The Southeast Division of the USPHL Elite Conference kept up its title as the “Home Of The Champions.” Every National Champion since 2017-18 has come out of the Southeast, including the Richmond Generals for the second time in that span. No one ever underestimates the Southeast Division in its competitive might.
Order is 2021-2022 Regular Season Finish
The Rush came in as the defending champion from 2020-21 and pushed into the Nationals yet again. They will be looking to get back to the top of the hill, a goal further enhanced knowing their rivals the Richmond Generals currently hold the Elite trophy they want back.
“At the Elite level this season, we will have a lot of turnover from last year’s roster and I am excited about the way the roster is shaping up,” said Rush Head Coach Troy Schwab. “Throughout our whole organization, we have depth in goal that looks to be a key piece to our Elite team. We will continue to play a fast, puck possession game with D that have the ability to get up ice and make plays.”
Growing up in Charlotte, Adriano Bongiorno got to know many of the Rush who passed through his house, as his family was a regular billet family for the Rush.
“He is an ‘06 that has been skating and training with us the last couple of years,” said Schwab. “A long time billet for the Rush, he is now a member of the team. He’s a player we are extremely excited about. The way he skates, moves, and thinks the game are at a high level.”
Schwab saw last year’s roster as obviously powerful, having placed in a tie for first in points at the end of the regular season. He sees this year’s team as comparable in skill level and drive, if not better.
“We had a very good roster and a very good team that ultimately fell short. This year, our roster should be every bit as good, and the expectation is we will be able to take the next step and get back to winning a championship,” he added. “With a lot of new players on the roster, we have a clean slate and a fresh outlook on things.
“The Southeast division is the best division in our league and I don’t expect that to change this season. We will be playing against some familiar faces within our division and every night will be a competitive, emotional game,” said Schwab. “Anybody can beat anybody, on any given night in the Southeast.”
The Generals will be fine with second in the regular season any day if it means they end up that year holding up the championship trophy. Always close with Charlotte, the Generals finished just five points back, just over a weekend’s pay from two wins. In the end, the Generals survived an overtime loss in the round robin at the 2022 USPHL Nationals to win their semifinal and – of course – the championship game in a packed Cyclones Arena against the host team!
Head Coach R.C. Lyke sees this team, very new in so many positions, to be just as potent as the title-winning team. After all, the bulk of the squad skated as the Generals 18AAA in an ECC Labor Day Tournament and won the whole enchilada against some top split-season programs.
“I think it’ll be a group that combines some good size, physicality and skating, with very good, higher-end skilled guys,” said Lyke.
Six players are returning from the championship squad, including 2004 forward Aidan Urie.
“He’s our captain and I think he should be arguably the best power forward in the league. He can hit and score and play in all situations,” said Lyke. “Trae Schanberger was a very skilled, playmaking forward who had an excellent rookie year. Next year, he should dominate at Premier. Brady Kangas is a strong, two-way forward who plays physical in the tough areas. He’s a leader both on and off the ice.”
Ian Dracoulis (‘04) was a steady, physical two-way defenseman for the Elite squad, while Tyler Morgan is coming off a really good rookie year on the blue line as well. Aidan Mirra is a returning goalie who will be fighting in a strong trio for No. 1 minutes.
Lyke also is excited about ‘04 Dario Cantini, out of Trinity-Pawling School, and Cy McCrink from the Syracuse Nationals 15’s. “Both are high-end goaltenders, big kids who take up a ton of room in net and will earn a ton of attention from the Tier II level,” said Lyke.
Owen Cross is a newcomer at forward, an ‘05 with “excellent speed and hands,” while Will McLaughlin III is another power forward like Kangas, an ‘04 who stands 6-1 and weighs 200 and can put up the points.
Every weapon in the arsenal is necessary to stay competitive in the hyper-strong Southeast Division.
“Our [Southeast] teams always do a great job with recruiting and bringing in high-quality players,” said Lyke. “I expect it to be super-competitive and physical with a good amount of skill all around.”
Carolina Jr. Hurricanes
The Jr. Canes always use their Elite team as a true entry-level junior squad, leaning heavily on first-and second-year eligible players to build their rosters with an eye on the future of strong Premier teams.
