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    USPHL Premier 2021-22 Preview Series: Atlantic West Division

    By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com 09/17/2021, 5:30pm EDT

    With the addition of new teams this year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Hershey and New Jersey, the former Mid-Atlantic Division was going to become far too large for anyone’s good, so the USPHL Premier has split up the former single division into Atlantic West and Atlantic East. 

    The Atlantic West sees both of the new members joining the Premier, while they will be joined by the Utica Jr. Comets, Buffalo Stampede (formerly Thunder) and very possibly the surprise of the Premier Nationals last year, the first-year Elmira Jr. Enforcers. 

    The Enforcers started off the Nationals with an eye-opening upset victory of the Metro Jets, the top overall seed from the Great Lakes Division. They struggled in their second game, but then had a much closer finale (1-0) in a loss to the New England’s Northern Cyclones. 

    Short version: The Jr. Enforcers have arrived and have served notice that they stand as the reigning kings of the hill among this group of teams. 

    That said, there’s whole new blood behind the benches everywhere in the division, including Glen Patterson making his debut in Elmira. Buffalo is coached by NHL alum Jason Bonsignore, Shawn Lynch takes up the helm in Utica, and brand new teams with a lot of high-end USPHL experience are running the show in Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. 

     

    Below, we profile all five Atlantic West Division teams. Check back on USPHL.com every day from now to Sept. 21 for new Premier (or Elite) divisional previews, coming to an end just prior to the first games played in the New England Division. 

     

    Order is 2020-21 regular season finish in the Mid-Atlantic Division.

     

    Elmira Jr. Enforcers

    Season Opener: Fri., Oct. 1, at Buffalo Stampede 

    As aforementioned, the Enforcers were among the biggest surprises when they started the their first-ever run there with a win over the No. 1 seed. Getting a taste at the top 16 group of teams has energized the Jr. Enforcers ownership and its veterans, all of whom want to get right back there next March. 

    The team brought in the Elmira Enforcers pro team’s captain from last year, Glen Patterson, as the new bench boss as the former coach is taking the job in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Patterson was also an assistant coach with the Jr. Enforcers when not playing with the pro squad. 

    “As a staff we really believe in our group this year. We believe we have a great mix of both youth and veteran leadership. From top to bottom they are hungry driven men who look to compete for the good of their teammates and the organization,” said Patterson. “Last year, we had a great young team but we didn’t have many guys with junior experience. This year our team is filled with older players with meaningful junior games played. We will lean on their leadership throughout the year.”

    The Jr. Enforcers welcome back goaltender Joe Holguin, defenseman Mitch Clinton and forwards Justin Moccia and Lance Hamilton. Holguin (‘01) will work to get the No. 1 job last year after seeing sporadic action in 2020-21. Clinton, a defensive defenseman, played in 28 games for the Jr. Enforcers last year. Hamilton, an ‘01 out of Honolulu, Hawaii, was one of the Jr. Enforcers top penalty-killing forwards last year. The ‘01 Moccia is excited to bring his veteran leadership to the ice and locker room. 

    Patterson has brought in several newcomers who he expects will attract a lot of collegiate attention (along with the veterans) while also helping to elevate the Jr. Enforcers’ overall play. 

    Jared Hayden (‘01) is a third-year USPHL Premier veteran and posted 30 points in 39 contests last year. Anson Smith (‘01) is a fourth-year junior veteran making his USPHL debut this year, coming over from the EHL. Jordan Grella (‘01) is back to the USPHL Premier after looking to play in Canada last year, but seeing his season canceled due to COVID-19.

    Ty Ulanowicz (‘03) comes from a strong Cleveland Barons 18U AAA program, while ‘02 blueliner Logan Hawley has experience in such programs as Elite Hockey Academy and the Arizona Bobcats. “

    The Atlantic West Division will be quite competitive this year and will be a dogfight,” said Patterson. “Our group will be ready to work come Game 1 through Game 44.” 

     

    Utica Jr. Comets

    Season Opener: Sat., Sept. 25, vs. Rockets Hockey Club

    Shawn Lynch is just a couple years off his own pro career, playing in the SPHL following a strong four years at Utica College. He joins up with a Jr. Comets team associated with an American Hockey League organization, currently the top farm team for the New Jersey Devils (after previously being the farm team for the Vancouver Canucks). 

    The Jr. Comets, who also have an NCDC team for which the Premier team is developing players, come into the 2021-22 campaign expecting to be among the iron of the new Atlantic West Division.

