By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com
North #1 Seed
Nationals Round Robin Schedule (All games at Utica University Nexus Center, Utica N.Y.)
All times EST
Thursday, March 23 vs. Charlotte Rush, 2:30 p.m.
Friday, March 24, vs. Jersey Hitmen, 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 25, vs. Florida Eels, 2:30 p.m.
The Cyclones experienced what no other team had before them – competing in a USPHL Nationals championship game in their own home arena. When Hudson, N.H.’s Cyclones Arena and the Northern Cyclones were the 2022 Nationals host, the Cyclones went 4-0 between the round robin and semifinal, starting off with a victory over the 2021 champion Charlotte Rush in Game 1.
They eventually yielded in that final game to the Richmond Generals in a packed Cyclones Arena all the way around the rink. It would certainly have been nice to win it there in front of the home crowd – but winning it in Utica this year would be just as sweet. It’s all about going all the way to fight for every possible title for the Cyclones.
“I think year after year, our goal is to be playing the very last day of the season at all levels,” said Head Coach Tim Plummer. “I believe it shows how much pride we take in consistently developing our players, especially in years like this where we come in first place in each of our Elite, Premier, and NCDC divisions.”
The Cyclones went 38-5-1-0 on the season, and their 77 points put them at not just first in the Elite North Division, but second overall and just three points behind the regular season champion Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. They were the very first team to play a USPHL playoff series, kicking off against the No. 4 seed Springfield Pics on March 3. The next day, they won their second game and clinched a Nationals berth before any other Elite teams had even convened for Game 1 of their series.
“We knew it was going to be a hard fought battle,” Plummer added. “We took care of what we needed to for us to get one step closer to our end goal.”
That end goal was the same as in 2022, and there are some who came back for another Elite season with a certain chip on their shoulder.
“I just feel we need to stay consistent over these next couple of weeks so that we are showing up playing our best hockey. Everyone is very focused on what we need to do and we are all extremely motivated to do what it takes to get us to the finish line,” said Plummer. “There are guys in that room who have leftover feelings about losing a National title on home ice just a year ago, and everyone is committed to making sure we don’t let an opportunity slip away from us again.”
The Cyclones kick off on Thursday against the Rush, opening with Charlotte – the Southeast No. 2 seed – for the second Nationals in a row. Charlotte edged the Cyclones out of the semifinals in 2021, one year before the Cyclones turned the tables and put a monkey wrench in their title defense plans. There’s certainly a great rivalry brewing here.
They also draw the Mid-Atlantic No. 2 seed Jersey Hitmen, whom the Cyclones faced and defeated in Hampton Roads in 2021.
The Cyclones defeated their third opponent, the Florida Eels, in their third game of the 2019 Nationals, before the Eels’ fellow Floridians the Tampa Bay Juniors (also at Utica in 2023) ended the Cyclones’ dreams in that year’s semifinals.
“We have to face some really great competition and some teams who obviously had a great regular season,” said Plummer. “We know that each game our opponent is going to be playing a solid brand of hockey, but it is on us to manage our own game and our own emotions to battle through whatever adversity we need to get through during the tournament.”
The Cyclones were led during the regular season by Josh Bruno – seventh in league scoring with 68 points in 42 games; defensemen Brady Bomal (34 points) and Joshua Page (31), both top 10 among Elite defensemen; and Maximilian Pierce in goal. Pierce led all Elite goalies with a .937 save percentage and 18 wins, and he ranked third in GAA at 1.88.
“Everyone pitches in with this group. That’s what makes us so special. We had some offense from our back end, and every line pitched in during Round 1 to move us forward,” Plummer said. “We have strong goaltending in the net. I feel confident on any day that they can all get the job done for us. This is one of those groups where I feel I can call on anyone at any time. I believe in each one of those guys and their ability to play as a group.”