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GAME RECAP: Rockers at Port Huron Prowlers 10/20/23

Introducing the Band: The 2023-24 Motor City Rockers

Introducing the band

Let me preface this post by saying, this is the current Motor City Rockers roster as of the evening before their season opener on the road against the Port Huron Prowlers. The roster currently stands at twenty players, but will need to be down to nineteen by next week. From here on out, any roster updates will be covered in separate posts, but it's now or never to write about the roster that is expected to make the trip up I-94 to the Blue Water area tomorrow. 

This year's season opening roster for Motor City features fifteen players that were with the team at the end of last season for their playoff push and series against Columbus. A sixteenth played in 26 games, but then moved behind the bench as an assistant coach. That means there are just four new faces on the opening night roster, but that is not a bad thing. There is so much turnover in minor league hockey from season to season, it is pretty rare for a team to return this many players from the previous campaign. There really won't be much adjusting or chemistry building needed, these guys all know each other and played together most of last year. There is something to be said for consistency, and the Rockers should benefit from so many familiar faces returning on the ice, and of course, behind the bench as well with head coach Gordie Brown. So let's take a look at the twenty players that currently make up the 2023-24 Motor City Rockers by position.

FORWARDS

Scott Coash - Coash joined the Rockers after he was unable to land a spot in the SPHL and proceeded to bury forty goals in 49 games, leading the team in both goals and points with 72. His forty goals was good for third best in the entire league. Needless to say, he is a natural goal scorer and a guy that I think should be playing at a higher level. He proved in 2021-22 for Macon that he can score in the SPHL, hopefully he gets another shot at some point this season, but the fans are thrilled he is back in a Rockers uniform.       

Declan Conway - The center on the top line with Coash, Conway finished second on the team in goals with 27 and points with 52. This will be his fifth FPHL season, another player who has spent some time in the SPHL in his career and could easily play in that league. 

Rocco DiCostanzo - One of the four new faces on the roster and a good pick up. DiCostanzo was chosen in the FPHL Supplemental Draft for dispersing the rest of the Delaware Thunder's roster after that franchise went dormant. This will be his third year in the Fed after starting his pro career in Watertown in 2021-22. For the Wolves, Rocco scored twelve goals and added eight assists in 36 games. Last season, he had three goals and two assists in 22 games for the Wolves before moving on to Delaware where he played in twenty games, scoring six goals and adding eight assists. A quality addition to this team's scoring depth, he will help offset the loss of forwards like Connor Inger and Tommy Cardinal.

Roman Gaudet - The Flat Rock native returns for his second pro season after a solid rookie campaign, finishing seventh on the team with 33 points. Also adds size and toughness to the forward corps.

Jonathan Juliano - One of the all-time veterans of the Federal League, Juliano has skated in 323 career games for seven franchises and returns to the ice after moving into an assistant coach's role for the second half of last season. Before the move behind the bench, he skated in 26 games for the Rockers, scoring seven goals and adding eleven assists for eighteen points. Another Michigan native, hailing from nearby Clinton Township.

Derek Makimaa - Makimaa was in camp with the Birmingham Bulls of the SPHL, and deservedly so, after an outstanding rookie season. The Swartz Creek native last played organized hockey in 2018 for Salem State College, but came to the Rockers, made the team, then proceeded to finish third on the team in goals with 22 and tied for fifth in points with 41. Absolutely huge that he is returning.

Francis Moore - Another of the four new faces, and one of three players looking to make their American pro hockey debut. Moore, 26, comes to the Motor City after having spent four years in the ACHA with Robert Morris University/Roosevelt University. He was the team's captain the last two seasons after Roosevelt University acquired Robert Morris, and really filled the stat sheet in his final season with the Lakers last year. In 29 games, the Richfield, Minnesota native buried 19 goals and added 17 assists for 36 points, by far his best season.

Brad Reitter - The Grand Rapids native returns for his second season after finishing third on the team in scoring last season with 47 points. Reitter is more of an assist-man, with 35 during the last campaign, but also lightning quick. His speed is a major asset in making things happen on offense.

Pavel Svintsov - The third new face to the lineup, and the star of the Rockers' 4-2 exhibition win in Port Huron last Friday. The 23 year old Russian rookie scored twice in that game, seeming to cement a spot on this roster. Skating for HK OrelGU Orel of the Russian Student Hockey League this past season, Svintsov scored 12 goals and added 17 assists for 29 points in 16 games. He's my pick for the top rookie on this year's squad.

Elias Thompson - "Big Sexy" himself, Thompson became an instant fan favorite last season at Big Boy Arena with his heavyweight bouts and post-fight celebrations. His 138 penalty minutes led the team, and he will drop the gloves with anyone when called on. Every team needs at least one of these guys and metro Detroiters love their tough guys. Elias also chipped in with three goals and six points in a limited role, I feel he's capable of more with increased ice time.

