Pictured: Skipjacks Hockey Club goalie Aidan Harper will play the USPHL 18U circuit this year, before eventually moving on to UMass-Lowell in 2020.
The 2018-19 season in the USPHL Midget Divisions will have little to no resemblance to the same in 2017-18.
For the first time, the United States Premier Hockey League has tiered its Midget Divisions, using several different criteria. Some teams are excited to play in the top division, while others have “bulletin board” material to prove to the league that maybe in the future, they can move up.
There are also several new teams in the league
It really is pretty much anyone’s game this year. Last year, CP Dynamo and the New Jersey Hitmen won the geographical North and South Division regular season titles.
Between both of those teams, there are only five total returning players (three of those are on the Hitmen).
“The USPHL’s top tier at the 18u level will be very tight,” said Hitmen head coach Anthony Yelovich. “All teams possess the talent to finish on top. It’s going to be very fun to compete against the top teams day in and day out.”
Last year, the Hitmen were almost unbeatable at 19-3, and don’t be surprised - with the Hitmen’s stature in hockey - that they put together another tough-to-beat squad.
“Our 18U team will be a highly competitive, fast and tough team,” said Yelovich. “There is a great balance between the first and second year players.”
Yelovich said that college scouts will be especially interested in defensemen T.J. Schweighardt (who scored 42 points in 42 games at the 16U level) and Tristan Frese, one of three returning Hitmen. Forward Liam McLinskey scored 50 points in 27 games last year with the 16U squad.
At the CP Dynamo front, they will head off the North East Division. After a 16-5-0-1 season, they can certainly be considered a tough draw. They have reloaded almost completely, bringing back only a couple players, including co-captain Caleb Smith, who had 47 points over the course of the 2017-18 season, both in and out of the league.
His co-captain will be Vermont high school player of the year Steven Townley. Egan Schmitt is considered a strong D-1 prospect, while on defense, Patrick Brock and Cole Weinger and goaltender George McMichael are all players to track this season.
Last February, the Selects Academy at South Kent School dominated the Tournament of Champions in both the 18U and 16U levels, winning the titles at both. This year, they are Affiliate members, along with the Newbridge School and Northwood School.
The Hitmen will be joined in the National Division by USPHL organizations with which they are quite familiar, especially at other levels -- the Islanders Hockey Club, Junior Bruins, New Jersey Rockets and the P.A.L Junior Islanders, as well as the Skipjacks Hockey Club.
“Every year, the Islanders Hockey Club program has been getting stronger and we hope to continue that trend,” said Tim Pelletier, the I.H.C. 18U head coach. “We have a good core returning from last season’s U18 team and a handful from the U16 team, so there is some familiarity within the group and hope that translates to some early success.”
This season, NCAA eyes will be glued upon returning players goalie Jacob Perrin, and defenseman Kyle Robbins. The latter is in his fourth season of USPHL Midget hockey.
They’ll be going up against a younger Junior Bruins team, coached by Blake Bellefeuille. The Junior Bruins have always had strong 18U squads, never taking more than seven regulation losses in a given year.
“We will rely on hard work and positional play,” added Bellefeuille. “We will have four really solid lines, but the strength of the team will be its defense and goaltending.”
Colin Graf, who dominated at the 16U level for the Junior Bruins last year, will look to do the same at the 18U level. Returning forward Ty Mathews is another in Black and Gold to watch, along with defenseman Sal Caterina.
Jason Kersner, general manager of Skipjacks Hockey and head coach of the 18U squad, believes the tiering system is the best way to go to ensure competitive parity among all the teams.
“Going to divisions vs. geography is going to to make the level of competition better for all members,” said Kersner. “We are hosting both the Junior Bruins and the Islanders Hockey Club at our home rink in York, Pa. The opportunity to play these teams more often is extremely exciting.”
UMass-Lowell commit Aidan Harper will command a lot of attention from the highest levels, said Kersner.
“He’s a big-time prospect and a potential NHL Draft pick this season,” added Kersner.
The P.A.L. Jr. Islanders Midget program is another like the programs above with a proud record of Division 1 commitments. Watch for showdowns between Harper for the Skipjacks and the Islanders’ own Matthew Schoer, who comes up from the 16U program.
“He is a big, calm goaltender with the ability to steal games,” said Bob Thornton, head coach of the 18U team. “Look for him to play a major role in net this season.”
Bryan Van Ness, Anthony Bernardo and Jake Lanyi are all returning forwards and will form the top line. “They have a lot of scoring ability and will be depended on this season,” he added.
In this Division, CP Dynamo is joined by the Northern Cyclones, Rochester Jr. Monarchs, New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs, South Shore Kings and the Springfield Pics.
In Hudson, N.H. Frank O’Connor and the Northern Cyclones have “a fast, skilled group with a good mix of returners and players who moved up from our U16 team.”
Watch for goalie Kodie Soistman, local product Ben Peterson (of Hudson, N.H.) and Connor Ladabouche.
