The Tampa Bay Juniors are USPHL Elite Finalists!
TBJ found themselves in a battle for the championship in Boston against the Richmond Generals. Making the final game of the season is a huge accomplishment, one that Tampa has never achieved previously.
The Finals started off with a matchup against the defending champions Hampton Roads Whalers. A matchup that will always be a challenge, Tampa fought hard for 60 minutes, ultimately dropping a 2-1 decision. Matt Menkhaus scored the lone goal for TBJ, as he started what would be a fantastic weekend for himself.
With what most would consider the most difficult opening day schedule, TBJ later faced the regular season champions New Hampshire Monarchs. The Monarchs, who were one of only two teams managing to outscore Tampa through the regular season, were the heavy favorites.
Trent Gephart opened the scoring, with a shorthanded goal at 8:01 into the first period. The Monarchs would respond with two of their own while taking a lead into the second period. Jackson Drysdale capitalized on the lone goal of the second frame, before Kevin Holman buried a rebound on the power play early in the third. Halfway through the third, the Monarchs found the back of the net to tie things up at 3-3. The score would remain that way for the rest of the period, and ultimately end in a tie per round robin rules.
The Juniors found themselves going into the third and final game of the round robin with a chance to move on with a win, albeit a chance that required some luck and the requirement to win their last game by a handful of goals.
Luck was on their side, as Hampton beat the Monarchs, opening the possibility for TBJ to advance if they could beat the New York Aviators by 4 goals. However, 4 goals didn't seem like enough for the group from Tampa, as well as not hearing the news that Hampton beat the Monarchs, TBJ wanted to make sure that if that was their last game, they were going out with a bang. They managed to pull out an incredible 11-2 win against the Aviators, the same team that had beaten Hampton the day before. 14 players registered at least one point in the contest, while Johnny Scheer, Matt Menkhaus, and Brody Horoshak lead the way with 3 points apiece.
In what may have been the most exciting game of the year, the Juniors were able to pick up an OT win against the ever-dangerous Northern Cyclones in the semifinal. The Cyclones, lead by the 2 top scores in the league, have proven all year to be a huge threat offensively, finishing with 251 goals for in 43 regular season games. Johnny Scheer, and Matt Menkhaus would connect on 3 goals in the game, including Sheer's thrilling overtime winner.
Monday brought the biggest challenge of them all, attempting to win the last game of the season, and ultimately the championship. The General opened the scoring just 6 minutes into the first period, but Brendan Stoufer responded with his second goal of the finals just over 2 minutes later. With both teams deadlocked at one going into the second, Richmond scored a very controversial goal to put them up by one. Upon video review later, it was clear that the play was offside by a few feet. However, nothing could be done at the time, as the call on the ice stood. Brody Horoshak would pop in the tying goal halfway through the period, unfortunately as Tampa's final goal of the contest. Richmond would pick up a pair and lock things down defensively to pick up the title.
It was a fantastic season for these young men, proving critics wrong along every step of the season. Showing that the Tampa Bay Juniors are the real deal, and will be a top team for years to come.