By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com
The Florida Division is one week away from getting back into regular season action, and all six teams are definitely excited for their chances to make some noise in a very competitive division. Among the teams hitting the ice are the Florida Eels, who have qualified for every single Premier National Championships tournament going back to the first of the current Premier league in 2018. They reached the championship game in 2021 and they’ve made the semifinals the past two seasons, so they’re always a going concern for teams both in and out of the division.
The Florida Jr. Blades and Tampa Bay Juniors have also made recent Nationals trips, while the Bold City Battalion are new to the group and are hoping to make a big impression right off the bat. The Atlanta MadHatters and Palm Beach Typhoon won’t settle for anything less than a high playoff spot and will both be shooting to make Nationals debuts in 2024.
Order is 2022-23 regular season finish.
Season Opener: Sept. 15 vs. Atlanta MadHatters
Along with the Eels’ Nationals perfect attendance record, they rank fifth all-time in regular season points since 2018 with 351, and their 1,136 goals in the last five seasons are third in the Premier. To put it simply, they are a handful and a headache for opponents across the league every time they take the ice, having humbled more than half a decade worth of forwards, defensemen and goaltenders.
“We definitely have a feeling of excitement around the potential of this team,” said Head Coach Frank Scarpaci III. “There’s a lot of skill and a lot of experience with this group. I have to really like the way this offense looks, with some proven goal scorers that have already produced in this league.”
They’ve also generally been leaders in college placement for the Florida Division, and that is their greatest pride, even if it makes re-loading each year a little bit tough. They always manage to just put in new threats every time around. Again, a headache and a handful.
“We lost some big players from last year’s teams that are starting their college careers, guys that have been here for two or so years. We’re excited for them, though we also have returners that are ready to step into those roles,” said Scarpaci. “Through training camp, they’ve instilled a culture of consistent hard work that has fueled us for a few seasons now. So, to be honest, our day to day seems similar, our build seems similar, and now it’s just about learning what we need to learn and getting on the same page.”
The team brings back some names that will lead to furrowed brows and lost sleep – Maverick Crupi, Jacob Godbout, Noah Trathen and Jared Salminen, scorers 4-7 on your 2022-23 leaderboard, with a grand total of 188 points between the quartet. Crupi and Godbout both crested the 50-point mark last year. “All were over a point per game last year,” added Scarpaci.
“Players like Anthony Zebley and Devin Shepherd have been with me for three years. Those two and Justin Deshaies have had a really great camp and look ready to make big jumps,” he said. “I love what I’ve seen from Brayden Goddard, Mark Phillips and Braeden Bzovey on the back end. Tobias Bell was awesome for us last season in net, too.”
The team always brings up strong talent from their Elite program, keeping a clear pathway for all players in their organization to succeed and make it to the college situation that is every player’s best fit. Lorenzo Marchetta – who scored an ESPN Top 10 goal in last year’s Elite season – joins Alex Clingerman and Adamo Di Re. This trio makes the logical step up to Premier after all three were Florida Elite All-Stars last year.
“Clingerman, Marchetta and Di Re were all such good Elite scorers that our staff feels they can make a big jump this season,” Scarpaci added. “There’s a lot of new players that have really shown some great things leading up to the start of the season.”
Matthew Perry joins as a three-year Premier veteran already, and Sebastian Potter had a fantastic Premier debut season last year.
“Both have already had really successful seasons in the USPHL and they’ve been really fun to watch,” said Scarpaci. “Both are really smart players.
The Eels saw some stiff challenges all through last year and especially the vast year-over-year improvements made by Atlanta and Palm Beach. Tampa Bay, as justified by their Nationals trip, were a tough draw every time the Eels faced them as well.
“Everyone is getting better every season, which is a credit to the other organizations,” said Scarpaci, of the Florida Division. “There’s no easy night for us down in Florida. We have our work cut out for us, so we’re working on getting ready. Atlanta is only [a week] away, and we’re looking forward to that challenge.”
Season Opener: Sept. 15 at Florida Eels
The MadHatters enjoyed a 15-point year-over-year improvement from 2021-22 to 2022-23, giving them their best Premier season in the first six years of the league. You can’t imagine they would stop there. New head coach Tyler Casillo joins the team with a mission to make this 2023-24 Atlanta team even better than last year’s new best standard.
“I am extremely proud of the way our roster has taken shape. We decided to go with an older roster this season, with only three rookies on the Premier roster,” said Casillo. “I think our veteran experience will be crucial for us this season. Our defensive unit is one that I am particularly excited about, we are extremely deep with talent all the way through the order.
“With it being my first season in Atlanta, we are looking to build on the success that they have had over the last few years,” Casillo added. “The Madhatters have continued to improve year in and out and I am looking to build on that success and take it even farther.”
The team has some big guns they are ready to unleash yet again, like third-year Hatter Eoin Reager and fourth-year Hatter Sebastian Zamborsky.