    “We have high expectations for the team we have put together for the 2021-2022 season. We have a great group of returners and are happy to welcome our new guys,” said Lynch. “We have had a very good couple of days on the ice as a group thus far and we cannot wait to open the season at home on the 25th.” 

    The Jr. Comets are led by a great group of returning veterans, and the overall mix has Lynch seeing a team that is “very quick up front, with a lot of size on the back end.”

    “I think we have a well-balanced group that we want to play fast and heavy all over the ice,” added Lynch. 

    Powering the group as the aforementioned veterans are J.D. Speer, Andrew Manley and Will Hilton. 

    “[These are] three guys that we are very excited to have back,” said Lynch. “They will be leaned on heavily throughout the upcoming season. 

    Speer (‘02) enters his third season with the Jr. Comets and with 76 games, he is fifth in games played and sixth in points (56) for the Premier franchise over its two years in Utica. 

    Andrew Manley (‘02) was second in plus-minus with a +5 last season, and he was a top-four blueliner on the penalty kill. Defenseman Will Hilton (‘03) made a fantastic progression from the 16U Jr. Comets a year earlier to the Premier team. 

    The Jr. Comets bring in newcomers such as ‘02 Jude Cole, who has NCDC experience with the former Rochester franchise in that league, experience that will be of great benefit to Utica. 

    Zach Crawley (‘02) and Luc Modry (‘04) are both newcomers who will find themselves in big roles this season. 

    “They’re both big defensemen that move well, think the game, and compete at all times,” added Lynch. “Logan Palmer is an ‘01 goalie, whom I have watched develop over the past few years. We are looking for him to have a big final season and be a backbone for our group.” 

     

    Buffalo Stampede

    Season Opener: Fri., Sept. 24, at Lake Erie Bighorns

    New arena, new uniforms, new General Manager and a new Head Coach with 79 NHL games to his resume. Did we mention that Buffalo is basically a new organization, pretty much the only thing they have in common with the former Thunder is the city of Buffalo in their name. 

    “We want to capitalize on all of the good local talents in the Western New York area, and get them playing disciplined up-tempo hockey, in Coach Bonsignore's systems, while having some fun,” said CEO and Co-Owner Joey Gillespie. “Work hard, play hard but have fun along the way. 

    “I think we have a great mix of some young talent mixed in with a great veteran presence. [Also different] are new ownership, new coaching, and we plan to play an up-tempo style of offensive hockey.” 

    The Stampede also did not bring many players back who had previously played for the Thunder.

    “We didn't have many returners from last year. I think the pandemic was very difficult on last year's players across all of hockey,” said Gillespie. “But we are pleased with the signings of Brendan Bastian and Matt McDermott as I think they will be key to helping our young rosters through the ups and downs of the season.”  

    Bastian (‘02) played 38 games for the Thunder and was a top defensive blueliner, getting into 316 puck challenges over the course of the season, nearly 10 per game. Matt McDermott (‘02) is returning as a goalie after a brief appearance with the Thunder last year. 

    Up front, newcomers Parker Bonsignore (‘05) is an OHL Draft Pick, while ‘04 Caden Cranston was an offensive force for the Connecticut Chiefs AAA program. His twin brother Jace Cranston was one of the top defensemen for the Chiefs, where Bonsignore also played his 2020-21 hockey.

    Justin Webber (‘02) is an impressive Buffalo area product jumping into the blue line corps, and Luck Remenyi (‘05) - another former Chief - comes to Buffalo from West Palm Beach, Fla. 

     

    Hershey Cubs

    Season Opener: Fri., Sept. 24, at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights

    From the same ownership group that brought you a Minnesota Blue Ox organization that has made consecutive Nationals trips (in 2019 and 2021), Bruce and Crystal Boudreau introduced the Cubs to the world back in January. 

    Bruce, a coach with 13 NHL seasons under his belt, and Crystal have a longstanding history with Hershey, where Bruce coached the AHL’s Hershey Bears between 2005 and 2008, and led them to the 2006 Calder Cup Championship. 

    As head coach, the first-year Cubs brought in Brennan Thompson, a Lebanon Valley College standout who started with LVC’s ACHA and worked himself into a regular spot in the NCAA team’s lineup in his final two years on campus. As Associate Head Coach, former Blue Ox goalie and later Assistant Coach Brady Boudreau has taken the reins.  

    “We are very excited for our first season,” said Boudreau. “We have a good mix of players with junior hockey experience as well as some highly touted rookies. This team believes they can make the National Tournament and are putting in the work to do so.” 

    Gabriel Page (‘02) comes to the Cubs as a former USPHL Elite All-Star, while ‘01 Kyle Dunigan is the anchor on defense as a fourth-year junior and second-year USPHL Premier veteran. 

