MTU hockey signs two players

Courtesy of MTU Athletics

Michigan Tech

HOUGHTON, Mich. — The Michigan Tech hockey team has signed two more players to National Letters of Intent to join the Huskies’ program. Brent Baltus (Nanaimo, B.C.) and Shane Hanna (Salmon Arm, B.C.) will join four other student-athletes who will begin their careers this fall. Four others who have already signed NLIs will not enroll until fall 2014.

Baltus, a 6-1, 185-pound forward, played the last two seasons with Trail of the British Columbia Hockey League and was recently named most valuable player of the BCHL’s Interior Conference. He led the Smoke Eaters in scoring this past season with 24 goals and 52 total points, including two short-handed markers and three game-winning goals. In addition to his MVP honor, Baltus was selected to the conference second all-star team. He was selected as the Smoke Eaters’ Most Improved Player in 2011-12. In 116 career BCHL games with Trail, Nanaimo and Alberni Valley, the Nanaimo product tallied 38 goals and 83 total points.

“Brent was a late bloomer but has turned into a skilled player,” said Michigan Tech assistant coach Bill Muckalt. “His strength is playing down low around the net. He’s a leader who works and competes very hard.”

Hanna is a 5-11, 190-pound defenseman who has played for his hometown Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the BCHL for the last two seasons. He posted 12 goals and 39 assists for 51 total points in 2012-13, making him the highest-scoring defenseman in the league. The assistant team captain gained BCHL Interior Conference First Team All-Star accolades. The previous season, Hanna posted 3-21=24 in 53 games (3-19=21 in 40 games with Salmon Arm and 0-2=2 in 13 games with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees).

“Shane has elite vision and offensive instincts,” said Muckalt. “He possesses a tremendous shot and is going to make an offensive impact for us right away.”

Baltus and Hanna will join Tyler Heinonen (Delano, Minn.), Chris Leibinger (Saginaw, Mich.), Michael Neville (Woodbridge, Ont.) and Reid Sturos (South Lyon, Mich.) to comprise the Huskies’ 2013-14 freshman class.

Heinonen, a 6-0, 185-pound forward, tallied 48 total points in 65 games in the USHL in 2012-13. He opened the year with the Muskegon Lumberjacks, posting 15-16=31 in 40 games before skating with the Chicago Steel the final 24 games (8-9=17).

“Tyler is a pure goal scorer who has a nose for the net,” said Muckalt. “He will help us offensively, especially on the power play.”

Leibinger is a 5-9, 170-pound defenseman who is currently in the playoffs with the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks. He tallied four goals and 10 total points in 32 games with Muskegon before being traded to Waterloo. The blue liner notched 0-7=7 in 20 regular season games with the Black Hawks and has 1-2=3 in four playoff games thus far.

“Chris is a mobile defenseman who distributes the puck well,” said Muckalt. “We believe he is going to improve our team in transition.”

Neville, a 6-0, 190-pound forward, recently hoisted the Buckland Cup as Ontario Junior Hockey League Champions with the St. Michael’s Buzzers. The team captain registered 16 goals and 51 total points in 44 regular season games in 2012-13. He added 5-10=15 in 23 playoff games including a pair of assists in a 3-1 win during game seven of the Buckland Cup finals.

“Michael is tireless worker who plays all 200 feet of the ice,” said Muckalt. “He’s a consumate team player. He plays with grit and tenacity and is very effective on the forecheck.”

Sturos, a 6-2, 175-pound forward, played 56 regular season games with the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL in 2012-13. He averaged a point per game with 57 on 25 goals and 32 assists. He also scored three goals in five playoff games.

“Reid had a tremendous year,” said Muckalt. “He skates very well and will be an effective penalty killer for us. He also had good offensive instincts.”

Four others who have signed hockey NLIs to Michigan Tech will likely defer enrollment until 2014-15. They are: defenseman Mark Auk (Grosse Point Park, Mich.), forward Jacob Jackson (Oakdale, Minn.), forward Joel L’Esperance (Brighton, Mich.) and forward Dylan Steman (Hanover, Minn.).

Jackson was ranked No. 170 among North American skaters on the NHL’s central scouting final rankings released April 23. He is also a finalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey award.