“Once again, our Jr. Canes Elite team is younger, however ready and eager to go!” said Head Coach Brad Gaylord. “We lost to the defending National Champions in the playoffs, so we haven’t forgotten that. We are very close [to Nationals] and the young men on this Elite team can taste it. We have veteran leadership and goaltending that we will rely on heavily for the regular season.”
He foresees this group grasping “a quicker understanding of our team culture!”
Gaylord also looks to forward Tristan Seney (‘04), as well as defensemen Colby Markham, Max Sullivan and Chris Cuddy, all 05’s, as being “young players we look at to make an impact this year.”
The Jr. Canes finished 10 points back of Richmond last year, so they’re in the mix, but they also know they’re always up against it with the Rush and Generals winning the last three Elite National Championships.
“I would have to assume Richmond will be a competitive team. After winning Nationals, that definitely helps your recruiting base,” said Gaylord. “Also, don’t let expansion fool you. I feel Nashville will surprise people this year.”
Hampton Roads Whalers
Bobby Davis has played hockey around the world, and has coached or scouted in many different leagues, including in the past in the USPHL Elite and also in the National Collegiate Development Conference. He’s very excited, however, to be back coaching in the Elite after five years away.
“I’m excited to be a part of the Whalers. I coached against them for six years, and they’ve always run a great program and great facility. When the opportunity came to join, I jumped on it,” said Davis, a former NCAA Division I player with Northern Michigan and Northeastern Universities. “I’m definitely excited about giving guys an opportunity from different markets to elevate their game and try to gear towards playing college hockey.
“This looks like my kind of team,” he added. “I can’t wait to see how they react in game situations. They have a lot of personal skill, team speed and I’m excited to develop them and get them organized.”
He’s excited about returning veterans Brayden Taylor (‘03), Ryan Hughes and Santino Capone (‘04) along with Nick Arnold (‘05) providing the framework around which to build a team-wide work ethic and eye towards constant improvement.
Watch for Canadians Tanyk Filipuzzi and Ethan Gerdis to bring outstanding production.
“Both have good speed, hands, good shot and personal skills, and they seem to think the game pretty well,” added Davis.
“This seems to be one of the stronger divisions – it’s definitely a physical division with good rivalries and it brings the best out of players,” he said.
The Patriots last year became one of the most intriguing stories at both the Elite and Premier levels. In the USPHL Elite, the Patriots beat every other team in the division, including the eventual National Champion Generals as late as Feb. 20, just over a month before the Gens’ biggest win.
Former NHL and seemingly every other level in the world player Josh Gratton has created a whole new culture just outside the nation’s capital, so don’t be surprised if the upward trajectory of wins continues en route to their first-ever playoff berth.
“The Elite level is young and hard-working. We get our leading point-getter back, a few good, young defensemen and a few Europeans as well,” added Gratton. “Overall, it’s a younger team than last year.”
Hanna returns as an All-Star from last season, and the ‘03 forward who scored 44 points in 44 games will be a leader this year, and the fifth-year USPHL veteran will also likely see his first Premier action.
Ukrainian Vladislav Zubriychuk (‘05) also returns as a great defensive forward with size (6-0, 170) and an overall top-end skill set for his age. Also an ‘05, Nate Clark is expected to increase his role with the team.
In terms of newcomers, watch for forwards Cooper Senn and Nick Frantz to make an impact. Frantz was the Captain of the 16U Patriots last year and also saw his first five Elite games.
Like all the other coaches in the division, Gratton foresees a knock-down drag-out season ahead.
“The Southeast is always competitive and it’s nice to play against the best in the league,” said Gratton. “We’re strong enough to compete with them day in and day out and we expect to turn some heads.”
Welcome to the USPHL, Nashville! Music City hopes to go platinum with its debut in the Elite.
“As an organization, we are extremely excited for our inaugural year in the USPHL, and especially to be playing in the Southeast Division. It’s proved to be one of the strongest divisions in the league year after year,” said Head Coach Ray Tremblay, applying his statement to the organization as a whole, on the Premier and Elite sides. “The challenge for us will be creating our culture and team cohesiveness. Being a new team, that comes with the territory. But saying that, the guys have had great attitudes throughout camp and are coming together quickly.”
On the Elite side, the Spartans are truly using it as their developmental squad for younger talent, generally the approach at this level.
“We definitely put more emphasis on development with our Elite roster,” he said.