Danny Vanderwiel -  The former Plymouth Whaler joined the Rockers in late November and by the time 2023 rolled around, was named team captain and a player/assistant coach. His sixteen points in 28 games were a big contribution as well. He can also play both forward and defense, a versatile player who has also spent time, and could easily play full time, in the SPHL.  

DEFENSE

Josh Colten - One of the anchors of the Motor City blueline, Colten returns for his fifth FPHL season. He's spent his entire career playing for Michigan-based teams, starting with the short-lived St. Clair Shores Fighting Saints, before moving to Port Huron. His 41 points tied him for fifth on the team in scoring, another big play-maker on the team with 34 assists.     

Tim Delaney - The last of the four new faces, the 22 year old Delaney hails from St. Louis and is also looking to make his professional hockey debut. He has spent time with various junior teams including the St. Louis Jr. Blues of the NA3HL and the Jersey Shore Whalers of the USPHL Premier.

Nick Magill-Diaz - Fresh off SPHL camp in Pensacola, the Clawson native returns home for his second season with Motor City. He joined the Rockers in mid-December after starting last season in the SP with Vermilion County and Quad City. Another player on this roster that could easily be a full-time SPHL'er with the right fit. The Rockers will happily take him back, a steady defenseman who isn't afraid to throw his body around and get into scrums when needed.

Jamie Milam - At 39, the Lake Orion native is the oldest player on the roster and his veteran experience proved immeasurable last season after he joined the Rockers in January. He was a +22 while also contributing four goals and six assists. Milam has played at higher levels of professional hockey most of his career, spending time in the ECHL, the now defunct United and Central Leagues, and many years playing overseas. 

Ryan Rotondi - The Port Huron native saw three stints with the Rockers last season and always played solid and physical. Another versatile player who can move to forward if needed, he has spent parts of three season in the Federal League. 

Dante Suffredini - Another local player, hailing from Shelby Township, he and Colten are the two key sources of offense on the blueline. Suffredini finished fourth on the team with 44 points, and was the team leader in assists with 36. He's just as solid defensively, a +12, and another player not afraid to mix it up. This will be his third Federal League season.

Mike Winn - This Ann Arbor native missed a good portion of the season due to injury, only skating in 23 games. But once he returned in March, he was on the blueline every night logging a lot of ice time. Another player who will get involved physically, all part of the Rockers' "team tough" approach.

GOALIES

Trevor Babin - At first, it didn't look like the team's number one goaltender, and one of the best in the league, was returning. Babin signed a much-deserved PTO with Kalamazoo of the ECHL and impressed in their first exhibition game, stopping ten of eleven shots in 27 minutes, then four of five Toledo shooters in the shootout to record the victory for K-Zoo. But as is often the case, it was a number's game that sent Babin back to Motor City. The Wings already had returning goalie, and Kalamazoo native, Hunter Vorva on the roster. Then the Abbotsford Canucks of the AHL sent Jonathan Lemieux down to Kalamazoo, their ECHL affiliate, which left Babin, for now, the odd man out. Babs finished third in save percentage in the FPHL last season at .915, leading Motor City with a 20-12-4 record and a 3.15 goals against average. With him at the top of his game, the Rockers are legitimate championship contenders in this league in my opinion. And I think he will be plenty motivated after that taste of the ECHL. Of course the concern is, what happens if he does get that full-time shot at a higher level he so greatly deserves? The Rockers will have to cross that bridge when they get to it.

Ricardo Gonzalez - One of the surprises out of training camp, Gonzalez won the back-up spot over last season's back-up, and starter when Babin was unavailable, Blake Scott who was released. The rookie goaltender joined the Rockers at the end of March and saw 42 minutes of action after completing his collegiate career at Chatham University of the UCHC.

Fans of last year's squad will notice some familiar names missing besides Blake Scott. Forward Tommy Cardinal, who scored twenty goals, has moved on to the LNAH. Connor Inger, who usually played on the top line with Coash and Conway, has signed with Quad City of the SPHL. Cade Lambdin, another fan favorite, recently became a new dad and is putting hockey on hold. Tim Perks also did not return and doesn't appear to be playing hockey for now. Svintsov, DiCostanzo and Moore should help replace the offense provided by those four.

I'm not going to make any wild predictions, it's a long season, a lot can happen, and this team is filled with players that are ripe for a recall at any time to a higher league. But given the number of key returning players, the core of this team remains intact, it could be a very special season at Big Boy Arena for the Motor City Rockers. It will definitely be an entertaining team to watch with the talent that hits the ice starting tomorrow in Port Huron.   

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