For the first time this season the Tampa Bay Juniors took on their toughest rival the Florida Eels. The games were as physical, fast paced, and exciting as expected for two teams battling it out for first place in the division. Both teams had their ups and downs in what was to be the first 2 of 8 meetings this season. If the next 6 are anything like the first one, the first spot in the division is going to come down to the wire.
Levcenko Leads the Way
Elite got off to a very solid start in game one. They were quick to pucks and had a relentless forecheck. Therefore, Tampa played long stretchces of time in the Eels zone. Once again, Milan Levcenko would lead the way for Tampa Bay as he opened the scoring late in the 1st period on the Powerplay. After narrowly missing a hattrick last weekend against Palm Beach, he would follow through in this contest. He would add another powerplay tally in the 2nd period on a beautiful cross-ice feed from Nash Cobbs. Then with 30 seconds left in the 2nd he would complete the hattrick. For Levcenko it marked his 6th goal in the last 3 games and 8th in only 8 games played this year. Despite missing some time, he has been a driving force in Elite’s high-powered offense.
Despite giving one back to the Eels, Jake Duhaime would add another powerplay making them 3-for-4 on the night which gave the Juniors a 3-goal lead. However, the Eels would push back late in the 3rd. Alexander Clingerman would score two extra-attacker goals in a 1:27 to pull the Eels within 1. Despite this, Tampa would hang on for a huge win at home against the 2nd Place Eels.
Premier’s Huge Win at Home
With the Eels right behind TBJ in the standings, Friday’s contes was the biggest game to date. Both teams came ready to play as the pace was fast from the start. Tampa’s Aj Beugen would get the Juniors on the board early in 1st to give them the early lead. However, it was the Eels who would control play for the rest of the period. They spent large amounts of time in TBJ’s zone and it let to numerous scoring chances and eventually 2 goals.
Down 2-1 after one, Tampa Bay did a tremendous job keeping Florida off the board in the 2nd period. This was in large part due to the penalty kill. The unit played one of their best games of the year forcing one of the top powerplays in the league to go 0-for-6 including 0-for-2 in the second period. This would set up what would be Tampa’s best period of the season.
At the start of the 3rd period, it was clear that Tampa Bay had come out with a purpose. They looked like a completely different team as opposed to the first two periods. They were quick on pucks, won battles and spent lots of time in the Eels end. Just 28 seconds in, Tampa would get the tying goal from Beau Courneya. Then at 6:27, Ryan Bahula was able to find Adam Custable in front who was able to put it past Rolleman to give Tampa Bay the lead. One of Tampa’s weakness this year has been holding leads, but it did not show Friday. The Juniors did a fantastic job of holding their 1-goal lead through the remaining 12 minutes of the game. Judd Ginther would they add the empty-netter to put a cap on a huge 4-2 victory at home.
Smothered on the Road
Despite putting forth tremendous efforts at home, both teams failed to follow it up in Ft. Meyers. Elite was dominated from start to finish. Florida would score 2 goals in both the 1st and 2nd while adding three in the 3rd. The Eels goaltender Jacob Mork put forth another fantastic performance. The league leader got his first shutout of the season and has yet to allow more than 2-goals in a start.
Although Premier put forth a better performance than Elite, it was still not enough. Despite getting out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Parker Chadwell and Britt Courneya, they would falter in the 2nd and 3rd periods. The Juniors would give up 5 unanswered goals before getting one back. However, it was too little too late as they would fall 6-3. Despite the result on Friday, the losses on Sunday put the Juniors right back to where they started before the weekend began. Hanging on to first place.
The Tampa Bay Juniors will take on the Palm Beach Typhoon in a home-and-home set this weekend. Elite is 4-0 against Palm Beach this year and have scored at least 4 goals in all 4 games. Premier is 3-0-1 with the one loss coming in a shootout back in September. Puck drop on Friday will be at 5:30 for Premier and 8:15 for Elite. While Sunday’s games are at 1:00pm and 3:40 with Premier going first. All games can be streamed on HockeyTV.