The USPHL’s Florida Premier Division saw familiarity at the top last season but some great battles for the remaining spots.
The Florida Eels rubbed shoulders with the best in the league last season and as a result, dominated the Florida standings. But with just eight points separating second from fourth in the final standings, the battle down the stretch was fantastic - for fans, and nerve-wracking for coaches.
The Eels and Tampa Bay Juniors earned the two National Championship berths for the division, but the Charleston Colonials and Florida Jr. Blades made them earn those spots.
All five teams fared well at Showcase events showing this was a Division to be reckoned with.
Here’s a look at the five Florida Division teams heading into a new season, in alphabetical order:
After a busy off-season that included hiring new staff members and bringing in good players to support the returners, the MadHatters and Head Coach Paul Flache are excited to get the 2020-21 season started.
“We are excited to bring a fast paced, detailed, possession game every night to a very competitive Florida Division” said Coach Flache. “It’s like a whole new organization compared to last year.”
Some of the MadHatters’ top returning players also chipped in their two cents, including Josh Mesaros, Sam Adler and NCDC draft pick Owen Larson, who was selected by the Northern Cyclones in May.
“I’m really looking forward to the start of the season,” said Larson. “I’m excited to build off the season I had last year and boost my confidence. This year’s team has great potential and we’re all looking forward to a great season.”
The Premier Colonials enjoyed a successful first season in 2019-20. Ultimately, a .500 finish (21-21-2-0) saw the Colonials battling for the runners up spot for much of the season before being edged out by Tampa down the stretch. The same pair met in the postseason, the Juniors earning the edge and ultimately snatching the National Championship berth.
New Head Coach Nate Weossner hopes to pick up where the team left off last season and create another great regular season battle this time around for an even higher position.
“We have a good amount of returners coming back. Nick Popp and Luke MacLeod are a couple guys who have really taken a leadership role and have run with it. I’m looking forward to see how guys like Chris Curtis, Nick Kaye and Jake Holston grow their game as we progress. In net we have a good situation with Kolin Grogesky, Blake Mons and Patrick Villain,” added Weossner.
“2020 has been a year other than normalcy,” summed up the Florida Eels Owner/GM Frank Scarpaci. The Eels generally spend a busy off-season recruiting on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, but with the health issues of this year, things have changed a bit.
“Rather than attending the 10 customary postseason showcases and recruiting across the U.S., Canada and Europe, we had to recruit virtually,” Scarpaci added. “We had to rely on past scouting and dozens upon dozens of Zoom sessions and video-conferencing and hundreds of telephone conferences. The USPHL Combines were used as a vehicle as well.”
The result of long days of scouring videos and making connections, said Scarpaci, is a team that could be its strongest yet.
“We have approximately 20 returners and an additional 30 new recruits [between the Premier and Elite teams],” Scarpaci said.
Last season both Florida Eels Premier and Elite team owned first place in the tough Florida Divisions the entire season and Scarpaci says the blueprint remains the same this season.
Florida Jr. Blades
The Florida Jr. Blades Premier squad grabbed the fourth and final playoff spot a year ago and missed out at the Elite level.
A new staff including Premier Head Coach Rob Weingartner is anxious to help the team move up in the tough Florida Divisions.
“Being a new coaching staff for the Jr. Blades, Assistant Coach Brian Jacque and myself are excited to get the season started,” said Weingartner. “Like everyone else, the recruiting season has been a different approach for coaches since the camps were limited. The USPHL has done an amazing job keeping up with protocols and regulations and we can't be more excited to get hockey started again.”
Goaltender Keegan Wise returns, while fellow Blades veterans Dylan Hultberg, Ashton King, Cody Colgrove are joined by many with junior experience including Kyle Lindholm, Joey Fata, Bennett Blake, Nolan Manicki and Quinn Roadhouse will also provide leadership.
Also watch for ‘03 Zach Pappas, a defenseman with a good stride, hard-working Bailey Kaiser and Carson Weingartner, who has 64 points in 97 career junior games.
Tampa Bay Juniors
The Tampa Bay Juniors Premier team enters the 2020-21 season looking to make Nationals for a second year in a row with Head Coach Garrett Strot once again behind the bench.
The juniors return eight forwards from last season’s team, including leader scorer Stanley Lucas. Czech forward Paul Flidr returns for his third season and the franchise leader in games played, Zach Puterbaugh is back for a fourth season.
On the back end, the Juniors are even deeper with a solid group of returning defenders.
“I think our defensive depth is the best we’ve ever had, led by John Heller, Parker Chadwell, Carter Hansen and newcomers like Jack Anderson and Laz Kaebel,” added Strot.
Adding to the stability in its own end will be goaltender Cade Kujawski, returning for a second season between the pipes.
The Premier team kicks off its season on home ice Friday against the Florida Jr. Blades. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:45 p.m.