#USPHLNationals Premier Team Preview: Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings

By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com 


The Nationals are quite a bit different than when the Riverkings last made the trip in the inaugural USPHL Premier season of 2017-18. Yes, it’s true that some things haven’t changed – the Florida Eels and Charlotte Rush have been there all along – but the league has expanded with western teams and some new powers have surfaced to disrupt the old guard. 

Regardless, the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings are happy to be back to the national championship tournament, their first time with their current ownership, management and coaching staff.

“Well, I think as a coach, your goals should be a little different than the players. I asked these guys what their goals were at training camp. Every one of them said Nationals, so we went to work everyday with that in mind and some days I leaned into them more than others, but these guys worked their butts off and deserve this opportunity,” said Co-Owner/GM/Head Coach Paul Pechmann. “For me, it’s not about wins, losses or banners, it’s about showing the rest of the world that we have a solid organization from top to bottom and will always be in the mix come playoff time, while helping these guys get to where they want and have a true junior experience.”

The Riverkings have never really faded from either the top or near the top of the USPHL Midwest West Division. With the exception of one fourth place finish in 2023, they’ve never been outside the top three and they won the regular season titles both this year and in 2021. 

After drawing the Minnesota Mullets in the first round of the playoffs, 6-0 and 3-2, the Riverkings went up against a Minnesota Moose organization that has made several past year Nationals appearances, including in 2023. After a 2-0 lead in Game 1, the Moose looked like they were pushing to book a return trip to Utica for themselves, but the Riverkings came back with three goals in the second period that went unanswered in the third and stood for a 3-2 win. The Riverkings then won 4-0 in Game 2 on the back of a 28-save shutout by Jude Ayling. 

“I thought we played very well against the Moose. Look, they are a tough team to play against and Nic [Leibold, first-year Moose head coach] has done a great job with them this year,” said Pechmann. “Both games were a battle and I expected nothing less. Ultimately, we took advantage of some breaks and played solid defensively which has been our mantra all year long.”

The team had a little short of 14 days between clinching the series against Minnesota and starting their Nationals run against the Ontario Jr. Reign, followed on Friday by a showdown with the Nashville Spartans. 

“Our preparation will not be much different than all year other than watching more of these teams and highlighting some things that maybe we can benefit from,” said Pechmann. “Realistically, if we play the way I know we can, we will represent the Midwest West well.

“Honestly, at this point, every team is tough and there are no gimmes anymore,” Pechmann added, “and if we don’t show up whoever we play can beat us.”

Those teams will be facing a pretty deep scoring attack. In four playoff games, defenseman Alexander Willharm, and forwards George Goodwin and Saint Michael’s College commit S.J. LeComte each had five points. George’s brother Xavier Goodwin put up four points and Owen Atkins put up three points in two games. Ayling worked in tandem with the USPHL Premier’s save percentage champion Bora Yildirim (.950 in the regular season) to get the sweep of both opponents. In the playoffs, Ayling has stopped 50 of 52 shots and Yildirim has stopped 64 of 66. 

The Riverkings will get started on Thursday against the Pacific Division’s Ontario Jr. Reign, and follow on Friday against the Great Lakes’ No. 2 seed Nashville Spartans, facing both teams for the first time. Against the Midwest West’s No. 2 seed Minnesota Squatch, they went 2-1-1-0 this year. They had three losses, all by three goals, to the Connecticut Jr. Rangers (at the Hitmen Classic in October), and the Fort Wayne Spacemen and MJDP (back-to-back at the USPHL Detroit Showcase).