TBJ Premier and TBJ Elite Both Victorious
The Tampa Bay Juniors rode their high-powered offense to victories Friday night over the Florida Jr. Blades. Playing at a fast pace they moved the puck well and took advantage of their opportunities. In addition, Rookies across the board had a fantastic night as 8 players scored their first career goals. It was a night to remember at AdventHealth Center Ice.
Elite got to work early and often Friday night. Milan Levcenko, the rookie from Lithuania got Tampa on the board nearly 6 minutes into the game. After spending a good amount of time in the Florida end, Levcenko was able to walk free from the corner and put a backhander past the goaltender Crawford.
After surrendering a powerplay goal, they answered with one of their own to regain the lead. At 11:07 Jake Duhaime scored the first Powerplay goal of the year, collecting more points for the first line. Consisting of Duhaime, Levcenko and Cooper Hunt, the first line combined for 6 points.
Special teams played a factor in both games Friday. Elite took 11 total penalties that resulted in 9 Florida powerplays. It nearly allowed the Blades back into the game. At 2:58 Adam Creighton was whistled for cross checking. Given the opportunity to pull the game within one, Florida took advantage. Shane Szott was able to skate to the top of the circle and sneak one past Evan Spinella cutting Tampa’s lead to one.
However, the team would go on to kill 2 more penalties finishing 7-for-9 on the night. However, it was not a powerplay that would decide the game. Tampa Bay had an opportunity to take the lead when the Blades took a charging penalty early in the third. However, Milan Levcenko would take a penalty shortly after forcing a 4-on-4. Facing a penalty kill with the lead at stake, defenseman Jordan Campo put the game on his stick. After getting a pass from Hunt, Campo veered towards the left circle and fired one past Crawford. Having reclaimed their 2-goal lead and the momentum, Tampa Bay would tack on two more goals in route to a 6-2 victory.
Expectations where high for the Juniors coming into the night for a team with 7 rookies and numerous call ups on the opening night roster. It’s arguably one of TBJ’s best teams on paper but were unproven as a group. However, any doubts about their talent and potential as a unit were put to rest Friday night.
Tampa’s rookies came out of the gate flying. They accounted for 5 points on three first period goals. Noah Weisjahn opened the scoring nearly halfway through the first. Swiping the puck from the defenseman he was able to slip in on a partial breakaway and put a backhander over goaltender Tyler Ledoux. Then came AJ Beugen. The first year out of Minnesota, who averaged 1.44 points-per-game had no trouble scoring. After receiving a chip pass from Jon Heller, Connor Nelson was able to streak down the left wing. Charging down the slot was Beugen who was able redirect the beautiful backdoor feed into a wide-open net.
Less the 3 mintues after scoring his first in the league, Beugen would bag another. Receiving a great lead-fed from Judd Ginter, Beugen was able to walk in all alone on Ledoux and slip one through the five-hole to give Tampa a 3-0 lead.
Up and down board Tampa’s rookies dominated offensively. Connor Nelson and Judd Ginther each had a goal and an assist, while Jackson Studebaker and Chet Skinner each had an assist. Overall, the rookies would combine to score 11 points on a night of firsts.
Call-ups on the rise.
In addition to the 7 rookies, there was also 7 call-ups from last years elite team. This included the high-powered line of Jack Fleer, Ryan Bahula, and Adam Custable. Each of them tallied 45-plus points a season ago. While moving from elite to premier is not easy, and they played as well as anyone could’ve hoped.
They used their speed and good puck movement to keep Florida hemmed into their own zone. Filip Kuba, one of the best young defenseman also shined in his first premier game. All of them would score at least a point with Jack Fleer putting home a rebound to give Tampa a 4-1 lead.
If there was one sour part to Friday’s opening, it was the complacency Tampa played with in the second period. After Beau Courneya scored to make it 5-1, the Juniors completely lost their intensity. They were outworked, outplayed, and lost battles. This would allow Florida to climb back into a game they shouldn’t have been in. After taking a Boarding penalty, the Blades scored two short-handed goals in 31 seconds cutting the Juniors lead in half. Then just 49 seconds into the third, Cameron Croteau would score again. Suddenly Tampa’s 4-goal lead had vanished.
Penalty kill saves the day
Despite nearly blowing their 4-goal lead, Tampa Bay managed to settle down after. However, 8-minutes into the third period they would give Florida an opportunity to tie the game by taking a penalty. Trying to protect a one-goal lead, the penalty killers responded in a big way. They were all over the puck carrier and didn’t allow Florida’s powerplay much time or space. Weisjahn came up with a huge block that eventually led to him drawing a penalty and negating the remainder of the Blades powerplay.
Not long after, Florida would seal their fate with a high-sticking major, giving the Juniors a 4-on-3. Judd Ginther would take full advantage, dashing any hope of a Blades come back.
In the books
Tampa Bay flexed their muscles on a Blades team that looked considerably better than last year. Both teams showed skill and speed while being able to take the body. It was not perfect and there are a lot of things to work on. However, TBJ fans should be very happy with how their team looked on opening night.
Photo by Alex Walworth