By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com
Florida Eels (1) vs. Palm Beach Typhoon (4)
All games at Fort Myers Skatium
Florida Eels are home team for Games 1 and 3, and Palm Beach is home for Game 2
Game 1: Saturday, March 11, 4 p.m.
Game 2: Sunday, March 12, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Monday, March 13, 4 p.m. (if necessary)
It’s happening in the USPHL Elite, where the Tampa Bay Juniors and Palm Beach Typhoon are representing the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts of Florida. On the Premier side, it’s the Florida Eels and the Typhoon who will do battle to see which coast is represented at the USPHL Nationals in Utica, N.Y., March 23-28.
The Eels have been Florida Division champions for every season since 2018-19, and they have no intentions of yielding that title. They have also qualified for Nationals every season since the inaugural USPHL Premier season of 2017-18, another honor they hold onto tightly.
“Our recipe has proven who and what we are made up of – 20-plus points ahead of the second place team in Premier and 12 points ahead in Elite,” said Eels GM/Owner Frank Scarpaci. “MyHockeyrankings has Eels Premier team ranked No. 2 in nation and Elite so far ahead of most higher classified teams. Dan K Power Rankings has Premier at number 1 and Elite at number 4. We will advance 15, yes, 15 players to college this year. Another incredible season. But we take nothing for granted – that was the regular season.”
The Typhoon are excited for their USPHL Premier playoffs debut on Saturday.
“To make the playoffs in the second year is a nice accomplishment. The Eels were one of the top teams in our division, and one of the top teams in the league every year, so it’s a tough task. In a way, you want to play the best team to see where you fit. We have nothing to lose. Three games is a short series, so it’s a tough test. They’re deep.”
Deep and resilient. The Eels have made it to No. 1 yet again despite joining the Florida Jr. Blades in having to deal with the effects of one of the Gulf Coast’s toughest hurricanes in history.
“The floor fell out on the way home from the Hampton Showcase. We got hit with Hurricane Ian. Homes were destroyed, we went with limited provisions, minimal water, food, no power or internet for three-plus weeks. Businesses in our community were desecrated – no gas, etc.,” said Scarpaci. “People around the USA and Canada thjoiught the season was done. But they didn’t understand what being an Eel was or is. My players and staff rather than wobble or feel bad and sorry for ourselves looked around and took matters into our own hands and set out to be a solution. My players helped businesses get back together, cleaned up, helped families restore their homes. We got food and water to the families. We put hockey aside for three weeks and knew full well we would catch up.”
The Eels certainly did catch up, putting together a record of 36-6-1-1, and had not one but two 70-point scorers in Collin Patterson (71) and Easton Moore (70). An already strong goaltending duo of Duncan Rolleman and Tobias Bell was given an extra boost with the signing of Adam Rouleau, who came in with QMJHL major junior experience.
Palm Beach, meanwhile, brought back Vesse-Wincent Lampen, who saw Tier II NCDC games early in the season, and he racked up 40 goals and 72 points. The heartbeat, however, has been the Typhoon’s Captain.
“Without a doubt, Garret Jackson is our leader, the straw that stirs the drink on our team,” said Flanagan. “Fantastic leader, blocks six or seven shots per game. Also, Anton Egle and John Brace. Brace is a second year player – we had a must-win against Jr. Blades and he played very well to get us in the playoffs.”
He hopes that his team stays in every game, and shows the same mental toughness that got them into the playoffs.
“We seem to dig ourselves a hole against teams early, so one of the big things for us is getting through the first period. Having a bigger start is huge,” said Flanagan. “You can’t give a good team like the Eels a two or three goal lead.”
Scarpaci, whose team went 7-0-0-1 against the Typhoon, would just as well throw that record away. No previous history matters.
“We are now focused on playoffs not even Nationals, because you cannot get to Nationals unless you advanced in playoffs,” said Scarpaci. “We are not taking Palm Beach in Premier or Atlanta in the Elite lightly. We are spending fours hour per day on ice and off-ice with video, examining our opponents. Complacency is never in our DNA. We are entitled to nothing unless we earn it. We are hungrier than ever.”