    In goal, ‘01’s Ty Morton and Hogan Nelson both come from the extremely tough USPHL Elite Southeast Division. 

    “We have some rookies we are excited about,” added Brady Boudreau. “Defenseman Jonathan Graves ‘04 has a lot of potential for his first junior season. Zach LaMotte ‘02 is ready to build off a great Minnesota high school career. We can see Jack Nolan ‘05 becoming a Tier II player one day. We're also excited for our European players as well - ‘02’s Filip Tjärnhell from Sweden and Owen Dell from the UK”  

     

    Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights

    Season Opener: Sat., Sept. 18, vs. Jersey Whalers

    The Knights brand is welcomed back with open arms, after their Midget teams previously competed in the USPHL. Now under new ownership and management, the Knights are excited to re-enter junior hockey at both the Premier and Elite levels of the USPHL.   

    They have the benefit also of playing in an NCAA Division III home rink, that of King’s College, the Revolution Ice Centre in Pittston, Pa. That will just add to the convenience of showcasing their players for the aim of all these Atlantic West teams - to move players on to college hockey. 

    “The Wilkes-Barre Scranton Knights are an organization with a rich history of success and we're excited to revamp the program for the 2021-22 season,” said Head Coach Cody Murphy, who coached the Elmira Jr. Enforcers last year. “GM Ray Welsh, Assistant Coach Ryan Secor, Equipment Manager Trey Hibberd, ownership, and myself have worked extremely hard in recruiting to bring in the best talent from across the country and to give them a great experience in all aspects on and off the ice.” 

    Murphy saw enormous success in his last address taking a first-year organization to the heights of the National Championship, and he believes the Knights - from top to bottom - are cut from the same cloth.

    “From training camp, it's been a great start. As a first-year organization at the Premier level, we believe we have a special group with tremendous potential moving forward,” Murphy added. “We anticipate this team to be a strong one as we have a great makeup of veteran and rookies players.” 

    He also knows that there was intensity in every single match-up in last year’s Mid-Atlantic Division, and that won’t change even if that division was broken in two. 

    “It’s competitive week in and week out. There are no weekends off. As we do not have any any returning players, one of our focuses has been in team bonding. It's been a pleasure to be a part of this and we're excited to take the ice,” Murphy added. 

    “We anticipate a strong season for all of the players and we are confident in our development model. During preseason and the regular season play, we will see leaders emerge,” he said. “There are plenty of players with the makeup to have breakthrough seasons. We look forward to it all.” 

     

    NCDC 2021-22 Team Preview Series: Jersey Hitmen

    By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com 09/17/2021, 2:15pm EDT

    There is simply no disputing the fact that, since 2018, the Jersey Hitmen have been the best organization in the National Collegiate Development Conference. 

    Three straight Founders Cup championships for regular season dominance were finally validated with a Dineen Cup title win last March. The Hitmen also saw one of its players - one of three in the entire NCDC - get drafted by an NHL team, when goaltender Chase Clark was selected by the Washington Capitals. The Hitmen had no less than 24 NCAA-committed players skating for them over the course of the season. 

    Predicting the Jersey Hitmen to win the NCDC has become as surprising as pumpkin spice lattes being a big hit at Starbucks in the month of October. 

    “We are very excited for the 2021-2022 season! We have been really impressed in training camp by the fitness and work ethic of our club,” said Head Coach Toby Harris, one of the co-founders of the Hitmen back in 2004. “Guys have come to camp fit, hungry and ready to defend the Founders and Dineen Cups.”

    The Hitmen's regular season begins on Saturday, Sept. 24, against the Philadelphia Hockey Club. 

    The Hitmen will have to do without Hitmen multi-season veterans like Liam McLinskey, Andrew Gilbert, Daniel Ebrahim and Patrick Keegan - culture warriors who lived, breathed and slept Hitmen hockey. No worries - the Hitmen have never had to “rebuild.” A track record of on-ice success and off-ice advancement like theirs advertises itself better than Goodyear tires over the Super Bowl. Players with skill, tenacity and character line up to be Hitmen. 

    “The main difference between last year's team and this year's team is that veteran presence. We only return five players off our 2020-21 roster that began training camp with us last year, but that does not mean we take a step back,” said Harris. “We have a ton of speed and depth up front. Our defensive core is mobile and will add another level of offense off the rush.

    “Although we had a great starter last season in Quinnipiac commit and Washington Capitals draft pick Chase Clark, I believe that our 1-2 punch this season in goal will be collectively as strong if not stronger,” he added. 

