By Reba LaRose
As yet another impressive season in the USPHL has come to an end, the Florida Eels hockey club from Fort Myers has many accomplishments to look back on and be proud of. The most notable of which led them to the biggest junior hockey event of the year in Boston for the USPHL National Championship as one of the three Florida teams fighting for the chance at the Cup.
The Premier Eels defeated this year’s national champions, the Hampton Roads Whalers 3-1 in the round robin and were the only team to do so. Although they experienced victory early against the soon to be champs, they finished 1-1-1 in the finals, as did the Elite team who defeated the Jersey Hitmen 7-1 in the first round.
“The experience of playing against some of the best players in the USA, Canada, and Europe, and the exposure garnered there was phenomenal and will speak volumes for their future,” Frank Scarpaci, Eels head coach, said.
Florida’s Formula for Success
All year long, the Eels have endured rigorous training that has helped mold them into competitive and aggressive junior hockey players. This training and the fresh, young talent that it helped to develop is what Scarpaci credits as a main factor in the continuous successes of the program.
When players come to Fort Myers to play for the Eels, they know they are signing up for intense training and total dedication to advancing their skills. Scarpaci says that he and his staff train their players with the focused mentality of, “What would it be like if you had the chance to play for the Olympic team – how would you train?”
Scarpaci adds, “We know the answer to that question: you would give every ounce of energy and that is what [we] want from you.”
Coaches are training and conditioning players in the weight room and on the ice five times per week building both individual and team efforts throughout the four lines they boast. Overall this season, there were 208 goals scored by the Eels, and they allowed just 121.
“This type of commitment transcends to games and we see it. That is why we are considered a relentless team and probably one of the most dangerous teams out there,” Scarpaci said.
The Eels have enjoyed more than 15 years as a top Florida juniors program and is one of the longest lasting in the state. In their nearly two decades in South Florida, the Eels have advanced 233 players to play college level hockey, four players to the NHL, and every year welcome talent from across the United States, Canada, and countries all over the world.
Scarpaci said that they expect to send between eight and nine Premier level players to play college hockey, and three or more of their elite players to spots on collegiate rosters.
Not only did the team finish the regular season as second in the Florida Division 28-13 with 59 points and four shootout wins. Among the 51 other teams that they competed against in the Premier conference, the Eels finished 13th.
“The Premier team had some pretty impressive arsenal and firepower. They had a number of the top scorers in the league,” Scarpaci said.
Nikita Pinimyasov, 19-year-old Moscow-native left winger, was the points leader for his team with 56 points, 24 goals and 32 assists. Closely following Pinimyasov is Demeed Podrezov, a fellow Russian native, who scored a total of 25 goals with 25 assists for 50 points this season.
The team closed out this season with 28 wins to 12 losses and 60 points accumulated. They also secured a second-place spot in the Florida Division and finished ninth of 20 Elite teams in the USPHL.
“Elite [is a] mixture of rookies and veterans [making up] two lines [that are] highly explosive. And top 3 defense in league [with] top goalies.”
Jake Court, a 19-year-old center, led the team with 90 points overall from 35 goals and 55 assists. Court also scored three goals and five assists in three games at Nationals. Teammate Gage Dill followed up with 74 points with 24 goals and 50 assists. His Nationals performance was also impressive with three goals and four assists.
What’s Next for the Eels
There’s no doubt that the Eels are a force to be reckoned with on the ice, and they don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Aside from gaining stats, many Eels have also earned accolades throughout the season for their exceptional character and ability as not only a player, but also a teammate, and a person.
In total, nine Eels from both the Elite and Premier teams won the Don Awrey Defenseman of the Month award this season. Other players were awarded USPHL Player of the Week, in addition to Monthly and League All-Stars honors.
While their season and time on the national stage is over, Scarpaci and his Eels are already looking towards next season and the impact they will make not only for youth hockey in South Florida, but for youth hockey as a whole. Congratulations to the Eels for a wonderful performance this season!