You may have heard of the Four Corners Intertribal Park, where you can stand and put your arms down in four states at once. This past spring, the USPHL performed the hockey equivalent, by adding five teams in the Pacific Northwest and officially having a team at each corner of the Lower 48 states – Florida, Maine, California and now Washington state.
It is a great variety of teams – some with long histories including trips to the Junior Nationals – ranging from well-established institutions to a couple of brand new franchises. The longer-standing franchises like Seattle and Bellingham look to rekindle former rivalries, while the Vernal Oilers are working to carry over their success from the CAJHL. The new Rogue Valley Royals and Rock Springs Prospectors both hope to make a deafening noise in Year 1.
The Blazers are almost as close to the Canadian border as their Pacific Division counterparts the San Diego Sabers are to the Mexican border – 20 miles for the Blazers vs. 13 for the Sabers. The Blazers were founded in 2012 and played in the former Northern Pacific and Western States Hockey Leagues, but were off the ice from 2020 through 2022 when the last two seasons of the WSHL were canceled. They come back excited to bring the fire back to the vibrant port city of Bellingham.
“We are very excited with the team we have put together this year. While our team is younger than most, we have a lot of speed, finesse, and potential to be a strong team in the Northwest Division,” said GM Marc Ronney. “Our depth in net will likely steal us a few wins this year and, with our young roster, if we can keep a core group together for a year or two, we will be extremely strong in the coming seasons.”
The Blazers were actually able to bring back ‘03 forward Ethan Franzen, who was their leading scorer in their last year of 2019-20. They added to their offense by signing Dominick Didzerikis, an ‘02 from Richland, Wash., who already has 61 points in 68 regular season games over two USPHL Premier seasons. Additionally, ‘03 goaltender Andrew Brabender comes in with junior experience from the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.
Top newcomers include Kieran Maloney (‘04 forward) and Roman Wolynec (‘05 forward).
“We are very excited to be a part of the newest division of the USPHL Premier, a league with a strong reputation for moving players on to the collegiate level,” added Ronney. “We are looking forward to strong competition all season and hope to continue to grow within the division and the league.”
Rock Springs Prospectors
Established right here in two-thousand-and-twenty-two, the Prospectors became the first USPHL team to set up shop in Wyoming. Even as young as the organization is, they have already seen a coaching change. Assistant Coach Adam Stio joins Head Coach Danny Randall in putting together what they hope will be a statement first season.
“We welcomed Danny Randall in this week. He is a discipline guy and I am trying to prep our guys for that,” said Stio. “We will offer a couple of different things in each unit that reminds me of an old school squad from 15 years ago – one or two lines with speed and finesse; and a gritty group with some specialists.
“Our strengths will surprise teams with the major changes in pace of play with each unit, keeping opponents on their toes with great goaltending to complement [the skaters],” Stio added.
Kyle Avery scored 87 points in the CAJHL last year, while Matthew Pantone had 51 – they’re reunited. Additionally, Jorie Boyd is a Rock Springs native with NAPHL Midget experience. Additional junior rookies include ‘04 Aiden Ma, ‘03 J.C. Laird and ‘04 goaltender Maximilan Lednicky, a Slovakian making his North American debut this year.
Stio has enjoyed seeing what the other Northwest Division teams were bringing to the table during the off-season and expects a high-flying, fast level of play.
“The division is shaping up and it looks like the long trips could come into play, so home ice is huge,” added Stio. “We expect our guys to compete very well and hopefully be toward the top of the division.”
Rogue Valley Royals
The USPHL returns to Medford, Oregon, this year and the Royals are excited for a whole new era. Bobby and Ali Ruddle founded the organization this year, and hope the RRRink in Medford will be rocking for the Royals, as it has for past teams. They feel they’ve done their part to amp up the atmosphere by putting together a talented and high-octane team.
“While we have a younger roster, it’s a group equipped with a lot of speed and we already have a great team atmosphere,” said Bobby Ruddle, also the head coach.
The Royals have signed some strong junior veterans to help guide their younger players and junior rookies through the jungle of a full season of 44 games.
Ruddle is excited about older players such as ‘02’s Dawson Nelson (fourth-year junior), Noah Mayer (a third-year junior veteran), and Nathan M’Lot (second-year junior).
Additionally, ’03 Tyler Hanson is a third-year junior veteran including USPHL experience, and ‘03 J.D. Lion is coming in with a year of NA3HL experience.
Roberto Matias (‘03) is a native of Baffin Island in Canada, and is entering his second junior season – he may qualify as having the northernmost residence of any USPHL player, just three degrees south of the Arctic Circle.
In terms of newcomers to the junior game, watch for ‘05’s Shane Agee and Jack Regan, and ‘04’s Ethan Galvan and Blaze Ebbinghaus.
“I feel I could list my entire roster because this group [of rookies] works hard, but these few have definitely stood out to me in a big way,” said Ruddle.
“I expect the Northwest to be a competitive atmosphere with fast-paced play with overall growth for all the teams over the course of the season,” said Ruddle. “We’re ready to get started!”
The home of Jimi Hendrix, grunge, lots of rainy days and, oh by the way, Seattle was also the home to the first-ever U.S. Stanley Cup Champions. All the way back in 1917, the Metropolitans won the last pre-NHL Stanley Cup. So, yeah, Seattle’s been a hockey town for well north (or northwest?) of 100 years. So, when the opportunity came to bring back the Seattle Totems, founded in 2005, GM/Head Coach Mike Murphy was all for it.
“We tried to build a team around foot speed this summer and so far we are very pleased with our roster as it’s definitely from top to bottom one of the fastest totem teams we have had,” said Murphy, whose Totems organization last played in 2019-20 in the WSHL. “Our six defensemen are a solid group and can all play at this level.”
Felix Flodman (‘03) joins the Totems for his first North American season in net, and comes in with Swedish pro hockey experience. Joining him in net are local Seattle products Julien Nash and Daniel Cleofe for a powerful trio in net.
Helping to build the fortress in the back end are ‘02’s Joni Torola, of Finland, and fourth-year junior Levi Knight. Forward Nahom Teshome – also from Finland – along with third-year junior Coby Nostrant, Jonas Rettell and Jaidin Hickey will work to build up the offense.
“We intend to compete for the Northwest Division title and a trip to the USPHL National Tournament,” added Murphy.
The Oilers enter their second year in Utah, and after making the finals last year in the CAJHL, they are also ready to become an immediate threat in the Northwest Division in their first USPHL year.
“Vernal will play an up-tempo, exciting game built on offense. We built the team to provide a lot of goal-scoring and entertainment for the home crowd,” said General Manager and Head Coach David Imonti.
The Oilers bring back Josh Kochan, Marco Casinelli and Chase Parry from their first year into their first USPHL season. Kochan, an ‘04, had 21 points in just 11 games last year. An Italian import, Casinelli (‘05) had 30 points in 36 games and Chase Parry (‘03) put up 17 points in 13 games between the CAJHL and the USPHL Premier last year.
The Oilers also add a couple more with USPHL Premier experience in Stanford Zito and goaltender Antonio Tarantino, while they also expect big things from Slovakian forwards Filip Molnar and Alex Bartakovics. Also watch for South Korean import Seungpyo “Greener” Cho, an ‘04 who played in Canada last year with Prairie Hockey Academy.
It’s an international bunch with varying degrees of experience, and it should all bring an entertaining brand of hockey to the oil-rich town.
“We expect the Northwest division to bring great competition to established, passionate junior hockey markets and we can’t wait to get started!” said Imonti.