The 16U All-Stars had plenty in the tank, youthful enthusiasm taking over as five of the seven goals scored in the game came in the third period.
Two goals, one from each of the American (wearing white jerseys) and National (wearing red), were scored in the final four minutes of this Instant Classic on the home ice of the NCAA Division 1 Merrimack College Warriors.
The National All-Stars, coached by Noel Rubin (New Jersey Rockets) and Frank Golden (N.H. Jr. Monarchs), went into that third period up 2-0.
In the second period, three New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs players connected for an absolute beauty of tic-tac-toe passing between David Bazile and teammates Ben Muthersbaugh - a day of game lineup addition - and Tyler Anastasi.
That 2-0 National lead score led into the apex of the game - the third period. Josh Girard for the Maine Moose faced down several shots making highlight-worthy saves.
However, his luck couldn’t hold forever. He was surrounded at the net by the Palmyra Black Knights’ Jesse Horacek and Zachary Aben, as well as by the New Jersey Hitmen’s Connor Sedlak. Horacek and Aben both tried, but those were saved by a sprawling Girard, but Sedlak struck paydirt to put Team American on the board.
The highlight goal of the day however, was created when the ‘04 Chris Delaney (Junior Bruins) sent up a pass just over his own blue line to a streaking Yuri Ushakov (CP Dynamo). Ushakov had two full zones of Lawler Arena ice to himself - except for Girard, who he beat with a massive forward-to-backhand deke that was SportsCenter-worthy.
Only 52 seconds later, Bazile went in alone and there was not even need for the penalty shot that would have been called as he was held up. He made a couple dekes and a light tap between the five hole for a 3-2 National lead.
No way was this one over yet, though. The Skipjacks Hockey Club trio of Oliver Frontini, Ryan Gordon and Silas Hughes - all better than point-per-game performers in USPHL league play - combined for a great goal. Hughes made the backhand pass from his knees - facing the boards - to Frontini out Front and it was a 3-3 tie with just over four minutes left.
Less than a minute, Alexander Farmer (N.J. Rockets) scored a gorgeous wrister to seal the deal for Team National, despite a 6-on-4 advantage for Team America at the end.
The USPHL 18U All-Star game was a big draw for scouts and fans alike.
This was despite weekend when there was a wonder if anyone - players, coaches or fans - could make it through a massive storm followed by single-digit temperatures. But the railing above the rink at Gallant Arena at Merrimack College was full, and several onlookers stood at the glass as the league’s top 18U players squared off.
In the end, the National All-Stars in red jerseys picked up the victory. The National team was selected by Skipjacks Hockey Club head coach Jason Kersner and Islanders Hockey Club head coach Tim Pelletier, and coached by Kersner to a 7-5 victory.
The Boston Junior Bruins’ Salvatore Caterina sent a hard shot from almost exactly at the American blue line that found its way through for the first goal just 5:31 in. The Islanders Hockey Club’s Zach Diamont assisted.
A turnover by Team National at the blue line was picked up by the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders’ Anthony Bernardo and sent across to Islanders teammate Jake Lanyi for the first American goal 9:43 into the period.
A flurry of first period goals followed from there. The first of three came off a pretty passing play completed by the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs’ Emanuel Sanchez, assisted by the Junior Bruins’ Ian Carpentier and Merrimack commit Nolan Barrett (Skipjacks Hockey Club).
Roughly four minutes later, it was Carpentier from Sanchez, on a 2-on-1 with 1:41 remaing.
But the All-Stars weren’t done. This first period was way too much fun to just walk away from. The New Jersey Hitmen’s T.J. Schweighardt, the leading scorer among defensemen and overall for his team, surgically inserted the puck in a space about the size of maybe three pucks over the shoulder of UMass-Lowell commit Aidan Harper (Skipjacks) with 8.8 seconds remaining. When the snow had settled, the score was 3-2 heading into the second. Coincidentally, it was also 3-2 when the third period began, thanks to Team National goalie Oliver Quinn (N.H. Jr. Monarchs), with 16 saves on 16 shots, and Team American goalie David Battisti (Rochester Jr. Monarchs), who stopped all seven shots he faced.
