#USPHLNationals Elite Team Preview: Rockets Hockey Club

By Joshua Boyd / USPHLElite.com 


The Rockets Hockey Club have themselves a few gems in terms of offense, and a team defense that can play the shutdown game. So they certainly come into Utica feeling good about their chances in the 2024 field. 

Returning Rockets forwards John Crowdell and Jace Lombardo put themselves in the Elite record books as the No. 1 and 5 all-time scoring forwards, and Lombardo set the all-time single season scoring record at 113 points, followed close behind by Crowdell’s 108 points. Crowdell holds the all-time record at 191 points in 87 Elite games. 

“With so many key returners this year, our goal from Day 1 of the off-season was to get here this year,” said Head Coach Todd Wagenbach. “We found the players we needed to add both in the off-season and during the regular season to accomplish this, and it feels great to be back. We earned it through the entire roller coaster ride that was our season.”

The Rockets finished third in the Atlantic Division at 26-16-0-2, which is RHC’s best record in the seven seasons of the current USPHL Elite Conference. And with that, they could still only finish third in a pretty stacked division, from which they are joined by the division’s regular season champion Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. Against the Knights, the Rockets had their best record of the season against any Nationals team, going 4-3-0-0 over the year. They also faced the Northern Cyclones, Islanders Hockey Club and Carolina Jr. Hurricanes during the regular season and fell to each. They will face the Cyclones on March 21 and hope for better results than the shutout defeat they took on Feb. 8 in their first Cyclones Showcase game. 

The Rockets did just come off a big, confidence-building series against the higher-seeded P.A.L. Jr. Islanders, winning two games to one. 

“We played three truly complete games in the playoffs, and just had some trouble finding the back of the net in Game 1,” said Wagenbach. “We are firing on all cylinders offensively, defensively and in net at the right time and are finally healthy enough to play the way we want to play.”

Lombardo and Crowdell were again 1-2 in scoring against P.A.L., with lines of 4-4-8 and 2-5-7, respectively. The Staten Islanders were especially effective in the Game 3 win, with Lombardo scoring twice and Crowdell putting up a 1-2-3 line in the 4-1 victory this past Monday. With his two goals, Lombardo now has 11 points in five career playoff games, tying him for the Rockets all-time lead in postseason points with Jason Lastra (2018-21). 

John Whyte II, an up-and-coming ‘06 in the program, put up five points in the three-game series. Joseph Auletti put up a .949 save percentage in net in going 1-1 against P.A.L., while Eric Rosati stopped 38 shots in Sunday’s Game 2 victory. 

Playing on Monday gave the Rockets roughly 10 days between games, but that’s less when you count travel and other preparations. 

“Over the next week, we will be doing exactly what everybody else is doing: fine-tuning our systems and special teams at practice, working out in the gym, stretching, watching film, making adjustments, getting reps, taking care of our bodies through nutrition and hydration, and preparing for battle,” added Wagenbach. “Everybody at this Nationals event is good. You have to be to get here. We will be prepared!”