By Patrick Ramsdale / USPHL.com
The New England Division is one of the largest in the Premier level, with a total of nine teams. With this many teams to compete with, clubs must be on top of their game all season long if they wish to come out on top and represent the division at the USPHL Nationals.
If there is one thing every coach in the division agrees on, it is that the New England division is a battle from top to bottom all season long.
Order is 2021-2022 points
Fresh off a trip to Nationals, Head coach Bill Weiand and his Cyclones team will look to replicate their success from last season, though with quite a few new faces on the team.
“We are younger, and a much newer group,” Weiand said, “but the talent and level of commitment is still there.”
The Cyclones open up the new season next Wednesday, Sept. 28, against the Twin City Thunder.
The Cyclones return just a handful of players from last year’s roster, including a pair of ’02 blueliners in Seth Orozco and Spencer Craig. The team will also look to ’02 Adam Skarda and his playmaking ability to help lead the team this upcoming season.
The Cyclones will bring in several newcomers to this year’s roster, many of whom have USPHL experience.
Notable additions to the roster include ‘02 Connor Crawford, who put up 44 points in 41 games in the USPHL Premier last year. The Cyclones also add ’04 goaltender Jeffery Fillion, who posted a 14-6 record in the league and also made it to Nationals last March.
The team is promoting seven players from their Elite and 18U programs, such as center Dante D’Ambrosio and defenseman Storm Davis, who combined for 57 points last season.
Even with many of the team’s top scorers aging out, Weiand is still confident his team has what it takes to return to Nationals.
“We have a good mix of veterans and newcomers that will make up a team that is determined to win this year,” added Weiand.
South Shore Kings
The Kings finished second in the New England Division last season with 60 points and look primed for another good season, which begins on Friday, Sept. 30, against the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs.
South Shore’s success last season meant plenty of players taking the next step in their careers. Former Premier players made the jump up to the Kings’ NCDC program, with others moving on to collegiate hockey as well.
This means that Head Coach Dave O’Donnell will lead an almost entirely new team, returning only two players in forward Chase Gaudioso and defenseman David Lacroce.
O’Donnell emphasized the importance of the role these two will have on the team.
“Both players are going to be leaned on to help the younger guys adjust,” said O’Donnell. “Both have done a great job so far with that.”
Among the top newcomers for the Kings are ’03 forward Karim Gayfullin, ’05 forward Daniel Sieto, ’03 forward Ryan Meagher and ’04 defenseman Mitch Jongmans. These young newcomers will generate plenty of speed for South Shore.
“I believe we are a club that gets around the ice well. Up front, our forwards will use their quickness to create opportunities,” O’Donnell added. “The defensive core is mobile and offensive-minded.”
Bridgewater Jr. Bandits
Bridgewater had a great finish to the 2021-22 regular season, ending the year with 27 wins.
As is the theme with many teams in the Premier, head coach Scott Drevitch will lead a different -looking team this season, with only a handful returning from last year’s roster.
Saint Anselm College commit Chris Cordiero is among the few returners to Bridgewater. The ’02 forward put up 39 points in 42 games, finishing third on the team in points.
Drevitch noted that the new members to the Jr. Bandits squad are fitting in well with the veterans.
“We still have that older group, but the young players have really bought into the culture, intensity and work ethic,” Drevitch added.
Though it is early into camp for Bridgewater, the team has already found its style.
“We have always been an uptempo, aggressive, puck possession team and expect no different this year,” Drevitch added.
Bridgewater makes a weekend trip to Maine to face the Twin City Thunder this Friday and Saturday, Sept. 23-24.
Boston Junior Bruins
Nevin Hamilton’s Junior Bruins team features a number of players in their third season with the team.
Perhaps the most notable of those veterans is ’02 blueliner Cameron Craig. The defenseman will have a big role on the team, both on and off the ice.
“Cam is strong and defensive-minded. He can lead a team in the locker room as well,” Hamilton stated. “Cameron will be expected to be a consistent player every day and to help guide the younger players.”
Returning between the pipes for Boston is Dominik Bovan, who posted a 7-4 record in the crease for the Junior Bruins. Bovan was acquired midway through the season from the Northern Cyclones.
Hamilton’s focus for this year’s team will be to develop the maturity of his players.
“My focus is on their development and making sure they understand how the game is played at the next level, then the next goal is to make them all mature players,” Hamilton added. “Mature players don’t overhandle pucks, they are not selfish, and they can handle the ups and the downs of every game.
