Three JR Panthers Teams Shoot For National Titles
Bantam Major, U16AA and U18A teams look to win national titles.
Tuesday, 04.2.2013 / 4:27 PM ET / News
By Glenn Odebralski - FloridaPanthers.com
The Bantam Major squad will look to win the 3A Championship in Charlotte, NC, the U16AA team will fight for a championship in the 2A bracket in Troy, MI while the U18 team will be in Hartford, CT competing for the 2A championship.
Having all three teams playing for national titles is special for the Jr Panthers.
"This is huge for our program," said Vice President and General Manager of the Saveology.com Iceplex Jeff Campol. "We've never had all three age groups at Nationals in a given year so this is a big boost to every one of our teams, even if they aren’t competing for a national championship."
Last season, the U18A team fell one win short of a National title. This season, the dedication by the coaches, players and parents heading to tournaments throughout the country and league games has them prepared for some stiff competition.
"Every one of our JR Panthers teams have worked so hard this season," said JR Panthers General Manager Jeremy Mylymok. "To see three teams playing for a national title is an amazing feeling and shows that the hard work pays off."
"We were very fortunate to be offered an at large bid to nationals," said U16AA coach Dana Bengtsson as the team was seeded fourth in the state tournament and came within 19 seconds of winning the state championship before falling in the shootout. "We ended up losing (the shootout) and with that the players thought it was the end to a cinderella season...The goal has been to try and continue the progression this team had accomplished with dramatic improvement over the last two months of the season. We went into the state championships with the confidence we could play with any team in the tournament and that continues."
"Since we won the state championship, the team just set a new goal. Every practice, every game, building some momentum coming up here," said Bantam Major head coach George Nuccio. "Any time we enter a tournament, the team has done very well this year and we've kind of gone in there and give it our all and do the best we can with the intent to win so we're coming in here, cautiously optimistic but trying to bring home the prize."
All three teams will open play on Wednesday. The Bantam Major team faces off against the Hatfield Ice Dogs (8:15am). The U16AA team against the Troy Sting (5:15pm) and the U18AA team against the Ashburn Extreme (5:00pm).
Each of the three teams will have three games in pool play to set themselves up for the next rounds.
One of four divisions in pool play, the Bantam Major team is in the Olympic four, playing against Hatfield, the West Haven Blue Devils and Golden St Elites Golden Eagles.
"Going into the state championship or the tournament championship game, I rely on my captain and assistant captains, Tyler Runay, my captain to lead the way and Blaise Muriel and Matthew Mann, my assistant captains to lead the charge and they have in the past and I expect them to do the same thing up here," said Nuccio. "Chase Lieblein had an outstanding state championship tournament and I'm looking to some tremendous play out of him this weekend. If we are going to be successful up here, the only way we're going to be successful is that it's going to have to be a total team effort."
Playing in the National Division (one of two divisions) in pool play, the 16UU squad will also face the Allen Americans and Delaware Ducks in pool play. Across the division are the Scorpions (Tampa) whom the Jr Panthers lost to in the State tournament final in a shootout.
"The competition we will be facing will be our toughest of the year but that is the challenge of it," said Bengtson."While this team has succeeded with contributions from everyone, we will need tremendous goaltending this week to keep us in the tournament.”
The U18 A team will compete In the USA division (one of two divisions) for pool play with Ashburn, NH East Eagles and Avon Panthers.
Nine different winners (three different divisions per age group) will be crowned National Championships and the Jr Panthers are hoping to do well and take upto a third of them.
Even if they don't take home the hardware, getting to finish their season by playing some of the nation's best is a great push towards upcoming seasons.
"Honestly, we already achieved one goal. To have the opportunity to play in nationals," said Bengtson. "I believe this team elevated its play by the end of the season to be able to play against teams at a much higher level. Let's see if we can take it up 'one more notch.'"
"I've been with the program since the first season and to be with the program for 15 years and to see the success in three different divisions," said Nuccio. "Just a total overall success of the organization is just a wonderful thing to see it rolling every year and to represent it is just an honor."
"Just competing at Nationals is huge in that we get the Jr Panthers name out there," said Mylymok. "We have and can show that our program is on the rise and players and their families will want to come and compete for such a great program."