By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com
Charlotte Rush (1) vs. Carolina Jr. Hurricanes (4)
All games at Pineville Ice House, Charlotte
Charlotte is home team for Games 1 and 3, Carolina is home team for Game 2
Game 1: Saturday, March 11, 2:30 p.m. EST
Game 2: Sunday, March 12, 2:30 p.m. EST
Game 3: Monday, March 13, 2:30 p.m. EST (if necessary)
The Charlotte Rush certainly would not feel complete without a trip to the USPHL Nationals to end their season. They have made it every single season in the current format of the USPHL Premier (since 2017-18), and they took home the top prize in 2021.
Standing in their way of getting to the USPHL Nationals in Utica are the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes, who joined the Rush at Nationals in 2021 as Southeast Division representatives. After missing the mark last year, the Jr. Canes would love to get back. They have been playing playoff-style hockey for a while now, as they had to battle the plucky first-year Nashville Spartans down the stretch just to reach the postseason.
“Charlotte is the No. 1 team for a reason. We have to be ready to play every game like it’s our last!” said Jr. Canes Head Coach Kevin St. Jacques. “But we’ve been doing that for the last five months, so we are used to it.”
“All year, we have had contributions from up and down our lineup and we expect that to continue into playoffs,” said Rush Head Coach Troy Schwab. “We feel the depth of our team is a huge strength for us. Practice over the last two weeks leading up to playoffs has been all about making sure that, structurally, we are in a good spot and physically we feel good going into the playoffs.”
He was happy with how his team finished their season series against Carolina. The Rush went 5-2-0-1 against the Jr. Canes, including the last game of their regular seasons on March 5, a 4-0 victory for Charlotte.
“Every time we play the Jr. Canes it’s always a very good hockey game – two very talented teams competing at a high level,” said Schwab. “A very exciting and tough first round matchup.”
Through games like the season finale, Schwab could see just how important is veteran leadership.
“We are a very veteran group with a lot of 2002 players. They are going to be counted on and leaned on to lead our team throughout the playoffs,” Schwab added. “We have very good goaltending in Nick Anderson and Devin Stephens who we also hope are very good for us.”
On the Carolina side, the Jr. Canes got another massive season from Ethyn Hopp, their all-time leading scorer with 134 points in 119 games. He had his best season of three with 63 points in 43 games.
Players like Hopp are going to have to give it their very best, as they don’t want these next games to be their last two or three of their career.
“I think that this will be a great series. We had a great series last year. We had a great series with those guys, with them being the top seed,” said St. Jacques. “It’s always a good rivalry. We are definitely looking for a good series against them.”