Oh, to be 16 and have NCAA Division 1 teams tracking you.
By Joshua Boyd
It can be a lot of pressure, but the programs and coaches of the USPHL Midget Divisions have proven themselves with poignant guidance of 15-through 18-year-old players that have come through their systems.
The USPHL is very proud to have played its part in the development of Keith Petruzelli, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick this past June. When he made his commitment to Quinnipiac University in 2013, he split his season between the Boston Junior Bruins 16U squad and Springfield (Mass.) Cathedral High School.
He also played two seasons later with the Selects Academy at South Kent School 18U squad in the USPHL 18U Division.
Petruzelli is just one success story for the USPHL Midget Divisions. From its 18U Division, there are 39 alumni on NCAA Division 1 rosters for the soon-to-begin 2017-18 season. There are 35 former USPHL 16U players (some of whom also played in the 18U Division) on NCAA Division 1 rosters for this season.
“The exposure the USPHL offers our players is incredible, and the Boston Junior Bruins Shootout was a perfect example of that,” said New Jersey Rockets 18U head coach Rob Broderick. “The expectation for me about these guys is that they will get every opportunity to be noticed and they need to be the best players they can be to take advantage of this exposure.”
The myhockeyrankings.com site ranked five of the USPHL 18U Division among its top 20 for Tier-1 18U teams nationally.
“The USPHL’s Midget [18U] division is incredibly competitive, and has some of the best teams, players, and coaches in the country,” said Broderick. “The 18U South Division, which the Rockets are a part of, for instance boasts Selects Academy, the Jersey Hitmen, Baltimore Skipjacks, P.A.L., and the Rockets to name a few of the teams. All these teams mentioned should be in the top 35 of the country by the end of the season, and couple that with organizations like the Boston Junior Bruins, Islanders Hockey Club and the rest in the North, well, you have the strongest regional midget division in the country.”
Selects Academy 18U head coach Matt Plante has certainly seen progress in the 18U Division during his years there.
“I think it’s grown every year. It’s expanded from the first year we were in it, when we had seven eight teams,” said Plante. “Now, you have two 18U divisions, and they’re getting better and stronger every year.”
Of the 15 teams in the 18U Division that had played league games as of Oct. 1, 11 of those teams had won at least one game thus far. No team had played more than six games by that point.
“I think there’s a lot of parity in the inter-division play, in the North and South divisions,” said Plante. “It’s not the traditional couple teams; anybody can beat anybody. I think to be honest, the 16U and 18U USPHL divisions get some of the top younger elite players in those divisions. It’s a draw for college scouts and junior scouts. I think it’s really good.”
Advancement to the National Collegiate Development Conference is already happening from the Midget Divisions. The NCDC has more than 60 former USPHL 18U players skating in its ranks this season.
“Last year’s [Rockets] 18U team has a USPHL player and a few NCDC players, and I expect those numbers to multiply for next season,” said Broderick.
He recruited for the 16U and 18U Rockets as true feeders for the Rockets’ NCDC teams of the future.
“I know on our 18U team, which is 100 percent comprised of 2000 birth year players, that I would like all players to be either USPHL Premeir or NCDC players next season, at the least,” Broderick added. “The main feeder for the 18U program is the 16U division, which mirrors the strength of the 18U division.”
The depth of the 16U Division also mirrors that of the 18U side. Out of 18 teams that had played games in the 16U Division as of Oct. 1, 15 teams had at least one win.
The USPHL 16U and 18U Divisions have proven themselves as the gateway – not just to higher levels of the USPHL, but onwards to NCAA hockey and perhaps one day, for the very best, the NHL.
Top photo: Timur Alishlalov, an ’02 from New York, hustles up the ice for the Connecticut Jr. Rangers’ 16U team during the Junior Bruins Shootout. Photo by Joshua Boyd
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