USPHL Premier 2023-24 Atlantic Division Players Of The Month: January 2024

Selection Process: The league media office sends top statistical candidates to divisional coaches for review and coaches either approve or challenge the nominations. 

Forward: Joona Juntunen, Connecticut Jr. Rangers 

Juntunen (‘03/Hyvinkaa, Finland) has never stopped delivering for the Jr. Rangers, and that’s exactly the case since November. He has scored in every single one of the last 22 games, adding up to 30 goals and 50 assists for 80 points. The January piece of that consists of 10 goals and 19 assists for 29 points – in just seven games. Yes, that equates to a 4.14 points per game average. The young man had back-to-back six-point games on Jan. 14 and Jan. 18. Juntunen had a good season last year, putting up 47 points in 42 games. He’s blasted past that and now stands with 87 points in just 26 games. 


Forward: Yakov Yakzhin, Connecticut Jr. Rangers

Yakzhin (‘03/Moskva, Russia) is on the verge of making some serious history – how about being eight points away from tying the all-time scoring lead in the USPHL Premier? It’s very close for Yakzhin, who started January with 12 points in his first two games, including a seven-point outing on Jan. 11. All told for January, Yakzhin had nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points (3.71 points per game). His journey started in 2019-20 with the Florida Eels and he’s also made stops with the former Jersey Whalers and also the Rockets Hockey Club. He posted 29 points in his first season, 40 the next, 51 points last season with the Rockets and now he already has 91 points for this season. That all equates to 213 points in 161 games. 


Forward: Blake Kashark, Connecticut Jr. Rangers 

Kashark (‘03/Lockport, Ill.) started in the Premier in 2021-22 with the former New York Aviators, now the Brooklyn Aviators. When former Aviators Head Coach Mike Stanaway moved over to Connecticut in 2023, several former Aviator foundational players went with him, and Kashark is one of those individuals. He put up no less than 14 goals and added nine assists for 23 points in the seven games of January. The Rangers’ absolute steamrolling offense has Kashark now standing with more points this year than in his previous two years combined, at 64 points in 36 games. 


Defense: Hunter Scanlon, Connecticut Jr. Rangers

You think Scanlon (‘03/Rockford, Ill.) is going to stand back and let his teammate Yakzhin be the only one making history? The third-year blueliner enters his February games just four points away from tying the all-time Premier record for points by a defenseman. He’s at 188, and former Wisconsin Rapids Riverking Jordan Stear (now at Lebanon Valley College) left the league with 192 points. During the month of January, Scanlon – another former Aviator who went with Coach Stanaway to Connecticut – registered six goals and 15 assists for 21 points in seven games. 


Defense: Rocco Tavernese, Rockets Hockey Club 

Tavernese (‘05/Brantford, Ont.) was a huge pickup during the season joining from the Greater Ontario Junior League, and since his arrival just around Halloween, he’s put up 29 points in 24 games. He was very generous during the month of January, sending out 16 assists and put up a 1-16-17 line for the month. He has become one of the Rockets’ top icetime earners, standing at 22:07, second among the Rockets defensive corps. 


Goaltender: Ryo Murakami, P.A.L. Jr. Islanders 

Murakami (‘03/Hokkaido, Japan) played for 240 minutes during the month of January and emerged with a 3-1-0-0 record, and he’s helped the Jr. Islanders move up into a top four spot in the Atlantic Division. He faced 141 shots during the month and turned away 130 of those for a .922 save percentage. A third-year junior veteran, Murakami now has a 14-7-1-0 record for the 2023-24 season.


Top Performers Of The Week (Jan. 25-Jan. 31)

Forward: Joona Juntunen, Connecticut Junior Rangers – 2GP 4G 3A 7PTS 

Defense: Rocco Tavernese, Rockets Hockey Club – 2GP 0G 9A 9PTS 

Goaltender: Steven Reganato, Rockets Hockey Club – 1GP 1-0 20 saves on 21 shots, .952 save %, 1.00 GAA