The Tampa Bay Juniors gave a good showing at the Florida Showcase in Estero this past weekend. The team played four teams from the Southeast Division which is widely considered to be the best division in the league. Each team would come away with two wins on the weekend as Premier went 2-1-1 while Elite went 2-2. Regardless of their records, both teams walked away pleased knowing that they played well and are ready to compete with these teams when the postseason rolls around.
Although Tampa Bay would drop their opener to the Charlotte Rush, they responded with three very well played games. It started with the Potomac Patriots on Saturday. Although Potomac’s record was around .500, they were much improved from previous years. The Juniors would control this game from start to finish. They outshot Potomac 52-30 and limited them to less than 10 shots in each of the last two periods. However, despite all their scoring chances, they ran up against goaltender Dylan Dallaire. Dallaire made numerous highlight reel saves including a windmill save towards the end of regulation. Down by one with just over five minutes to go, the Juniors would catch a break. Britt Courneya caught an elbow up high that resulted in a five-minute major powerplay. Tampa Bay would take advantage as Connor Nelson would deflect a puck in front to finally beat Dallaire and tie the game at two.
With time remaining in their major powerplay, Tampa Bay was inches from scoring the game winning goal in the final seconds. AJ Beugen had a one timer from the circle that was destined to find the back of the net. However, the skate Josef Flachs got in the way and deflected it wide and thus the game would head to overtime. Although Tampa Bay would lose the game, the way they played was an important confidence boost for the rest of the weekend.
Following the overtime loss on Saturday, the Juniors would start their Sunday with the Richmond Generals. It was a contest that turned out to be one of the most exciting of the entire showcase. Although Richmond would hop out to an early 1-0 lead, Tampa Bay would answer right back with a powerplay goal from Jonah Mortenson. Not long after, Adam Custable would give the Juniors the lead and they didn’t look back. Tampa Bay would amass a 5-2 lead with goals from Noah Weisjahn, Judd Ginther and Chet Skinner.
Holding a 5-2 lead with just over two minutes it seemed like the Juniors would skate away with their first win of the weekend. However, the Generals would stage one of the most remarkable comebacks in league history. Richmond scored three goals in the last two minutes including one in the final 10 seconds. Richmond seemed to have all the momentum heading into overtime, but Tampa Bay would weather the storm and get some opportunities of their own. With a just under two minutes left in OT, Adam Custable blocked a shot and headed the other way looking for a breakaway. At the end of a shift, he got caught up to but stayed with the play. Custable was able to throw the puck towards the net and it went underneath Ryan Piros for the overtime winner. It was a much needed win and confidence booster for team as they headed into their final game later in the evening.
After getting their first win of the weekend, the Juniors came out looking to walk away from the showcase with a winning record. They would get on the board first with another powerplay goal, this time from Connor Nelson. Despite giving up the tying goal early in the second, they would score two more to close the frame including Nelson’s second of the game. Holding a 4-2 lead late in the third Deja-vu struck as Carolina scored two goals to tie the game at four. However, Chet Skinner would pay spoiler and grab the game winning goal late in the third. The win solidified what was a very good showing for the Tampa Bay Juniors. Grabbing a winning record against tough competition and winning two in a row was a great way to end the year.
Like Premier, Elite dropped their first game of the Weekend to Charlotte. However, they would rebound Saturday against Potomac. Aliaksandr Leskavets would score the only goal of the first period. Both teams would split goals in the second which gave Tampa a narrow one goal lead. Then early in the third Jordan Campo would score the eventual game winner to give Elite their first win of the showcase.
Tampa Bay’s most anticipated matchup of the showcase came Sunday morning against the Richmond Generals. It was a rematch of the 2018 national championship game and a team Tampa Bay had not beaten in three years. Richmond came into the game ranked 3rd in the country and second in the Southeast Division. Despite Tampa Bay outshooting the Generals, Richmond controlled the pace of the game. They had the better of the scoring chances and spent large amounts of time in the Tampa Bay end. However, the Juniors defended well. Although the Generals got on the board first in the second period, Tampa Bay responded with two goals. One came from Campo while the other was a beautiful goal for Tyler Cullen. Just as Premier struggled to hold their lead against Richmond, Elite ran into the same problem. With under two minutes to go, Richmond would grab one to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, Richmond controlled the overtime period, but the goaltender Evan Spinella stole the show. Spinella stopped 39-of-41 shots including all seven in overtime. With the game unable to be decided in overtime, it would go to a shootout. Both teams would go scoreless for four rounds before Tyler Cullen would score another gorgeous goal. Spinella would make the final save to send Tampa Bay home victorious in what was one of the team’s biggest wins of the year.
Having to play two games in one day is challenging for any team. Couple that with playing a physically challenging game against Richmond made it even harder. Not to mention that Carolina was the 4th ranked team in the country. Despite giving up an early lead, Cullen would score yet again to tie the game at 1. In the second Tampa Bay would get two goals from Tyler Macindoe and Bryson Uhrig and take a one goal lead into the third. Unfortunately for the Juniors, they ran out gass. Aidan Ryan, the league’s leading goal scorer would strike twice, while Brett Repage and Mason Thomas would score to give Carolina a 6-2 win.
Despite walking away with a .500 Tampa Bay played extremely well. They had the toughest schedule of any team in the showcase, playing 3 of the top 4 teams in the country. Grabbing 2 wins against that type of schedule cannot be considered unsuccessful.
The Tampa Bay Junior entered their holiday break this week. The next time the hit ice will be at the League’s Winter Showcase in Marlborough Massachusetts. Premier will start off the showcase Saturday January 8thagainst the Chicago Cougars. Elite will also start Saturday against the New York Aviators.