By Joshua Boyd / USPHLElite.com
All games to be played at Pineville Ice House
Potomac Patriots (2) vs. Charlotte Rush (3)
Patriots will be home team in Games 1 and 3; Rush will be home in Game 2
Game 1: Saturday, March 11, 11:30 a.m. EST
Game 2: Sunday, March 12, 11:30 a.m. EST
Game 3: Monday, March 13, 11:30 a.m. EST (if necessary)
The Potomac Patriots may be new to the USPHL Premier and Elite Southeast Division playoffs, but they’re hoping to be the life of the party and keep the celebration going all the way to the USPHL Nationals in Utica.
The Charlotte Rush, on the other hand, had to watch last year as their chief rivals in the Southeast – the Richmond Generals – skated away with the trophy they themselves had won in 2021. The Rush would like their trophy back now, thanks.
Charlotte is in a terrific and fortunate situation, where they may be the lower seed in this series, but they are playing at their home barn. Pineville Ice House is hosting the whole Southeast Division championships, helping to take a bit of sting off the Rush finishing third following two division titles in 2020-21 and 2021-22.
“I think our Elite team had a successful season with a pretty disappointing end. With how young our group is, we were impressed at how we got rid of selfish habits that put us in positions to lose games early on,” said Elite Head Coach Trevor Kleckner. “We were also extremely impressed at our ability to perform at showcases as we went 11-1 throughout all three we attended. Playing in showcases for the first time at a young age can be mentally and physically taxing but our players handled it great.”
He also talked about the great education he and his players received from what they saw in the final two weekends against Richmond and Carolina.
“Towards the end of the season we had two weekends against division opponents who are in the Southeast Division playoffs this weekend. Those teams showed up ready to play and ready to play playoff hockey before the postseason began,” said Kleckner. “We were still in regular season mode, losing both weekends. However, over the course of the last two weeks of practice we’ve harped on playoff hockey and I believe that our group is ready for it.”
Potomac very early on set themselves apart from all prior Patriots teams. They just barely missed playoffs last year, falling short on a tiebreaker to Hampton Roads, but this really does look like their year. Charlotte certainly stands in the way, and they have the strength of a 2-2 series record against Potomac this year.
“It’s been a while since we played Potomac, playing them at their rink in October and at ours in November. There’s no doubt they have a ton of skill up front. They have a lot of depth with forwards who can put the puck in the back of the net. We have to remain disciplined within our system and limit their scoring opportunities,” added Kleckner. “ On the flip side, when we’re on the attack we have to capitalize on opportunities that are given to us. It’s extremely hard to score in playoff hockey but players who work hard and get to the net are usually the ones putting up points. Special Teams will also be a huge part of the weekend.
“The team who stays out of the box and capitalizes on power play chances will win the series. It’s going to be a very intense series but we’re excited and ready for the opportunity to go to nationals”.
Zarand Varga put up a 20-40-60 line in 34 games, good for 1.76 points per game, one of the league’s best among players skating in at least 20 contests.
Interestingly, in goal, both the Rush’s and Patriots’ goalies have identical save percentages. Eddie Kaiven (Potomac) and Evan Crawford (Rush) both have .932 marks. It’s not a great goalie or forward or defenseman, or any small cluster of any of these that will put the Rush where they want to go.
“As a group, what worked the best for us this season was playing as one unit. Our game is moving pucks and jumping into space to create scoring opportunities and that’s where we excelled,” said Kleckner. “When we tried to be individualistic and attack opponents head on we’d miss out on those opportunities.As long as we stick to our game plan and not be selfish we will have success.”