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USPHL Premier 2021-22 Preview Series: Florida Division

By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com, 09/07/21, 4:45PM EDT

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The USPHL Premier 2021-22 season begins on Saturday, Sept. 11, with a showdown between the Florida Jr. Blades and Tampa Bay Juniors. Less than a week later, the Palm Beach Typhoon make their debut in a game against the Blades. 

Below, we profile all five Florida Division teams. Check back on USPHL.com every day from now to Sept. 20 for new Premier (or Elite) divisional previews, coming to an end just prior to the first games played in the New England Division. 

The order presented below is based on 2020-21 regular season finish. 

 

Florida Eels

Season Opener: Sept. 18 vs. Atlanta Mad Hatters

The Florida Eels coaches are very excited and optimistic about both teams this season. 

“We are excited that we advanced over 20 players from our Premier and Elite squads [last year] to college. That is the reason why we exist - college advancement and placement,” said General Manager Frank Scarpaci. “We have advanced others to NCDC and Tier-2 hockey, and one of our practice players moved on to the U.S. National Team. With that being said, our coaches and GM had their work cut out for us.”

The result of attending 10 showcases and looking at more than 400 players at its tryouts, is seeing 20 highly skilled newcomers to the Premier squad, many with previous junior experience.

The eight returning players include 2020-21 All-Stars Taurin Haddon-Harris (forward) and Alexandre Caron (goaltender), as well as forwards Adam Gaudet, Easton Moore, Collin Patterson and Ryan Goral, as well as defensemen Trevor Voyda and Hunter Howe. Moving up from the 2020-21 Elite Eels are two Elite All-Stars at forward, Kaleb Harrop and Anthony Zebley.  

The newcomers to the Eels hail from as far afield as western Canada, Quebec and Ontario, Sweden and across the U.S. 

“Many of these players will become household names in the USPHL,” added GM Scarpaci, whose son Frank Scarpaci III returns as Head Coach, after leading the Eels to the 2021 Premier National Championship game. The Eels lost a close contest to the Charlotte Rush, so they go into 2021-22 with unfinished business. 

“The Eels players returned to Florida for training camp August 23. With two weeks in the books,  they have been working very hard,” added the GM. “We look around the league and everyone has gotten better. The players all know we tasted success last year, but that is last year. We share the same goals and mission.”

 

Tampa Bay Juniors

Season Opener: Sept. 11 vs. Florida Jr. Blades

The Juniors have become an ever stronger force in the national conversation, and 2020-21 was no difference, as they have moved up 24 spots between their 2018-19 finish (39th) to 2020-21 (15th overall, among 62 teams). 

Head Coach Garrett Strot and his brother and Team Owner Brett Strot continue to mine their Minnesota homeland for talent, and the 2021-22 season will be no different. 

“We are very excited with the group we have coming in for the Premier team. We only return four players from last season's team, but feel we have a talented group coming in from our Elite team and a group from Minnesota,” said Garrett Strot. “We had a lot of returners and age-out players last season that have been through the grind of playing teams in the South, so this will be new to many of the players to start this season.”

Helping leading the squad are returnees Jon Heller and Parker Chadwell on defense, and Britt Courneya and Mateusz Wawrzkiewicz. Elite Juniors moving up include 2020-21 Elite All-Stars, Ryan Bahula, Adam Custable and Jack Fleer, as well as Tim Ruf. 

Watch for newcomers including former Charleston Colonials goalie Blake Mons, as well as Minnesota forwards Noah Weisjahn, Judd Ginther, AJ Beugen, Connor Nelson and Britt's brother, Beau Courneya.

“On defense,” added Coach Strot, “Joe Potter, Jackson Studebaker and Chet Skinner round out the State of Hockey-to-Hockey Paradise pipeline.”

The Florida Division is always tough, and Coach Strot sees it getting even tougher with the potential improvement of the Jr. Blades under a new head coach (Rod Simmons), the Eels’ continued excellence, Atlanta’s improvement and the new Palm Beach Typhoon, with a “group that helped the Northern Cyclones be a north power” running the show on Florida’s East Coast.  