The third period put the scorekeeper back to work on the goals and assists front, with one apiece from each team.
Ben Peterson (Northern Cyclones) worked his way in with a majestic individual effort to put home the eventual GWG for Team National in the 4-3 win.
Team American did not give up, though, working hard to build off their third goal and Lanyi’s second at the 8:55 mark, but Team National and its goalie Jake Perrin (Islanders Hockey Club, 14 saves) held on for the win.
Everywhere you looked outside, there were all the signs of the "snowpocalypse" that hit New England over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend.
Piles of snow, white roads and treacherous travel, however, couldn't combine to keep the USPHL's best NCDC, 18U and 16U players away from the annual All-Star Game at Merrimack College in North Andover.
The NCDC All-Star Game was won by the National All-Stars, 7-5. The National team was coached by (and selected by) Boston Junior Bruins head coach Mike Anderson and Connecticut Jr. Rangers head coach Jim Henkel.
The American team was the first on the board, just 3:41 in. After an initial stop by Yaniv Perets (Junior Bruins), Antoine Belisle (Hitmen) sent a pass from behind the net out front to Jacob Laurin (N.H. Jr. Monarchs) for a 1-0 lead. Team American was coached by Ryan Frew (Monarchs) and selected by Frew and Toby Harris (Hitmen).
Noah Strawn (Rangers) turned on the physicality about five minutes later making a big hit and stealing the puck in Team American's defensive zone, and went high glove side for a tie score.
Less than two minutes later, it was the connection of Junior Bruins teammates Robby Griffin (Northeastern commit) to Jonny Mulera (Providence commit) for a fantastic breakaway goal by Mulera.
The All-New Jersey unit of Dartmouth commit Ryan Sorkin (Rockets) and the Hitmen's Mickey Burns and Philip Elgstam were next to cash in, at 15:03 elapsed in the first period. Sorkin sent the puck from behind the net to Burns in the high slot, who smashed a wrister into the net for a 2-2 tie.
Billy Grant scored on a second effort assisted by his Boston Bandits teammate to end the first period, at 3-2.
The second period started with goals by both teams from Team American's Sasha Peresunko and Team National's Zach Mazur.
A lot of back-and-forth play dominated the second period. About 12:30 after Mazur's goal, Colin Slyne put in a funny bounce off the glass to make it 5-3 National.
Slyne's Connecticut teammate Brad Ong sent a hard wrister in to end the second, with just 21 seconds remaining in that stanza.
It was actually three goals in a row by Rangers players, as the third period started with Strawn's second goal, from teammates/linemates Ong and Takato Cox.
Mickey Burns' second goal saw him jump on a loose puck just outside the crease, assisted by Elgstam and Sorkin yet again.
The NCDC game even had a penalty shot! Zachary Mazur (Rochester) was hauled down and given the free chance against the Bandits' Connor McAnanama. The Bandit was just that, robbing Mazur of a goal with his right pad.
The Hitmen's Tanner Palocsik kept the comeback attempt alive with a goal with just over 5 minutes left, but it just wasn't enough. Team National is your 2019 winners, 7-5.
Watch for photos from the All-Star Game, starting on Tuesday, on the All-Star Game page.
NOTE: A major winter snowstorm is slated to come through the Northeastern U.S. this weekend, so some of these games may end up being postponed. Check the schedules at usphl.com/18U, usphl.com/16U and usphl.com/15U for the most up-to-date info.
National - The top two teams in the National, Jersey Hitmen (17-4-2-1, 37 pts) and the Skipjacks (15-5-0-2, 30 pts) will be idle this week, but the third place PAL Junior Islanders (12-7-1-1, 26 pts) will take on the Junior Bruins (7-10-3-1, 17 pts) Saturday.
Keep an eye on the P.A.L.’s All-Star forward Jake Lanyi who has 16 goals and 10 assists and is sixth in points with 26.
Northeast - The logjam at the top of the Northeast remains with the New Hampshire Monarchs (14-2-1-2, 31 pts) in first, the Springfield Pics (14-7-1-1, 30 pts) in second and CP Dynamo (13-4-1-0, 27 pts) in third.
