For the sixth consecutive season, both Tampa Bay Junior teams will play in the Florida Division Playoffs and the chance at competing in the national championships. Awaiting them are the Palm Beach Typhoon and the Atlanta Madhatters. While Elite held firm to their second-place position, Premier ended in third. Despite both teams having a good chance to win and move on, each will have to do things a little differently to give them the best chance at success.
With Premier in third place, they will take on the second seed Atlanta Madhatters. Atlanta finished the regular season with a record of 24-16-3 and swiped second place from Tampa Bay in the final game of the regular season. It is Atlanta's highest regular season finish since their inception in 2019. They are a team that defends hard, can score goals and plays physically. Considering the Juniors went 2-4 against Atlanta in the regular season, this is going to be a big challenge for Tampa Bay. However, if Tampa can defend well, and win the special teams battle, they will put themselves in a good position to advance to nationals.
Atlanta is a team that can defend very well and have a phenomenal 8-2-2 record in one goal games this season. So how do you defeat a team that defends well, you defend even better. The Juniors went 13-4 in January and February and in 12 of those wins allowed 3 goals or less. In addition to their solid team defense, Atlanta can also score in bunches. the juniors experienced this a few weeks ago when they scored six goals in the third period. The Madhatters have 12 three-plus goal wins this season and sport four 40-point scorers. This includes Ben Baker who leads Atlanta with 32 goals. If Tampa Bay is going to win the series they will have to defend very well, play mistake free, and take advantage of any offensive opportunities.
Special Teams is Key
The Madhatters boast one of the best special teams units in the division. Their powerplay sits at 21.8% which is second in the division and their penalty kill is first in the division at 86.8%. In six games against Atlanta, nearly 30 percent of the goals Tampa Bay gave up were powerplay goals. The Madhatters went 7-for-25 or 28 percent on the powerplay versus Tampa Bay this season. On the flip side, the Juniors scored just 2 powerplay goals on 28 opportunities. If Tampa Bay can stay out of the box and be effective on the penalty kill, they will take a way a good chunk of Atlanta's offensive production. In addition, if Tampa Bay can be slightly better on the powerplay and win the special teams battle, it will put them in a great spot to win and advance.
A Tough Challenge
Overall, this is going to be a very tough challenge for Tampa Bay. Regardless of the regular season record, Atlanta's scoring depth has been slightly more productive. They have style of play that is a direct contradiction of the Juniors. Where Tampa is fast, Atlanta is heavy. Atlanta also has "home ice advantage" and have a 15-4-2 record at home this season. In addition, the things that Atlanta does well, Tampa has struggled with at times this season. That being said, the Juniors still remain one of the hotter teams in the USPHL. Only seven teams had more wins in their last 10 games than the Juniors. They have a dynamic line with scorers such as Connor Nelson, Beau Courneya, and Jonah Mortenson with solid depth. Tampa has also done better on the road this year with a record of 14-8. It will likely come down to defense and special teams and if Tampa Bay can play well in those areas, they give themselves a great chance.
With the elite bracket set for the better part of a month, it was only a matter of where everybody would fall. Firmly entrenched in second place for most of the season, the Tampa Bay Juniors earned “home ice advantage“ and in doing so, they have earned a date with a Palm Beach Typhoon. Although Palm Beach can be dangerous, Tampa Bay are the favorites. They sport a much deeper roster with spread out point production. Tampa Bay also finished 5-1 against Palm Beach this year including two blowout wins late in the regular season. However, if Tampa Bay is going to win the series there are a few things that they can do to put themselves in the best Position to succeed.
Play with the Lead
A playoff series can come down to a battle of wills. That is which team can impose its will on the other. For Tampa Bay this means playing the right way, limiting mistakes defensively, and arguably most importantly playing with the lead. Playing with the lead will make the Typhoon uncomfortable. 46% of their team’s overall goals lies with the top two scores. not only will playing from behind cause them to press and potentially make mistakes, they have not shown that they do not have the depth scoring to be constantly playing from behind with a -22 goal differential. If Tampa Bay can get out to an early lead, look for them to have success in the first round.
Eyes on Bolton
One of the most important players in this series will be Sean Bolton. It is extremely important for Tampa Bay to know where he is at all times. He finished the regular season second in scoring with 83 points and first in the league in goals with 43. He is quick, has a good shot, and knows how to get to open areas. His teammate Lucas Nichols also has 33 goals. If Tampa Bay can keep these two players off the board they will shut down the majority of Palm Beach’s scoring production.
Palm Beach is the most penalized team in the division. They ended the regular season with 777 penalty minutes and were shorthanded 191 times. Although Elite has been average on the powerplay this season, keeping this pace would provide sufficient offense of opportunities for Tampa Bay. They scored power-play goals in four out of the six games against the typhoon this season and have a record of 3-1 in those games. Conversely, Tampa Bay is the least penalized team in the division and finished the regular season with the second ranked penalty kill in Florida. If Tampa Bay can cash in on some power-play opportunities then they will give themselves a very good chance to move on.
If the Juniors do what they’re supposed to do they should win the series. They have a ton of speed and skill and depth scoring with points evenly distributed throughout the roster. However, Palm Beach will be hungry. They are making their first ever postseason appearance and will have nothing to lose. Although they may lack scoring dad they have two very dangerous players in Sean Bolton and Lucas Nichols. If Tampa Bay sleeps on Palm Beach, they will get burned.