It’s officially the 2021-22 season and officially the Tampa Bay Juniors hope they’re able to get back to the business of winning division titles. And of course they - and all their Florida Division rivals - have even larger prizes in mind.
The USPHL junior hockey season overall begins with a 2:30 p.m. faceoff between the Tampa Bay Juniors and the Florida Jr. Blades.
Below, we cover all of the Florida Division squads as part of our daily USPHL Premier and Elite Preview Series that runs through Sept. 20.
Order below is 2020-21 Regular Season finish.
Tampa Bay Juniors
Season Opener: Saturday, Sept. 11 vs. Florida Jr. Blades
Garrett Strot, Head Coach of the Juniors, knows he has to work extra hard every year to reload because everyone else in the division does the same.
“The Florida Division once again will be very competitive and we will have to be ready every night to repeat as division champions,” Strot said.
“I am really excited about the group. We have a good mix of returners (12) and new players.”
The offensive look of the team will be different as the entire top line of last year’s team moved on to Premier.
“I think we will have a more balanced attack and we should be very strong on defense this season in both quality and depth,” Strot added.
Up front, watch for returners Jake Duhaime, James Jorge and Bryson Uhrig to lead the way, while the wily veteran group on D includes Filip Kuba, Nash Cobbs, Jordan Campo and Tyler Cullen.
The Juniors also benefited from strong incoming players.
“We are very excited about some of our new players led by forward Milan Levcenko and Cooper Hunt,” Strot added.
Season Opener: Saturday, Sept. 18, vs. Atlanta Mad Hatters
The Eels are always a team in the National conversation, because they always put together teams with purpose, teams that are not only competitive on the ice but made to fuel their similarly consistent Premier National contenders.
The team has recently welcomed in new Head Coach Mitch Hill to lead the way. He’s excited to jump right in.
“The Florida Eels Elite team comes in with a ton of depth. There is internal competition for every position and a fantastic mix of veteran junior players and highly skilled newcomers to the roster,” added Hill. “The biggest difference between last year and this year would be our total depth. We are able to move guys in and out and up and down through the lineup and our team won't skip a beat.
“The ability to make moves within our roster and still maintain a high level of play is a huge difference from last season's team,” added Hill.
Captain Landen Engels returns to the Eels for another year of leadership, while he’s joined by forward Tyler Gay, defenseman Neil Campbell and goaltender Jacob Mork as key returning players.
They may get a good 1-2 punch in net with the addition of junior veteran goalie Matthew Schoer.
Local product Andrew Ward of Fort Myers is a player to watch, along with Canadians Luca Maislin, Gage Senio and Braeden Bzovey.
“i believe this year, the Elite Florida Division will be very competitive. With the addition of Palm Beach to the division, it only increases the competition, Hill said. “Every matchup will be crucial and there will be no easy games throughout the 2021-22 season.”
Atlanta Mad Hatters
Season Opener: Saturday, Sept. 18, at Florida Eels
The Mad Hatters want to prove themselves again as they did when they qualified for the (eventually canceled) Nationals in 2020. They never got the chance to play in the big dance, so now here in 2021-22, they hope it’s their time.
“We are very happy with the returning core that helped us make big strides last season,” said Head Coach Paul Flache. “The group is ready to take another step this season as well with the new recruits that are fitting in nicely.
“The biggest difference will be the experience and leadership from the returning players that will impact our new recruits,” Flache added. “They know the league and expectations which will help ease the transition of the newcomers.”
Without getting into specific names, Flache also said the Mad Hatters are excited with a core group of returning players this year. As strong as the Mad Hatters have proven themselves to be in the past, every year is a blank slate - one that’s nearly impossible to predict in such a strong division as the Florida Division.
“The Florida division is always very strong and competitive. The parity is second to none and any team can win on any given night,” Flache said. “Difficult to say without playing games or seeing rosters, but we know any team can win the division.”
Florida Jr. Blades
Season Opener: Saturday, September 11 at Tampa Bay Juniors
The Jr. Blades are looking to crack into the Nationals mix and first-year Head Coach Rod Simmons believes the organization has the recruits and philosophy to do just that, as well as provide future players for the Blades Premier team.
“The makeup of our 2021-22 team is one that will learn to play together and within our systems. We are looking to develop our Elite team and help them not only learn hockey but to learn life skills and grow as a person,” said Simmons.
Part of that growth is discipline, and the Jr. Blades want to curb penalties as they led the division in that category last year.
Rejoining the Blades at the Elite level are Alex Broadhead, Anthony Cossentino, Cole Smith, Jacob Gusty and Max Stek.
The team is looking for big things from newcomers Blake White, Shane Szott, and J.C. Garbacik.
The team will hit the ice Saturday hoping to make this a season to remember, never easy in this division.
“The Florida Division was one of the most competitive divisions last year and we expect that not to change,” added Simmons. “Obviously there are great programs within our division like the Tampa Bay Juniors. With the addition of the Palm Beach Typhoons, it should make for an even more competitive division and we are excited to compete within it.”
Palm Beach Typhoon
Season Opener: Friday, September 17, vs. Florida Jr. Blades
The Typhoon take their first foray into USPHL hockey starting next week and Co-Owner Head Coach Joe Flanagan excited to see how his team performs and also how they connect with an already welcoming city of Palm Beach.
“We’ve got the community behind us, we expect some crowds at the games,” said Flanagan. “We have a good mixture of veteran guys and guys who are hungry for a fresh start. It’s up to them where they’re going to be in the lineup.
“We have a lot more local kids on the Elite team,” he added. “It’s a good mix. They’re all going to come together and pull on the same rope.”