The Tampa Bay Juniors had a fantastic Winter Showcase in Boston going a combine 7-1 on the weekend. Elite went a perfect 4-for-4 including beating a top-notch Northern Cyclones team. Premier on the other hand went 3-1 and only allowed two goals all weekend long. Both teams were extremely with not only their play but the results this weekend. This was especially true for Elite as they locked up their spot in the 2022 Florida Division Playoffs.
Tampa Bay’s weekend nearly got derailed before it even started. Scheduled to leave Tampa Friday afternoon for their Saturday games, the Juniors meet a whole host of problems at the airport. From taxiing to the runway then coming back to the terminal, to the pilot running out of hours, to transferring over boarding passes, their time at the airport was a complete and utter disaster. After spending 10 hours at Tampa International, only 11 players and a coach could find their way on a plane that landed in Boston at 2 a.m. The other ¾ of the team was forced to stay at a hotel overnight for a flight at 7 a.m the next day. For a team that has struggled at times on the road this season, it was not a great start to the weekend.
So despite the disaster at the airport and the rescheduling of games, elite was finally able to take the ice at 2 p.m Saturday against the Springfield Pics. It was a back-and-forth affair that took a little while for Juniors to settle into. Which was not surprising considering all the obstacles they had faced they day before.
The teams would split the first 4 goals which included a wicked backhand from Tyler Cullen and one from Milan Levcenko. Finally in the third Philip Wsol would send a bullet to the back of the net on the powerplay to give Tampa Bay. Despite finally grabbing the lead, Tampa Bay would fail to score on the rest of their major powerplay leaving the door open for Springfield to come back. Sure enough a miscommunication between Garon and Roy Shaver would leave the net wide open for Chris Foster to score his second and tie the game at three.
The score would hold for the rest of the third and the game would head to overtime. After killing off a carry-over penalty Tampa Bay would get their chance. Philip Wsol did an excellent job of protecting the puck behind the net which allowed Jake Duhaime to walk into the slot unguarded. It was an easy one for Duhaime and allowed Tampa Bay to escape with two points despite not playing their best.
Despite just barely squeaking one out against the Pics, the Juniors had a much better game against a tougher Boston Junior Bruins squad later that evening. Tampa Bay would control most of the game getting the opening two goals from Levcenko and Duhaime. Although they didn’t record a tally in the second, they would shut the Bruins down, limiting them to only 12 shots on goal. The teams would split goals to start the third, but Tampa Bay would pull away late on a tally from Nash Cobbs and Jake Duhaime who grabbed his second of the game. Despite all the travel issues and guys getting in at noon the same day, it was a show of strength and grit for the Juniors two walk away 2-0 on their first day of the showcase.
Sunday’s game against the Cyclones was the team’s toughest challenge of the showcase. Northern, a very good team, gave Tampa Bay fits last year beating Tampa Bay all three times they met. This game however, would belong to the Juniors. Tampa Bay dominated the first period. They spent loads of time in the Cyclones’ zone and got the majority of the scoring opportunities. This would result in another goal for Cooper Hunt who opened the scoring just three minutes into the first. Then in the second, Milan Levcenko would grab another to make it 2-0.
After going up two, the momentum started to swing in favor of the Cyclones. Northern stepped up the physical play and in turn started to get more chances in the Tampa Bay end. Eventually they would break through. With just 6 seconds left before the intermission there was a breakdown in coverage between Myles Jackson and Pranay Prasanna which allowed Johnathan Patch to skate right in and score on Evan Spinella.
With all the momentum after their late period goal, Northern would continue to press. Although Tampa Bay would hold them off the board in the second half of the second period, Northern would jump on the board early in the third to tie the game. Much the Cyclones picked up the pressure when they were down 2-0, the juniors started to pick up the pace after giving up the tying goal.
Tampa Bay’s fourth game was their easiest as they went up against a Bridgewater Bandit team that was ranked 18th out of 20 team. The Juniors did what good teams do and and dominated from start to finish. Tampa Bay outshot the bandits in every period and dominated the pace of play. The juniors would also get contributions from their depth players as Roy Shaver, Richard Biszant and Tyler Macindoe would all score goals. Tyler Cullen, Nate Furuseth and Phillip Wsol would add tallies to make the final 6-1 and send Tampa Bay home with a perfect record on the weekend. Tampa would also clinch their spot in the 2022 playoffs.
Despite all the offense Premier has, it was their defense that would be the talk of the weekend. The Juniors would start off with a very solid Bridgewater team. Each team would grab a goal in the first period kicked off by Ryan Bahula. Although the Bandits would score late in the period, it would be the only goal Tampa Bay would allow. The game would remain scoreless until overtime as Onni Taskilla would stop 18-of-19 shots. Then late in overtime Jonah Mortenson would put the game away. Off a faceoff win, Elliot Bergbauer would throw the puck towards the net. Mortenson would bat it down and skate to the bottom a circle and tap one in for the game winner.
Next on the schedule was the Chicago Cougars. It was once a again a defensive tilt. Tampa Bay would only 13 shots the entire game including only one in the second period. They also would got tons of opportunities, especially in the slot. Despite all the opportunities however it was Chicago that would grab the only goal of the game. Gerdas Paulauskas would push a faceoff forward and take a whack. The puck would flip over the glove of Blake Mons and trickle to the back of the net. Tampa Bay would continue to get opportunities through the game but just couldn’t get one past goaltender Jack Coleman. Despite the loss The Juniors felt like their game was in the right place.
The process would pay off later that night as the Juniors took on the Ontario Jr. Reign. After two consecutive low scoring games, the offensive would finally open up. Tim Ruf, Connor Nelson and Justin Walker would all score in The 1st period. Tampa Bay would go on to score 3 more goals in the second as Jonah Mortenson would pick up three assist in the game. Despite having to move rinks halfway through, the Juniors would keep their defense up to par and shut out Ontario. Taskilla would stop all 19 shots thrown his way for his first shutout of the year.
Premier would finish their weekend with their biggest test in the Utah Outliers. The Outliers ranked 3rd in the nation came into the game with only three regulation losses. In what Dan K described as “The game of the showcase”. The pace was fast and it was tight checking, but both teams find opportunities. This time, it was Blake Mons turn to stand tall. Once again the game would go scoreless through the first two periods but this time it would be the Juniors who would break the deadlock. Connor Nelson would cause a turnover that popped right to Beau Courneya. Courneya would skate to the circle and fire one past Garrett Alderman to give Tampa Bay the 1-0 lead. Adam Custable would add another shortly after to make it 2-0. Up by two in the final minute, Tampa Bay played flawlessly. They defended well and made it hard for Utah to get out of their own end. They would even grab one more goal to put the game away. Although Premier would finish 3-1 on the weekend, they played their best 4game stretch of the season.
The Tampa Bay Junior will resume regular season play as they head to Atlanta to face the Madhatters. With Elite’s playoff spot locked up it will be interesting to see what kind of effort they will put forth. On the other hand, Atlanta’s premier team went 4-0 at the winter showcase. With the Juniors still three points points behind the eels with three extra games, every point matters so expect them to come out swinging.