By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com
The Great Lakes Division, which competed as a four-team division for 2022-23, will welcome two new members as the Buffalo Stampede and Nashville Spartans are joining the Great Lakes for the 2023-24 season.
The Buffalo Stampede, who have regularly played Great Lakes Division members as part of their non-division schedule, will move from the Mid-Atlantic Division to the Great Lakes.
The Nashville Spartans, which joined the USPHL Premier as an expansion team in 2022-23, are moving from the Southeast Division to the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Division membership for 2023-24 will feature the 2022-23 Division Champion Toledo Cherokee, fellow Nationals competitors the Metro Jets, the Columbus Mavericks, the Cincinnati Jr. Cyclones, the Buffalo Stampede and the Nashville Spartans.
“The Great Lakes Division is excellent, and we are excited to be a part of it,” said Zach Sabatini, a Co-Owner of the Spartans. “Every season there sees at least one if not two teams ranked within the Top 10 of all USPHL Premier organizations, and the division is well represented at Nationals year after year. The Great Lakes Division teams have also done an outstanding job advancing players on to Tier 2 junior hockey and college hockey. We plan to heavily contribute to those numbers.”
“The move to the Great Lakes Division is big for us,” said Joey Recktenwald, a Co-Owner of the Buffalo Stampede. “It’s a much more manageable travel schedule and allows us to regularly compete against some of the top programs in the country. The Great Lakes Division consistently produces teams that are in contention for the National Championship. We look forward to the challenge and rising up to the occasion.”
Both teams will continue to play some members of their former divisions, as some exciting rivalries have formed. Some of these rivalry games will take place at USPHL Showcase Series events and others will be played as a standard weekend series.
“We are still fine-tuning the schedule for the upcoming season, but we are hoping to get the opportunity to compete against some familiar faces at the USPHL Southeast Showcase and USPHL Tampa Showcase,” said Sabatini. “Maybe we will get some long-standing rivalry games on the schedule as well, but we just don’t know yet. We like to have fun in Nashville. I’m sure we will find a way to keep things interesting.”
Likewise, Buffalo will continue to play upstate New York and interstate rivalries they have formed over the years.
“We have every intention of continuing our geographical rivalries with Hershey, Utica, and Elmira,” said Recktenwald. “We’ve had a great working relationship with Tim Kolpien and his staff with the Jr. Enforcers, and look forward to growing our on-ice rivalry with their club.”
There’s some history between Buffalo’s management and a couple of their new Great Lakes Division rivals, as well.
“Stampede GM/Head Coach Brian Thompson is very familiar with the Great Lakes Division, spending three years as an assistant with the Columbus Mavericks before taking the reins in Buffalo,” Recktenwald said. “As teammates, [Thompson] and I competed against the Metro Jets and Toledo Cherokee nearly 20 years ago. We look forward to the next chapter in our hockey journey.
“I have all the confidence in the world that Coach Thompson is the right guy for this type of challenge,” Recktenwald added. “His history of developing players and relationships makes him one of the top coaches in the country.”
The USPHL wishes best of luck to the Buffalo Stampede, Nashville Spartans and all of the Great Lakes Division teams in 2023-24!