The USPHL Premier Nationals Presented by LTD Hospitality will kick off in Chesapeake, Va. on Thursday morning. Here is a division by division look at how teams made their way to the Virginia tournament.
Charlotte Rush – One of four teams to qualify on the first weekend of the postseason, the Rush finished on top of the division, but still faced a tough task, slaying the two-time defending champion Hampton Roads Whalers. The Rush won the first game 6-2 but the Whalers halted the celebration with a 6-3 win in Game 2 before the Rush used a 5-2 win to move on to the big tournament.
Carolina Junior Hurricanes – The Canes finished seven points up on the Richmond Generals in the regular season, but these were two closely matched squads and that showed with a playoff series that opened and closed with overtime battles. The first, won by the Generals put the Canes in a do-or-die situation and they responded by winning the next two including the finale, in overtime.
Florida Eels - The Eels battled through an entire season before clinching the top spot on the final day of the season with a win against the Tampa Bay Juniors. That proved to be a big win as the Eels moved on to sweep the Atlanta Mad Hatters to earn the division’s top seed.
Charleston Colonials - The Colonials grabbed the other spot, coming out on top in a thrilling three-game set with the Juniors rallying back from a first game defeat and capturing the spot at Nationals with a 2-1 edge in the final game.
Elmira Enforcers - Grabbed the division’s top seed with a nice late season rally that saw the team slip into a second-place tie with the Philadelphia Hockey Club, both teams with matching 28-14-0-2 records. The Enforcers won a pair of games against Buffalo Thunder in the opening round and stayed on home ice to face Philadelphia, boosting its playoff record to 4-0 with two more wins to grab the spot at Nationals.
New York Aviators - The reason the Enforcers got the spot was a great playoff push by the New York Aviators, who finished fifth in the division’s regular season standings and shrugged off being the visitors in two playoff series having already played an entire season on the road. After sweeping the Jersey Hitmen, the Aviators stunned the 33-9-2 Rockets Hockey Club with another sweep in the second round.
New England Division
Islanders Hockey Club - The regular season champion in the New England Division and made its way to the National Championship tournament with four straight wins, sweeping both the South Shore Kings and then the Bridgewater Junior Bandits to grab its spot in the Sweet 16.
Northern Cyclones - Received the first round bye and battled the Boston Junior Bruins towards their National Championships berth.
Fresno Monsters - There was no room for error in this division as the four teams rolled into a single elimination weekend with the division’s spot at Nationals on the line.
The Monsters were the division’s top entry through most of the season and translated that into a berth at Nationals with a 6-2 win against the San Diego Sabers to reach the championship game, which it won 7-2 against the Las Vegas Thunderbirds.
This Division also had just one champion advancing out of a tournament event, but it was as much an endurance contest as it was a test of skills and abilities. Teams drew a sigh of relief heading into the event as the division’s best team down the stretch, the Provo Riverblades failed to qualify for the championship tournament.
Parity was evident as three teams – the eventual champion Utah Outliers, Northern Colorado Eagles and Pueblo Bulls all tied at 2-1.
The Bulls downed the Eagles to earn a second berth in the championship game against the Outliers, who matched its 5-3 win from earlier in the round robin to punch its ticket to Virginia.
Great Lakes Division
The top two teams in the regular season – Metro Jets and Toledo Cherokee earned a first-round bye and then advanced to the Nationals with sweeps in their only playoff round.
Metro Jets - The perennial division champion Jets faced off against the Columbus Mavericks who moved past the Lake Erie Bighorns in an impressive three-game series the previous week. The Jets allowed just one goal in each game and the regular season league champs will be a force in Chesapeake.
Toledo Cherokee - This squad grabbed the other bye and played the Pittsburgh Vengeance who advanced past Wooster Oilers in the opening round. They also allowed their opponent just one goal in both games to grab the sweep,
Midwest West Division
Minnesota Blue Ox - The top four seeds won their first round series in this division using home ice to advantage, but the Blue Ox didn’t follow the script in the second round. In the opening round, the Ox won in two, but got some push back from the Steele County Blades, eventually winning the series in double overtime. Great defense and goaltending paid off for the Blue Ox, who stunned the division champion Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings with a pair one-goal edges in Rapids to grab the Nationals Berth.
Minnesota Moose - The other series matched two teams that couldn’t be closer, in the standings and on the ice. The Minnesota Moose came out of an extremely tough series with the Hudson Havoc. Teams entered the third and deciding game having both won a 2-1 overtime match previously, but the Moose grabbed control in the key game, pulling out a 4-1 win. In the first round, the Moose moved past the Rum River Mallards with a sweep.
Midwest East Division
MJDP - The lone first round bye went to MJDP who met up with a confident Detroit Fighting Irish team in the second round. The charged-up Irish, coming off a first-round win against Decatur Blaze, put the MJDP backs to the wall with a 4-3 win in the opening contest, but the home side roared back with a 3-0 shutout in the middle game and a 3-1 decision in the clincher.
Chicago Cougars - Also facing some adversity early was the Chicago Cougars who moved past the Motor City Hockey Club with a pair of lopsided wins in its opening round but ran into a wall named the Fort Wayne Spacemen in the opening game of the second round. After dropping a 9-4 decision in the first game, the team got the required gut check and advanced with a 4-2 win in the second game and a 7-0 goose egg in the clincher.