Pictured: Nate Hanley is one of the top talents in all of the USPHL 16U Division, and is already committed to Northeastern University.
The pucks have dropped already in the USPHL 16U Division, with the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs taking the first two games of the season.
The Monarchs appear to be one of many 16U squads stacked with talent this year, but will have to go through powerhouses like the Selects Academy at South Kent School (last year’s Tournament of Champions winners) and the runner-up New Jersey Hitmen.
There are also highly accomplished Midget programs out of the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders, Skipjacks Hockey Club and beyond that will be massive contributors to the reputation of the USPHL 16U Division as one of the best circuits for this age group.
There are 30 teams contending this year for the Tournament of Champions this season, and every one likes the team they have put together for 2018-19. With so much confidence and youthful exuberance out there to burn, the NCAA will have a feast of future talent to draw from in the 16U Division this year.
Eyes will certainly be on that New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs team that includes recent NCAA Division 1 commit Cole Crusberg-Roseen and saw additional D-1 college commitments from its 2017-18 cast.
“I like where we are going,” said head coach Mike Addesa III. “We have a long way to go, but we have a really good nucleus, with talented players.”
Crusberg-Roseen started the season with four assists in his first game, while Tyler Anastasi and Jack Pascucci will join Crusberg-Roseen on the blue line as key players to the Monarchs’ mission. David Bazile and Jack Pascucci up front and Kevin Burkett in net will also cause problems for opponents all year.
The Monarchs, with all of this skill, have to be considered contenders for the 2019 Tournament of Champions, which was contended for in 2018 by the Selects Academy at South Kent School and the New Jersey Hitmen.
Selects Academy is on board this year as an Affiliate team, while the Hitmen come back with every expectation of being in the championship conversation.
“We have a very deep and well-balanced team with good speed and grit,” said Brack Healy, the 16U head coach.
Connor Sedlak is a returning forward for the Hitmen, coming back after scoring better than a point per game in 2017-18. Defenseman Will Fortescue steps into the 16U Division from the 16U Futures, and forward Arthur Tsimerman makes his USPHL debut this year as a top NCAA prospect.
Noel Rubin, whose New Jersey Rockets caught scouts’ eyes with their 16U Division win at the USPHL Summer Showcase, is out to make it a two-fer next winter at the Tournament of Champions.
“I’m really excited for the season. I think my team can compete in the upper echelon of the league this season,” Rubin added. “I think the National Division is wide open. The Skipjacks, P.A.L. and Hitmen will all be very good and anyone can win any given night.”
He’s bringing a strong cast of ’02’s to the ice in Kyle Contessa, Ben Conrod, Jake Stappert, Jack Kircher and Alex Farmer. He also expects a lot this year from ’03’s Greg Spitznagel, Evan Brown, Tom Heaney and Michael Rubin.
On the other side of Manhattan Island from New Jersey, the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders are always a must-see draw for NCAA scouts.
“Our team has the ability to play fast and with an edge,” said Islanders head coach Bob Thornton. “The U16 is rather balanced this season and we have a lot of speed that needs to be used for us to be successful.”
Nate Hanley committed to Northeastern University last fall, and he just turned 16 in May. Thornton’s advice to onlookers is to expect anything and everything from this extremely skilled young man.
“He is one of the top five players in the country at the U16 level,” added Hanley. “He should have over 100 points this season.”
A pair of ’03’s Joey Sciabarra and Nick Bernardo have “high ceilings” and are highly likely to have a retinue of NCAA scouts following their every move.
The Palmyra Black Knights are new to the USPHL this year, but their program - which includes former NHL player Tony Horacek as head coach - earned their way into the National Division right off the bat.
Horacek brings in ’02’s Jason Rippon and Gabe Page, along with ’03’s Jesse Horacek, Zack Aben and Trevor Kruczek to the already rich USPHL 16U talent pool.
“We play a fast game, push the pace and look to establish a strong forecheck, getting our defensemen involved in the offense,” Horacek added.
Ryan Moore is a new coach in the 16U Division, joining the South Shore Kings program this past off-season.
“It’s tough [to gauge the division] because I’m new, but from watching tournaments, I can tell we won’t have any nights off,” he added.
John Moriarty comes back as an experienced goalie, while newcomers Aidan Fenton, Stefano Lancai and Ethan Kmiecik are all key Kings to watch.
The Skipjacks Hockey Club 16U squad finished third in last year’s South Division behind the Hitmen and P.A.L. Oliver Frontini posted 26 points in 21 games last season, while fellow returning players Gavin Buck, Owen Carpenter, Ryan Gordon and goalie Alexander Houston will make the Skipjacks one of the most experienced teams in the 16U Division.
The Islanders Hockey Club also brings back a slew of players who’ve enjoyed the fast-paced development of the 16U Division.
"We have several new faces and are looking forward to growing as a team as the season moves forward," said Islanders head coach Nate Bostic. "We have a number of players that will turn coaches' heads this season. Right now, we are focused on becoming a better team which will help all players reach their goals."
