#USPHLPlayoffs: Tampa Bay Juniors vs. Florida Jr. Blades

Tampa Bay Juniors (1) vs. Florida Jr. Blades (4) 

All Games At Fort Myers Skatium, Fort Myers, FL

Saturday, March 9, 12:30 p.m. EST

Sunday, March 10, 9:30 a.m. EST (Jr. Blades are Home Team For Game 2)

Monday, March 11, 12:30 p.m. EST (If Necessary) 


By Joshua Boyd / USPHLElite.com


The Tampa Bay Juniors Elite program have had a great run since the formation of the current USPHL Elite conference in 2017. They have qualified for five of the first six Nationals, and the one year they would have missed the event, it ended up being canceled (2020). 

The regular season Florida Division champions get a chance to make it four Nationals in a row if they can get past a Florida Jr. Blades team that is not taking this opportunity lightly. 

A Nationals team in 2018, the Jr. Blades Elite program experienced some lean years since then, missing the divisional playoffs in 2020, 2021 and 2023. While the Jr. Blades’ chances for the top spot faded earlier in the season, they were able to build plenty of space between themselves and the non-playoff fifth and sixth positions to safely earn a postseason berth. 

Tampa Bay won all six of their 2023-24 regular season meetings this year, but the final one on Feb. 10 was a 6-5 OT victory. 

“We are expecting a tough series,” said Tampa Head Coach Garrett Strot. “Last time we played them it went to overtime. They have a few players that played a little bit of Premier this season, so will be a dangerous team.“ 

“Tampa has been the team to beat this season. We have played them tough all season however, falling short each game. Our last game against the Juniors we were able to force them into overtime taking a point,” added Doug Rose, Jr. Blades Head Coach. “We’ve watched our team improve immensely this season as the boys became used to the pace of the Florida Division. 

Florida’s Vincent Faggioli-DeLong became a huge offensive contributor towards the end of the season, scoring 17 points in a point streak over his last eight games of the season, one he certainly hopes to extend on Saturday in Fort Myers. He finished the season with 32 points in 39 games. 

Max Stek was second with 29 points, and both Sebastian Mason (22 points) and Joshua Mason (20 points) split the season between Premier and Elite. Sebastian Mason led in plus-minus with a +13, while defenseman Maksymilian Matys blocked 68 shots this year.

Logan Millar was the leading goalie for the Jr. Blades by putting up a .913 save percentage this year. Chase O’Dea also registered a win late in the season, while Giordan Gulati rounds out the goaltending trio. 

“We have been keeping practices intense, video sessions focused, and time in the weight room disciplined,” said Rose. “The Juniors move the puck well and have great skill. I am expecting a fast-paced game from both teams! Our guys are excited for the challenge ahead of them coming in as the fourth seed. We’ve done our preparation now it’s up to them to come together for the logo.”

The Juniors were loaded with some of the division’s top performers overall, many of whom are local Tampa-area products. This includes locals Dylan Hineman (54 points), Kevin Rosello (52), and Mookie Killen (40 points). Defenseman Jacob Munkwitz (41 points in 40 games)  joined from New York this year and has been a fantastic two-way player. Hineman and Colorado’s Lucas Gonzalez were the plus-minus leaders with a +38. D-man Andrew Wagenhauser, out of Ohio, led the way in blocked shots with 41. 

In the net, Tampa is led by Ethan Carlone, Marcus Benzrihem and Shane Passaro. Carlone lost only three games in the season for his second straight year. His two-year career record is 23-6-0-1 and he put up a .924 save percentage this year. Passaro led the trio with 13 wins, and Benzrihem had a .945 save percentage in going 8-2-0-0. Coach Strot certainly feels confident in the group he’s bringing to the ice. 

“We had a very good week of practice,” said Strot. “The guys had good jump and are excited to get going.”