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Beast League/USA Nationals

By Gary Demopoulos, 04/01/24, 9:45AM EDT


Beast Tournament Series Well Represented at Tier 1 U18 Nationals

The 2024 USA Hockey Tier 1 Nationals get underway Tuesday in Las Vegas, with an impressive 16-team field looking to win a championship.

And in that group, no less than four organizations that are a big part of the Beast Tournament Series in the fall, will be participating, including three of the top four seeds.

The Nationals will have four 4-team divisions, with each team playing its other three divisional opponents in the round robin. The top two in each division will advance to Friday’s quarterfinals.

Here’s is a look at the four teams.

For the Avon Regals, who won the 2024 Beast Tournament Series U18 championship back in October, this trip to the Nationals could be a bit of a redemption tour.

“I think the key for Nationals will be the 10 returners who left Nationals last year with a salty taste in their mouths losing to Shattuck in the finals,” said Regals coach Kyle Quick. “Our goal since we started the year is get back there and right the wrong from the championship outcome from last year.”

Avon, which drew the #3 seed in the 16-team field, will rely on a nucleus made up of players who exceled this past winter in the New England prep ranks.

Keys up front will include Brown commit Brendan Tighe, from Avon Old Farms, Deerfield’s Tommy Molson (Yale commit) and Jakub Kohn (Wesleyan commit), and Oliver Morris, who plays in the winter at Salisbury School.

A stout defense will feature the Salisbury pair of Zach Walsh, who had 25 points this winter for the Knights, and Tim Biakabatuka, a Holy Cross commit, and the duo of Zachary Chehade and Ryan Diffley from Deerfield.

In goal, the Regals have Tyler Spokane (Millbrook) and Aidan Hopewell, who backboned Kent School to a NEPSAC Large School title.

“I think them competing in prep hockey will prepare them for the battles we will be facing,” Quick said. “Being the #3 seed speaks to the season we had. We didn’t lose a game from Labor Day until the Connecticut state final which I don’t know if that’s ever occurred in the Beast League.”

The Regals will play out of the NHL Division at Nationals, which will also include #6 Boston Jr. Eagles, #11 New York Saints and #14 Sioux Falls Power.

The team the Regals beat in the Beast U18 Finals, the Yale Jr Bulldogs, open up Nationals play as the #2 seed. They are ready to prove that drawing that seed was warranted.

“Our guys worked all season to put themselves in this position,” said Yale coach Shawn Conner.  “We have a veteran group who is eager to prove we are one of the best teams in the country.  We are fortunate to have a team that gets contributions from all 22 players. We believe in this group to finish the job as they move onto Junior and college hockey.”

Like the Regals, the Jr. Bulldogs roster is stacked with top prep school players.

Up front, Gio DiGiulian was a key in Kent School’s NEPSAC title. The Bulldogs also boast the Avon Old Farms trio of Alex Pelletier (Cornell commit), Ryan Flaherty (Holy Cross commit) and Charles Blanchard, Jesse Allecia from Salisbury, and the Loomis Chaffee duo of Cory Alissi and Ben Carfora.

Heading up the Yale defense are Blake Jones (AIC commit) and Andrew Pitts (Tufts) from Avon, and Kent’s Denver Damphousse.

The goaltending chores go to Kyle Ozgun (Lawrenceville) and Mitchell McCusker (Frederick Gunn School).

Yale’s Olympic Division bracket includes #10 Rhode Island Saints, #15 Anaheim Jr. Ducks, and the #7 Central Mass. Penguins, which should be an interesting matchup.

“We had a couple of great matchups with them in the fall and look forward to another in Vegas,” Conner said. “The Jr Ducks and Mount are both very talented squads that are well coached and disciplined.”

The U18 New Jersey Rockets will be in the USA Division, where they are seeded ninth.

“The team looks good, very excited in the first week (of practice),” said coach Noel Rubin. “I think to be successful we will need to be disciplined and defend well. All these teams are very good and goals will be at a premium.”

The Rockets’ offense will be led by a pair of Princeton University commits in Christian Chouha, who joined the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms, and Maxwell Pendy, who heads to the BCHL for next season after starring at Delbarton School. Vincent Brinzo, who skated in the NCDC, and Brent Beswick,’s New Jersey HS Boys Player of the Year for his season at Northern Highlands.

Ryan Luuko will be a key on the blue line and will contribute offensively. Joe Fenton and Lazarus Ebanoidze are two more solid rearguards. Jason Cai looks for a big tournament in goal.

Included in the Rockets’ round-robin bracket are top-seeded Shattuck St. Mary’s, #8 Victory Honda, and #16 Team Maryland.

The Long Island Gulls will be a force at Nationals, coming in as the #4 seed, playing out of the Liberty Division.

“Our focus will be the first game and play for your next shift, and playing for the process not the outcome,” said Gulls coach Mark Lotito. “We know every team in the national tournament earned their way and we will respect every team we play. Having the #4 seed is great. We just need to play hungry.

There is plenty of talent up front, including Penn State commit William Tomko, Merrimack College commit Thomas Zocco, who recently joined the USHL’s Fargo Force, Quinnipiac commit Joseph Macrina, Ryan Wachtel a key at Brunswick School, and Rich Rucireto, headed to the NAHL next winter with the Northeast Generals.

A defensive braintrust features Owen Quick, James Cohen and Andrew Cowgill.

The goaltending duo is Willum Braun and Jack Scali.

In the round-robin, the Gulls will take on #5 Culver Academy, #12 Windy City Storm, and #13 Arizona Jr. Coyotes.