HOUGHTON - Huskies hockey coach Mel Pearson has announced the signing of eight student-athletes to National Letters of Intent to attend and play hockey at Michigan Tech.
The eight recruits are: Mark Auk (Grosse Point Park, Mich.), Marcus Ericsson (Lulea, Sweden), Tyler Heinonen (Delano, Minn.), Jacob Jackson (Oakdale, Minn.), Christopher Leibinger (Saginaw, Mich.), Joel L'Esperance (Brighton, Mich.), Michael Neville (Woodbridge, Ont.) and Dylan Steman (Hanover, Minn.).
Auk is a 6-foot, 170-pound defenseman currently playing with Port Huron of the North American Hockey League. The Grosse Pointe Park, Mich., native has appeared in 24 games with three goals and nine assists for the Fighting Falcons. Auk was part of a Michigan High School Division 3 state championship team in 2011-12 with Grosse Point Woods University Liggett School, where he posted 37 goals and 34 assists during the season.
"Mark is an offensive defenseman," said assistant coach Damon Whitten. "He has great vision and puck skills and plays with a lot of poise. We expect him to be very involved in our power play and give us some offensive punch from the back end."
Ericsson, a 6-0, 185-pound defenseman, currently skates with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League. He has posted three goals in 11 games. During the 2011-12 season, Ericsson played for the Lulea J20 team in Sweden's Super Elite League and tallied 1-5-6 in 47 games.
"Marcus brings a North American style to his game with some physical play and some bite," said Whitten. "However, as a European defenseman he also plays with good puck control and vision. We look forward to him being a big part of our defensive corps."
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Heinonen is a 6-0, 190-pound forward. He is in his second year playing for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL. Heinonen has tallied eight goals and seven assists in 19 games this season after posting 21-12-33 in 50 games a year ago. Prior to his USHL career, Heinonen tallied 83 points in his final season with Delano (Minn.) High School to lead the state in scoring.
"Tyler's a pure goal scorer," said Whitten. "Any time you can add a guy who scores goals naturally, it's a great addition to your program. He's a really dynamic player with his ability to shoot and score."
Jackson is a 5-11, 175-pound forward getting ready for his final season playing for Tartan (Minn.) High School. He posted 25 goals and 19 assists for a team-high 44 total points in 26 games as a junior a year ago. He tallied 26 points in 26 games as a sophomore in 2010-11. Jackson played two games for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL this year and scored one goal.
"We're really excited about Jake," said Whitten. "He's a great skater who will add a ton of speed to our lineup. He also has the ability to score goals and play a tenacious game. He really fits the style we're looking to play.
Leibinger presently skates for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, where he has three goals and two assists in 15 games. The 5-9, 170-pound blueliner spent a majority of last season with Traverse City of the NAHL, posting 5-15-20 and a plus-minus rating of plus-12 in 55 games.
"Chris is a mobile, skilled defenseman," said Whitten. "He can play a little bit of everything. He has a very high compete level. He's not the biggest guy, but seems to win a majority of his individual battles. He defends aggressively, but will also bring an offensive component to our program."
L'Esperance is in his first full season with Tri-City of the USHL. He has put up one goal and two assists in 19 games this season. The 6-2, 195-pound forward played with the Compuware U-18 team in the High Performance Hockey League a year ago, posting 13 goals and six assists in 26 games. L'Esperance participated in the USA Hockey Select Festival in Rochester, N.Y., this past summer and made the all-star team at the event.
"Joel's a big body who skates well," said Whitten. "He's coming off a great summer, and we know there are great things on the horizon for him as his game continues to develop."
Neville, a 6-0, 180-pound forward, is in his fourth season playing for St. Michael's in the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Neville owns 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in just 17 games this season after posting 66 total points in 107 games the previous three seasons. Neville played in each of the last two World Junior A Challenge events for Canada East and was team captain in 2012.
"Michael's best asset is his hockey IQ," said Whitten. "He's been a leader everywhere he's been, and we expect him to be able to play in all situations for us with the great feel he has for the game."
Steman is in his first year with Cedar Rapids of the USHL after a strong high school career at Maple Grove (Minn.). The 5-10, 180-pound forward has posted one goal and seven assists in 17 games for the Roughriders this season. As a high school senior, Steman posted 29 goals and 38 assists in just 30 games helping Maple Grove to the Minnesota Class AA state tournament quarterfinals.
"Dylan's another great all-around player," said Whitten. "He skates very well, he's tenacious and he has great skill. He'll fill a lot of different roles for our team."
Pearson lauded the work of Whitten and assistant coach Bill Muckalt in landing the eight players during the early signing period.
"Billy and Damon have done an outstanding job. Overall, I'm very excited about this group of student-athletes who have committed to Michigan Tech. We're really anxious to get them on campus and into a Michigan Tech jersey.
"As a whole, this group really fits our program's needs with size, speed, skill and character."