Bring on the playoffs. That’s the message around the Islanders Hockey Club’s USPHL Elite team.
By Joshua Boyd
The regular season has gone nearly perfect, with the Islanders losing just two games in regulation during this 2016-17 season, the first Islanders season coached by Tim Kyrkostas.
Kyrkostas is no spring chicken in the USPHL Elite. He was there from the beginning, when teams from the former Metropolitan Junior Hockey League formed the former USPHL South. At that time, he was general manager and head coach of the Palm Beach Hawks, a role he held until the end of 2015-16.
Now, he’s helped his team that works out of Skate 3 in Tyngsboro, Mass., to a 34-3-1 record.
“I’m just having a great time,” said Kyrkostas. “I’m enjoying working with [I.H.C. Premier head coach/general manager] Sean Tremblay, and Nate Bostic, and probably the best ownership in the league with Richard Gallant. I couldn’t be happier with the resources and everything we have at our disposal.”
Kyrkostas brought several players up from his last team in Palm Beach. He built around that core with a few returning Islanders and newcomers from across New England and beyond.
The Islanders are first in the league in winning percentage. As of Feb. 12, they are also first in goals against per game (1.68) and third in goals for per game (5.63). The Islanders also have the best penalty kill percentage (90.5) and the third best power play (28.2).
“Everyone has bought into how [Tremblay] wants the Islanders teams run, and everyone takes pride in living up to those standards,” added Kyrkostas.
“Our fourth line is better than most teams’ first lines,” said the Islanders’ leading scorer Danny Ferri, who had 56 points in 36 games. “We have so much depth and three very good goalies. If one of them is not playing well, we can put the other one in knowing he’ll win.”
“It’s the work ethic [that is our biggest strength],” added Mason Babbidge, a former Hawk who came with Kyrkostas from Florida. “It’s the way we come to play every day. No one sees how we practice, but we practice with a lot of intensity. We are a family unit.”
Kyrkostas said that he didn’t design his team as a second division team to the Islanders Premier squad. He just put together the best hockey team he could, through his recruiting and resources.
“We don’t take the mindset that we’re an Elite team. We take the mindset that we’re a hockey team,” Kyrkostas added. “The Islanders try to conduct ourselves in the way that I would expect any other high-end hockey team would be run. My players have bought into that, and that’s why we’re seeing the successes that we’re seeing.”
The Hawks were regular residents of the top four in the USPHL Elite South Division. They finished second in the regular season in 2014 and 2015, and fifth last year. The professional nature of how Kyrkostas runs his teams was certainly not lost on Babbidge.
“Coach Tim has had a lot of good teams in the past. I’ve played with him for three years now. He really cares about his players, and he really wants to see them succeed at the next level,” said Babbidge. “He has a really good history of putting kids into college hockey, and that was obviously a big thing [about joining him with the I.H.C.] I knew his team this year would have a good chance to contend for a championship.”
Babbidge was second on the Hawks in scoring with 36 points. This year, he’s blown that out of the water with 45 points in 37 games, and still six games remaining.
Former Hawks Anthony Giacomin, Hunter Lyonnais, Stefano Mallardi, Ryan McNelis, Tyler Strutz and Costa Pizanis all join Babbidge in that respect, building on their 2015-16 points totals with the Islanders.
Beacon lights way to college hockey
Kyrkostas has already made good on the promise to Babbidge. That promise: come with me and I’ll help complete your training and get you where you want to go. Babbidge, a Menomonee Falls, Wis., native, committed to Tufts University for next year.
Ferri, who joined the Islanders Hockey Club from the Junior Bruins organization, has also made his commitment. The North Reading, Mass., native is moving on to Westfield State University, also in Massachusetts.
“We promote trying to get them into college, trying to get each one of our players the best option for their next stop. In building this team, we tried to put together players with good chances for NCAA Division 2 and Division 3 schools. We’ve had some success with that.”
“I started talking to Tufts in January of last year. That is one of the most prestigious academic universities. Being so close to a great city like Boston was another aspect of it,” said Babbidge. “Coach [Patrick] Norton seems like he has a lot of good ideas and a vision, and that shows in going from eighth in the NESCAC last year to competing for a top spot this year.”
Roughly a month ago, Ferri made his commitment to Westfield State, and is glad to have made the move to playing for Kyrkostas.
“It’s a great group of guys. We have a good team, and I love working for Coach Tim,” said Ferri. “He’s not just all about hockey. He’s about getting kids into college and caring about his players. [Kyrkostas] is a good coach, a good guy and he definitely sets a good example for the players.”
Kyrkostas played with Westfield State head coach Bob Miele during their playing days. He knew Ferri was interested in Westfield State, but wanted Ferri to work his way to the decision himself.
“I sat down with Coach [Kyrkostas] and we had a few other options, and he asked me ‘What do you think is the right, gut feeling?’ He gave me info about all the schools interested in me, but he was great in helping me narrow it down to Westfield,” Ferri added.
Several other players will be making their commitments over the remainder of the winter, as the Islanders focus on getting to – and winning – the USPHL Elite championships.
“After we got back after the New Year, in the first meeting we had, I told the boys there is different intensity between the regular season and the playoffs,” said Kyrkostas. “I want them to ratchet up that intensity now so when we get to the playoffs, we’re ready to go.
“We’re going as hard as possible and making practices and training sessions more intense, so when they get to the playoffs, they’re emotionally and physically prepared for the kind of adversity the playoffs represent,” he added.
“I think we need to just keep doing what we’re doing, work hard, don’t be complacent, show up early for practice and start games off a little better,” Ferri said. “Sometimes, it’s tough for us to get the legs going and we let teams hang around and then turn it on.”
The Islanders Hockey Club has served notice that they are out to serve a dual purpose – win a championship, and most importantly, send players to the college of their choice.
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