    The veteran leadership is squarely on the shoulders of Dylan Lugris, Brandon Cimino, Sean Melso and Oscar Worob. 

    “We return four NCDC players and luckily those players were massive in last season's championship run,” added Harris. 

    Cimino captured NCDC Defenseman Of The Year Honors for 2020-21. The 2001-born New Rochelle, N.Y., native posted 36 points in 44 games, as well as two assists in four playoff games. 

    “Finishing the 2020-21 season as the No. 6 scorer on the roster, Cimino will be back up top on the power play and on the ice in the waning minutes when we need to secure a victory,” Harris said. 

    Lugris (‘01) finished fifth in Hitmen scoring last year, scoring 39 points in playing 44 games on the season. 

    “He will undoubtedly land on the top five NCDC scorers list and be a Division I recruit. His offensive skills and deft hands coupled with a tireless work ethic will land him a scholarship this season,” said Harris. 

    Left shot defenseman Sean Melso (‘02) will be on the top pair with Cimino. Melso was placed on the NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Rankings amidst a strong Hub City Tampa performance. 

    “He’ll be called on in big spots for our club,” Harris added. “He, like Lugris, will have the Division I coaches flocking to Wayne, N.J. as his smooth skating and offensive instincts are second to none.”

    Oscar Worob saw 22 games with the Hitmen last year and he returns for his eighth season in a Hitmen jersey and sixth USPHL season, going back to the 15U level in 2016-17. 

    Obviously, with just three full-season veterans back for the Hitmen, the majority of the team are newcomers. Not to worry in goal, as Harris sees Peyton Grainer (‘02) as the heir apparent to Clark. 

    “When you lose an NHL draft pick, you need to fill that spot with another high-level talent and I believe we have done that with Peyton,” added Harris. “He is a big goalie with amazing lateral movement, a strong glove and he is extremely confident in goal. He comes to Jersey with a lot of NHL interest and believes that the NCDC will open a lot of doors for him.” 

    Additionally, Boston College recruit Will Traeger, Arizona State recruit Max Bronstine, Patriks Marcinkevics (Latvian National Team Player), Marcus Kivela-Carlzon (Swedish National Team Player) and ‘02 left winger Lee Chiang are all “guys that will move you to the edge of your seat.” 

    Along with Worob, another Hitmen homegrown product is Nick Amaya, who split last season between the 18U and Premier Hitmen. He was among the five current NCDC players in last year's training camp. 

    The Hitmen, who will select team captains at the end of their training camp and ahead of their opener against Philadelphia, know what they’re looking for in a season by now.

    “Our expectations every season are always the same: Win the Founders Cup, win the Dineen Cup,” said Harris. “ We expect the South Division to be very strong this season as the coaches in our division are knowledgeable, they work extremely hard and have many strong contacts throughout North America. 

    “We know that we will have to be at the top of our game every night to win in this division and in this league,” Harris added. “It is our job as a staff to prepare these players for that and after one week of camp, we are excited at what we have seen thus far.”

    NCDC 2021-22 Team Preview Series: Northern Cyclones

    By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com 09/16/2021, 5:15pm EDT

    The winds are picking up and the sky is opening up - it’s time for the storm, as the NCDC’s Northern Cyclones bring waves of skill, determination, grit and everything needed in this beautiful game of hockey every time a team steps on the ice. 

    The Cyclones have seen their ups and downs in the standings and postseason, like nearly any team will - the ups included a 2019 playoff upset of the top-seeded Jersey Hitmen and a shot at the 2019 Dineen Cup champion Junior Bruins in the semifinals. The 2020-21 season, which saw absolute shutdowns of their rink and team, and having to move for six weeks to Florida just to complete what turned out to be only a 29-game season (out of a usual 48) could certainly be considered a down. 

    But the Cyclones are always looking at the big picture - you can’t really call anything a “down” when you create a team, set a culture that the players follow, see the players become like brothers and work for each other, regardless of the outcome. 

    The Cyclones often say they are in the business of creating better young men, better people, moreso than just better hockey players. But with a massive track record of NCAA advancement, they have that base covered as well. Confident in their approach and development mission, the Cyclones certainly have their sights set on hardware as well. 

    “We expect to win a championship and to place all our guys in the best college hockey programs possible,” said Flanagan, whose team opens on Saturday, Sept. 24, against the rival New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs. 

    The 2021-22 season provides another opportunity for personal growth and hockey development, with many players from last season returning and several strong newcomers making their first appearance in the Black, Crimson and White. 

    “Our General Manager Bill Weiand put together a great group of players,” said Head Coach Bill Flanagan. “We have a good combination of younger and older talent within the team. 

