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2020-21 USPHL 18U Preview: National Division

By Joshua Boyd/USPHL.com, 09/23/20, 3:00PM EDT

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Ten teams will skate to the faceoff circle, but only one will emerge in late February with the term all hockey teams are chasing from Day 1: Champion. 

Last year, the Jersey Hitmen struck paydirt after two frustrating finals in 2018 and 2019, picking up a close 2-0 victory over the Skipjacks Hockey Club (now Skipjacks Academy) for the 18U title. 

A lot has changed since February - the 18U National Division has some new teams, the Hitmen enter their title defense with a new coach, and - oh, yeah - a global pandemic has “ordinary” life turned almost completely upside down. 

The USPHL 18U will soldier on and begin a new season, with teams in the National Division working with a prospective 24-game regular season. This allows for USPHL teams to compete in some of the nation’s top showcases outside of the USPHL, to show that teams from this division mean business on the National stage. 

 

Below, we take a look at each 18U National member, in alphabetical order:

 

Boston Advantage

The newest full-time member of the 18U Division has brought with it quite a bit of history, organizationally-speaking. The Advantage are a well-known name on the national stage. In 2018, the Advantage were in the Tier I 15 Only Nationals, and their alumni list includes NHL talent. 

“The Advantage will look to play a well-structured overall game. The team will rely on its backbone, goaltending by Nolan Mahaffey and Mathew Gover, and strong defensive zone play,” said Head Coach Kevin Poulin. “We will play a puck possession game in the offensive zone, focusing on puck protection and cycling. 

“We will count on our players up front, including new additions Alex Boyko and Nolan Roche, to provide some balanced scoring. Returning players Will Kelleher, Zach Sideropoulos, Ben Sarantopoulos, Reagan Lyon and Colin Reid will be asked to build from where this team was a year ago.” 

 

Boston Junior Bruins

The Junior Bruins are always a tough draw at the 18U level, and Head Coach Blake Bellefeuille - a former Boston College star and longtime pro hockey standout who saw NHL call-ups - never fails to ice a fearful squad that can drive opponents crazy on every inch of ice.  

“We hope to be a hard-checking, two-way team,” said Bellefeuille. 

A strong cast of returning players includes forwards Nick Savatore, Chris Allain, defenseman Matt Powers and goaltender Matt Bogdanski. 

“They will be called on to lead the charge,” Bellefeuille added. “Newcomers Andrew Flammia, Aidan Fenton and Ryan Gardula [all forwards] could be offensive threats, while a solid core of 16’s moving up to the 18’s will round out the roster.”  

 

Islanders Hockey Club

The Islanders always find a way to field strong teams at the 18U level, and with multiple members of the 2019 USPHL 16U Championship team on board, do not expect that to change. 

Tim Pelletier will take the reins of a team whose 2019-20 version fell towards the lower portion of the standings after a very strong 15-win season in 2018-19. Of course, with the rapid turnover in Midget hockey, it’s always a new ball game when the calendar gets turned to another season. The Islanders will look forward to their chance for a big rebound season at the 18U level. 

“We have a lot of turnover from last season but a solid core coming back. The forwards will be led by returners Gerald Cutone, Brett Worster, and Matt Mothon. The defense will only have one returner Griffin Sambrook and the remaining defensemen all have USPHL experience,” added Pelletier. “The goalies will be led by newcomer Dunford Deloss a 2002 who is an experienced AAA goalie. Also, Micheal Schaaf - a 2002 new to the Islanders - is expected to make an impact on the blue line. We are looking to be more competitive this season and continue to improve and make a push in the playoffs.”

 

Jersey Hitmen 

As expected, many of the 2020 USPHL 18U champions have moved up and beyond, aging out of Midget hockey in most cases. However, will be at least a pair of returning leaders on board to help shepherd new 18U Hitmen Head Coach Dan Henningson. Last year, Henningson guided the 16U Hitmen to an impressive 11-9 campaign in a stacked National Division. Henningson will continue to guide the 16U’s while adding the 18U team to his impressive resume. 

“I am excited about this upcoming season. Our returners, Arthur [Tsimerman] and Aidan [Humphrey] have done a great job welcoming and leading the newcomers to the Hitmen family,” Hennningson said. “We have a group that has gelled really well together. Our team is much younger compared to last season’s championship team, but expectations remain high.” 

Tsimerman will help to lead the forward group, while Humphrey is the lone returning blueliner in the Sky Blue and White. 

Along with Tsimerman and Humphrey, the Hitmen will look upon newcomer forwards Nicholas Stoebling and Aidan Szmyd, both of whom played for the highly-ranked North Jersey Avalanche 18U program last year. Szmyd returns to the Hitmen after previously playing the 2018-19 season in Wayne. In the back end, watch for former New Jersey Titan Zach Hammond and 2020 USPHL All-Star goalie Chandler Cable to help keep the Hitmen in the title hunt from the get-go.  

 

Jersey Shore Whalers

The Whalers get their chance to skate in the National Division thanks to a huge 35-9-4 performance for this group in 2018-19 and outstanding performances at seeding events. The Whalers at the 18U level will be co-coached by Rob Cherella and Mark Rivera. 

“This locker room is a very unique group of players and we’re confident these kids will excel in the type of systems we’ll be running this year,” said Cherella. 

“Our goal is to help develop and promote our players, and this roster will continue laying the strong foundation of success and culture we look to bring into our Whaler organization,” Rivera added. 