Out of those three teams, only CP Dynamo will be in action as they take on Northwood (12-1-1-2, 25 pts) Saturday and Sunday. This could be a goalies’ duel as Dynamo All-Star goalie Ronan Mobley is 7-0-1-0 with a 1.03 GAA, .957 save percentage and three shutouts. On the other end will be Ryan Wilson for Northwood and he’s 8-0-1-0 with a .091 GAA and .964 save percentage. Wilson has also posted three shutouts.
Mid-American - The first place Jersey Shore Whalers (13-2-0-0, 26 points) will host the Connecticut Jr. Rangers (6-7-2-0, 14 pts) Saturday and Monday. Whalers All-Star forward Mike Franzoni will be a player to watch as he has 16 goals and 14 assists so far. Between the pipes, Whalers goalie Lane Skon has not lost yet and is 6-0-0 with a 1.33 GAA and .909 save percentage.
National: The National Division teams are idle this weekend.
Northeast: The Northeast is also jammed up at the top. CP Dynamo (17-3-2-0, 36 pts), still leads the division with the Northern Cyclones (16-4-1-2, 33 pts) and the Springfield Pics (15-9-1-1, 31 pts) in striking distance. Not far behind are the Rochester Monarchs (13-2-0-1, 27 pts) and the Junior Bruins (13-5-0-1, 27 pts).
The Pics and Junior Bruins will be busy this weekend. The Pics are on the road against the Junior Bruins Friday and then at CP Dynamo Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile after their tilt with the Pics Friday, the B’s host the Boston Bandits Saturday and Sunday.
Pics All-Star forward Daniel Murnieks is having a great season with 19 goals and 22 assists and Ilya Spirin has been sensational between the pipes for the B’s as he is 10-4-0 with a 1.86 GAA and .940 save percentage.
For the Dynamo, All-Star goalie Chris Swanson is 6-0-1 with a 1.28 GAA and .922 save percentage and the Flansburg brothers are lighting it up as Spencer has 20 goals and 34 points and Schuyler is machine with 25 helpers and 34 points as well!
Mid-American: The Mid-American is idle this week.
The Hitmen (15-6-0, 30 pts) remain in first place with the still undefeated New Jersey Rockets (14-0-0, 28 pts) on their heels in second place and the Philadelphia HC (12-5-0, 24 pts) not far behind. All teams will be down in Bridgewater, NJ for a MLK weekend tournament, the 2018 New Jersey Rockets 15U Showcase. Here’s a rundown of the games:
The Hitmen will play the Florida Junior Everblades (3-9-0-1, 6 pts) and the Pics (2-9-0-2, 26 pts) on Saturday and then the Islanders (8-13-1, 17 pts) and the Palm Beach Hawks (7-9-01, 15 pts) on Sunday, and the Jersey Shore Whalers (8-13-0, 16 pts) on Monday.
Keep an eye on Hitmen forward Matt Imbriano who has 17 goals and 22 points in 17 games played. In net, David Lee is getting the job done at 6-3-0 with a 2.67 GAA and .915 save percentage.
The Rockets play the Hawks and the Northern Cyclones (9-7-0-1, 19 pts) on Saturday; Philly and P.A.L. Islanders (8-13-1, 17 pts) on Sunday, and then the Islanders on Monday.
For the Rockets, Jared Kordonsky has 16 goals and 24 points, and Gleb Veremyev (9g, 14a) and William Lawrence (14g, 9a,) each have 23 points. Between the pipes, Matt Bridger is unbeaten at 6-0-0 with a .087 GAA and .952 save percentage. He has two shutouts.
In addition to the Rockets on Saturday, Philadelphia will play Palm Beach and on Sunday, as mentioned above, they will also play the Rockets again and then the Northern Cyclones. On Monday, Philly finishes their weekend playing the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders.
NOTE: There is a major winter storm set to come through the Mid-Atlantic and New England states this weekend. Check USPHL.com/ncdc and click “Schedule” for any changes or updates that could affect the games mentioned here.
The National Collegiate Development Conference has less than two months from this day worth of regular season games to see who comes away with the top eight playoff spots. The jockeying for position has been intense all year so far, with only the New Jersey Hitmen at first place remaining dominant wire to wire so far.