Rob Bonneau brings his “hard-working” Pics to the ice, with tri-captains Chase Reynolds, Max Moriarty and Jack McGrath leading the way.
The Rochester Jr. Monarchs’ 18U team will look quite a bit like last year’s 16U squad, as most of the players moved up to the new age level together.
“That was one of the best teams in the [16U] league. We have a solid mix of returning players from that team, along with a few new additions,” said head coach Lindsay Putnam. “This team should be very exciting to watch.”
Johnny Malandruccolo was a top scorer for the 16U squad, and also lit up the high school ranks for Auburn (N.Y.) last year with 29 goals and 29 assists. Ryan Eccles was a better than point-per-game player for the Monarchs, and ’00 forward Patrick Nowak will also turn heads. Returning defenseman Brady Fitzpatrick “will anchor the blue line.”
New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs coach Clint Edinger believes all these teams will make the Northeast Division a tough go. He’s excited for the competition, although he said his team also gave the National Division’s Hitmen and P.A.L. teams tough one-goal games last year.
“The parity in our Northeast Division is great, and we can also compete with anyone in the [18U] Division,” Edinger added.
Two-year 16U forward Manny Sanchez had 29 points in 21 games last year, and he is joined up front by Jacob Ducharme, in his third year with the Monarchs’ Midget program. These two are practicing with the NCDC team, and may see action up in that division this season, as well.
Rais Francis, at 6-5, 220 pounds, joins the Monarchs out of Nottingham, England. Good luck to defensemen who see this human castle coming at them.
The South Shore Kings hit the ice with five returning 18U players, in forwards Joey Fata and Cam Yee, defensemen Kyle Lindholm and Cam Turnbull, and goalie Cory Mann, as well as several players stepping up from the U16 ranks.
The Jersey Shore Whalers are a team on a mission this year, and want to show everyone that they are looking to play in a much higher tier in the future.
“We feel we don’t belong the [Mid-American] division. Our team has something to prove and wants to show the critics where they belong,” said Whalers head coach Stan Gutt.
Aboard the Whalers this year is Mike Franzoni, a veteran of the Whalers program who was named Top Non-Committed Player at the Beantown Summer Classic in Massachusetts in August.
Top scorer John Gutt is back, and will work with newcomers Keith Goldberg and Justin Guelph, as well as defensemen Matt Skobolev and Matt Herrick to push the Whalers to new heights.
The Connecticut Jr. Rangers had a tough season at the 18U level this year, but head coach Chris Myrho believes the new players coming up in the organization will send them back up the standings.
“We are excited to develop and move these players up in our system and beyond,” added Myrho.
Parker Ravosa, an ’01 goalie, continues the trend of strong goaltending in the 18U Division. On defense, Ryan Bridgewood and Nic Pelletier stand out as NCAA prospects, while up front, Vincent Spazziante brings speed and energy, Sam Brachi brings high IQ and Stephan Oddux brings his big size and shot.
The Maine Moose, new to the USPHL, will be making trips to Connecticut and New Jersey, as well as to Syracuse (vs. the Stars) and to Pittsburgh (vs. the Vengeance).
“We have a tough division. Along with a lot of travel, we will be playing some very strong teams, so it is going to be a great experience for our guys,” said Moose coach Jeff Ross.
Forward Joe Clark, defenseman Drew Gardner, and goalies Brenden Gasaway, Ian Neureuther and Max Michaud will all be given chances to shine in front of NCAA scouts.
The other new USPHL members in the division are the Pittsburgh Vengeance.
“Our goal in our first season in the USPHL is to establish ourselves as a destination spot for players looking to make the jump to junior hockey or collegiate hockey after high school,” said head coach Brian Boehm.
Captain Drew Wilbert is a strong and fundamentally skilled forward, while assistant captain Kellen Almady is a “tall, fast winger with a quick release and powerful, rising shot.” Also one to watch up front is versatile Noah Yerdon, a two-way threat.
The Syracuse Stars had a tough go of it in 2018-19, but like divisional colleagues the Jr. Rangers, they are out to change their fortunes and put 2017-18 behind them.
The Tournament of Champions 18U defending title-winner Selects Academy at South Kent School is back under new leadership, coached by Chris Uber.
Joining the Selects as affiliate members, playing far fewer games than full league members, are Newbridge Academy (out of Dartmouth, N.S.) and the Northwood School (Lake Placid, N.Y.)
“We joined the USPHL this season because of the high level of competition and exposure,” said Newbridge head coach Matt Anthony. “There are so many great teams that play in this league and we are very excited to see how we match up with them.”
From Newbridge, expect ’03 Evan Nause, along with Kyle Lynch and Kurtis Lang to keep NCAA eyes on themselves.
Northwood comes in with three players already committed to St. Lawrence University in ’01’s Tommy Bannister and Cody Monds (forwards) and Jared Lambright (defense).
Cole Leal, an uncommitted defenseman, will get long looks when Northwood hits the USPHL circuit.
Who’s ready for some hockey?!