Cherella and Rivera built their National 18U squad from the net out, and they were perfectly validated after seeing ‘03 Joey Colecchia post a .989 save percentage at the USPHL Summer Showcase in July. The Whalers began getting college calls after word got out on that stand. He will fight for time in the regular season with former New Jersey Jr. Titan Jack Bilancione and former 95 Giant Vaughn LeDrew for an absolutely scary triumvirate. 

The Whalers moved up strong performers from their 16U team such as defensemen Jason Andreyev, Peyton Fobes and Tyler Guttormsen, and forwards George Hinds, Justin Lidondici, Will Distefano, DJ Clements, Dylan Stein, Brendan Kearney. Also up front, returning 18U Whalers Nico Corsaro, Jack Pallitto, Robert Conlan and Evan Knoll give the team veteran leadership and time-tested skill.

Valuable newcomers include former Titans defenseman Nicholas Ochlan and Mitch Ducalo, and defensemen Austin Micale (Valley Forge Minutemen) and Tommy Atanacio, another with a potent mix of skill and USPHL experience. Forwards Kyle Remo (Mercer Chiefs) and Ryan Sullivan (Westchester Express) also add to an accomplished and deep group up front. 

 

New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs

The Monarchs have shown they are good for a winning record essentially every 18U season, finishing with no lower than a .600 winning percentage. Last year, the Monarchs finished just behind the two finalists, the Jersey Hitmen and Skipacks Academy, so they are always in the mix. Getting good looks early on at the Eastern Alliance Kickoff on Labor Day weekend, Head Coach Clint Edinger was optimistic about the 2020-21 Monarchs.   

“So far, so good. We’re raw, a lot of these guys haven’t played together before,” said Edinger. “We obviously have to tighten things up. We always have high expectations at the Monarchs. We have the ability and tools to compete with all the teams. Once we get the structure and systems in place, the rest will take care of itself.” 

 

P.A.L. Jr. Islanders

The Jr. Islanders are back in the 18U swing of things. They did not field a USPHL 18U squad last year, but they already made a heavy impression, earning impressive wins at the Eastern Alliance Kickoff. 

“We are a very dynamic team that likes to move to the puck and play the game at a high pace,” said Tony Samms, who is coaching the 18U and 16U Jr. Islanders this year. “They have the ability to play a rugged, gritty game if needed, even though they are not considered big players.”

There are four players (split evenly between the forwards and defensemen) who bring previous 18U experience. Nine others are moving up from the Jr. Isles’ 16U team of last season. 

“We have great depth at both forward and defense with very solid goaltending,” Samms added. “It is a well-rounded team that should be able to match top competition in the National division.” 

Up front, watch for Carmine Pittelli, Luca Leighton, Ryan Godfrey, Ryan Griffin and Dylan Bridgewood to be leaders. In the back, blueliners Jack Gannon, James Penzavecchia, Jack Slayton, and goaltenders Luca Scaglione and Keiran Byrne are among the players to watch. 

 

Philadelphia Hockey Club 

Another newcomer to the National Division, the Philadelphia Hockey Club are dedicated to that good old never-fail principle: a strong work ethic. 

“Both of our 18U teams will be tight, hard-working teams that capitalize when we can but are more focused on the defensive zone,” said Head Coach Dennnis Postiglione, who also coaches the PHC’s 18U American Division team. “In the National, I expect the teams to be talented from top to bottom. Any given night anyone can beat anyone. If we have that mindset, we will come to play.” 

Leading the way is 16U All-Star Jason Player, who was also the leading scorer for Philadelphia’s team that won the 2018-19 USPHL 15U Championship. He is one of the many 03’s on the team, with just four returning 02’s from last year’s PHC 18U squad. 

Along with Player, watch for goalie Owen Yancey and defensemen Sonny DiNubliio and Tommy Finley to be team leaders. 

 

Rockets Hockey Club 

The Rockets’ ‘03 group continues to power up any team they are on, whether it was the 15U squad two years ago or last year’s USPHL 16U Champions. The Rockets are advancing no less than eight members from that title-winning team, one which was regularly in the top 15 of 16U AAA teams on MYHockeyrankings.com, and in the same spot a year earlier as 15U’s. 

Scott Pietruska can certainly look forward to taking this team into battle any night or day in 2020-21. 

 

Skipjacks Academy

The Skipjacks are “definitely excited to take another run at” the USPHL 18U championship after being so close last season. 

“I feel very good about the group we have. We have some returning players who have that taste in their mouth after also getting upset in the semifinals as 16’s,” said Head Coach Jared Kersner. 

Ethan Hoover and Cade Baker both come in with impressive resumes for the Skipjacks. Hoover is a thiird-year Skipjack and was with the 18U finalist team last year, and Baker also played in the finals after being called up from the 16U team around midseason. He scored 21 goals in 21 USPHL 16U games last season. Baker started September with a 10-point weekend at the Eastern Alliance Kickoff, and he is an NCDC Draft Pick of the Connecticut Jr. Rangers. Brendan Hoffman, an ‘03 out of Michigan, is an impressive newcomer who already had great chemistry with Baker and Hoover at the kickoff. 

Robert Stoklosa (an NCDC Rockets Hockey Club Draft Pick) became the Skipjacks’ top defenseman last year, and South Shore Kings Draft Pick Josh Tisdale is “a one-man breakout.” Newcomers Josh Bride, Spencer Johnson and big goalie Jackson Dylla (6-feet-5-inches, 230 pounds) are all sure to attract opponents’ and college coaches’ attention this year.