#USPHLNationals Elite Team Preview: Islanders Hockey Club 

By Joshua Boyd / USPHLElite.com


The Islanders Hockey Club have attained that category that so many USPHL teams are seeking – they’re “Nationals staples.” With their fourth straight qualification, earned way back on March 3 following a 2-0 series victory against the Springfield Pics, the Islanders are no surprise to anyone when it comes to the end-of-year tournament. 

The Islanders finished at 29-13-2-0, second to the New England Division’s other qualified team, the Northern Cyclones. The Islanders, who won the regular season division title in 2021 and 2022, have been second to the Cyclones the past two seasons. 

The Islanders reached the Elite Nationals in the inaugural season of 2017-18, but missed that mark in 2018-19. The Islanders Elite program was dormant during 2019-20, but roared back to life in 2020-21 with its first of two straight New England titles and a return to Nationals for the first time in three years. 

After going 1-2 at Nationals in 2021 – made the semifinals, falling to the host Northern Cyclones. In 2023, the Islanders finished 1-2 in the Round Robin. 

“I’m very excited for the boys to earn their way to Nationals this year. It’s a huge accomplishment to be one of the final 10 teams playing and it’s a great event every year,” said Head Coach Kevin Smith. “With the number of players we have moving up [to the USPHL Premier Islanders Hockey Club] every year, each season is a new challenge with a new group. We have a handful of players who have experienced Nationals before, so we’ll be leaning on them heavily. But I’m looking forward to having our first year players see what the atmosphere and competition are like.”

The Islanders may have finished 26 points higher than the No. 3 seed Springfield Pics, but both games were one-goal defensive showdowns. The Islanders won Game 1 on March 2 2-1 in OT, and then just barely eked out a 1-0 win the next day. They faced a stellar goaltender in the Pics’ Shane McKone, who stopped 123 of 126 shots in the two games, including 55 of 56 in 1-0 loss. 

“Our series against the Springfield Pics was the definition of playoff hockey. Both games were hard-fought one-goal games,” added Smith. “We had to battle a hard working team with a hot goalie and it was certainly a challenge for us. In the end, it was great preparation for what the team will face in Nationals.” 

Though the Islanders only scored three goals in that series, the points were spread out among nine players each earning one assist, so there was great depth for the IHC in the postseason. Tagger Tamburo put up a 28-save shutout, and Kyle Mahan won Game 1 with 27 saves on 28 shots.

The Islanders have one of the longest stretches between games of any USPHL team, facing 18 days until their first seeding round game on March 21. 

“After a difficult series, we took a few days off to recharge the batteries. From there, we’ve been working every day to nail down the details in all facets of our game,” said Smith. “We’ll try to play a scrimmage as we get a little closer to Utica but we want to make sure we are fresh and hit the ground running at Nationals.”

It’s required, because every team that got there went through the grinders of their division over 44 games apiece, then a playoff series to make it where they are, i.e. packing bags for Utica. 

“There are a lot of teams who have a history of success in Nationals so we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on them,” said Smith. “But if a team can get through the grind of the regular season and playoffs, they’ve already proven themselves to be tough. It’s a deep field this year and all 10 teams have a chance to hold the trophy on the 25th.”

The Islanders will face the Tampa Bay Juniors and the defending National Champion Carolina Jr. Hurricanes. They haven’t faced either team this year, but played both at the 2023 Nationals, falling to the Jr. Canes 5-2 and defeating Tampa Bay, 6-4, in the former three-game round robin format.