 

Atlanta Mad Hatters

Season Opener: Sept. 18 at Florida Eels

At the “Madhouse,” the excitement is running rampant - the MadHatters are excited for a new season with a fine mix of core returning players and skilled newcomers. 

“We are pleased with the group we have for the upcoming season,” said Head Coach Paul Flache. “We have retained a good part of our core and added some great people to help build a solid culture. Returning players know the expectations and will help the transition go smoothly. The players are excited to get started.” 

Without getting into specifics as to who has returned to the fold, Flache said that “we are pleased with the core players we have returning and expect them to take big leaps this season and take their games to the next level.”

The impact of newcomers is yet to be determined, he added, but he certainly likes all his new signings. 

“We haven’t played any games yet so it’s difficult to gauge but we are excited for the newcomers that seem to be very hungry and passionate and are ready to get started,” added Flache. 

He said that any team can beat anyone in the Florida, and you have to consider Atlanta as a contender to stand on top in the end.

“This is a very strong division every year and no one has played each other yet or have seen rosters but I’m sure anyone can win the Florida Division,” said Flache. “It will be an extremely competitive season.”

 

Florida Jr. Blades 

Season Opener: Sept. 11 at Tampa Bay Juniors  

Rod Simmons was brought in to turn the Blades’ ship around, as they have all the pieces now in place to make a run to get back to where the organization once was - including an appearance in the 2012 Junior National Championships semifinal. 

Simmons, who brings junior coaching experience as well as two years at the helm of Bridgton Academy, a Maine prep school, says he is instilling a culture of team chemistry and personal accountability.

“The makeup of our 2021-22 team is one that will learn to play together and within our systems. We aren’t looking to have one or a group of players carry a team. Our team will battle every game for each other,” Simmons said. 

The Jr. Blades of 2020-21 were the most heavily penalized in the Florida Division - staying out of the box is a major change that has to occur for improvement. 

“Discipline was a big issue for the team last year and we want to fix that problem and limit penalties that our team takes,” Simmons said. “This is a much more disciplined group of players.”

Helping provide guidance to younger players are returning Jr. Blades Cameron Croteau (entering his seventh USPHL season!), Zach Papas, Jared Salminen and Tyler Ledoux. 

Additionally, Simmons is excited to see what USPHL Premier newcomers goalie Tristan Falsetto (a Tampa native who played with the Jr. Blades’ USPHL 15U team in 2017-18), Connor Crawford (a Belle Tire product who brings Tier II experience) and Brett Beale. 

“The Florida Division was one of the most competitive Divisions last year and we expect that not

to change. Obviously there are great programs within our division like the Tampa Bay Juniors. With the addition of the Palm Beach Typhoon, it should make for an even more competitive division and we are excited to compete within it,” added Simmons. 

 

Palm Beach Typhoon

Season Opener: Sept. 17 vs. Florida Jr. Blades

Joe Flanagan, co-owner, GM and Head Coach of the Palm Beach Typhoon, is coming out swinging. 

“I guarantee we’ll be at that National Championship. Put that in writing,” said Flanagan, when talking about his inaugural 2021-22 team, marking the USPHL’s return to Florida’s Atlantic Coast after two seasons away, following the dormancy of the former Palm Beach Hawks. 

“It’s exciting and challenging - new uniforms, new franchise, no returning players, but some players who came with me from last year,” added Flanagan, who was Head Coach of the Northern Cyclones Elite team in 2020-21, and remains a co-owner of that New Hampshire-based organization. “With the Elite team, it’s really two new clubs we’ve started, but we’re still going to have high expectations. We’ll start with some evaluations at the beginning, and establish the identity of the teams. We are excited to start.” 

With an all-new team, Flanagan wanted to keep his cards close to his vest, but said his players have experience in different leagues from Europe to Montreal and Prince Edward Island to California, Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania. 

“I feel pretty good with our goaltending already,” said Flanagan. “I’m looking forward to dropping the puck and seeing how it goes.”