The Hampton Roads Whalers made history this weekend, as both the Whalers Elite and Premier teams took home the USPHL National Championship, defeating the Charlotte Rush in both games on Saturday, becoming the 1st franchise in USPHL history to win both championships in the same season. The Whalers Premier team has appeared in every USPHL Championship weekend since its inception in 2012. They have made the final four each year, including the championship game the last 3 seasons, and have now won the championship in 2 of the last 3 seasons. The Whalers Elite team made their 2nd appearance in the championship game in the last 3 seasons, avenging their 2016 defeat to take home the hardware this season.
In the round robin tournament, the Whalers Elite team would face a gauntlet of USPHL power house teams. The Whalers would face-off with the Jersey Hitmen, the defending Champion Florida Jr. Blades, and the league’s highest scoring team in the Islanders Hockey Club.
Game one of the weekend would see the second meeting of the year between the Whalers and Jersey Hitmen. The Whalers would get goals from Gary Eastlack, Tianyou Zuo, Nolan Cavanagh, and Ryan Lorenz while Everett Yasinski made 37 saves in net and held off a late Hitmen charge for a 4-3 win. The Whalers held a 43-40 advantage in shots.
Game two, the Whalers would face the defending champion Florida Jr. Blades. The Whalers would dominate this game from start to finish, getting goals from Bryce Leger, Caelan Bolanowski, Gary Eastlack, Jacob Kaplan, and Nick Darrow as they cruised to a convincing 5-1 win. Everett Yasinski made 19 saves in net for the win. The Whalers held a 58-20 advantage in shots.
The Whalers final round robin test would come in a must win game against the high powered Islanders HC. After a scoreless opening frame, the Whalers road the back of 2 Gary Eastlack goals, as well as goals from Jacob Kaplan, Caelan Bolanowski, and Tianyou Zuo to a convincing 5-1 win, advancing to the semi-finals and ending the Islanders season. Everett Yasinski made 19 saves in net for the win. The Whalers held a 33-20 advantage in shots.
In the semi-finals, the Whalers would face an unfamiliar foe, as the boys from Hampton Roads would face off with the Beijing Shougang Eagles for the first time in franchise history. The Whalers entered the event as the #1 team in bracket B and faced the #2 seed Eagles from bracket B.
The Whalers started fast and furious, notching 3 goals in the opening period to take a 3-0 lead after 1. In the middle frame, the Whalers would pound home 3 more goals before the Eagles finally found the net, and the Whalers held a 6-1 lead after 2. In the 3rd, the Whalers would tack on an insurance marker and cruise into the finals with a 7-1 win.
Ty Brandt posted a hat-trick, Caelan Bolanowski, Tianyou Zuo, Cody Wilson, and Bryce Leger each posted 1 goal. Everett Yasinski made 29 saves in net for the win. Beijing held a 30-28 advantage in shots.
With the win, the Whalers finished the season a perfect 16-0 against out of division opponents, going undefeated against the North, Mid-Atlantic, and Florida divisions this season.
In the finals, the Whalers would face-off with a hated division rival, in the Charlotte Rush. The Whalers and Rush have gone toe to toe the last 3 seasons. Last season the Rush ended the Whalers run in the 2nd round. This season, the Whalers went 1W-2L-3OTL in 6 games against their division rival, as the Rush went on to clinch the Southeast division title ahead of the Whalers as well as claiming the USPHL regular season championship with the best record in the league.
With revenge on their minds, the Whalers came out with purpose, pressuring the Rush with suffocating defense. The Whalers hard worked paid off, as Ty Brandt tipped home a goal from Gary Eastlack and Ryan Lorenz just 3:36 into the game to go up 1-0. After plenty of back and forth, Caelan Bolanowski would extend the lead to 2-0 at the 17:42 mark from Jacob Kaplan and Bryce Leger. The 2 goal lead would be short lived, as Charlotte responded just 9 seconds later and the Whalers held a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes of play.
In the middle frame, the Whalers would find themselves back on their heels, as the Rush made a strong push. At 3:52, Charlotte would pounce on a rebound and tie the game up at 2-2. Then at the 11:50 mark, Charlotte would take their first lead of the game, capitalizing on a power play goal on a seeing eye shot from the point. With just 1:39 left in the 2nd, Charlotte struck again on a net front scramble, scoring their 4th straight goal to chase Everett Yasinski and take a 4-2 lead into the 3rd.