“We are very excited to welcome back Eoin Reagor to our group. He is an offensive defenseman who has played at the Elite and Premier level in the USPHL. Eoin brings a ton of offensive ability,” said Casillo. “Sebastian Zamborsky is another returner who had a strong end to his season last year. I am excited to see if he can build on that and really take off this year.”
Additionally, Casillo is seeing strong camps early on from Hayden Spencer, Will Blair and Colby Sims, all major standouts for the Elite MadHaters last year.
“These are guys we are excited about and we’re looking for them to take a bigger role within the club this year,” added Casillo.
An older team that helped lead the MadHatters to their historic success in 2022-23 also meant that many have moved on to the collegiate game, the main mission for any junior team.
“We have brought in a ton of new faces this year, with only six returners in the organization. A few players that stick out that I am excited to see produce this year are guys like Michal Novak. Michal is a talented player with the puck and was a Pacific Division All-Star last year, netting 75 points,” he said. “Jacob Heurman is an ‘03 from the NA3, whom I expect to come in and have a big age-out year for us. Jake is a shifty 200-foot guy who really brings a ton of experience and talent to our forward group.
“Tommy Lavigne also joined us from the NA3. Tommy jumps off the page to you almost immediately at 6’4, 200 pounds. He will be leaned on to help anchor and lead our D core,” Casillo added. “Finally, our goaltending will be pivotal this season with Sam Edmands and Herman Rendan leading the charge. We feel very strongly about our team’s goaltending and defense as a group heading into the season.”
And with that, they’re off to make some more history!
Tampa Bay Juniors
Season Opener: Sept. 15 vs. Palm Beach Typhoon
Finishing one point behind Atlanta to finish in third place was ancient history by the time Tampa arrived in Utica for the 2023 National Championships. They pulled off the 3-over-2 “upset” in the Florida playoffs to end Atlanta’s historic best season one stop short of their ultimate goal.
The Juniors got to hit the Big Dance floor of Nattys for the first time at the Premier level since 2018 (they also qualified for the canceled 2020 Nationals). Now that they got a taste, Garrett Strot’s team certainly wants to head back to that sweet buffet table once again. Camp looked like a great start to these aims, even with a mostly new team following another very successful college advancement campaign.
“After the first week, I like our players’ compete level and hockey sense. I feel we will have some good depth throughout the lineup,” said Strot. “We definitely are a bigger team this year. It is also a totally new team as only two Premier players return from last season, but we have a good mix of players that have played juniors prior to this season.”
Defenseman Nick Oliverio and forward Tyler Cullen stand as the only veterans of the Premier Juniors. Cullen stands as a good two-way forward who put up 11 points in 42 games and Oliverio plays a solid defensive blue line game, posting four points in 42 games.
The Minnesota born-and-bred Strot family (which also includes team owner and Garrett’s brother Brett Strot) joined with GM Kevin Wolter in putting in great re-loading work, which not surprisingly features some Minnesota talent. One standout from the land of 10,000 lakes is Ethan Dominy, a standout for Mound Westonka High School with a year of USPHL Premier experience under his blades. Sweden has provided a couple strong prospects in Oliwer Lundberg and Gustav Petterson, a defenseman and forward, respectively.
Savva Serdiuk, a USPHL Premier veteran goaltender from Ukraine, and Mio Eloranta, of Finland, are ready to get the job done in net. Javin Fisher is a promising player from Philadelphia who skated most recently with the Philadelphia Little Flyers and has USPHL experience with the Midget Palmyra Black Knights organization.
So get your weekends cleared for the big Florida rivalries, which Tampa Bay essentially has with everyone to the nth degree.
“The Florida Premier Division should once again be one of the strongest divisions from top to bottom in the USPHL,” said Strot. “The Eels will be the team to beat as they have won it the last 2 years.”
Palm Beach Typhoon
Season Opener: Sept. 15 at Tampa Bay Juniors
Like fellow Florida Division-mates the MadHatters, the Palm Beach Typhoon also saw a huge year-over-year improvement. They put up 19 points in their inaugural 2021-22 season and then blasted that to pieces with a 47-point campaign to claim the No. 4 playoff spot last year and leave two teams on the outside looking in. Co-owner, GM and Head Coach Joe Flanagan likes what he sees for yet another climb up the standings in Year 3.
“I would say that we feel pretty good, we have good balance this year, from the top to the bottom of the lineup,” Flanagan said. “I see a little upgrade from last year, after just being out there for three days at this point. There are more skill guys this year so far, and on the back end I’ve literally got some guys up from Elite, but it’s a mostly new core of defensemen, and they’re good so far. Overall, the depth I’m seeing now is good.”
That includes the net, where Jacob Tinson comes in with two USPHL seasons (one in the Premier) already to his credit.
“I think Jacob will be a really good goalie, and I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen,” he said.
Tinson will be joined by players coming up from the Elite team, including All-Star forward Lucas Nichols, a top 10 scorer at that level, and promising ‘06 defenseman Charles Boulet. They will join just a small group of returning Premier Typhoon in All-Star forward John Brace and Derwin Hauser, as well as local West Palm Beach product Joey Murano.