    “Everything is different from this year’s team and last year’s team,” added Flanagan. “Our strengths and weaknesses within the team are still to be determined since we have a lot of new guys on the team this season.” 

    The team has named returning NCDC players Massimo Pietroniro and Pavel Karasek as Captains for the 2021-22 season. John Goldowski and Brennan Dickey will be Alternate Captains. 

    Pietroniro is an ‘02 forward, who registered 19 points in 29 contests last year, while Karasek (‘01) is now a fourth-year NCDC Cyclone after earning his promotion from the Premier team in 2018-19. 

    One year before that, he had played on the Springfield Pics’ 16U and was the USPHL 16U’s leading scorer for 2017-18. Karasek is already third all-time in NCDC games played for the Cyclones and can pass into the No. 1 spot early in the year. 

    Goldowski and Dickey are second-year NCDC Cyclones - a little trivia: they were actually born three days apart in 2001. 

    Like Karasek, defenseman Austin Rice (‘02) is a fifth-year USPHL veteran. He is entering his third year with the NCDC Cyclones and will likely be in the top five all-time in NCDC Cyclones games played by the end of this season. Players join the Cyclones and certainly like to stay. 

    In terms of exciting newcomers to the NCDC Cyclones, watch for Hudson Nadasdi, Eduard Gabdrakhmanov, and Chance Uzzell. 

    Nadasdi (‘02) is a forward who has had a lot of success first with the TPH Thunder and more recently with the Nashville Jr. Predators AAA program. Uzzell (‘04) has also played for both these organizations and joins from the Seacoast Performance Academy. 

    Gabdrakhmanov (‘03) is a USPHL veteran, playing mostly at the 16U and 18U levels the past two years, but with some NCDC experience as well. 

    With these players on board, and so many more with impressive resumes, Flanagan stands firm in his expectation “to win the championship and place all our guys in the best college hockey programs possible.”

    “I think that every game will be competitive this year and should all be one goal games,” he added, of the NCDC as a whole. “There is great talent this year and great coaches.” 

     

    USPHL Premier 2021-22 Preview Series: Midwest West Division

    By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com 09/15/2021, 10:00pm EDT

    Minnesota and Wisconsin form the footprint for the USPHL Premier’s second largest - and most competitive on any given night - division in the entire 63-team coast to coast league. 

    Every year, the Minnesota Moose rise up to earn one of the two USPHL Nationals berths from the division, as they have made three straight trips in 2018, 2019 and 2021 (the 2020 Nationals begin canceled due to COVID-19). 

    Along with the Moose, they always have a mix of nearly a handful of teams who can make the trip, though the Minnesota Blue Ox have made the last two and the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings hit the 2018 event. The Hudson Havoc are hungry for their first true Nationals berth after earning one for a 2020 event that never fully happened. 

    These teams are always being nipped by up-and-coming teams like the Minnesota, Mullets, Steele County Blades, Rum River Mallards and Dells Ducks. These teams want their turn in the top group and playing meaningful hockey well into March, and have all made the moves they feel are necessary to make it there. 

     

    Below, we profile all eight Midwest West Division teams. Check back on USPHL.com every day from now to Sept. 21 for new Premier (or Elite) divisional previews, coming to an end just prior to the first games played in the New England Division. 

     

    Order is 2020-21 Regular Season finish.

     

    Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings

    Season Opener: Sat., Oct. 2, at Rum River Mallards

    The Riverkings made Nationals trips in 2017 and 2018, but they’ve never left the conversation. Head Coach Marty Quarters’ group is always in the fight for a division title, and always among the division leaders in NCAA and ACHA commitments. While these two goals (division title, high number of commitments) will continue, the Riverkings want to prove just how all-around strong their organization is by returning to the National dance. Character and work ethic may just be the ingredients they needed to add to make it there. 

    “Last year’s team was one of our best in eight seasons, but this year we are older and more balanced in our roles up front and a little younger on defense. We are deeper starting with nine defensemen,” said Quarters. “We are not as deep or as talented as last season but our team is made up of hard-working players with great character. Leadership will be a strength.”

    The Riverkings have 10 players coming back from the 2020-21 Division Champions. 

    “We have good balance with our forwards and a strong D core, and we return a proven goalie with Riley Allen in net,” added Quarters. 

    All-Star Defenseman Jordan Stear is the USPHL Premier Iron Man, playing in every single of 44 games over the last three seasons, placing him fourth all-time in games played by a defenseman - he can easily become No. 1 this year with the three in front of him having aged out. 