Check out some of the key matchups with playoff positioning on the line this weekend:
Fri., Jan. 18: Northern Cyclones vs. New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs
After the Hitmen (on a 17-0 run), the Cyclones are the next hottest team in the NCDC, earning points in their last 10 games, going back to Dec. 1 when they began a sweep of the New Jersey Rockets. Their winning streak moved them from 12th in mid-November to 11th to eighth place in the space of less than a month. The Cyclones now sit in a tie for fifth, and are only four points away from a home ice playoff position.
The Monarchs were the hottest team in the NCDC back in November, going on a 7-0 run between late October and mid-November. They have struggled recently to an 0-2-1-1 record in their last four, and will fight hard to keep their fourth-place position and are looking for vengeance after the Cyclones beat the Monarchs 4-3 in overtime on Wednesday night.
Sat., Jan. 19-Sun., Jan. 20: Islanders Hockey Club vs. Boston Bandits
The Sunday end of this home-and-home looked doubtful as of Friday’s weather forecast, but Saturday’s showdown in Bridgewater should go off. The Islanders Hockey Club are climbing up the standings in a Cyclones-like fashion, winning their last three games and seven of their last 10.
The Islanders have been situated around seventh and eighth place all year, and are currently in seventh. Both they and the eighth-place New Jersey Rockets have No. 9 Syracuse chasing both of them down after winning 3-0.
The Bandits have been all over the map, and are 4-3-0-3 in their last 10 games, and have remained in fifth since mid-November. They want to bring playoff hockey to Bridgewater Ice Arena, which requires finishing fourth or better.
Sat., Jan. 19: New Jersey Rockets at P.A.L. Jr. Islanders
This duel may not happen this weekend, but when it does, the Rockets team will need to play with desperation as they are in that same position with the Islanders Hockey Club of having Syracuse (on a 3-0 run) chasing hard.
The Rockets started on fire, going 7-3 from their Sept. 15 start until Oct. 6. From there, it was a seven-game streak of earning at least one point per game, and by mid-November, they were in third place. Fortunes haven’t gone as well since then and the Rockets - still an amazing comeback story after finishing 12th last year - are trying to get their mojo back and finish strong and in the playoffs.
The P.A.L. Jr. Islanders have seen some flashes of fire lately, including a win over the top New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs - in third place at the time - at the USPHL Winter Showcase. They’ve also earned at least one point in four of their five January games so far. They had a strong, competitive showing in a 4-3 regulation loss to the mighty Hitmen.
Sat., Jan. 19-Sun., Jan. 20, Syracuse Stars at Connecticut Jr. Rangers:
This is another weekend series that is seriously jeopardized by incoming weather, but whenever it does happen, it’ll be a great showdown between two teams that don’t want to just make it to the playoffs (as both also did in 2017-18), but get there and shake up the show.
The Jr. Rangers started 8-1-1-1 this season before a sweep by the Rockets in mid-October tripped them up just a little bit. The Rangers, however, have persevered and remained a top four over a healthy portion of the season. They have rebounded from seventh in mid-November to third place now. The Rangers are the only NCDC team to get a point out of a game against the Hitmen since late October, as they took New Jersey to a shootout in the last game before the holiday break. The Rangers now sit in third and are 7-2-0-1 in their last 10 and most recently swept the Rochester Jr. Monarchs in western New York.
The Stars are on a 3-0 run, and their only loss in nine games since the start of September came against the Rangers at the Winter Showcase. Keeping to that pace, they will not be in ninth place for much longer.
Wed., Jan. 23: Boston Junior Bruins at Boston Bandits
Looking beyond the white, snowy weekend to next Wednesday, there is a great No. 2 vs. No. 5 shindig brewing.
The Junior Bruins were one of those red-hot teams through a good portion of the fall season, but from about mid-November through late December, they were playing .500 hockey. A 3-0 start to 2019 at the Winter Showcase - including a year-opening win over the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs after two prior losses to the Monarchs - gave them their groove back.
The Bandits actually are the only team so far to beat the Junior Bruins in 2019, taking a 6-2 win on Jan. 12, so Mike Anderson’s crew would like to bring the Bandits what they brought the Monarchs earlier this month - some ice-cold vengeance.
