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#USPHLNationals Elite Team Preview: Tampa Bay Juniors

03/18/2024, 2:45pm EDT
By Josh Boyd;

The Tampa Bay Juniors are geared up and excited to fly north to Utica, N.Y., where they’ll be part of a very tough field of 10 teams. 

The Juniors, however, have a lot of experience with Nationals. This is the Elite program’s fourth straight trip and sixth overall. The Juniors made the Championship Final in 2019, falling to the former Richmond Generals. 

“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to get to Nationals, but also to not just be satisfied being there,” added Head Coach Garrett Strot. “Last season, I think once we made it to Nationals we were kind of like ‘We made it.’”

With the veteran coach Strot knowing just how far Tampa Bay can go when the Juniors play their best, the organization has worked to impart that the destination is not the goal. Leaving that destination with a trophy is. 

Strot said he’s been able to use the Juniors’ roster depth to get past the Florida Jr. Blades in a tough three-game series, which started with a 4-3 overtime loss on March 9. The Juniors won on Sunday, 6-1, and they completed the series win with a 7-3 victory on Monday, March 11. 

“One of the strengths of our team is its depth. We moved some guys in and out of the lineup during the three games and felt it helped our energy going into the third period of Game 3,” said Juniors Head Coach Garrett Strot. 

Four Tampa-area residents were the offensive leaders in the series, led by former Tampa Crunch and Steinbrenner High player Mookie Killen, with five points. Additional locals Richard Moskala, Ari Blatt and defensemen Carter Trussler each had four points. Elite veteran Ethan Carlone put up 92 saves on 100 shots in going 2-0-1. 

“We gave our guys a couple of days off after the tough three-game series vs. the Blades,” said Strot. “This week was more getting guys a skate, battle a little bit, and next week before we fly up will be more special teams and scouting our first two opponents.”

Those first two opponents are the Islanders Hockey Club on Thursday night at 8 p.m. and the Rockets Hockey Club at 5:30 p.m. on Friday. The Juniors have not faced the Rockets or Islanders this year, but they have a 7-5-0-0 record against other Nationals foes. They are 4-2-0-0 against their fellow Florida Division representatives the Atlanta MadHatters. Outside of the division, they had wins during the season against the Metro Jets, Northern Cyclones and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. 

Their only losses against fellow Nationals teams outside of Atlanta were a pair of defeats at the hands of the defending National Champion Carolina Jr. Hurricanes and one loss to the Potomac Patriots. 

“This is going to be wide open! You have two teams, Atlanta and Potomac as No. 2 seeds that easily could be No. 1 seeds, and Carolina is the defending Champs and will be the team to beat,” added Strot. 

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