By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com
The United States Premier Hockey League has gone international!
The USPHL Premier Conference this year welcomes Collège Universel Gatineau, a sports academy located in Gatineau, Que., as full members of the league’s top Tier III conference. Additionally, Universel will field an additional Elite showcase team that will play in 12 games in selected showcases, joining several other fellow North American Prep Hockey League teams that were announced as Elite showcase teams in May.
“The reason why Collège Universel Gatineau is joining is for the opportunity for our players to expose themselves to something different. Being at the border of Ontario and Quebec, this allows us to spread our wings a little bit and offer something unique,” said Universel’s Sports Centre Director Marco Pietroniro. “Not everyone is ready to play major junior or USHL at 16 years old, so we have a different opportunity for our guys to perform to their fullest potential.”
“The USPHL is proud and honored to welcome our first USPHL Premier team from Canada, Collège Universel Gatineau. Marco Pietroniro and his staff have done a fantastic job of working with our league to bring a new challenge from north of the border against our American teams, as well as providing these Canadian student-athletes with increased exposure to NCAA, AAU and ACHA college hockey coaches,” said USPHL Commissioner Bob Turow. “I’m very excited to see Universel Gatineau on the ice in their inaugural USPHL Premier season, as well as to see their USPHL Elite showcase team in our unparalleled USPHL Showcase Series events.”
Universel Gatineau will play the full 44-game schedule, but will not play home games in 2023-24. All of their games will be away, though they will be the home team at no less than eight of their 16 showcase games during the season. Universel will compete at the Junior Bruins Shootout (Sept. 29-Oct. 1), Jersey Hitmen Classic (Oct. 6-9), the Islanders Hockey Club Showcase (Nov. 16-19) and the Northern Cyclones Showcase (Feb. 9-11, 2024).
“Coming from a prep school background, they are used to a lot of travel. We have a lot of prep schools that play 65-game seasons and they’re traveling every weekend. They’ve lived through the road trips for all of their high school years. It’ll be a lot of team bonding for sure.”
The hockey program at Collège Universel Gatineau is fairly new, having been established four years ago. The prep school itself has a history of greater than 25 years and is the only private bilingual prep school in the southwestern Quebec region known as The Outaouais.
“We are a sports academy that provides programs in hockey, soccer, and basketball, as well as pre-university and high school-level classes, giving our students the opportunity to benefit from our commitment to both athletics and education,” said Pietroniro.
The Universel lineup at both the Premier and Elite levels are greatly made up of Canadian residents, though the goal – according to Pietroniro – is to increase the Collège’s appeal to international students and eventually field a team of 50% Canadian and 50% international students in the future.
Collège Universel Gatineau has named Alex Gagnon as the Premier team’s Head Coach and Hockey Program Director. He comes with coaching experience in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Jr. A Quebec Junior Hockey League as well, in addition to coaching stints at the 18U AAA level in Canada and at the pro level in France.
“Last year, he coached the team that is the equivalent of this year’s USPHL Elite showcase team. He has a good background, good experience and we trust him to do a great job on the developmental and advancement side,” said Pietroniro. “We are finalizing the USPHL Elite team coach and should be able to make an announcement on that position before the end of August.”
The Collège Universel Gatineau teams will return to the campus for the start of training camp on Aug. 26 to begin to make final decisions on the lineups of both the Premier and Elite showcase teams.
The United States Premier Hockey League welcomes Collège Universel Gatineau and wishes their teams the very best of luck in the 2023-24 season.