Even though the 2020-21 competitive season has unfortunately come to an end for the Steinbach Pistons and for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, there is still high-level hockey being played south of the border that Pistons fans can keep an eye on.
The 2020-21 NCAA Division I hockey season is winding down to a close with regular season play ending in the next few weeks, and the playoffs beginning soon after. Secondly, the USHL is also right in the thick of things, with the regular season well underway and expected to wrap up on April 24th.
This is significant because seven former Pistons players are competing in NCAA Division I presently, and three former players are currently skating in the USHL with various teams. Let’s give an update on where these skaters and goalies are, and how they’re doing thus far in the 2020-21 season.
NCAA DIVISION I
Drew Worrad – Western Michigan University – Junior
It’s been a breakout campaign for former Pistons star Drew Worrad. In his lone season with Steinbach in 2017-18, the Birr, Ontario native was the MJHL point per game leader with 75 points (26 G, 49 A) in just 47 games. He was named both the MJHL Playoff MVP and ANAVET Cup MVP during their 2018 championship run.
After putting up 10 points in his freshman year and 17 points his sophomore season, Worrad is currently leading Western Michigan University in scoring during his standout junior campaign, putting up 4 goals and 16 assists for 20 points in 22 games for the Broncos. WMU is currently sixth in the NCHC conference standings with an 8-11-3 overall record.
Riese Gaber – University of North Dakota – Freshman
The beat goes on for Riese Gaber, who has had an incredible four-year run to get to the University of North Dakota. The Gilbert Plains product was a big part of the Pistons’ 2018 championship chase with 27 points (11 G, 16 A) in 24 games played, followed by 10 points in the playoffs. He then spent two standout seasons with Dubuque in the USHL and was named the USHL Player of the Year in 2019-20.
Gaber has been his team’s top freshman in 2020-21, recording 8 goals and 8 assists in 22 games played so far while helping UND recently capture its second consecutive Penrose Cup (regular season conference championship). He’ll look to be a big part of a hopeful national championship run for the Fighting Hawks, who are ranked as the #2 team in the nation as of this writing.
Darby Gula – Bemidji State University – Junior
After his first two collegiate seasons at Bemidji State University were spent in and out of the lineup, Steinbach’s own Darby Gula has become a regular in the top 6 of the Beavers’ defence corp. Gula spent three seasons with the Pistons, winning the MJHL Defenceman of the Year award in 2018 with 14 goals and 61 points in 56 games played. He was also named the Top Defenceman at the Centennial Cup that same year.
Gula has put together his best collegiate season so far during his junior year of eligibility, recording a goal and two assists in 17 games played so far in 2020-21. Bemidji State is ranked #19 in the nation and currently sits in fourth place in the WCHA conference standings, behind top teams #3 Minnesota State, #18 Lake Superior State, and #13 Bowling Green.
Austin Heidemann – Mercyhurst University – Freshman
Austin Heidemann quickly made an impact in his only season with the Steinbach Pistons in 2017-18. The Maple Grove, Minnesota native played on the top line with Worrad and Bradley Schoobaert and was nearly a point per game player with 58 points (24 G, 34 A) in 59 games. From there, Heidemann skated for two seasons with the Green Bay Gamblers and the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL before committing to Mercyhurst in the winter of 2020.
Heidemann has put together a great first year in college hockey with the Lakers with 7 goals and 12 points in 15 games played. He’s presently second on his team in goals and points by a freshman, and sixth in team scoring so far. Mercyhurst is currently seventh place in a tight Atlantic Hockey conference, so look for him to continue to light the lamp as the regular season comes to a close.
Tyler Anderson – St. Cloud State University – Senior
The collegiate career of former Pistons defenceman Tyler Anderson will wind down to a close at the end of the 2020-21 season. The Winnipeg native spent two seasons in Steinbach, with his second season serving as his best. He led all MJHL defenceman in scoring in 2016-17 with 12 goals and 49 points in 53 games played, earning himself an MJHL Second All-Star Team selection in the process.
Anderson has played in eight games so far in 2020-21, and throughout his 32 games played with the St. Cloud State University Huskies has one assist and a +1 rating in his collegiate career. After his final year, Anderson will be off to medical school with hopes of becoming a doctor. Check out this profile of him by St. Cloud’s Athletic Department! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c84cQ_3Z1TQ
Matthew Thiessen – University of Maine – Sophomore
The first ever NHL Entry Draft selection right out of the Steinbach Pistons, goalie Matthew Thiessen has seen the crease more during his sophomore season at the University of Maine. In his one season in Steinbach as a 17-year-old goalie in 2017-18, the Altona product was outstanding with MJHL First All-Star Team and MJHL All-Rookie Team selections while backstopping the Pistons to the Turnbull and ANAVET Cup.
Thiessen picked up his first collegiate win back on December 11, 2020 against the University of New Hampshire, posting a 37 save performance in the process. But the Black Bears have struggled mightily during the 2020-21 season, sitting in second last in the Hockey East conference with a 2-9-1 record. Thiessen has started seven games for Maine, posting an .878 SV% and a 4.13 GAA, and is coming off of a great performance against #1 Boston College where he only allowed 3 goals while making 28 saves in a 4-2 loss.
Matt Radomsky – College of the Holy Cross – Sophomore
The Pistons MVP in 2018-19, Matt Radomsky had one of the best goaltending seasons in the history of the organization with an MJHL First All-Star Team selection, a World Junior A Challenge bronze medalist with Team Canada West, and a commitment to the Holy Cross Crusaders. The Winnipeg native and three-year Piston from 2016-19 had a wonderful freshman season as the starting goalie, posting an 11-18-4 record with a 2.90 GAA and a .903 SV% in 2019-20.
Holy Cross has had a tough year in 2020-21 as they are in last place in the Atlantic Hockey conference with a 4-12-0 overall mark. Unfortunately, Radomsky’s numbers have reflected that, starting six games this season with a 4.03 GAA and a .870 SV%. Knowing his resiliency and determination, count on him having a bounce back season in 2021-22.
Kyle Bettens – Omaha Lancers
Bettens is back for a second go-around in the USHL in 2020-21; he first played with the Fargo Force in 2018 before being sent back to play two seasons with the Steinbach Pistons until 2020. Bettens led the way for Steinbach in scoring last year with 56 points (18 G, 38 A) in 49 games played, beating out Ty Naaykens for that honour. He’s putting up points with the Lancers in 2020-21 with 6 goals and 17 points in 30 games played, currently placing him fifth in team scoring as Omaha currently sits in second place in the Western Conference.
Carter Loney – Sioux City Musketeers
Loney was the Pistons’ spark plug during the 2019-20 season, putting up 50 points (16 G, 34 A) in 52 games played and was named the 2019-20 MJHL Rookie of the Year. The University of Minnesota-Duluth commit was dealt to the BCHL during this past offseason in exchange for veteran forward Matt Osadick. With that league also not up and running like the MJHL, Loney made his way south to join the Sioux City Musketeers where his solid play has continued. The 18-year-old forward is in the top 10 on his team in scoring with 4 goals and 7 assists in 29 games in 2020-21.
Tucker Hodgson – Fargo Force
Hodgson was the Pistons’ most improved player in 2019-20, as he skated in 51 games as an 18-year-old defenceman for Steinbach and recorded 9 assists that season. His consistent work ethic and desire to grow his game attracted teams from the USHL, and he earned his way onto the Fargo Force, his home state team. In 34 games for the Western Conference leading Force, the Grand Forks product has 4 assists and is second amongst defenceman on his squad with a +7 rating.