Team success in the USPHL Premier Division is one goal they’re always chasing, but most importantly player development towards great success for I.H.C. players at the college level.
The Islanders were idle for two weeks, and in that time, they were leap-frogged by the Junior Bruins and the Jersey Hitmen jumped slightly ahead of where they were before Thanksgiving. This placed the Islanders in third place, but with two games in hand on the Hitmen going into the second half. The Islanders see both the Bruins and the Hitmen in December.
“I’m really pleased,” said head coach Sean Tremblay, taking stock of the first half. “Having such a strong team last year, and being in first from start to finish, we go from that to having 20 new faces on our team. To be where we were at in the beginning, I thought it might take until now to hit our stride,” said Tremblay, whose team fell to the Hitmen in the USPHL Premier finals last year.
With as much success as the 2015-16 team enjoyed as a team, Tremblay said that it is the 2016-17 team that “is probably better than most teams I’ve had.”
“They like playing with and for each other and not just for themselves,” Tremblay added. “Last year, we had a big, pro-style team, where this year we’re not quite as big but we probably have a little more speed and skill, and a relentless tenacity.”
While the Islanders certainly go out to play for each other, they also know they’re playing for either college attention or to prepare for colleges to which they’ve already committed. In that, each player is looking to make his identity clear – and this creates a dynamic in which each line earns its own identity.
“One line after another, they all do many things differently,” added Tremblay. “The team sells the individuals, but they’ll all end up where they belong if they play for each other and together.”
The team’s top-scoring line consists of Austin Lemieux, Lucas Michaud and Matt Thomson, and they’re all within the top five scorers for the whole league. All three are also moving on to the NCAA Division 1 ranks – Lemieux to Arizona State, Michaud will be off to Maine and Thomson is committed to Northeastern.
“I haven’t seen a guy since [Florida Panther] Paul Thompson or Derek Damon who loves to score as much as Matt Thomson,” said Tremblay. “If Matt misses, there is an anger there. He can’t wait for that next shift.”
Michaud was in the USPHL Premier two years ago, left for a year, but came back as he knows that this is the place to get better and become ready to play a major role for the Black Bears starting next fall.
“He’s done a great job down the middle of the ice. He’s a good skater with good hands and a good head for the game,” said Tremblay. “He has a high compete level this year, and he’s been really good. He just loves being on that line.”
Lemieux, the son of Mario, has – not surprisingly – a high hockey IQ that is his greatest weapons, along with crafty hands that are used mostly for playmaking – no one in the league has matched his 29 assists.
“He’s not the fastest guy, but no one’s going to catch him. His hockey IQ is off the charts,” said Tremblay. “He can do stuff most guys cannot do.
“What I like about that line is, after a shift, they come to the bench and all three are in conversation about what just happened,” Tremblay added. “They really are like a pro line – constantly talking about where they want to be the next shift.”
Veterans John McLean, UNH recruit Liam Darcy and Northeastern commit Austin Goldstein keep the conversation going about what it really means to play for this prestigious club.
“They’ve passed on the culture. They know where our culture is, and they’ve done a great job of allowing 20 guys to understand,” Tremblay said. “Austin told me one of the newcomers asked him ‘Do we go this hard every day?’ He said ‘Get used to it, and once you catch up, we’ll take off.’”
Darcy joins Maine commit Cam Spicer, McLean and offensive blueliner Nick Albano – a converted forward – and J.J. Layton in helping to create one of the best defensive corps in the league.
“We have the deepest D corps in the league, as far as ability to really play,” added Tremblay. “We’ve played all eight in the same game this season, dressing some as forwards.”
On the goalie side, Tremblay is thrilled to see the progression of Justin Ferguson. Ferguson has come through the Islanders Hockey Club at nearly every stage the USPHL offers – 16U, 18U, Elite and now the Premier Division. He is committed to Dartmouth.
Connor Minch, a USPHL Premier veteran, has “great pro size and ability.” He also earned a shutout at the Jersey Hitmen’s home rink, a feat Tremblay can’t remember happening in the USPHL Premier’s existence.
“We have a great 1-2 punch and it doesn’t matter who play,” said Tremblay said. “I have full confidence in both.”