Congratulations to this week’s 16U Division Players Of The Week.
Forward: Sebastien Henault, Boston Junior Bruins.
The ‘02 from West Roxbury, Mass., helped the Junior Bruins to a three-win weekend, all with his playmaking abilities that put him at second on the Junior Bruins in assists (12). He had five assists vs. the Boston Bandits on Jan. 11, and added one more vs. the Maine Moose on Saturday.
Defense: Tim Fitzpatrick, Boston Junior Bruins.
An All-Star Game selection, Fitzpatrick (‘02/Shrewsbury, Mass.) is a second-year blueliner for the Junior Bruins. Along with his heads-up defensive game, he also is a big help to the forward corps, as evidenced by his one-goal-three-assist performance against the Bandits. He now has two goals and 11 points in 19 USPHL games this season.
Goal: Ryan Maguire, Connecticut Jr. Rangers.
Maguire (‘02/Ridgefield, Conn.) enjoyed his best weekend of the season, earning two wins - one in shutout fashion - and knocking away 53 of the 56 shots he faced over two games against the Jersey Shore Whalers and Philadelphia Hockey Club. He walked away with a .946 save percentage for those two games.
The Guiding Lights: USPHL Coaches Pass On Love, Knowledge Of The Game At All Levels
By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com
Some have been doing it almost their entire professional lives, while others joined later.
The one thing USPHL coaches have in common, however, is their dedication to the mission of making young men into better hockey players and better people.
That is certainly clear from talking to the coaches we reached out to for this article, who come from each level of the USPHL’s junior ranks and the 18U and 16U Divisions, as well.
Read on, as the coaches at the helm of some of the USPHL’s best teams talk about how they got their start, about their philosophies on coaching, and what they like most about coaching within the USPHL, the nation’s largest amateur hockey organization.
Picking up the whistle
“I don’t think I ever decided to become a coach, it just happened.”
These are the words of one of the most successful junior hockey coaches in the United States, the New Jersey Hitmen’s head coach Toby Harris. He played for the great Jerry York at Boston College, before embarking on a pro career cut short by concussions. It was while he was still a player that he caught the coaching bug, eventually leading to him to becoming a co-founder of the Hitmen in 2004, and their head coach since 2007.
“My first ‘coaching’ job was at Exeter Academy Summer Camps. I began in the summer of 1997, and worked those camps for over a decade. It was an eight-week sleepaway camp with four two-week sessions,” said Harris. “After my playing career was ended prematurely, I could not get the game out of my system. I turned down jobs on Wall Street to work hockey camps, do skills sessions, and coach spring/summer AAA select teams.
“This game was in my blood and I was lucky to get the opportunity to do it full time,” added Harris. “I love my job. I love going to work, and I love competing every day.”
Another player whose injury ended up being serendipitous was Tony Horacek, a former Philadelphia Flyer and Chicago Blackhawk (1989-95), now head coach of the Palmyra Black Knights in the USPHL 16U Division.
An eye injury brought his playing career to a close. That same 1997-98 season, however, he was hired full-time by the Utah Grizzlies of the former International Hockey League, to be an assistant coach under Bob Bourne and former NHL head coach Butch Goring.
“I wanted to stay involved with the team, I still loved the sport and being a part of the success of the whole, and was fortunate enough to have been offered an assistant coaching position,” said Horacek, currently head coach of the Palmyra Black Knights’ USPHL 16U squad.
It was actually two years earlier that he got his first exposure to coaching, as a player-coach for the Indianapolis Ice (also of the IHL).
“I remember it being very challenging, exhilarating and fun when winning - not so much when not winning,” added Horacek.
The decision to turn to coaching was made very suddenly for Metro Jets (USPHL Premier) head coach Justin Quenneville. He was preparing for another playing season with the pro Corpus Christi Ice Rays, when their GM called him and asked him if he wanted to join the Ice Rays’ junior team as a coach.
“I was in my last year of a professional playing contract and knew I only had a few good years left in the tank,” said Quenneville. “I loved it down in Texas and the city was awesome. When [GM Pat Dunn] asked me if I had any interest in getting into coaching with the [junior] team, I was sold. Most people don’t get an opportunity to start at a high level and for a top organization.”