In the 3rd, Charlotte played a tight defensive game, holding off the Whalers advances for much of the period. Then, with just 6:42 left, the Whalers cut the lead to 4-3 on a power play goal as Adam Campbell wired a shot over the shoulder of Anthony Keating assisted by Cody Wilson and Nolan Cavanagh. As the Whalers continued to buzz and the seconds winding down, the Whalers found the equalizer with just 2:36 left on the clock when Gary Eastlack took a Ty Brandt hard rim, stepped off the half-wall and beat Keating and this game would be headed for overtime for the 4th time in 7 match-ups this season.
In the overtime session, the two teams exchange blows, as Jason Horn and Anthony Keating kept their respective teams alive in net. At the 15:17 mark of the overtime session, the Whalers had a big power play opportunity, but were denied on many great opportunities. Then, with under 5 minutes left in the 1st overtime, Justin Jiang picked off a pass just inside the Whalers blue line, motored up ice and found Tianyou Zuo across the ice, Zuo drove the zone, Jiang drove the net, and Zuo sent a beautiful pass backdoor onto the tape of Justin Jiang who tapped the puck in five-hole and sent the Whalers into a frenzy as the 2017-2018 USPHL Elite National Champions with a 5-4 win over the Charlotte Rush.
“It’s an unbelievable moment for this team and for this organization”, stated Head Coach Brad Jones. “We told this group back in October we thought we had a real shot at winning a title this season. Through all the high and lows, these guys battled for each other, they pushed each other every day, and just when you thought we were down, they found a way for each other. I couldn’t be prouder of what this team, and this organization has accomplished. This group of brothers will forever be remembered as Champions.”
In the round robin tournament, the Whalers Premier team would look to make their third straight return trip to the Championship round, having won the title in 2015-2016 and losing in the finals last season to Charlotte. The Whalers would face-off with the Tampa Bay Juniors, Chicago Cougars, and New Jersey Rockets.
Game one of the weekend would see the second meeting of the year between the Whalers and Tampa Bay Juniors. The Whalers wasted no time asserting their dominance, converting once in the 1st, twice in the 2nd, and three times in the third to cruise to a 6-1 win. John Moncovich scored twice, Kirill Romanov, Conner Hunt, and Adam Toor each had one. Sean Dickson made 15 saves in net. The Whalers held a 47-16 advantage in shots.
In game two, the Whalers would face the Chicago Cougars from the USPHL Midwest. Things got out of hand in a hurry for the Cougars, as the Whalers scored 6 times in the 1st period and added 3 more in the 2nd and 1 more in the 3rd for a 10-2 thrashing of the Cougars. Kirill Romanov and Brandon Osmundson had hat-tricks, while Conner Hunt, Jaxon Rutkowski, John Moncovich, and Matthew Hanchon each had 1 goal. Sean Dickson made 18 saves in net for the win. The Whalers held a 68-20 advantage in shots.
The Whalers final round robin test would come in a must win game against a strong New Jersey Rockets club who also went 2-0 through their first two games, and the winner of this game moved on with the loser going home. The Rockets scored the lone goal in the opening period, the Whalers struck twice in the 2nd, while the Rockets added another and the teams went into the final frame 2-2. In the 3rd, the Whalers found the game winner with just 1:11 left then tacked on an empty netter to advance with a 4-2 win. Brandon Osmundson scored twice, while Matthew Hanchon and Kirill Romanov scored once. Sean Dickson made 42 saves for the win. The rockets held a 44-36 advantage in shots.
In the semi-finals, the Whalers would face a familiar foe, as they would face off with the Islanders Hockey Club, extending the long rivalry between two of the league’s premier programs. The Whalers entered the event as the winner of gold bracket A and faced the Islanders, who were the winners of black bracket B.
The two teams started with a lot of back and forth neutral zone play, as neither team gave an inch and they played to a scoreless first period. In the 2nd period, the Islanders would strike just 3:25 into the frame off a rebound to the left of Sean Dickson. The Islanders continued to pressure, but Dickson kept them at bay and at the 12:23 mark the Whalers would tie things up at 1-1 headed into the final frame. In the 3rd, the Whalers struck at 8:02 on the power play and held on the rest of the way for a huge 2-1 win, ending the Islanders season for a second year in a row.
