5 returners who can power the Rochester Grizzlies' repeat run to a Fraser Cup
The Rochester Grizzlies will hold their main tryout camp Friday through Sunday at the Rochester Recreation Center. The team will then take a week off before players report on Aug. 28 to begin preparing for the 2022-23 season, which begins Sept. 9 at St. Louis.
ROCHESTER — The road to a repeat begins in earnest this weekend for the Rochester Grizzlies.
Approximately 80 players will be at the Rochester Recreation Center from Friday through Sunday for the main tryout camp for the defending North American 3 Hockey League champions.
The familiar names will be relatively few, though, as the Grizzlies' Fraser Cup championship roster was hit hard by players advancing to college or the North American Hockey League, or having their junior hockey eligibility expire.
As the Grizzlies coaching staff found as it turned over every rock in the offseason, when your team plays for the national championship one year then wins it the next, more players and better players seek you out.
The new players who make the 2022-23 roster will be sorted out over the next three days. Here's a look at five returning players who'll fuel the Grizzlies' success this season:
The California native is back for his third season as a Grizzly. Clark needed a majority of the 2020-21 season to acclimate to junior hockey and to being away from home. He played in just four games that season, but he learned from an outstanding leadership group, veterans such as Peyton Hart, Matt DeRosa, Garrett Smith and Joey Fodstad. Clark was a regular in the lineup last season, playing in 30 games and producing six points. The soft-spoken forward is a third-year veteran now, and he'll be looked at to be a lead-by-example role model.
Henderson was in a logjam at the goaltender spot last season with incumbent Zach Wiese (who earned NA3HL Goalie of the Year honors and is now on the roster at the University of Minnesota), as well as Niko Goich (who started last season in the NAHL with the Austin Bruins) and fellow NA3HL rookie Kaleb Bents. Henderson more than held his own when given the net, going 6-2-0 with a 1.79 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. While the Grizzlies have brought in a couple of newcomers — and brought back Bents — to battle for roster spots, Henderson is the only one who spent the entire 2021-22 season in Rochester. He's the incumbent this season and the 5-11, 170-pound native of Lansing, Mich. — who was named NA3HL Central Division Star of the Week last season — wants to prove the net is his.
Veteran forward Ben Oakland was the MVP of the Fraser Cup tournament last spring, but Meers was hands-down the best individual story of that tournament. The Swiss Army Knife of last year's team, Meers was playing a bottom-6 forward role until the Grizzlies' leading scorer, Kyle Bauer, was injured early in the national semifinals. Meers seamlessly moved onto the top line in that game and scored two goals. He stayed there for the championship game, helping the Grizzlies shut out Granite City to win the Fraser Cup. Meers' versatility could land him anywhere in the lineup on a given night, but odds are he'll at least start the season in the top-6 role in which he excelled in the national semifinal and championship.
The 6-4, 200-pound power forward from Ames, Iowa, was impressive at tryout camps for the Anchorage Wolverines and Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey League this summer. At those camps, he showed a burst that wasn’t always there last season and a willingness to adapt to his linemates. Nemeth wasn't a big point producer last season (2-5—7) for the Grizzlies, but he didn’t have to be. He can play any position up front and could be invaluable in the defensive zone, keeping the opposition's top forwards in check. Look for him to play a bigger role, and more roles, this season.
Without question the most improved player on the Grizzlies last season, and a key reason why the team was the last one standing in the NA3HL. Waage went from playing in just 18 regular-season games and being left off the playoff roster in 2021 to a team captain, a 20-point producer and a guy who Rochester's coaches wanted on the ice in key moments. Waage's versatility and ability to play in any situation make him the perfect leader to help groom a defensive corps this season that will be mostly new to Rochester and the NA3HL. He'll be a leader on and off the ice this season, and he'll be at the top of the list when NAHL coaches call in need of a defenseman who can jump up a league and play immediately.