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Beast League/USA Nationals

By Gary Demopoulos, 04/01/24, 10:10AM EDT



When the 2024 USA Hockey U16 Tier 1 Nationals commence on Tuesday in Las Vegas, three of the 16-team field will be Beast Tournament Series members.

The field will be broken down into four 4-team divisions. After the three round-robin games, the top two in each division will advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round.

Here is a look at the trio of solid clubs looking to make their mark.

The Long Island Gulls, winners of the Beast Tournament Series this past fall, enter Nationals as a #3 seed and have their focus set on bringing home a title.

“We rely heavily on our experiences throughout the season, in games, practices, video sessions and in our work in the community to give us confidence that we can win a game in any way it needs to be won,” said Gulls coach Dan Cassano. “Winning the Beast, and most recently winning our state allows us to look back on things we’ve been able to accomplish and draw strength from them as we head to Nationals.”

The Gulls could boast as talented a quartet of forward leaders as anyone in the tournament with Quinnipiac commit Ethan Wyttenbach, Harvard commit Jesse Orlowsky, and the duo of Malachi McKinnon and Poul Andersen, both Maine commits, and both of whom recently joined USHL programs.

“We certainly have a deep group of forwards,” Cassano said. “It’s allowed us to weather the storm of injuries we’ve had in the past six weeks. We feel we can come at you with four lines when we’re healthy. It is hard to match up against us because we come in waves.”

On defense, Jared Petruso and Nathaniel Poole will have key roles. In goal, the Gulls are solid with Pennsylvania native Ryan Cameron and New Jersey native Leon Chapkis.

On the docket for the round-robin are #11 Los Angeles Jr Kings, #14 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, and a big one with the #6 Boston Jr. Eagles.

“We’ve played them (Eagles) a number of times,” Cassano said. “They are a well-coached team with some very high end skill. The key for us is making them earn everything they get and not feeding them chances.”

The U16 Mid Fairfield Rangers fell to the Gulls in an exciting Beast title game and will be the #4 seed in the Nationals.

Their roster features a handful of some of the premier younger New England Prep School players.

In the forward ranks, Brunswick’s Oliver Czaja is coming off a 24-point season with the Bruins, and is joined up front by the likes of Maryland native Carter Johnson, Kent’s Luke Dow (23 pts) and Westminster’s George McCaffrey and Tommy Coccaro (19 pts).

Thomas Bleyl, a Dubuque draft pick in the USHL from Albany Academy, and St. George’s rock Marco Senerchia (23 pts) will be keys on the blue line.

And in the nets, Westminster’s Jack Fichthorn and Salisbury’s Steve Luciano are a solid 1-2 punch.

The Rangers will face #5 Dallas Stars Elite, #12 Sioux Falls Power, and #13 Chicago Mission in the Liberty Division round robin.

“Out mindset is to be prepared to work hard and execute,” said Mid-Fairfield coach Chris Gragano. “Take it one shift at a time and play our game. The key to success is to focus on us and what we need to do to be successful. They’re excited, ready to get going and really looking forward to the opportunity in front of us.”

The New Jersey Rockets enter the U16 Tier 1 Nationals as the #10 seed. They will be in the Olympic Division for round-robin play.

Key forwards in the Rockets attack will be Dom Smczcygiel, Martins Klaucans, Dan Hussa and Ty Kuznier. Both Dante Rodriguez (Delbarton) and Frantisek Netusil (Don Bosco) had big seasons in New Jersey Gordon Conference play.

“Dom has been great with his playmaking and excellenet two-way play,” said Rockets coach Noel Rubin. “His leadership and maturity will help calm our team. Martins Klaucans has been finding his scoring.”

Kris Richards and Jackson Accardi have been rock solid on defense. Matthew Minchak is a key option between the pipes.

The round robin schedule includes contests with #2 Little Caesars, #7 New York Saints, and #15 Compuware.

“To advance will be very tough,” Rubin said. “We have a very tough bracket with three top ten teams. We need to focus on game one and play smart. The team is focused and ready for Vegas.