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Tampa Bay Juniors Story

07/31/2019, 12:45pm EDT
By Reba Larose, Florida Hockey Life Magazine

Longevity is the Formula for Their Success

Now entering their 12th season, the Tampa Bay Juniors Hockey Club remains one of Florida’s top Junior hockey programs. Throughout the seasons, the Tampa Bay coaching staff has been devoted to developing talented players to one day take positions on collegiate rosters, and – for the few fortunate ones – the opportunity to play in the NHL.

 

An Appetite for Success

Looking back, the Tampa Bay Juniors have a lot to be proud of this season. All year long, both on and off the ice, the Elite and Premier teams worked hard, and showed tremendous improvement.

The Elite team closed out the 2018-19 regular season in February with a first place victory in the Florida division. Then in March, they went on to the USPHL National Championship Game. Additionally, the Premier team finished third in the Florida division.

Although they made great efforts this season, the Tampa Bay Juniors are hungry for more, and are shooting to move up even higher in the USPHL rankings next year – maybe even taking it all the way. The program’s coaching staff will condition their teams for success with a special formula on which the entire program is based upon.

 

The Pursuit of Greatness

Over the years, the Tampa Bay training and coaching staff has created a philosophy that combines all aspects of a player: who they are on the ice, who they are as a member of the team, and who they are as a member of their community to represent “one self, one team, and one community.” They know that in order to achieve the pursuit of something great, you must first build the individual from within.

For the Tampa Bay Juniors, there is so much more to hockey than simply being a hockey player. The coaches use an inside-out approach to player development that implements a set of core values and beliefs in their training system. One of the main goals of which is for players to pursue greatness in something larger than themselves.

            It is with this philosophy that club owner Brett Strot and Head Coach Garrett Strot, aims to unlock each players’ potential and challenge the status quo. Aside from breaking records and playing impressive seasons, Strot says the Tampa Bay Juniors ultimately strive to develop “PRIDE on the ICE”, which consists of:

Positive Attitude – finding the “Good” in all that they do

Responsibility – knowing & doing what is expected of them

Integrity – being authentic & consistent in their core values

Desire – a willingness to learn & become greater

Excellence – paying attention to detail & doing it to the best of their ability

 

Imagination – intelligence having fun through creativity

Cooperation – working together to achieve a common goal

Emotion – energy in motion

 

“Our goal is to develop players’ natural instincts of the game, rather than relying totally on a certain system.  Although structure is needed, our belief is that the best players are able to play creatively within a system, positively impacting the team,” according to the program’s mission statement.

            For 12 years, those involved with the program have pursued this mission to develop strong, talented hockey players and well-rounded individuals. Since their establishment, the Tampa Bay Juniors have sent numerous players on to compete with Division I teams across the country, including Harvard, Cornell, Lake Superior State, Providence and Air Force. Of those players, two have made it all the way up the ranks to the NHL.

            The first of which is Jacksonville-native Brian Ferlin who was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the fourth round of the NHL Entry Draft in 2011. Ferlin was part of the team from 2008-09 before attending Cornell and moving on to the NHL. He currently plays for the Bakersfield Condors, an AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, as a right wing.

            Following Ferlin is current Dallas Stars left winger Roope Hintz, who played for the Tampa Bay Juniors during the 2012-13 season. 22-year-old Hintz was among the Stars competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year.

            Although the Playoffs didn’t go as expected for Florida, there is a sense of pride in seeing a former Tampa Juniors player making it this far in the fight for the Cup. It is this kind of opportunity that the Tampa Bay Juniors program has strived to make possible for their young players since their foundation more than a decade ago.

 

The Beginning of an Era

Although the team is now deeply rooted on Florida’s west coast, the Tampa Bay Juniors got their start about three hours north across the state in Jacksonville. Back then, they were known as the Ice Dogs.

Established in 2008, the Ice Dogs enjoyed two successful seasons in Jacksonville, nurturing talent such as Ferlin, and teammates Greg Gozzo, who went on to play Division I hockey at Harvard; and Erik Drapluk who played Division I for Lake Superior State.  

During their final season in Jacksonville, the Ice Dogs won the Florida Division of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League (MJHL) with a 25-9 season. Ultimately, the Ice Dogs fell in the USA National quarterfinals that year.

With just two seasons under their belt, the Ice Dogs chose to relocate themselves and find a new place to call home. Brett Strot, who was then the Ice Dogs head coach, started anew in Tampa Bay for the 2010-11 season.

 

America’s Hockey Coach

With a hockey history whose roots started growing in Maple Grove, Minnesota, Brett Strot has helped develop the junior hockey program in Tampa Bay to greater and greater heights, season after season for the past 12 years. Part of what makes Strot such an effective leader of the Tampa Bay Juniors program is his truly impressive hockey background, both as a player and as a coach.

Now well-known among the local and national hockey communities, Strot began making a name for himself as a forward for the University of Minnesota, where he played from 1986 until 1990. Following his college career, Strot played professional hockey for the Jacksonville Barracudas, as well as for teams in in the ECHL, UHL, ACHL, IHL and WHA2 until his retirement in 1997.

From then on, Strot began coaching and managing the Jacksonville Hammerheads junior team that competed in the Southern Elite Hockey League from 1998 to 2000. Nearly a decade later, after coaching the Barracudas, Strot partnered with families throughout the southeast to form an independent 14U AAA hockey team that advanced to the USA National Tournament in the 2006-07 season. Two seasons later, Strot and his independent team formed the Jacksonville Ice Dogs junior program.

Seeming to have found his calling, Strot has taken on some very important coaching responsibilities throughout the years. Arguably one of his greatest responsibilities was his position as the associate head coach of the Gold Medal winning USA Women’s 2018 Olympic team.

Speaking of the Women’s National Team: huge congratulations are in order as they won their fifth consecutive gold medal this April at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship. Well done, ladies!

Strot is also the founder and owner of the Hockey International, an advanced hockey testing and training program in Tampa,  providing elite hockey specific training for the Tampa Bay Juniors, and other elite hockey players from around the country, and the world.

           

The Next Chapter of Tampa Hockey

Since their inception, the former Ice Dogs and the Tampa Bay Juniors have proven themselves as one of the best in developing hockey players in the Sunshine State. Thanks to the guidance of Strot, his brother Garrett, their staff, and the state-of-the-art training facility at Advent Health Center Ice the young men of Tampa Bay have access to many of the resources they need to be great hockey players at the junior level and beyond.

The most important of those resources is the one that comes naturally, the pure talent that a player must possess, and there is no doubt that the Tampa Bay hockey community has plenty of that.

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