By Joshua Boyd / USPHLElite.com
The New England Division has seen some of the USPHL Elite’s best teams over the course of its history, especially looking at the division’s representatives at the last three Nationals – the Northern Cyclones and Islanders Hockey Club. The Cyclones, for instance, have the Elite’s best overall winning percentage dating back to 2018 (.781) and they have been finalists in 2022 and were semifinalists at Nationals in both 2021 and 2023.
The Islanders have similarly kept pace, standing at fourth in winning percentage over the last five seasons (.715) and, as mentioned, reaching the Nationals each time since 2021.
It will be a slightly more compact division this year, as the Junior Bruins and Springfield Pics round out the four-team circuit. The Pics have always been a challenger to the top teams, and the Junior Bruins are not likely to have another down year like they experienced as a rare turn in 2022-23.
Order is 2022-23 regular season finish
Season Opener: Oct. 1 vs. Simcoe County Academy (North American Prep Hockey League)
The Cyclones have a reputation – as mentioned above – and they love living up to it. Because they always find a way to make it at or near the top. Head Coach Tim Plummer will once again put together a team that can beat you offensively, physically and with top-flight goaltending. It’s the Cyclones’ M.O.
“The group we have put together here this year is really solid – built with a lot of returning players, some new players, and some players who have come up through our midget level,” said Plummer. “Our strength is going to be the consistency throughout our lineup at every position. We will be using depth to our advantage.”
Without getting into the specifics of naming names, Plummer was excited about his entire group of veteran leadership.
“I think the teams are very similar in a lot of ways, the only large difference is the fact that we have so much returning knowledge in the room and the maturity has grown,” Plummer added.
It’s always necessary in this division to come out with every weapon in the arsenal and that’s what Plummer sees in this 2023-24 group.
“I’m always looking for this division to be strong,” said Plummer. “The guys in this area put together strong competition and we are looking forward to facing them on a consistent basis.”
Islanders Hockey Club
Season Opener: Sept. 24 at Boston Junior Bruins
The Islanders have taken their turn at the top of the division, and have produced high-scoring forwards – two of whom occupy spots in the top 10 all-time single season scoring records. They bring the noise from all directions, and it becomes hard for opponents to find any spot of weakness. That’s just one of the reasons they have three straight recent Nationals trips to their credit.
“Our biggest strength this year appears to be our depth. We’ll be able to roll four lines of forwards who will all be able to compete, win battles, and score,” said Kevin Smith, taking on his first year as Elite Head Coach. Former Head Coach Jay Punsky will remain with the Premier team and is also head coach for the NCAA Worcester State University team. “On the back end, I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen so far. We have three goalies who have all looked great in practice and are all capable of winning games for us.”
The Islanders do return some players from last year, but it’s largely a new squad you’ll see when the team hits the ice this Sunday against the Boston Junior Bruins.
“With so many players moving up to Premier or on to college programs, we have a lot of new faces this year. We look to be a young, talented team that will probably experience some growing pains while they get adjusted to the more difficult junior game in a challenging USPHL Elite league,” Smith added. “Over the past few seasons, we’ve had a lot of offensive firepower up front. It’s still too early in practice to tell who those types of players will be this season, but I believe we have a lot of guys who are capable of putting up great performances.”
Nine former Elite Islanders have advanced to the Premier level (including six on the Islanders Premier squad) and five more advanced to college hockey. That left the Elite team returning three team veterans.
“We’ll be looking to our returning captain, Ryan Schier, who is a three-year veteran defenseman, to continue providing solid defense and great leadership for the young group. Nathan Wolf (‘05 defenseman) and Brady Kinder (‘03 forward) will both be returning after playing significant roles in our run to Nationals last season.”
For newcomers, Smith is excited about several first-year Islanders Elite players, but who jumps to the forefront is anyone’s guess – let them play and see where the dice fall.
“It’s still too early in the season to really know who the breakout players are going to be. I’m excited about the amount of depth in our roster at all positions,” Smith added.
Two ‘04 forwards to watch are Arizonans Kody Brunson and Jack Giles, as well as fellow Arizona native and ‘04 goalie Tagger Tamburo – a former teammate of Giles with the DYHA Jr. Sun Devils. Out of California, you have ‘05 forwards Luca Tartaglia and Eamon Navin, both teammates with last year’s Golden State Eagles 18U team in the Bay Area.