Brandon Osmundson and Kirill Romanov scored for the Whalers. Sean Dickson made 39 saves in net for the win. The Islanders held a 40-28 shot advantage.
With the win, the Whalers finished the season with a 13-3 record against out of division opponents from the North, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West, Mid-West (East), and Florida divisions this season.
In the finals, the Whalers faced off with their bitter rival, the Charlotte Rush, in a re-match of last year’s finals and the last two USPHL Champions, as the Whalers won in 2015-2016 and Charlotte took the title from the Whalers last season. Charlotte dominated the season series, as the Whalers went 1W-5L in 6 games against the Rush, as Charlotte cruised to the USPHL Premier regular season championship and had the best record among all teams in tier 3 hockey this season.
The game would start as expected, as the Whalers and Rush set a fast and physical tone in the opening period. Charlotte dominated the opening frame, with a 14-5 shot advantage, the Rush opened the scoring at the 14:44 mark on a seeing eye shot from the point that made its way through a maze of bodies and found its way past Sean Dickson to put the Rush up 1-0 after 20.
In the middle frame, the Whalers pushed back with a furry of 19 shots in the frame. At the 4:50 mark, Kirill Romanov got the Whalers back to even at 1-1 when he converted off a feed from Brandon Osmundson and Brendan Borg. The Whalers lead would be short lived, as the Rush responded just 1:03 later when Tyler Barrow picked off a Whaler defender and beat Sean Dickson to restore the Rush lead to 2-1. As the period winded down, the Whalers got a late power play advantage, and Kirill Romanov would clean up the trash in front of Rush net minder Sam Best to tie the game back up at 2-2 with assists going to Brandon Osmundson and Jaxon Rutkowski.
In the final frame, the Whalers and Rush continued to exchange blows and Sean Dickson fended off the high powered Rush offense who blistered the Whalers net with 16 shots in the period. With 10:37 to go, Matthew Hanchon would pick up a rebound in front and deposit it behind Sam Best to give the Whalers their first lead of the game assisted by Trent Wydrowski. With time winding down, the Rush pushed furiously to tie things up, but Dickson and the Whalers defense withstood the push. The Rush came close twice, as a high stick negated a Kyle Moore goal and Nick Yzaguirre hit the cross bar with under 10 seconds left. With one final face-off in the Whalers zone, Adam Toor and Jared Sanchez came up with two game saving shot blocks as the Whalers Conner Hunt cleared the zone one final time and the celebration was on for the Whalers second Premier championship in the last 3 seasons, and second of the day for the organization as the Whalers Elite team bombarded the ice to celebrate with their brothers.
“The 2017-18 season was one for the books”, stated Premier Head Coach Rod Taylor. “This team faced many challenges, internal struggles, and all kinds of adversity that can sometimes tear a team apart. I equate this year to a family pulling together after being faced with these challenges. In fact, the team bond just grew stronger and stronger as the year progressed. Leading into the playoffs, the drive, desire and commitment to this “family” was so apparent. As we progressed through the playoffs, the intensity level increased, we rose to every challenge and every game prepared us for the next. We just continued to find a way to win games. Ultimately, that same heart and passion is what led us to the opportunity to play in the finals. This team was focused and really dug deep to come out on top in the championship game. I am so proud of how this team played for one another and got the victory. This team, this family, made Whaler Nation proud. My “Championship” came as I saw my players achieve that goal; the look on their faces was my reward. Congratulations to all of my players, I couldn’t be more proud. A special thanks and congratulations go to GM Patrick Cavanagh, Elite Head Coach Brad Jones, and our Assistant Coach Kody Rodriguez”.
“We celebrate this outstanding group of players who have achieved unprecedented success by winning both the Elite and Premier National Championships in 2018. The Whaler Nation family features an established culture including coaches, administration, billet families, and fans, that offer an unrelenting commitment for excellence both on and off the ice. To observe and be a part of the comprehensive efforts, and to witness the ability to overcome adversity that each Whaler player showcased in order to achieve the extraordinary results of dual Championships, cannot be measured in words. This experience will be cherished for years to come within the Whaler Nation family.” states President Patrick Cavanagh.