    Oh, and by the way, he’s also the top scoring defenseman in USPHL Premier history already, with 149 points in 132 contests. 

    Additionally, the team welcomes back forwards Grant Newcomer, Reece McDonald, Jeff Rebmann, Adam Bezezicki, and defensemen Logan Radtke and Joe Blair. 

    Dante Siciliano, an ‘05 blueliner, comes to Wisconsin Rapids as an OHL draft pick by the Kingston Frontenacs last spring. Other newcomers include goalie Ethan Blackburn; defensemen Colby Brett, Conner Trankina, and Graham Padgitt; and forwards Ben Pizzimenti, Jackson Kerich and Justin Davis. 

    “There are no easy games in the Midwest West with at least seven teams that can win on any given night,” added Quarters. 

     

    Minnesota Moose

    Season Opener: Fri., Sept. 24, at Minnesota Mullets

    The Moose love the fact that seemingly every March, their season gets that nice extension that just happens to include playing for a National Championship. But what they haven’t liked so far is not reaching that championship level. 

    While their No. 1 aim continues to be developing players for, and promoting them to, college hockey teams, it is also a hat-hanging spot where they have been a Nationals staple. Everyone loves playing more hockey, and more meaningful hockey at that, so Jon Jonasson’s group also brings back a lot of experienced veterans and also newcomers wanting in on the fun. 

    “Every year we continue to work on building a stronger culture within our program and to win a National Championship, trying to lead all Tier-III advancement by moving players to Tier-II Juniors and NCAA,” said Jonasson. “The guys in the Moose locker room this year know what the goals are and are ready to complete the task.” 

    The Moose of 2021-22 will be the organization’s youngest yet, “but maybe the most overall skilled.” 

    “We made a point of going after players from successful programs and finding players that had strong leadership skills, but put the team and their teammates first always,” Jonasson said, adding that his defensive corps averages 6-feet-2-inches, and the forwards average 6-1. 

    Up front, the Moose returns ‘01’s Ike Frankel, Chase Solberg, Hunter Barto, Noah Bradburn and ‘02 Jack Kazmierczak. Frankel is four points away from the 100-point career mark. 

    Defensively, ‘01 Riley Kress and ‘02’s Logan Lake, David Anderson and Riley Krause return. 

    Eli Doughart-Wood, an ‘02 from the 2019-20 Moose, is also back. The Midwest West All-Star Luke Buza (‘02) returns to the crease.  

    Several newcomers have the coaching staff excited, including ‘02 defenseman John Rataczyk, who is 6-8 on skates and 225 pounds, along with ‘03 Cameron Dunn and ‘02’s Sam VanBaalen and Cooper Knott, and ‘01 Tommy Purton. 

    “Every year, we - biased - believe the Midwest West is the top division in the league and all of Tier III hockey,” said Jonasson. “We have always been impressed wit the amount of NCAA advancements from this division. We already preach to our players that if we want to go to Nationals for a fifth straight year, we have to treat every game as if it were a playoff game.”

     

    Hudson Havoc

    Season Opener: Fri., Oct. 1, at Minnesota Moose

    The Havoc return as an organization that has not left the top three in the division since their second season (2018-19), even qualifying for the lost 2020 Nationals. With a front office staff that includes GM/Head Coach Brett Wall as well as newcomers NHL alum Dean Talafous (Assistant Coach/Senior Advisor) and Scott Sturgeon (Director of Scouting), Wall believes the Havoc have taken the steps to take the organization and their players’ futures to a higher level. 

    “We have a core group of proven winners and leaders who are back,” said Wall. “[The new staff additions] allowed us to reload with high caliber people and players for another run at the Midwest West Division title. This year’s team is more well rounded to win any type of game.

    “Our newcomers are more talented than ever before,” Wall added, “and our returners have taken steps on and off the ice to further their development as players and leaders.” 

    All-Star netminder Kenny Turelli returns in net while forwards Patrick Noonan, Harvey Dove and Sam Olson also return. Dove and Noonan are ‘02’s that combined for 98 points last year, and Olson (‘03) added 29 more, all three finishing in the top 10 of scoring. Wall is also excited about several other veterans.

    “Dylan Hullaby will provide a great 200-foot game for the Havoc as he hunts down his NCAA commitment,” Wall said. “Logan Millhausen will take over as the General of the Havoc penalty kill, and best defensive forward. We feel very confident on the back end with veteran and leader Shaun Potts and Brock Hart being big pieces for our defensive core.”

