WOODBRIDGE, VA -- The Patriots, operating out of the Prince William Ice Center in Woodbridge, Va., bring in players not only from the capital and Chesapeake Bay region, but from international quarters as well. Their focus on the development of each individual player has reaped many benefits for many of these “clients,” even if it’s at the expense of the Patriots teams’ own standings in the United States Premier Hockey League.
“What it comes down to is we’re just trying to stay true to development and advancing players,” said Zachary Vit, head coach for the junior program, which includes teams in the USPHL Premier and Elite Divisions. “We’ve taken it up a notch from the past in terms of off-ice expectations, in the areas of video review, strength training, and adding a goalie coach in Mike Shelley. We’re definitely moving in the right direction.”
The Patriots put together younger teams in the Premier and Elite Divisions, as they believe their role is to prepare players to move up to higher leagues, such as the USPHL’s tuition-free National Collegiate Development Conference.
That is the Patriots’ mission, superseding wins and losses in their own leagues.
“We do have two very young junior teams this year. Our records are not indicative of where we would like them to be at this point, but we are committed to developing young players,” Vit added. “In the same measure, we do have five ’97’s and we expect most of them to be moving on to play NCAA hockey, and we are dedicated to helping them make this possible.”
Devin Melice is one such homegrown talent that is among these players looking to move to NCAA hockey next year. A ’97 from Manassas, Va., Melice has played in the Patriots junior organization since 2014 and was one of the Premier team’s top talents this year, with 20 points in 36 games
The biggest success story for the Patriots organization this year is the promotion of former USPHL Premier Patriots player Feliks Morozov to the NCDC’s Syracuse Stars.
Morozov joined the Patriots from Ukraine. He had played the entire 2016-17 in his native country, but had previously played U.S. high school and Midget hockey. Joining the Patriots this year, he lit up the USPHL Premier, scoring 21 goals in his 23 games with the Patriots.
He added seven assists for 30 points, and earned call-ups to the Stars in November for two games and January for two games. He has since suffered an injury and was on injured reserve, chomping at the bit to get back to NCDC competition with the Stars.
“At the time, Feliks was our leading scorer, and he was ready to move up,” said Vit.
Morozov, who also represented Ukraine at the World Junior Championships in the Division 1B tournament, was not the only Patriots player to earn a call-up to the Stars.
The USPHL affiliate system also paid dividends for three other Premier Patriots – defensemen Georg Landro and Kieran Furlonger, and goaltender Elvinas Karla. They got a chance to practice with the Stars.
“They made a good impression on the Stars’ staff for next season,” Vit added.
“Me and some other players got sent to practice with Syracuse Stars for a couple days,” said Karla, a ’99 out of Zarasai, Lithuania. “It was a really nice experience to take a closer look at a new league and get a chance to practice at the higher level.”
Furlonger is a ’99 defenseman out of Maple Ridge, B.C., and he certainly has hopes of making the NCDC permanently next year.
“The opportunity to go and practice in Syracuse with their NCDC team was a very good experience for me as a hockey player, one that has helped me mentally and overall,” said Furlonger. “This opportunity would not have been possible without the help, guidance and development I gained this season playing for Potomac.”
Landro, a ’98 from Riverside, Calif., has posted 18 points from the blue line for the Patriots this year. He was also excited to get the call-up, but also continues to be dedicated to helping the Patriots improve weekend to weekend.
“Coming to Potomac, and realizing the rebuilding the organization has gone through, I knew I would have to try to stay focused and remember it is a team rebuilding,” said Landro. “Playing in the hardest division, with the champions coming from this [Southeast] division the last two years, I’m proud we were able to reach double digit victories. I’m hopeful the team can build from this year. Play-wise, it made me play hard each shift and focus on getting us to be competitive each game.”
Internationally, Karla and defenseman Dominykas Motiejunas actually went head-to-head against Morozov at the aforementioned World Junior Championships, representing Lithuania against Morozov’s Ukrainian squad at the tournament held in Bled, Slovenia. Ukraine defeated Lithuania on Dec. 15 in the Patriots teammates’ only meeting in that tournament.
“In December, me and Dominykas Motiejunas had a chance to play for the Lithuanian U20 National Team. It was a great experience, even though we got relegated [for 2018], but it is always a very good feeling to represent your own country,” he added.
Karla represented Lithuania at three prior World Under-18 championships before making the U-20 team this past year
Potomac Patriots players, from left to right, Team Lithuania’s Dominykas Montiejunas and Elvinas Karla, and Team Ukraine’s Feliks Morozov, get together at the World Junior Championships Division 1B tournament in Bled, Slovenia. They all got a chance to re
Jake Brunelle, a ‘99 forward from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., is one of the players from the Tahoe Hockey Academy that was given an opportunity to play USPHL Premier games this season, through an affiliation between the hockey boarding school and the
“Successful teams are built from the net out,” said Patriots general manager R.J. Zeigler at the time of Karla’s signing last summer. “Goaltenders like Joe Longo last season and Dustyn Moyer before him have always given us a chance to win games. Elvinas has played on a big stage since he was 15 and will surely shine here.”
“It is my first year in North America, and I am really happy that I chose to play for the Potomac Patriots for my first season in the USA,” Karla added. “Coach Zachary Vit and all the other hockey staff is working really hard for their players here to move them on to a higher level, and the conditions to practice on your own is really nice in here too. I only have good words to say about this organization.”
“Playing for the Patriots has helped me develop my game as a hockey player, and has opened up these kinds of chances and possibilities [such as the NCDC practice opportunity],” added Furlonger. “I am extremely grateful for this.”
Vit said that the Prince William Ice Center always makes extra ice available to the junior teams.
“In addition to practicing four days a week regularly, we get two extra hours of ice,” he added. “Also, right after practice, the players work out with a strength and conditioning coach [Jonathan Sucese]. Each player has an individualized strength and conditioning program. A lot of thought goes into it.”
In addition to the USPHL junior teams, the Patriots also place their Midget 18U and 16U teams in the USPHL midget divisions. Those teams get a chance to work in additional skills sessions that are open to all Patriots youth players every Monday night.
“[Sucese] and I work with work with those midget players on skills development,” said Vit. “While we want to have successful teams now, we want a program where guys are always developing towards higher levels.”
The USPHL Premier team has brought up players from its 16U and 16U Futures teams to give them a chance at the higher level of competition, and playing against older competition.
“The opportunity is definitely there for guys at the midget level who do well to take the next step,” said Vit. “There are four or five guys on those teams who are hoping to get into the Patriots junior program next year that I’m definitely excited about.”
The Patriots also throw open their doors to working with players from across the U.S. Last summer, they formed an affiliation with the Tahoe Hockey Academy, California’s first hockey-focused boarding school.
“Three of their players have spent time with our program and played games with our Premier team, in Jake Brunelle, Jack Birecki and Jared Shuter,” Vit added.
The Potomac Patriots have always shown their commitment, and continue to live by their motto: Authentic. Hockey. Experience.