“If we can stress development and selfless play, then the wins will follow.”
The Junior Bruins start their season on Oct. 5 in Foxboro against South Shore and then make the trip to the Rockets Hockey Club Showcase, Oct. 7-9.
The Pics finished in the middle of the pack in the New England Division last season, putting up 52 points with 25 wins.
Head Coach Rob Bonneau will coach a team full of 20 newcomers, though nine are seeing promotion from Springfield’s Elite program.
Among those getting the call to the Premier are a dynamic forward duo of Nick DiSanti and Chris Foster. The pair combined for 76 points in their rookie seasons. Both are longtime staples of the Pics program and helped the organization win the 2020-21 USPHL 16U American Championship.
Returning to the Pics Premier team are forward Dom Balboni and defenseman Luc Fricchione. Balboni put up 25 points in 40 games while Frichionne put up 19 from the blue line.
Expect Rob Bonneau’s young Pics team to bring plenty of speed and skill to the ice this season.
The Pics kick off their season at the BJB Shootout in Marlborough, Mass., with four games from Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
Islanders Hockey Club
The Islanders Hockey Club knows what it takes to compete at every level, fielding teams in the NCDC, Premier and Elite divisions, as well as all levels of USPHL Midget hockey. This year’s Premier team will feature players who have played for “IHC” at every level.
Standouts for Head Coach Jay Punsky include two age-out forwards Trystan Swiger and Brady Carpenter. The pair are sure to receive plenty of attention from NCAA scouts this season.
Forward Jesper Seeberg (‘03) played in the NCDC last season and will bring that level of experience to the Premier with him.
New to the club this season is defenseman Jamie Eyre. Though he will be a rookie, Eyre has plenty of experience with the Great Britain National Team that he can use to navigate the USPHL.
Joining the Islanders Hockey Club from the former Pittsburgh Vengeance, Chris Gallagher has proven he can put up points in the USPHL, with 34 points in 42 games last season.
This year’s team is poised to have a big season with all the additions to the roster.
“Our goal is to be a fast-paced, competitive team that is extremely difficult to play against,” Punsky added.
The Isles’ season kicks off on Sept. 28 against the Boston Advantage.
New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs
The Jr. Monarchs are a new team from the top down this season. Mykül Häun will take over in his first year as Head Coach this season and will look to build on New Hampshire’s track record of player development.
“We are committed to being the gold standard for development, advancement, and professionalism, not just within our division or the USPHL, but within all of junior hockey as a whole,” added Häun.
The sole returner for the Jr. Monarchs is ‘02 forward Jake Holston. He will be expected to take on a leadership role on the team but will also look to up his point production after battling injuries all last season.
“We believe that his character and determination will help our younger players execute our team goals,” stated Häun.
New Hampshire adds a handful of international players from countries like Belgium, Israel and the Netherlands.
The Jr. Monarchs also added NCDC veteran Sean Schifferl in his final year of eligibility.
“He plays the game the right way,” Häun said. “He brings the jam every shift, he has been a proven producer at every level, and he has the drive and mindset that is that of a true leader.”
Like the Pics, the Monarchs will also open up their season at the BJB Shootout in Marlborough, Mass., between Sept. 30 and Oct. 2.
Twin City Thunder
Colt Steele will step behind the bench for the first time as he looks to lead a nearly brand-new Thunder team to the New England postseason.
Twin City finished just below .500 last season, ending with a 19-21-4 record.
’03 defenseman Kayne Gagne is the only member of last year’s team on the roster for the 2022-23 season.
“We are looking for Kayne to be a leader as he understands the program and the division we play in,” added Steele about what Gagne will mean to the team.
Gavin Delfosse, Logan Tripp, and Bo-Buster Bjorn are among the many newcomers that coach Steele believes will make an impact this season.
The Thunder are opening this weekend against the Bridgewater Bandits at home.
The New England division is among the most competitive in the USPHL, with any team being able to win on any given night. Boston was the highest-ranked team in the entire Premier Conference to miss the playoffs last year, just another example of how tough their division is.
Head coach Ean Mendeszoon’s Advantage team was also able to take wins from the top team in their division, and beat every team in their division except the Junior Bruins.
The Advantage kick off their season on Wednesday, Sept. 28, so the team was still forming its roster alongside the NCDC Advantage in advance of their Sept. 22 opener.