    Wall could practically write a book about all his great newcomers, he said, but he did mention Fox Motors AAA product Robby Pustulka, as well as forwards Cooper Anderson (Omaha Jr. Lancers AAA), Elijah O’Neal (Anaheim Jr. Ducks AAA), Ben Stewart (Dayton Stealth H.S.) and power forward Harout Torosian (Saint Viator H.S.). Watch for Jackson Taylor (Des Moines AAA), Zach Maret (Lincoln Jr. Stars) and Gabe Stoner (Northeast Generals AAA) make impacts on defense. 

     

    Minnesota Blue Ox

    Season Opener: Sat., Sept. 25, at Minnesota Moose

    Jay Witta sees his Blue Ox as having just gotten better every year - and after two “straight” trips to Nationals in 2019 and 2021, if they’re any better that’s a lot more trouble for this division. 

    “Celebrating our fifth year, this team is by far the deepest skill and talent-wise,” added Witta, whose team rose from the fourth place spot to get past its playoff opponents and into the big dance in Virginia. “This year’s team has a deeper talent and skill set than last year’s National Tournament team. [We have more] speed, we are much faster. We are big, much stronger. Rotating guys in and out of the lineup to get games in will not slow us down. The scoring depth should be all five lines - and all defensemen.”

    All-Star ‘01 forward Michael Clough returns off a 27-goal, 83-point season last year, while Captain Hayden Masloski (‘02) was impressive with 65 points. Also up front, Blake Glaser (‘01) is back after posting 45 points, along with veterans Tyler Schirmer and Andrew Kramer (both ‘01’s) and Nate Cheney (‘03). 

    Another All-Star, blueliner Cale Goenner, put up forward-type points with 27 goals and 25 assists last year for 52 total. He returns, along with ‘01 blueliners Carter Hobbs, Jake Langheinrich and Max Beller. Logan Starkey (‘02) and Daniel Abbott (‘03) also return for six total returning blueliners. 

    Joe Moen (‘01) comes back to the crease, where he will compete for time with USPHL veteran Marcello de Antunono (‘01). 

    Along with De Antunano, the team also brings in USPHL Premier veteran Keith Schenkel, along with Minnesota high school standouts Tanner Weis, Tyler Kulesa, Jack Pojar and Griffin Bourassa, all ‘02’s. Marc Abrego is an ‘02 out of Alaska who will also provide depth to the defense. 

    Depth is certainly necessary in the USPHL Premier’s Midwest West, considering the competition. 

    “Our division should be much deeper this year, with a lot of teams returning a core group of players,” said Witta. “The Moose, Mullets, Steele County, Rum River, Hudson, Riverkings, Ducks - there are no nights off, which is what we want.

     

    Steele County Blades

    Season Opener: Sat., Sept. 25, at Rum River Mallards

    The Blades come back as the team that always loved being a nuisance to the top four, whomever was residing in that group at any point. After all, along with continuing to provide high-level development and promotion to the college hockey level, as all their Midwest West peers, they also want to get up to the top of the division with the “iron.” They also want to win their first playoff series since 2017, knowing that success often begets success.

    The preseason brought both great news and outstanding recruiting power in being named one of the first two junior teams ever named to play in Hockey Day Minnesota 2022, along with the Minnesota Mullets. 

    “We are very excited to get going on this season. We have spent the off-season finding players that fit into the culture that we have been cultivating for the past couple of seasons - a culture that espouses family, preparedness, and buy-in,” said Head Coach Nick Adamek. “Last season, we had to learn through failure, and I’m hoping that this season’s veterans can remember what it takes to be victorious in our always challenging division.” 

    A “solid core” is a great start to that upward direction, as the young squad of 2020-21 is in many ways simply a year older, wiser, stronger and more skilled. 

    Fourth-year Blade and 2020-21 All-Star Connor Lee, an ‘01 out of Australia, is back as the leading scorer from last year with 45 points in 42 games. He has a chance to become the Blades’ all-time leading scorer (fourth, 88 points) and also games played leader (third, 125 games) this season. 

    Defenseman Evan Axell returns after wearing a letter last year as a first-year player. The “very focused” Elliott Wrigley is back in net for the Blades. 

    Brady Rossbach (‘02), Ronan McLaughlin (‘03) and goalie Jake Snyder (‘02) are among the newcomers to watch.

    “Brady fits great into our culture of family and bought in from Day 1. Ronan knows what it takes to win coming off a Michigan High School State Championship,” Adamek said. “We are looking forward to seeing what former Duluth Denfield Captain and UMHSEL goalie Snyder can do.”

