Former Griffins Roach, Salame and Oszytko set to join pro hockey ranks this season

Curtis Roach, who graduated from the Griffins last season, will play in Germany this season (Joel Kingston photo).
Curtis Roach, who graduated from the Griffins last season, will play in Germany this season (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Curtis Roach boarded a plane to Germany last weekend, while 2022-23 Griffins men's hockey teammates Neithan Salame and Merritt Oszytko will make trips to the U.S. later this month.

All three are realizing their dreams, taking the next step in their careers by joining the pro hockey ranks in 2023-24.

Roach signed with German third division team SC Riessersee, based out of picturesque Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

"To be honest with you, it hasn't really hit me yet," said the defenceman before he left Canada. "It's a little bit surreal. Throughout the whole summer, I was getting anxious. It's a big decision. I graduated last year and finished university, so it was I go play pro and test my luck or I start in the workforce full-time. 

"When I got the contract sent me, read it over, translated it from German to English, it was a dream come true. I'm just very grateful for the opportunity that SC Riessersee has given me and I'm ready to get things rolling."

Salame, it was announced just earlier this week, is among the latest additions to the ECHL's Fort Wayne Komets in Indiana.

"It's definitely awesome," he said. "I'm super grateful for the opportunity that Fort Wayne and their staff have given to me. It's been awesome these last couple of days, getting to work and train for the season knowing it's going to be professional hockey.

"They said they have a little bit of a younger back end. Obviously I have to work for everything, but (they said) I would have some good opportunities there to grow with the team and obviously help them win."

Oszytko, who finished his final university season last February with the Griffins, is joining the Fayetteville Marksmen in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL).

"I'm obviously very excited," he said. "It's something I've always wanted to do. I've been playing hockey for 20+ years, so it's very exciting.

"I know it's a great organization. I know the league's filled with a lot of really great players. I'm just excited to have the chance to play my first year of pro. I'm excited to get things going with a great group of young guys and a passionate head coach."

Merritt Oszytko, who finished his university career at MacEwan in 2022-23 after playing in the NCAA for RIT, is bound for the SPHL this season (Joel Kingston photo).

Roach, who started his university career in the ACAC with the NAIT Ooks, spent the last two seasons with the Griffins – their first two in Canada West – amassing 22 points in 43 games, while playing in all situations on the team's blueline.

"I think they were looking for an offensive defenceman and he definitely fits that role," said Griffins head coach Zack Dailey of the Saskatoon product. "He's very good with the puck, has good hands, is very creative and can create scoring chances out of nothing. But they're also getting a player who blocks a whole bunch of shots, is very tough, plays through injury and when he's tired. 

"They're not only getting a good offensive defenceman but a good all-around player and someone who's going to be committed to their team."

Salame was set to return to the Griffins for his second U SPORTS season after a tremendous rookie campaign in 2022-23 where he recorded 15 points and 65 penalty minutes in 23 games from the back end. But the opportunity to play in the ECHL, just two rungs below the NHL, was too much to pass up.

"Obviously, it was a very tough decision leaving the Griffins," he said. "We wanted to build off last year, but I felt it was a really good opportunity for me. I just wanted to take it and make the most of it.

"The opportunity that Dales gave to me and the rest of the staff, teammates trusting me as a rookie, I grew so much not only as a player but as a person," he added. "I couldn't be more grateful for the time that I spent there and it was probably the toughest decision of my hockey career so far."

Added Dailey: "I'm definitely happy for him and wishing him all the best. He did a great job for us last year. I appreciate his hard work. He's got a lot of potential and I'm excited to see what he's going to do in pro."

Neithan Salame was set to return to the Griffins this season after a fantastic rookie U SPORTS season, but seized an opportunity to play in the ECHL in 2023-24 (Joel Kingston photo).

Oszytko will join long-time Edmonton area hockey friend Ty Readman at Fayatteville, the first chance they'll have to play together in years after going their separate ways in the NCAA (Oszytko to RIT and Readman to Northern Michigan and U of Wisconsin-Eau Claire). Oszytko joined the Griffins for one season to finish his university career, putting up 17 points in 24 games.

"Obviously, coach Dailey, (Sean) Ringrose and Nolan (Yaremchuk) and Benny (Ryan Benn) were all great to me and definitely helped me a lot," he said. "They allowed me an opportunity to play and show I can play and I think that's the main reason I'm able to make the next step."

It's a feather in the cap for a Griffins program that is seeing a few players graduated to the pro ranks each season.

"Obviously, it makes us proud of them, first of all," said Dailey. "My whole thing is if they commit to what I'm asking of them – the details of our systems, blocking shots, finishing checks, doing all the hard stuff – I'm committed to working on their individual games, trying to get them ready for pro. 

"It's a nice reward for these guys; they earned this with their hard work and determination. Our program is super proud of them. That's something we want to be known for is moving guys onto the next level after they're finished here."

While they pursue their pro dreams, all three will be following from afar as the Griffins try to take their own next step of making the post-season in the competitive Canada West ranks. 

That journey begins tonight as MacEwan heads across town to face the Alberta Golden Bears in their preseason opener (7 p.m., Clare Drake Arena). The rivals will also square off on Saturday (8 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).

"I'm happy with where things are at right now," said Dailey of training camp that's been going all week. "Obviously, we have a lot of new players figuring out how we play. 

"The biggest thing I'm looking for (this weekend) is our effort and compete level," he added. "Systems stuff will come and we'll get better at that. But we have to get back to our foundation, which is hard work and being tough to play against."