much of his most recent season between CarShield AAA 18U and Kirkwood High. Cleveland signed his tender with the Pilots in January 2019.

John Gormley, defenseman, 2000. A 6’4” defenseman from the Bronx, New York, Gormley brings size and presence to the Pilots roster. In the 2017-2018 season, Gormley was named to the New York Division I High School First Team All-State. In 2018-2019, Gormley skated for the North Jersey Avalanche U18, notching two goals and six assists.

With the NAHL Draft set for June 4 at 1pm CT, the Pilots will be looking to replace at least 10 departing players for the upcoming season. You can follow the progression of the draft on www.nahldraft.com or watch the live broadcast for free at www.hockeytv.com.

Due to either aging out of the NAHL (21 years old before December 31, 2019), or moving on to play collegiate hockey, the Pilots will be without the services of forwards Brendan Schultz, Christian Thomas, Valdemar Ahlberg, Zeke Zeier and Dallas Tulik. They will also lose defensemen Brenden Rons, Cole Thiessen, Max Finner, and Christian Dahl. Goaltender Emil Gransoe also leaves the Pilots.

“We’re really looking at filling some prominent roles with our tenders and the draft,” Watson said. “We also want to make sure we’re not guaranteeing anyone anything. We want our players, both returning and new, to be ready to come in and compete for a spot on our roster.”

For more information about the upcoming season or to learn more about the incoming tenders for the Pilots, visit www.topekapilots.com.