A few coaches started in the high school game before joining the junior ranks, including Garrett Strot, who is head coach of both the Premier and Elite teams for the Tampa Bay Juniors.
“I've always played hockey and started skating at age 4. When I was done playing college hockey, I just got right into coaching at my alma mater Osseo High School in Minnesota,” said Strot. “I started helping the JV team and remembered how much I enjoyed working with the players. I was then JV head coach for three years and then varsity head coach for 14 years.”
Rich Alger is a first-year head coach in the NCDC, running the bench for the Boston Bandits. He also got into coaching through the high school route, and it’s an experience he still draws on today.
“When I was done playing in college [at Boston University], a local high school coach asked me to help him on a volunteer basis,” said Alger. “I told him I’d come once a week to help out and I ended up coming that first day and stayed with him every day for six or seven years.
“Coaching with the Cape Cod Tech/Chatham High co-op team, we had a lot of different types of kids from different social backgrounds, a lot of hard-luck kids. That was a crash course in how to manage personalities. So much of what coaches do on a daily basis is finding what buttons to push with players, what motivates them, what shuts them off, and how to get the most of your guys. Those first coaching years with [head coach] Bill Jacques were hugely formative.”
It also taught him that a coach always need to be the best prepared person on the ice.
“I remember the first practice I ever ran for [Cape Cod Tech], because I ran out of drills inside of 20 minutes,” said Alger. “It was that first humbling moment of knowing that playing and coaching are totally different.”
Thinking the game
The Jersey Shore Whalers have had a great start to the USPHL 18U season, going 11-2 in league play and being ranked among the top half of 18U AAA programs nationwide. Whalers head coach Stan Gutt has been a Midget or high school coach since 2000, and said that he believes the most important aspect of coaching is to continue learning the game.
“My view of the game has not changed much, but my knowledge of the game grows daily. I feel the main change from being a player to a coach is preparation. Coaches need to be prepared for every situation, either on or off the ice,” said Gutt. “As a coach you try and prepare your team as best you can, but you yourself cannot execute what you are teaching. That is what drives us coaches to coach.”
Nic Cota is one of the younger coaches in the USPHL, running the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs’ USPHL Elite team. Born in 1993, he played three years of junior hockey and then at the University of Southern Maine. He coached at Portland High School in Maine before joining the Florida Panthers as a member of their Junior Panthers program.
In Florida, he held the title of “Hockey Coach/Mentor.” He himself had a mentor in Florida in Jack Capuano, current assistant coach for the NHL’s Panthers. This season, Cota has coached the Monarchs’ Elite team to a 20-3 record through the end of 2018.
“My coaching philosophy is a combination of everything I have learned from my past experiences, and the coaches I’ve played for. I coach a fast style of play - moving the
puck North,” said Cota. “Work ethic, commitment, and leadership are an important part of my
coaching style. I want my players to be great young men on and off the ice. I want them
to represent themselves, their families, and the Monarchs to the best of their ability.”
Finding the players who can fulfill a team’s mission statement like the one above is a full-time job in itself. This is especially true for a program that has the stature of the New Jersey Hitmen’s NCDC team.
“My view and knowledge of the game has changed drastically since I started, but my core values in terms of what I look for in a player, that player’s character and the type of person that he is has not changed and never will,” said Harris. “We recruit players that are serious about this game and serious about what it takes to become the better person and best player. My coaching philosophy is simple: come to the rink prepared. For the five or six hours you are here daily, your focus is on development, staying sharp and making gains.”
Horacek always draws on his NHL and pro experience when he thinks about the game of hockey - he was trained by some of the best, including Stanley Cup-winning coaches Ken Hitchcock and Darryl Sutter. His challenge is to translate that knowledge to young 16U players within the Palmyra program.
“Playing the sport builds a first-hand intimacy and understanding of what a successful room feels like,” said Horacek. “As a coach, your are responsible for the success of the whole, not just yourself. [You also understand] that without developing your players on a daily basis in an environment that challenges them consistently, you will not have growth nor wins. The two are indirectly correlated with each other.”
