The Tampa Bay Juniors completed their second sweep in as many series last weekend. Elite dominated with wins of 8-3 and 10-2. For Premier it was their defense that shined. They allowed three goals all weekend. On Sunday, Blake Mons backstopped the team to its first shutout this season. As Elite further solidified they spot in second place, Premier gained four huge points on Palm Beach in their tight playoff race. Both teams move into the Dan K Show’s power rankings with Elite at number 10 and Premier at number 12. Up next is a battle with the Florida Jr. Blades.
Elite’s Offense Soars
Elite’s offense continued to excel this weekend putting up 18 goals. The team ‘s leading scorer Ari Blatt got Tampa Bay on the board at 3:48 of the first. Although the period wound end tied, it was very evident that it was much easier for the juniors to create scoring chances. However, in the second period, Tampa Bay exploded. Brenden Sickles scored just 22 seconds into the period. Then just 23 seconds later Ethan Curran would score to make it 3-1. Brody Sheets also scored his first of two just after the three-minute mark. Curran and Sheets each scored again to bring the period total to five. Chris Hardin scored two goals in the thir period as Tampa Bay went on to win 8-3.
The Second period has been the best period for the Juniors. Just like Saturday, Sunday was no exception. Once again, the Juniors struck in the opening minute of the period with a goal from Daniel Cullen at 38 seconds. Tampa Bay went on to score 5 more goals in the second period from 5 different goal scorers. This included Kevin Dionne and Tyler Macondo who each had two in the game. 16 out of their 36 goals in the last six games have come in the second period. The six goals in the second on Sunday propelled Tampa Bay to a 10-2 win.
Premiers Defense Steps up.
Its no surprise whenever Tampa Bay’s offense lights up the scoreboard. With players such as Beau Courneya, Connor Nelson and Jonah Mortenson along with a skilled a speedy roster, the Juniors usually have little problems putting the puck into the back of the net. Despite the offense, Tampa Bay has had struggles keeping the puck out of their own net at times this year. Coming into to series with a minus 8-goal differential, Premiers defense played exceptionally well against Palm Beach.
However, for as good as they played throughout the series, it didn’t start that way. The Juniors had a very rough first period defensively. Giving up three goals, it was the way in which they gave up the goals that was concerning. Although shorthanded, the pk unit found themselves puck watching and left John Brace all alone to make it 1-0. Connor Nelson would respond with the first of his three points to tie the game at one. The second goal came after a bad turnover in front of the net. Although Onni Taskila made an incredible original save, no defenders came to his aid as Adrian Gonzalez-Marin pried it free and tapped it in. Moments later the Juniors gave the puck away on the end boards and Taskilla bailed them out. Although Jack Fleer would tie the game at two, John Brace was left alone and gave Palm Beach a 3-2 lead heading into the second.
For as spotty as some of the defensive play was in parts of the first. Tampa Bay shut Palm Beach down the rest of they as the Juniors did not give up a goal the rest of the series. Tampa scored 6 goals over the next two periods which included two from Aleksis Ostankovics and en-route to an 8-3 win.
The defensive continued to play with structure and tenacity on Sunday as they picked up the team’s first Shutout this season. Blake Mons was excellent as he stopped all 28 shots. Mortenson scored twice in the first period and Connor Nelson grabbed the empty netter as Tampa Bay went on to win 3-0.
Battle with the Blades
For Elite, the main goal is to continue to work on their game heading into the postseason. 11 points ahead of Palm Beach in third, Tampa Bay is just three points from securing a second-place finish or better. The Juniors come into the weekend 6-3-1 in their last ten games and on a 4-game winning streak. On the other side the rebuilding Jr. Blades are in last place in the Florida Division. With a record of 3-7 in their last 10-games, they are fighting to stay out of last place, which is a real possibility. They sit only two points back of the Columbia Infantry with 2-games at hand. It will be important for Tampa Bay to keep their guard up as they look to finsish the regular season on a high note.
Despite Premier’s sweep over the Typhoon, the playoff picture remains incredibly tight. Currently in fifth place, the Jr. Blades are only five points behind Tampa Bay. However, a team that seemed poised to make the playoffs before the Christmas break, finds themselves struggling down the home stretch. Florida is just 2-7-1 in their last 10 games and has lost four in a row. This includes losing 2-of-3 to the Atlanta Madhatters and a midweek game to Palm Beach. The Blades will face one of the hottest teams in the USPHL. Only three teams in the league have a more wins over their last 10 games than Tampa Bay. Winners of 4 in a row, Premier is 8-2 in their last 10 with both loses coming to the Eels. With the Jr. Blades currently the first team out, the Juniors magic number is now nine points. That is any 9 points gained by Tampa Bay or lost by Florida. So, A pair of wins this weekend would put Premier one point away from a playoff berth. In addition, wins this weekend will distance themselves from the Typhoon as they take on the Florida Eels. It will also help Tampa Bay to keep pace with Atlanta who play the last place Infantry. At this point in the season the Juniors can’t afford to to drop winnable games, and these are tough but winnable games.