The NAHL has announced their rosters for the 2023 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament and the St. Cloud Norsemen will have three players making the trip; two representatives on the Central Division Team in center Nik Hong and right defenseman Duke Kiffin and one representative who will be playing for the East Division Team in left defenseman Wyatt Wurst. In total 88 players from the 29 teams will play in the exhibition games with each of the four divisions having a roster of 22 players comprised of 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies. In order to qualify, players either need to be uncommitted but have NCAA eligibility, or make the NHL Central Scouting rankings as there will be hundreds of NCAA and NHL scouts in attendance.
Hong is a third year member of the Norsemen and returning captain. Despite missing a third of the Norsemen games this year with a couple injuries, Hong still ranks 7th on the team in points with a state line of 5-9-14 in 22 games and his 0.67 points per game is 5th on the squad.
“It’s cool, it’s definitely exciting. It’s a good opportunity for us to showcase ourselves and hopefully find an opportunity for next year,” points out Hong, as he, Kiffin and Wurst are uncommitted to an NCAA school. “I’ve been to Pittsburgh to play in some youth tournaments, the U16 Fall Showcase is always there. It’s definitely a fun area to play in.”
Kiffin on the other hand is going to get his first taste of The City of Bridges. “I’m excited because I’ve never been to Pittsburgh so it’ll be a new experience, a new city. I’ve heard it’s a pretty cool view with the bridge over the river so I’m excited,” admits Kiffin. “It definitely feels good to represent your team and your locker room. Hong, Wurst, and I, I think we’ll do a good job carrying our leadership to that team and we’ll have a good impact on the ice and off the ice and just enjoy the event as it comes and perform to the best of our abilities.”
St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz feels that the organization couldn’t have sent three better representatives to the event. “They’re all great off the ice and they understand the importance of the event. It’s not always about the on ice stuff. How they are off the ice as teammates, their character and respect and all those things,” explains Kautz. “They all carry themselves the right way on and off the ice, which is great. That’s just a testament to their upbringing, their families, and who they are as people. It’s great for them to represent the Norsemen because they’ll do a phenomenal job.”
Kautz also realizes that while Hong, Kiffin and Wurst are all great candidates for who they are off the ice, the primary reason they were chosen is for what they can do on the ice. “They’re heck of a hockey players. Kiff being a solid shutdown defenseman, he plays hard, he’s a great leader. He does penalty kills, powerplays, plays a lot of minutes for us and someone we rely on a lot,” compliments Kautz. “Honger obviously wears the ‘C,’ plays a lot of minutes, again he’s on the power play and penalty kill, he does great at the faceoff dot. As captains, they’re both great leaders for our team and for us to have success we need both of them in a huge way.”
Wurst is younger than Hong and Kiffin as a late 2003 player and while he doesn’t wear a letter on his chest, Kautz acknowledges he’s just as much of a leader. “Wurst obviously does a great job being a very solid, strong defender. He obviously has great size and strength and he plays the game the way it should be played. He keeps it simple and he’s very tough to play against below the dots. He’s great at stopping the puck and closing in on offensive players and prides hijmself in taking care of his end before even thinking about anything else,” recognizes Kautz. “He’s a hard working kid, comes from a great family and carries himself the right way on and off the ice. Overall he’s just a great playyer, great person, and will represent the Norsemen in a great way.”
Kiffin is in his second season with the Norsemen and is the team’s alternate captain. The defenseman is second in goals, assists, and points from the blueline and hasn’t missed a game, scoring 2-11-13 in 33 games played. Duke did admit that it may be a bit awkward playing on a team that is made up of guys he’s used to trying to throw big hits on, but he doesn’t think that’ll be an issue in Pittsburgh. “That’ll be kind of weird looking across the locker room and seeing guys from Austin and the other NAHL teams on our Top Prospects team. But I think it’ll be a fun experience to get to know those guys as well. When you compete against them you kind of view them as your enemy but they’re not the worst guys in the world,” admits Kiffin with a grin. “It’ll also be fun to see those guys from down south and out east that we don’t get to play, and kind of see how their game is and how they play in those divisions so it’ll be a fun and new experience.”
Wurst played in ten regular season games for the Norsemen last year after his season with Edina High School came to an end then appeared in eight posteason games but is in his first full season in the NAHL. Wurst has four points in 26 games this season and is still looking for his first NAHL goal.
“I’m very humbled and honored and I’m just excited at the opportunity to represent the team at this high stage,” Wurst admits. Like Hong, Wurst has played in Pittsburgh before with the USHL Showcase but still can’t wait to go back. “I’m familiar with the rink and everything but I’m excited to see what new stuff they have.”
Wurst won’t get the chance to get to play with his typical opponents like Hong and Kiffin will on Team Central, but he’s nonetheless looking forward to meeting some new faces as he will play on Team East. “I’m very excited to meet those guys and maybe form some new friendships with them,” Wurst confides. “Looking forward to get to know some guys with other teams that we don’t often play against.”
Assistant Coach Kautz is well aware of what a unique event it is because he got to compete in it himself, although he has a rather unusual story to reveal. “I was fortunate enough to play my third year in the league. It was in Michigan and a bunch of kids ended up getting sick, getting food poisoning,” explains Kautz. “I ended up going to the hospital, had an IV, and was still able to play and put up pretty good numbers.”
Despite that odd occurrence at his NAHL Top Prospects experience, Kautz wasn’t left with a sour taste in his mouth regarding the event. “It’s a great event that they put on and I think it’s only gotten better with the attention it gets from all NCAA schools and coaches,” Kautz points out. “It’s a very well organized event; I think the kids love it and it’s a great opportunity for them to showcase their skill at a higher level.”
Each team at the 2023 NAHL Prospects Tournament will play two games with Hong and Kiffin’s Central team playing at 3 pm Central Time on Monday, February 6th vs. Wurst and the East. Then the Central will play again at 10 am Tuesday, February 7th vs. South while Wurst’s East will play at 1 pm vs. the Midwest. You can watch all the games online at hockeytv.com.
Click below to look at the complete rosters for the 2023
Read more about the tournament from the NAHL’s story here