In 2013, Quenneville joined his wife, who got a great job offer in Michigan, in the move north from Texas. He became the head coach of the Metro Jets that year.
“I always was a student of the game. I will never forget my first video session way back when video wasn’t really a thing coaches did. The game has changed so much in the last 10 years, and coaches need to evolve with it,” said Quenneville. “Everything is focused around speed and skill now. We focus 100 percent on development. People would be surprised to know that our philosophy does not preach winning hockey games or championships, whatsoever.
“We are a selfish program and deal in the industry of selfish players. Yes, every player in junior hockey is selfish about their goals and opportunities. Other coaches will be honest and admit that,” Quenneville added. “Instead of preaching coming together as a group, we teach better habits, skills and decision-making on the ice from Day 1. The goal is to see the players progress, learn through repetitions and expose that IQ in games.”
Strot, who joined the Tampa Bay juniors six years ago, said that coaching made him so much more aware of the “why” in terms of what is happening on the ice. He also agrees with Quenneville that coaches at this level shouldn’t be worried about the “W’s” - those typically come with better player development.
“Coaching makes you think of why you are doing things a certain way, whereas a player may just do it because their coach said to, without thinking ‘Why we are doing certain things?’” Strot added. “My philosophy is about developing the players. I always felt that if you make your players better, winning will be the byproduct.”
The best platform
Alger, of the Bandits, remembers very well playing junior hockey in New England with the Boston Junior Bruins, back when they and the Springfield Pics were the only two junior teams in the area.
“I’m a big proponent of junior hockey. I played for the very first Junior Bruins team and it was a great model even back then,” said Alger. “I like the practice time, I like the fact we’re able to train a few times a week off the ice. I feel like that is all a part of what we as a league in the USPHL can offer.
“The level of play in the USPHL is always humbling - regardless of where you happen to be in the standings, whatever week and whomever you’re playing, if you don’t show up, you won’t win,” Alger added.
Gutt agrees about the USPHL as a whole featuring tough draws every weekend, forcing the hand of coaches to be on their toes in terms of preparation and player development.
“I feel, from top to bottom, the USPHL 18U Division is one of the best in the country,” Gutt said. “All the coaches seem to come prepared, and if you don’t bring your A game, any team can beat the other in this league.”
Being part of a multi-tiered organization like the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs, Cota has seen all of the different junior levels of the USPHL this year.
“I have been very impressed with the level of play throughout the USPHL. The NCDC
level has surprised me the most, as I feel it is a very high level of hockey,” Cota said. “The Premier league is a competitive level and I hope to see that league continue to produce NCAA-caliber players. The USPHL Elite is a great entry level league for young players to develop their skills in order to continue moving up the ladder.”
“The coaching in the NCDC is top notch. Every coach in this league cares,” added the Hitmen’s Harris, about the top, tuition-free junior level. “They care about their players. They care about winning. They care about development. It is not easy to win in this league because the coaching staffs come to the rink so well prepared for what’s ahead.”
Hitmen games are just one segment of a fully regimented and diverse schedule of development that Harris and assistant coach Jim Hunt, a former NCAA Division 1 head coach, put them through each week.
“A week in the life of a Hitman is pretty intense,” said Harris. “We skate five days a week - including Monday with our power skating coach and Friday with our skills coach. On top of that, we have three team lifts a week, two yoga sessions as well as boxing and team video. We spend about 22-25 hours per week training our players.”
Horacek gets his Palmyra 16U team together on the ice three times a week, and there’s also a gym session once per week and video session every other week, a demanding schedule for players still in high school eight hours a day. It’s all necessary, because Horacek knows each weekend’s battles will be equally grueling for 51 minutes.
“The USPHL 16U level has some very good teachers, coaches and programs throughout,” he added.
Along with an intense development program, the Metro Jets’ Quenneville also builds in a winning mentality to the weekly schedule.
“We believe in taking one week at a time and the approach of coming to the rink and getting better everyday. This is a better way for them to learn how to win rather than us teach them how,” Quenneville added. “To say it lightly, these kids are treated like pros. We give them the tools, and the ones that use them succeed faster.”
Tampa Bay’s Strot has a similar type of schedule, but it’s times two, as he coaches both the Premier and Elite Division teams. Plyometrics, skill sessions, video - it’s all part of the week working up to the (typically) Saturday and Sunday games.
