The USPHL Elite 2021-22 season begins on Saturday, Sept. 11, and the Southeast Division will be in action that day as the Richmond Generals visit the Hampton Roads Whalers (4:30 p.m.) and the defending champion Charlotte Rush pay an in-state visit to the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes (5:15 p.m.)
The last five Elite champions have come from the Southeast Division, those being the Rush - in 2016-17 and 2020-21; the Whalers in 2015-16 and 2017-18; and the Generals, in 2018-19. The Rush’s Elite and Premier teams won in “Double Dip” fashion last spring.
Below, we profile all five Southeast 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.
Season Opener: Saturday, Sept. 11, at Carolina Jr. Hurricanes
The Charlotte Rush came away with the ultimate Nationals prize in a back-and-forth championship game in March, one that tested the resolve and taught a lot of lessons to Rush players as they move future in their careers.
After all, the man behind the bench of the competition (the former Charleston Colonials) put together a three-goal comeback effort before the Rush finally pulled away. Now, that same man - Jacob Smulevitch - is behind the bench for the Rush.
“I am very excited about our roster for this season. We have many players with junior hockey as well as championship experience,” said Smulevitch. “We are going to have very strong goaltending to backbone our team as well as depth at the forward and defense positions.”
Coming back from the championship roster are forwards David Hoftiezer and Eagan Cunningham, along with defenseman Adam Knowles.
“There will be several returning players to the team who will take on large roles and be foundational pieces of our success,” said Smulevitch. “[Hoftiezer] will be relied upon to consistently provide offense through his speed and skill; Cunningham has as much offensive potential as any ‘04 birth year in the league; and Knowles plays a steady, simple game and brings leadership to the room each day.”
He brings in his former Colonials goalie D.J. Lyons, who played in the National Championship game, as well as other experienced Elite standouts Matthew Clift and Drew DePuydt. He will need as many weapons as possible in “consistently the best division” in the Elite, which is certainly supported by the division’s resume of champions.
“Playing teams such as the Richmond Generals and Hampton Roads Whalers each weekend consistently forces our players to play against the best,” said Smulevitch. “As defending National Champions, we fully expect to have a target on our back. We are looking forward, though, to defending our title with a mix of new and returning players come game 1.”
Season Opener: Saturday, Sept. 11, vs. Hampton Roads Whalers
The Richmond Generals have helped in the past to keep the Elite Championship in the division and are certainly looking to get back to the top of the hill.
“I am very excited about the group we have assembled this year at the Elite Level. I think we have a very good mix of skill with a lot of speed up and down our lineup,” said Head Coach R.C. Lyke, also the chief of the Premier team. “Our D-core is very mobile and we expect them to help with our transition game and adding offense from the back end this season. I think we did a very good job of assembling another high character group with excellent compete levels.”
Down the middle, the Generals bring back two of their top centers in Declan Murphy and Andrew Farley.
“Declan is a very good two-way, all-situations forward,” said Lyke. “[Farley] is an extremely fast forward who can make plays and force the opposition to turn over pucks. He will be one of the most exciting players to watch this year in the league.”
Right wing Jackson Good returns as another extremely skilled forward, and fellow winger Cameron Schamberger is another all-situation player who can also put up points. Defenseman Jonathan Beiber returns in hopes of putting together a strong season.
“He will be a top all-around defenseman in the league and one to watch for sure,” said Lyke.
He brings in several 2004-born newcomers such as forwards Aidan Urie and Garrett Albers, as well as ‘05 D Alex Johnson. Additionally, watch ‘03 Case Cook, a teammate of Albers with the Colonials Elite team last year, and fellow ‘03 defenseman Collin Morrill and ‘02 Austin Sawyer will also be impressive on the defensive and offensive ends, respectively.
“The biggest keys to success for the season will be staying healthy and playing consistently,” added Lyke. “The team that can do this will stay at the top in our division throughout the year.”
Carolina Jr. Hurricanes
Season Opener: Saturday, Sept. 11, vs. Charlotte Rush
The Carolina Jr. Hurricanes have the inspiration of seeing their 2020-21 Premier brethren having not only reached the National Championships, but making it to the semifinals there. The Elite team hopes to join the Premier at Nationals this year, in hopes of keeping a “Double Dip” championship in the Southeast Division - but just in a different portion of North Carolina.