A good crop of new defensemen “capable of fighting for top defense pair minutes” includes ‘04 Niko Spaniotis and ‘05’s Ethan Elamn, Zach Demyk and C.J. Barrett, with this group coming from locales as diverse as Connecticut, Montana, Quebec and Maryland, respectively.
In addition to Tamburo in net, also keep an eye on Kyle Mahan, an ‘04 from Massachusetts, and ‘05 Ethan Delgrego, out of Connecticut. All three will battle for the starting job.
“It’s going to be a very competitive division again this year. The Cyclones always have a strong team,” said Smith. “The Junior Bruins and Springfield Pics are always difficult to play against. Every game you play is guaranteed to be a tough challenge. At the end of the season, the teams that advance to Nationals from the New England division are guaranteed to be battle-tested.”
Season Opener: Sept. 23 vs. Boston Junior Bruins
The subject of depth continues to reign here, as the Springfield Pics put stated depth as what they see as one of their strengths to kick off the season – that and an already tight bond in terms of chemistry.
“Overall, I’m happy with the roster put together this season. We have a combination of players where we are four lines deep. Early on, I think our strength is we don’t give up on plays and we keep going,” said Head Coach Chris Beaudoin. “an early observation I can see is that this year’s team right off the hop is more tight knit and care for each other. They rally with each other and want the best outcome as a team.”
Among the longtime Pics organization veterans (and Elite veterans) they’re returning are fifth-year Pics Thatcher Berman and James Delaney, both defensemen – though Berman has also been listed as a forward, showing his versatility. Both players skated for the Pics from the 15U up to the 16U level and on to the Elite team. Delaney was a member of the 2020-21 USPHL 16U American Division Champion Pics team.
Also on that 16U championship team was current fourth-year Pic Nick Starosielski. Fellow forwards Darrin Schnopp and Gordon Culton are both entering their second seasons. Aside from the ‘04 Starosielski, all of the above-mentioned players are ‘05’s or ‘06’s.
Obviously, the 16U to Elite path remains a popular pipeline for the Pics, as they’re bringing up ‘06 defenseman Cole Davis from last year’s 16U squad. Also new to the team at forward is Francis Powers, an ‘06 formerly with the Atlantic Coast Academy 16U AAA team.
Beaudoin has high hopes for his Pics team, but it’s proven near-impossible to break into the top two spots. This year, however, may see improved parity.
“I think it’s going to be the same as it is every year – every game will be exciting and fun to play and watch. The competitiveness will be high and I think like always anyone can beat anyone at any time,” said Beaudoin. “It’s going to be a battle day in and day out.”
Boston Junior Bruins
Season Opener: Sept. 23 at Springfield Pics
The Boston Junior Bruins have put their 2022-23 season far in the rearview mirror and are ready to resume their battles for the top spot as they had been in the running for so many years. The Junior Bruins actually finished second in 2020-21 and were in third place by only four points behind the Cyclones. So, last year was truly a blip on their radar.
Third-year Head Coach Dan Pelletier has every intention of the Junior Bruins maintaining a strong record and a high position in what will be a tight four-team division here in 2023-24.
“After a rough season last year, we’re excited to bring in a whole new team, only having two returners. So far I like our speed and the work ethic the guys have brought to the rink thus far,” said Pelletier. “The biggest difference [from last year] will be our depth. Last year there was a huge drop in our lineup after our first line. This year I think our speed and the ability to roll four lines and six ‘D’ will be the biggest difference.”
Forward Charles Turner and defenseman Sam Lescault were both strong enough players with last year’s team that they were brought back with bigger expectations.
“Charles and Sam are the only returners and we’re excited to have them back and take on bigger roles than last year,” added Pelletier.
With so many newcomers, it was tough to pick any individuals who might stand out right off the bat. You’ll just have to watch the Junior Bruins to see who emerges as top threats. The Junior Bruins plan to do the same as a full team.
“I think the New England Division will be much tighter this year compared to last. The top teams were tough games for us last year. I know they will be strong again but we are a new team and looking to be in the mix,” Pelletier added.