“Coaching both teams makes for long days, but it is definitely worth it,” added Strot.
Long hours at the rink, time away from their own family and the mental and physical toll of a season are all part of the sacrifices these coaches make. In the end, they don’t do it for themselves - they do it to make young men into better players and better people.
“The biggest thing for me personally,” said the Bandits’ Rich Alger, “is I kind of err on the side of doing the right thing by the kids. We’ve asked our kids to put faith in us in Bridgewater, taking them from their homes and families. We do the best we can with the guys we have recruited. We coach them, train them and put them in the best positions to succeed and be promoted to higher levels of hockey.”
“Maybe it’s me being a father,” he added, “but you think of how you would want your own kid to be treated.”
Joey Duszak, a four-year member of the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders junior organization, was named as a Hobey Baker Memorial Award nominee on Wednesday, Jan. 16.
Duszak was the USPHL Premier Player Of The Year in 2015-16, when he scored 60 points for the Islanders. He is currently leading scorer of the Mercyhurst University NCAA team as a defenseman with 29 points in 22 games.
Duszak joined the Islanders in 2012-13, when they were part of the former Empire Junior Hockey League, forerunner of today’s USPHL Elite Division. He continued to climb the ladder, spitting 2013-14 between the Islanders’ teams in the USPHL 18U and USPHL Premier Divisions. In 2014-15, he spent his first of two years at the top of the Islanders’ scoring leaderboard with 57 points - only a prelude to the greatness to come the next season.
Duszak joins eight other nominees as having ties to the USPHL and its member organizations. You can vote for all of these players at www.hobeybaker.com/vote
Dalton MacAfee was a member of the South Shore Kings’ USPHL Premier squad in 2014-15, after a season at Boston University. From the blue line he scored six goals and 19 points in 42 games, and made a new commitment to the U.S. Military Academy, where he has flourished the last three seasons and is now a senior Captain.
Like Duszak, he is leading his team in points from the blue line, with 20 points in 22 NCAA contests with Army.
Prior to his time at BU, he also was a member of the Cape Cod Whalers 18U team. The Whalers are now members of the EHF Selects split-season Midget Division of the USPHL.
Alex Limoges (Penn State) and Chase Priskie (Quinnipiac) were teammates on the USPHL 16U’s Selects Academy team in 2013-14. Limoges also played for the Selects 18U team in the USPHL 18U Division in 2014-15.
Limoges, a sophomore, is tied for the team lead in points at 30 with another former USPHL Midget player, Evan Barratt.
Priskie, a senior and second-year captain at Quinnipiac, is the second-leading scorer for the Bobcats at 27 points in 22 games.
Evan Barratt scored 63 points in 21 USPHL 16U games in 2013-14, just prior to making the jump the next season to the U.S. National Team Development Program. In addition to playing for Penn State, he was a Silver Medalist at this year’s World Junior Championships. He also won Gold in 2016-17 at the World Under-18 Championships.
Joey Daccord, a goaltender for Arizona State, split the 2014-15 season between the USPHL’s Boston Junior Bruins Premier team and Cushing Academy. He is now a junior for the Sun Devils and holds a .930 save percentage.
David Cotton, of Boston College, played two years for the Little Bruins - the split-season Midget team fielded each year by the Boston Junior Bruins, and members of the EHF Selects. Now a junior for BC, he has scored 12 goals and 20 points in 19 games for the Eagles.
Cameron Donaldson, a sophomore at Cornell, played for the Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers 18U team (now part of the EHF Selects Division) during the 2015-16 season. He has nine goals and 13 points through 15 games for the Big Red.
Callahan Burke, a junior at Notre Dame, played part of his 2013-14 season between the Little Bruins 18U team and the parent Boston Junior Bruins’ USPHL Premier squad. He has 21 points in 21 games.
Past Hobey Baker Award winners who have had links to the USPHL and its member organizations include Matt Gilroy (2009, Boston University/South Shore Kings), Jack Eichel (2015, Boston University/Boston Junior Bruins) and Jimmy Vesey (2016, Harvard/South Shore Kings).