After a full off-season of preparation, United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL) teams from the Premier and Elite Divisions skated into a new campaign this past weekend.
Of course, it’s hard to base much on seven Elite Division contests and nine Premier Division games, but there were a couple points of interest to make note of for sure.
Promising start for DME Swamp Rabbits
A season ago, the Daytona Racers’ Premier Division outfit stumbled to a 16-point (8-36-0-0) season and allowed 262 goals against. There is still a long way to go, but the newly named DME Hockey Academy Swamp Rabbits has reason for at least a small smirk after sweeping a home-and-home set with the Palm Beach Hawks.
The Academy outscored its first opponents by a combined score of 18-3.
Daniil Avdioukin, a 20-year-old winger who played 11 games with the Hartford Jr. Wolfpack the previous season, paced the attack with a pair of goals and four assists.
Petr Kocik, 19, from Czech Republic also set up four. Meanwhile Mikulus Mosny, 20, from Slovakia and Sebastien Nilsson, 19, from Sweden both took a turn in goal, combining to allow just three goals through the first two contests.
Florida Elite games saw more of the same as the Racers, who also picked up 16 points at the Elite level last year, opened with a 5-2 win over Palm Beach
A split between the Florida Eels and Tampa Bay Juniors may indicate an even more tightly grouped Florida Division at the Premier Level this year.
Whalers and Rush resume rivalry
The Hampton Roads Whalers won both the Elite and Premier League titles this past spring with the Charlotte Rush making the opposition in both contests.
The intensity level was burning hot as the finalists opened the season against each other at the Chilled Ponds Ice Sports Complex at Chesapeake, Va., on Saturday night. Conner Hunt, 20, a third-year member of the Whalers sank the Premier league game clincher with 3:40 to go in this one as the Whalers, who trailed 3-1 late in the middle period rallied down the stretch to pull out a thrilling 5-4 win.
The Whalers also made it an Elite sweep taking those contests, 6-2 on Saturday and 4-3 the following afternoon. The Sunday rematch between the two Premier Division teams was postponed and will be played later in the season.
Arun Cibrario, 17, from Glendale, Ariz., made an impressive junior debut, firing three goals and setting up a pair in the two Elite League contests.
New league, same results for Jets
The league is different, but the competition is the same: The Metro Jets showed themselves as the team to beat in the new Great Lakes Premier Division, sweeping a home and home pair against the Lansing Wolves on the weekend.
Returning 18-year-old forward Anthony Citato ended the first contest, his goal 4:03 into overtime lifting the Jets to a 2-1 win at The Summit Sports and Ice Complex in Lansing in both teams’ inaugural USPHL game.
A couple of nights later at Fraser Hockeyland, the host Jets wrapped up the sweep with a 7-3 win against the same Wolves. Three different Jets players collected five points through the first two games while Fredrik Meurling, 20, from Huddinge, Sweden made his North American junior debut turning aside 41 of 42 Lansing shots to nail down the win in goal in the opener.
Their ‘Welcome to the USPHL’ moment
This week, with a HockeyTV free account, you can catch the Toledo Cherokee’s USPHL debut against the Lansing Wolves, in Lansing. Faceoff is at 7:30 p.m. EST, our current Game Of The Week!
A couple of new teams will be seeing action this weekend as well. In addition to those mentioned already, the Twin City Thunder play a home-and-home pair with the Junior Bruins, a storied franchise looking to erase memories of a last place finish in the North Division last season.
Meanwhile, one of two newcomers to the Midwest-West, the Kasson Vipers, will kick off the season on home ice, entertaining the Wisconsin Rapids RiverKings in Friday and Saturday night games at the Dodge County Ice Arena.
Last season, the RiverKings wrapped up second in the division and made a second straight trip to the Premier Division Championship series.
The Philadelphia Hockey Club, new to the USPHL, opens its Premier schedule Friday vs. the Skipjacks Hockey Club.
The Niagara Falls Thunder and Pittsburgh Vengeance’s Saturday game is the first for both of those teams.
The Wooster Oilers open their USPHL existence on Saturday at their home Alice Noble Ice Arena, hosting the Metro Jets.
Big game hunting: Premier Division
While a few teams dipped their toes in the competitive waters this past weekend, this weekend will see a massive splash as almost everyone jumps into the Elite and Premier pools.
The weekend will see potentially 32 Premier League contests and another dozen at the Elite level. Following are a few key games – at least based on the previous season’s final standings.
Connecticut rivals, the Nighthawks and Jr. Rangers, will engage in a home-and-home set Friday and Saturday. They didn’t finish in the top half of the Mid-Atlantic Division last season but were separated by just two points and both will be looking to get off to a quick start in their new home, the Northeast Division.
The Chicago Cougars were the class of the Midwest East Division a year ago while the Motor City Motor City Hockey Club used a second half surge to ultimately propel them into the other berth at the league championship tournament.
Who knows how these teams look this season? But it could be interesting to see last season’s division champs hitting the road to play a pair against Motor City at the Troy Sports Center.
The Midwest West Division was won last year by the Minnesota Moose, while the Hudson Havoc finished ninth in the nine-team division and was the lone team to not get a postseason invite. How much has changed since then?
This game, to be played at the Hudson Havoc Civic Center on Friday will give an indication.
From there, the Havoc will take on the Minnesota Mullets on Sept. 20 at the University of Minnesota’s Ridder Arena, next week’s HockeyTV Game Of The Week.
The New Jersey Rockets let the way in the Mid-Atlantic Division last season, capturing the regular season title with a 13-point margin on the Skipjacks while the Hitmen finished eight more points behind. These Jersey rivals will battle on both Saturday and Sunday as both hope to grab control of the Mid-Atlantic Division.
New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs wrapped up top spot in the North Division a season ago, but are seeing a few changes in its New England Division starting this season.
Meanwhile the Syracuse Stars are now competing in the Northeast Division and looking to get their season off to a solid start as they hosts the Monarchs for a pair on Saturday and Sunday at the Adirondack Bank Center.
Big game hunting: Elite Division
The same all-Jersey match-up as in the Premier Division will see the defending regular season Mid-Atlantic Division champion Hitmen battling last season’s runner-up New Jersey Rockets in a Friday-Saturday home-and-home twin bill at the Ice Vault Arena in Wayne, N.J., Friday and at the Bridgewater Sports Arena the following day.
The DME Swamp Rabbits will get a chance to see if the organization’s quick start can continue when it plays and home-and-home pair against the Tampa Bay Juniors, Saturday at Florida Hospital Center Ice at Wesley Chapel, and back at the Daytona International Skateway the following day.