     

    Minnesota Mullets 

    Season Opener: Fri., Sept. 24, vs. Minnesota Moose

    The Minnesota Mullets have generally been a tough contender for the teams mentioned above, and have often broken into the top four for periods of time, but this year that could all change and they could find themselves much higher in the standings. 

    They also want to put on a good show in the Hockey Day Minnesota game in January. 

    “I’m very excited about our group going into this season. We have 13 players returning off of last year’s squad and added four more veterans to the mix,” said GM/Head Coach Chris Walby, who recruited a couple of the top AAA leagues over the last year. “We have 17 players with Junior A experience, including three veteran goalies.” 

    The Mullets return all of their top five goal-scorers from a year ago, including All-Star Elliot Van Orsdel (‘01), who racked up 54 points, followed by ‘03 Gabe Vijuk, ‘02 Jack Erspamer and ‘01’s Alex Bren and Jack Seamans.   

    “I’m also excited about our crop of rookies,” Walby added. “I think their experience playing a AAA schedule and the programs they come from give them a great foundation for our league and playing at this level.” 

    They are excited to add USPHL All-Star defenseman Trey Ponto, who will anchor the blue line. 

    “He brings a heavy shot and a level of physical play that might scare some guys this season,” Walby added. 

    His outlook is the same as basically every year - it’s a knock-down drag-out fight. 

    “I think this division is in for another tight race this season and is still at or near the top in Tier III hockey,” Walby said. “As a division, we place a number of players into the NCAA each year and I’m confident we have that type of players here.” 

     

    Rum River Mallards

    Season Opener: Fri., Sept. 17, at Dells Ducks

    The Rum River Mallards enter the 2021-22 season looking to bounce back from a 9-35 campaign. With a change to the logo, color scheme and coaching staff, the new look Mallards are looking to crash the party of top national contenders that crowd the Midwest West Division.

    "We have a team this year that I believe will be very competitive. The staff this summer really took a hard look at what the identity of this team needs to look like and so far we like what we see," said Coach Triston Jensen on Mallard Media Day. 

    The identity he is referring to, physicality. The Mallards return some skilled big bruisers in Jared Petty (‘02 forward) and Cooper Brodzinski (‘01 forward) along with an offensive attack led by returners and ‘03 forwards Noah Heiderscheid and Easton Parnell. 

    New to The River is ‘04 defensemen Jackson Egner, whose physicality overwhelms opponents, Parker Mitchell (‘03 forward), a dynamic playmaker, and Brandon Waldow (‘02 forward), who is coming off a National Championship captaining his high school.

    The Midwest West Division looks to retain its crown as the one of the best junior hockey divisions in North America, meaning every night will be a tough matchup for the Mallards. 

    Coach Jensen believes his squad to be ready.

    "Playing in such a talented division is what brings these guys to the USPHL,” said Jensen. “The best hockey, with the best players and the best opportunity to advance. I feel as if our group is ready for that challenge of playing the best of the best."

     

    Dells Ducks

    Season Opener: Fri., Sept. 17, vs. Rum River Mallards

    The Ducks, who also have a Nationals appearance in their resume, have fallen on hard times the last few seasons. However, second-year owner and head coach Shaun Falzone continues to shape his vision for what he believes will be one of the top Midwest West teams in the standings and in advancement. 

    “This season I was able to get my veterans back and add in players that bring in good skill,” said Falzone. “I foresee a stronger season than last year, from us bringing in good quality defensemen and forwards that I can see making an impact.

    “This team brings in a fresh attitude and a big wanting to have a better season than we had last season,” he added. “Our players are here to prove they belong in this league and are here to help our organization grow.”

    Jayden Tkaczuk (‘02) picked up 19 points last year and is back with a goal to be the all-time Ducks goal-scorer. Colin March (‘03) was a young defenseman last year who has matured quickly and is bringing in leadership and determination to right the ship. 

    Goalie Anthony Falzone (‘03) returns for his second Ducks season and has already earned an invite to spend a week training with the NCDC’s Boston Advantage in the 2021-22 season. 

    Among the newcomers is one of Wisconsin High School hockey’s top players, Jacob Cartland (‘02) who scored 96 points in three years with KMMO Prep. Joining him is ‘04 Caden Glamkowski from Illinois. 

    “Cartland is going to be a league leader. Caden has amazing moves and is able to put the puck in the net,” said Falzone. “These two will be on the top line with Jayden Tkaczuk and I see great things happening for them this season.” 

    The Ducks feel they definitely have the guns to join the eight-team Shootout at the OK Corral this year. 

    “I see this year being an above-.500 season,” said Falzone. “We are going to surprise teams and be competitive and physical. If we get a clean shot, we will put it away.”