By: By Eric Morken, Sports Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
Nardo Nagtzaam’s play this past season was impossible to ignore for anyone paying attention to the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
Alexandria Blizzard fans know how explosive the forward was after watching him put up a franchise record 87 points in the regular season. Early this month, the NAHL’s coaches and general managers proved they took notice too when they named him as one of just six players to the All-NAHL Team.
“You don’t put up that many points and people don’t recognize it,” Alexandria head coach Doc DelCastillo said. “In our day and age, any league you put up 90 points in, that’s pretty darn impressive. It’s good to see him get recognized. He earned it. He had a great year for us.”
Nagtzaam put himself high on the list of some of the best players to ever come through this organization. He finished with 94 total points last year after adding seven in the five-game playoff series against Bismarck. His 51 regular-season assists are second on the Blizzard’s all-time list to Luke Nesper’s 55.
Nagtzaam will start a career at Division I Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania next season after accumulating 131 points in 94 games in a Blizzard uniform. He helped lead this team to its first Central Division title. If he doesn’t top the list of the Blizzard’s all-time best players, he is right up there.
“That’s a tough question for me to answer,” DelCastillo said. “I would think he is right toward the top. I haven’t seen everyone who’s played here, but for the type of season he had and what he did coming down the stretch – and this was a guy who was no secret. You can bet every team that played against him this year, their sole purpose was to stop Nardo, and he still had as many points as he did. That’s a credit to him.”
Nagtzaam was one of three Alexandria players recognized among the rest of the NAHL for their play this season. Defenseman Michael Pieper was named with Nagtzaam to the All-Central Division Team, while Paul LaDue took All-Rookie Second Team honors.
Pieper was one of the best offensive defensemen in the division this season. He led Alexandria’s blue line with 41 points in the regular season, and he did it all with a banged up shoulder in the last month and a half of the season.
“When you look at a defenseman and say he had close to 50 points, that’s getting up there for defensemen,” DelCastillo said. “He’s very good defensively and very good offensively…another credit to him is the kid played with a slightly separated or separated shoulder for probably the last five or six weeks of the season. He just fought through and found a way to keep playing and still kept putting up points.”
LaDue joined Pieper on that blue line and progressed the way a first-year player should throughout the season. The 18-year-old would have been a high school senior in Grand Forks if he would have decided to go that route. Instead, LaDue did what he felt was best for his hockey career when he made the jump to junior hockey after winning a North Dakota state title during his junior season.
LaDue’s decision paid off with plenty of recognition. He was one of just seven players from the NAHL named to the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s “Players to Watch” list last fall. The “C” rating given to him by Central Scouting meant they viewed him as a player who could be taken as a late selection in the 2011 NHL entry draft in June. LaDue finished with 22 points in 56 regular-season games for the Blizzard.
“Tremendous skill,” DelCastillo said of what makes his young defenseman stand out. “He’s a very skilled player. For his age, he was a senior in high school, still relatively young as far as junior hockey goes. He kept getting better from day one. By the end of the season he was a very good player for us. He was good all year, but by the end he was a very productive player.”
DelCastillo said he hopes to have LaDue back next season but isn’t counting on it quite yet.
“With how good he is,” he said. “When you have good players, if a college loses someone in July to the NHL, you might look for a defenseman, and Paul LaDue would be at the top of the list.”