By Lexi Obrycki / USPHL.com
The USPHL’s Great Lakes Division is tough from top to bottom. There aren’t many easy games for these teams, especially this year with the division moving to five teams. With more games played within the division, it will be that much tougher to predict just which team will come out on top.
Order is 2021-22 regular season finish.
Last year’s season for the Metro Jets was one of the better seasons they have had since winning their last National Championship in 2018, prior to entering the USPHL. With their season last year ending with a loss in the National Championship, and winning the Great Lakes Division for the past five years, they are excited to get to that first game on Sept. 24 vs. Cincinnati.
They are returning a strong core of their players and the next season has a good outlook for the Jets.
“We are younger up front and in net, but are fortunate that our model provides a good transition for players to the best version of themselves,” said General Manager/Head Coach Justin Quenneville. “Like everyone else, we like to play fast, and have added some good pieces to add to that element.”
The Metro Jets are returning their top scorer Alex Schaumburger, as well as fellow All-Star forward Andreas Fleutot. Both scored 75 points, so the Jets return 150 right off the bat. All-Star defenseman Braydin Lewis, who fought cancer throughout his off-season and going back into last season, returns after a 45-point season on the blue line.
Also returning is forward Chad Noetzel and defensemen Josh German, Dakota Kott, and Devon Mastay. They also will be adding some talented and hungry first year players to the roster.
“This division is a unique one because there is a ton of history between the organizations. Everyone is invested and wants to get better,” Quenneville said.
One way that the Jets make sure that they see all different kinds of competition is that they make sure to play in several showcases throughout the season so they know they are seeing the best lineups.
Each year the Cherokee get better and better hoping to beat out the Metro Jets winning the Great Lakes Division. That quest begins this Saturday when they open against the Cincinnati Jr. Cyclones.
Last year, they got closer to winning that National Championship but had a tough loss in the quarterfinals to their division rivals the Jets. They know what it takes and are hoping to have another good season to get there and move further to that National Championship title.
The Cherokee had an older group of guys last year, so this year they are going to have a younger team.
“Some of our younger guys will have to fill the roles of the guys we lost to guys aging out and moving to the collegiate ranks,” said head coach Kenny Miller.
With those that are coming back, Coach Miller “would like to keep continuing to play a fast-paced game and push the offense like they have in the past years.”
A few of the top returners are Nicklas Millhorn, Ryan Stanley, Hunter Hatcher, and Dominik McNamara. Some newcomers to watch include Jason Crossland, Frank Murphy, and Kolin LeDuc, all of whom have previous USPHL experience. Justin Lang and Brett Logelfo come in off strong Midget careers, while Santino Multari joins with a year of college hockey under his belt already.
“I know the five remaining teams have worked hard this off-season to put together rosters that are going to be competitive,” said Miller, “and as a team we know we are going to have to be on our game each and every night we go out and play a game in the Great Lakes division in order to have success.”
Last season, the Columbus Mavericks showed their opponents they aren’t someone to mess with, tripling their prior year win total. After finishing off the last season in third place, just 10 points behind the Cherokee, they are showing that they have what it takes to compete with the top teams in the league. Columbus opens Friday against the Mid-Atlantic Division’s Buffalo Stampede.
When looking at the roster for the Mavericks this year, we’ll be seeing some returning players that helped them be a successful team last year with Colin Crowley, Carson Johnston and Roman Boffa.
The Mavericks are also adding Charlie Friel, Dan Schmidt, Bryce Kolpien, and Matt Scott to the roster, all of whom are gritty veterans that will be able to add some experience and leadership to the team.
With each year comes differences between teams in years past, but Coach Nate Handrahan is encouraged about this year’s team.
“Personnel changes over time, so this year’s group will be a new version of our club,” Handrahan added. “Last year’s team set a standard of play that has been rooted into our culture that this year’s edition must live up to and exceed.”
“We have been able to recruit some quality guys who have experience as well as some talented younger players,” Handrahan added. “Each year is a new story and I think this year’s version will be a fast group that plays hard.”
Cincinnati Jr. Cyclones
The Cyclones, who open against Toledo on Saturday, had an up-and-down season last year. However, the team was missing its planned No. 1 goaltender. They have Blake Mitchell back, but now have to replace one of the USPHL Premier’s all-time top scorers in Drake Barnish, now at Utica College.
Mitchell went out in January with a hip injury. He had hip surgery in the off-season and is already back to full potential and took the Number 1 spot during camp. It’s not going to be an easy task replacing Barnish, because a player like that is irreplaceable, but with the returning players getting a full year of juniors under their belt, GM/Head Coach Jim Mitchell already loves the character of the team.
“I think we have a great mix of guys that will be able to play different roles on the team. I feel our defense will be a great strength this year for us, a lot more depth than last year,” said Mitchell. “I hope to be a gritty team that plays hard for 60 minutes.”
Some of the new guys we will be seeing on their roster this year consist of defensemen Carson Migulia and Eli Prather who should add an offensive impact for the Cyclones on the back end. Forward Hayden Kieltyka should be a legitimate offensive threat in the league.
Returning with starting goaltender Mitchell, the Cyclones have Kyle Burke, who was third in scoring for them last year, along with Jordan Winrod, Mitch Elliot, Jake Lamm, Jaden Perkins and J.T. Hosack.
After a tough season last year, Wooster feels that they are going to have a breakout season with the returning players and a good group of newcomers that are showing dedication and the desire to bring a winning season to Wooster.
The Oilers start the season at the USPHL Southeast Showcase on Sept. 22, making their first appearance in that annual event.
Looking at this season early on, Head Coach Jordan Roemer is already seeing a big difference in this year’s team to last.
“We have asked a lot of our guys physically and mentally the first few weeks of camp,” said Roemer. “Our players have bought into our culture in Wooster and we’re excited to get going in a few weeks.”
Some guys returning to Wooster this season include goalie Brendan Cobb, hometown 20-year olds Tony Romani and A.J. Kandel, along with Jordan Huffman, R.J. Graziano and Elijah Krause, both of whom Coach Roemer is looking to for big impacts this season. Two notable newcomers are Aiden Waters and Bradyn Neundorfer.
“Playing in a smaller division this season, games are going to mean more every night,” he added. “Whichever two teams from this division are in the National Tournament in March will be considered favorites.”