“They’ve played big minutes and are back, so we do have some good, experienced players returning,” Flanagan said.
When he gets his Typhoon in the room, he makes well sure that they know they’re getting into a knock-down, dragout battle every night. Nationals berths are tough to come by, and it’s a challenge even making the Florida playoffs now.
“It’s just tough, a grind, a battle. Usually during the course of the season, teams elsewhere might be able get away with two points without giving their ‘A’ game, but not here,” said Flanagan. “There are no games in the Florida Division where you can not bring your best game and expect to get the best result.”
Florida Jr. Blades
Season Opener: Sept. 22 at Bold City Battalion
A trip to the 2022 Nationals for the Jr. Blades was unfortunately for one of the Premier’s original franchises, not followed up with the type of success they would have wanted as a follow-up. Doug Rose, new Head Coach of the Premier team with Rod Simmons moving into more of a GM role, said that the Jr. Blades hit a bit of a reset button in 2023.
“My first overall thoughts on our rosters is that we are young and blue collar players. We brought in a younger batch of 06’s, 05’s and 04’s from high end youth programs that are hungry to climb the junior hockey ladder,” said Rose. “I think we are going to be a healthy blend of grit and skill. Our strengths this year will be our physical play as well as our playmaking ability. We have also brought in strong goaltending between both [the Premier and Elite] clubs.”
Along with the youth, Rose sees his 2022-23 teams as being in great shape right from the get-go.
“Our early observations as we start training camp is that our guys have come into town in shape and ready to go,” added Rose. “We have some returning players that have put in the work over the summer that look great on the ice and are ready to step into leadership roles.”
On defense, the trio of Nick Storti, Ty Kukielka and Charlie Maratea are all back, along with forward Taylor Boudreau. Kukielka is an ‘04 and the other three are ‘03’s. Slovakian import Adrian Kovacik showed a lot of promise as an ‘05 last year, putting up 10 goals. Watch for even more from him this year.
Goaltender Tim Miller comes out of a strong Mercer Chiefs 18U AAA squad to jump into the net alongside fellow ‘04 Ryan Pico (Genesis Hockey).
In terms of bright newcomers, watch for New Zealander Axel Ruski-Jones, who is coming in from Ontario Hockey Academy, along with Cooper Ireland (Twin City Thunder), Julian Gavin (Valley Forge Minutemen) and Kain Walker (Philadelphia Blazers).
“All are starting to show promise already,” said Rose. “Each player brings something different to the table in the sense of their game. However all of them play a hard nosed blue collar style.”
Rose doesn’t expect any breaks this year – he knows that if the Jr. Blades are to push up from where they were last year, it’ll take every player pulling their hardest in the same direction.
“It is hard to say how much will truly change. Our division always proves to be tight until the very end. I believe both of our teams are proving to be stronger than last season and we are looking for different results,” he said. “We take pride in playing in this division and are excited to see how the rest of the division did over the summer.”
Bold City Battalion
Season Opener: Sept. 22 vs. Florida Jr. Blades
One of the few new teams in the USPHL this season, the Battalion (playing out of Jacksonville, Fla.) are boldly heading into a new – but not necessarily unfamiliar – territory. Head Coach Rett Vossler had been on the Tampa Bay Juniors coaching staff for their entire Premier existence until taking the Battalion job earlier this year. With his knowledge of the Florida Division driving the team, don’t expect the Battalion to bring any nerves to the table.
“We are extremely happy with the group of young men we have been able to assemble for our inaugural season!” said Vossler. “I am very confident our goaltending is going to be top class, which will certainly help us as an expansion team to get our footing early on.
“We are starting from scratch obviously, so we have painstakingly reviewed the market to find the best possible fits for our program,” he added. “It has been a world-wide search to find the best candidates.”
They didn’t have to go far to sign a dyed-in-the-wool USPHL Premier veteran goalie in Onni Taskila. He played for Vossler and Tampa last year and already has a 29-12-3 record “in a tough Florida Division.”
“He’s a huge piece of what we are going to be able to achieve,” said Vossler. “As well, players like Brett Strick and Kelton Bradshaw are both coming off great rookie seasons in the USPHL.”
In terms of newcomers, Hugo Rova, of Sweden, and Sebastian Elrod, of the USA Hockey U18 National qualifiers Colorado Rampage, are two players to keep an eye on.
“Hugo is a big Swedish defenseman with a ton of skill and invaluable leadership qualities. Rova will be one of the top defensemen in the Premier Division,” said Vossler. “Sebastian Elrod is another really exciting player for us, his speed is incredible. Elrod is a player that I don’t expect to have in our lineup all year, as NCDC teams will be calling for him soon.”
After being a part of many battles over the years, including at this year’s Nationals (and the two years prior for the Elite Tampa Bay Juniors), Vossler knows just how tough it is to win in the Florida – and how to do so.
“The Florida Division has established itself as one of the toughest divisions in this league, year after year,” he added. “I am excited that the Battalion can come in and shake up the division a little bit this year.”