Following the National Division are the eight squads in the Northeast Division -- the Boston Bandits, CP Dynamo, Jersey Shore Whalers, Junior Bruins, Maine Moose, Northern Cyclones, Springfield Pics and Connecticut Jr. Rangers.
The Junior Bruins finished atop the 16U North Division in 2017-18. The Marlborough-based Junior Bruins have seen a lot of commitments in the past few years, so they can never be counted out of the championship conversation.
The Pics also had a big season last year, coming in fourth overall for the regular season. An experienced D, including Josh Tisdell, Luc Fricchione and Edward Lundy.
After playing one game apiece in 2016-17, CP Dynamo’s twins Schuyler and Spencer Flansburg are among the more experienced 16U players in the division. The same holds true for fellow ’02’s forwards Sean Swenson, Adam Rourke and even high-scoring ’03 Yuri Ishakov.
The Jersey Shore Whalers, under the watchful eye of coach Mark Rivera, expects to be right in the mix with these strong teams.
“Our team is shaping up into a well balanced group out of camp,” added Rivera. “We will develop into an engaged team that works hard at playing the game the right way on both sides of the puck.”
Harris Hilfiker and Jonathan Miranda, both ’02’s, made the move up from the 16U Futures squad.
The Northern Cyclones are “looking forward to competing against the best in the country,” said their head coach Frank O’Connor.
Cyclones Andre Ducharme and Daniel Lurie are ’03’s entering their second full season in the league, along with ’02 defenseman Nate Benoit, a career Cyclone going back to youth hockey.
The Connecticut Jr. Rangers also have some strong prospects to watch, such as goalies Jeff Noeding (’03) and Ryan McGuire (’02). Up front, head coach Frank Bretti says scouts should keep an eye on ’02’s Peter Maro and Daniel Schmidt, and ’03’s Robbie Jolliffe and Jacopo Marin.
“Our team is a work in progress that should get better every week,” said Bretti. “We have pretty good size and we will have to utilize it to be successful.”
The Boston Bandits are hoping for a much better season here in 2018-19, and high-scoring ’02 defenseman Alex Hoitt will be a big ingredient to any of their success.
Along with the Palmyra Black Knights, the 16U Maine Moose are also new to the division this year. Most of the players that will be the building blocks to this USPHL program helped the Moose win the 2018 Tier-2 14U National Championship in April.
The Mid-American Division has a mix of teams’ top 16U squads, as well as some organizations’ second entries in the division.
Indeed, the New Jersey Hitmen, New Jersey Rockets and Connecticut Jr. Rangers entered additional teams, as they’re hoping to develop a glut of talent into future collegiate hockey players and higher-level junior standouts.
“I am concerned about the 16U levels being joined together, with the crossover games into the other brackets,” said Jimmy Ryerse, the Rangers’ coach. “My team is built for player development. It will be very interesting to see how my team full of ’02’s, ’03’s and ’04’s competes against powerhouse programs like the Junior Bruins and Selects Academy.”
He is hoping that college coaches get good long looks at Nate Mastrony and Jacob Silva, both of whom put on good shows at the 16U Futures team last season. Newcomers defenseman Mattingly Wierl and goalie Mark Moreno are also top prospects for the Rangers.
Oktay Armagan is coaching the second Rockets entry in the league, one with “great leadership and great chemistry.” They’ve brought talent in from afar, including Floridian defenseman Robert Renner, Virginian goalie Chandler Cable as well as New Jersey’s Stepan Gorenlenkov. He had a big offensive year in 16U Futures, and the Rockets hope he can do the same at 16U.
The Hartford Jr. Wolfpack are yet another team in the Mid-American, one that had a tough record in 2017-18 and is looking for improvement alongside continued development.
“I am expecting a lot out of the league itself this year with all the additional teams,” said Plummer. “I’m looking to see a lot of great talent from all over the country. The Mid-American division is looking promising, and I am looking forward to those teams bringing out the best in my group.”
Defensemen Brady Shultz and Mitch Clinton are joined by forwards Jack Tedone and Michael Dyer as players Plummer says will be followed closely by college scouts.
Andy Newton, of the Potomac Patriots, has put together a team of players from seven different organizations, “so they’ll take time to mesh.” However, with goalie Blade Taylor, defenseman Aiden Sullivan and forward Liam Hanna on board, the Patriots should fare well in the new division.
The Philadelphia Hockey Club is a new organization for the USPHL, and head coach Tony Voce expects a season full of intense challenges.
“Our division will be a grind. We are looking to finish on top,” added Voce. Among the players to keep an eye on for the Philadelphia squad are goalie Andrew Lavdas, defenseman Jake Grace and forward Ryan Kenna.
Rounding out the Mid-American Division are the Connecticut Nighthawks, Rochester Jr. Monarchs, New York Aviators, Syracuse Stars and newcomers the Pittsburgh Vengeance.
This season, the USPHL welcomes not only the Selects Academy team, but also the Florida Jr. Blades and Newbridge Academy. Their schedules are still to be determined, but they will bring added excitement to the league.