Over five years, the USPHL’s National Collegiate Development Conference has proven itself as a strong feeder to the NCAA Division I ranks and also to NHL franchises. Nearly 200 NCDC players have committed to Division I institutions, and the league has also seen seven NHL Draft picks of current or former players in the last two years.
Thus, it’s no surprise that players who have gotten a taste of the NCDC and are still working towards their NCAA college hockey future often stay on. A total of 76 players have skated in three or more seasons of the NCDC to date, and Connecticut Jr. Rangers defenseman Aleksey Zielinski is excited to join that group of NCDC Die-Hards.
“The part I like most about the NCDC is the competitiveness. Everyday, whether it is at practice, the gym, or games there is never a lack of intensity and I am always pushed to perform the best I can on and off the ice,” said Zielinski, a 2003-born native of Byron Center, Mich., who has played in 47 NCDC games between 2020-21 and 2021-22.
In his first season, he earned an 11-game callup from the Jr. Rangers USPHL Premier team that saw him compete as part of the Hub City Tampa initiative amidst the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that year. Last year, the 6-foot-4-inch, 194-pound blueliner was a staple of the Jr. Rangers defense. He has attributed much of his success to his work with Jr. Rangers coach Jim Henkel, his coach at both the Premier and NCDC levels.
“Coach Henkel has taught me many lessons that apply both on the ice and off. One of the things that he reiterates a lot both on and off the ice is working hard at everything we do,” said Zielinski. “If we are doing something, whether it be hockey related or not, we need to value it and give 100 percent at it.
“Over my time in Connecticut, the speed at which I play and move as well as my skating and agility has [been] the biggest development,” he added.
He joined the Jr. Rangers for the first time in Florida when all of the NCDC made the move to a closed-community situation where players lived at a resort outside Tampa, Fla., and were only able to travel between the rink and the resort for six weeks of hockey, golf, swimming and winter warmth and sunshine.
“The Hub event in Tampa was one of my favorite hockey events I have had. I did not think at that point in time that the season would be able to continue due to COVID,” said Zielinski. “However, the league stepped up in a tremendous way and showcased how much it is dedicated to helping and allowing for its players to play. It was a great opportunity to play hockey down there in that climate and the lodging for the league was very nice as well.”
There is no other place he’d rather continue his hockey career here in 2022-23 than at Chelsea Piers in Stamford, Conn., with such a strong mentor as Coach Henkel.
“The relationships that I’ve built with the coaching staff as well as my teammates are a large part of why this is my third year here,” said Zielinski. “The rink as well as the city is also a second home to me at this point.”
His mission this year is to further raise his profile amongst NCAA Division I institutions looking for a strong blueliner with size and agility, while working on adding some points to his game to become more of a two-way defenseman.
“My goal for college is to play NCAA hockey at the Division I level,” he added. “I have already been talking to schools. This next season, I am aiming to improve on my offensive game in order to better help out my team. I also plan on stepping up in terms of leadership.”