“We are young again, and the players are eager to learn. They also understand right out of the gate that it takes everyone to win a championship,” said Head Coach Brad Gaylord. “As head coach, I’m very happy with the quickness with which this locker room has bought into the culture we have here in Carolina. Our team motto is ‘One Family, One Goal!’
“I would have to say there’s a quicker understanding of togetherness in order to win,” Gaylord added. “Therefore, I’m excited to see if that translates into a quicker understanding of our team identity and how we play the game each night and the systems within.”
Returning players include Rio DiPerna, Brett Repage, Andrew Robbins, Daniel Garcia-Ortiz, Jacob Collinson and Cam Priebe, though Repage is a top candidate for Premier promotion.
“All will be looked upon to bring leadership and structure to the first-year players,” said Gaylord.
Without naming names, Gaylord says the newcomers to the team “know right out of the gate what I expect out of all of them,” and he has high expectations for all.
It’s going to be another rough and tumble year for the Southeast Division, as so many strong teams scratch and claw for dominance.
“Night after night we battle and go to war, we all know this,” added Gaylord. “I believe Potomac will be a surprise this year in our division. Coach Gratton understands the game quite well and his competitiveness will be infectious, and the players will buy in.”
Hampton Roads Whalers
Season Opener: Saturday, Sept. 11 at Richmond Generals
Expect to see largely a new group in Hampton Roads at the Elite level, as they push to return to the championship level they attained in 2017-18.
“The Hampton Roads Elite team is a revamped group with a lot of fresh faces and talent,” said first-year Head Coach Colten Teubert. “The group is coming together nicely, and the boys are willing to buy in, train hard and develop each and every day.”
Teubert, a first round NHL Draft Pick in 2008 who played 24 games with the Edmonton Oilers, is excited to take the bench.
“[We have] assembled a nice mix of players who will bring skill, compete, and toughness to the lineup,” said Teubert. “With only five returning players from last year’s squad, our group is both fresh and much younger than last year. We also have a big influence of Canadian players this year.”
Returning for 2021-22 are Nathan Fisher (a top 10 scorer for last year’s team), Brayden Taylor, Jake Reyburn, Michael Bachman and Nate Haas.
There are several newcomers whom the Whalers can’t wait to see perform against Southeast Division rivals - among them are Daniel Sieto, Mattias Stobie, Wyatt Teubert, Jaxen Andersen, John Rangel and Brendan Rodgers.
It was a very brief history lesson for Teubert to understand just what’s at stake when the Whalers hit the ice beginning this Saturday.
“The South Division has been the toughest division in the USPHL year in and year out at both the Premier and Elite levels. Between Hampton Roads, Charlotte and Richmond, the USPHL Championship has lived in the Southeast,” said Teubert. “Carolina is always a contender, and Potomac has new leadership and will be much better. Any one of these teams is a title contender and whichever two teams from the South make Nationals in the Elite division will have a great chance to win the title.”
Season Opener: Sept. 18 vs. Charlotte Rush
Josh Gratton is running the bench for both the Patriots Premier and Elite teams this year, joined by Associate Coaches Alex Gorse and Matt Culcasi as well as Asst. Coach Mike Shelley. Gratton brings worlds of experience to the Patriots’ table - 86 NHL games, an accomplished OHL career before that, and time in no less than 12 professional leagues around the globe: Finland, Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany, just to name a few countries of address.
Much has been expected of Gratton over his career, so he knows what it takes to buy in as a player - and as a coach, he knows what pushed buttons he has responded best to over his playing years.
“We have a great group of guys in the room that will play as a team and make success their top priority,” said Gratton. “We plan to be a fast, skilled and physical team this year.”
The Elite Pats will look to only a few veterans, all on defense - Devin Reid, Jordan Adams and Carter Lyons.
Among the top newcomers to watch on the Patriots are ‘04 Cole Whelan, and ‘05’s Vlad Revenko and Vladimir Zubriichuk.
“We know this division is the strongest in the country but we believe we have put together [Premier and Elite] teams to be successful in this division,” added Gratton.