USPHL Premier expanding to Canada for 2024-25 season with new division in Ontario, Quebec
The Largest Junior Hockey League In The United States, the USPHL Premier, will become not only larger but even more international than its first foray into Canada during this 2023-24 season.
An entire new Ontario-and Quebec-based division will be joining in 2024-25, with five teams being announced right from the start and additional announcements expected in the coming months as negotiations continue with some of Canada’s top junior organizations looking to become part of the United States Premier Hockey League.
The USPHL Premier of 2023-24 is a 61-team league with a completely national footprint in the United States, ranging from Maine to Miami, and Seattle to San Diego. The addition this 2023-24 season of College Universel Gatineau, located in Gatineau, Que., saw the Premier add its first Canadian team to the league membership. College Universel Gatineau will be joined in the new Canada Division by Somang Laurentides Lanaudiere (SLL) Hockey, Hawkesbury Knights, Kingston Wranglers, Montreal BlackVees, and College Universel Sherbrooke.
During the 2024-25 season, these teams will generally only face each other throughout the season (44 games per team), with the exception of playing in different USPHL Showcase Series events.
The Canada Division teams are joining a United States Premier Hockey League that, including all its tiers and conferences, has sent more than 8,000 players to college hockey at all levels, and more than 250 players to the pro levels. Several current NHL players cut their teeth in the USPHL, including Tage Thompson (P.A.L. Jr. Islanders), Jordan Harris (Islanders Hockey Club), John Marino and Ryan Donato (South Shore Kings) and Joey Daccord (Boston Junior Bruins), with many more pre-USPHL alumni of Member Organizations also currently playing in the NHL.
“A Canadian Premier division truly makes the USPHL international and this alone shines the light even brighter on the largest and best Tier 3 junior league in North America,” said USPHL Commissioner Bob Turow. “The ownership groups are experienced, strong and proven, and will be added to shortly.”
Below, we are excited to introduce each of the exciting new members of the USPHL Premier and its new all-Canadian division for 2024-25.
The BlackVees will play at the arena hosted by their academic partner College St-Jean-Vianney. The BlackVees are a proud organization with a history dating back 25 years. This proud history features many illustrious alumni including NHL players Laurent Dauphin (selected in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft) and current New York Islander Julien Gauthier (a first round selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft). In recent years, the BlackVees have also sent players to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (six), the Tier II Canadian Junior Hockey League (15) and to U.S. junior leagues (20).
“Our varsity program annually places between 12 to 15 players to junior levels and all these players will now be able to play within the organization, in our own USPHL Premier Montreal BlackVees team,” said President Claude Fortin.
The BlackVees will be coached by former Florida Panther Francois Cloutier, who will be joined by a staff with QMJHL and BCHL experience. Over the past four seasons (excluding two COVID seasons), the BlackVees have won two regular season championships and one league title.
“We are currently first in the North American Prep Hockey League, as well as first in the NAPHL Division of the USPHL Elite conference,” said Fortin. “We build teams that play hard and we come to play. Our organization is pumped about joining such a high caliber league in the USPHL Premier. We promise that the BlackVees will host its players in the best environment a student-athlete requires and that the BlackVees will become a league standard.”
The Knights will hit the ice in the Ottawa River town of Hawkesbury, Ont., which lies almost directly between Ottawa and Montreal, with the new team run by former NHL defenseman Shawn Anderson.
“I am very excited about joining the USPHL Premier Division as an owner-operator. It is the right league for many of the players here in the Quebec/Ontario regions that are just one year away from Tier II hockey,” said Anderson. “I look forward to working with my other Canadian colleagues in representing the USPHL Premier across the border.”
Anderson played professionally in the NHL, minor leagues and European leagues for 18 years, before opening his own hockey-specific training business in 2004. This encapsulates his ownership of the Canadian Tier II Hawkesbury Hawks and also the Le Sommet Faucons prep team. The latter is part of the USPHL Elite’s North American Prep Hockey League team. Anderson is a huge believer that all the credit goes to the players that have moved on to junior and professional hockey through his programs and teams.
The Knights, playing out of the Robert-Hartley Sports Complex in Hawkesbury, will be announcing their staff in the coming months after multiple interviews with some of the region’s top hockey people.
Somang Laurentides Lanaudiere HC
The USPHL is also pleased to welcome Somang Laurentides Lanaudiere (SLL) HC, an academy program that is enjoying its 10th anniversary in 2024.
“USPHL membership means that Somang will now have the ability to seamlessly accompany players from the 16U level through juniors, creating even more pathways for players to achieve their hockey dreams,” said Michael Bujold, a co-director of Somang Hockey. “It will also make it possible for more players from the world over to discover our beautiful region on the North Shore of Montreal. With a staff composed of highly qualified professionals from both the coaching and managerial standpoint, Somang expects to hit the ground running and ice a competitive team from Year 1 in our home base on the North Shore of Montreal. Hockey fans, buckle up because it’s going to be an exciting ride!
“SLL Hockey is excessively proud to be part of the new Canadian division of the USPHL Premier, a dénouement that it has long seen as the next natural step in its emergence as a force to be reckoned with not only on the local hockey scene, but also on the international stage,” Bujold added.
Somang has come a long way from its roots of four players signing on for 2014, to become a leading destination for promising international and local players.
“Somang’s unwavering focus on development and advancement has already led to many of its alumni going on to play in some of the highest leagues available including Major Junior, USHL, NAHL, NCDC, EHL, and OJHL at the Junior level, the NCAA and ACHA at the collegiate level, and professional leagues in Germany, France, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Belgium, Japan, and Great Britain.”
Celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2024, the Wranglers’ ownership group RELM Sports hosts nearly 30 sports tournaments across Ontario, manages spring and summer teams and provides hockey development programs out of its base of Kingston, Ontario. RELM Sports was founded after a rebrand of a previous tournament company and today is led by its owner Ryan Thompson.
“We’re eager to bring Junior Hockey back to Kingston as the Wranglers join the USPHL Premier hockey league next season. This marks a significant chapter for our organization, and we’re committed to fostering talent and contributing to the local hockey community,” said Thompson.
Coming in as head coach is Mark Major, a native of North York, Ont., who was drafted 25th overall in the second round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. After a 15-year playing career, he has dedicated his time the past two decades coaching in Kingston and making a positive impact on young athletes.
“Through his coaching, Mark has not only helped his players develop their hockey skills, but also instilled in them important values such as teamwork, discipline, and sportsmanship. His passion for the game and commitment to his community have made him a true role model for aspiring hockey players and coaches alike,” said Thompson.
Assistant Coach Dave Mullins has been an on-ice officials assignor, travel program administrator, and coach of six All-Ontario champions and one Jr. C league championship team. At the junior level, he’s coached the Amherstview Jets (Provincial Junior League), and in youth hockey, he’s worked in Napanee Minor Hockey, Cobourg Minor Hockey, and Greater Kingston Minor Hockey.
College Universel Sherbrooke
The new College Universel Sherbrooke team will be run by the same management that is currently running the USPHL Premier member team from College Universel Gatineau, including College Universel Sports Director Marco Pietroniro and Hockey Director Alex Gagnon. For its first year, the new team will play out of Bishop University and the Thibeault Sport Complex, both in Sherbrooke. The team’s staff will be hired during the upcoming off-season. The basic tenets will be followed by both Universel teams in terms of recruiting, development, advancement and education.
College Universel Sherbrooke (and Gatineau) will continue to look for players in Europe, Canada and the eastern U.S. while they attend multiple summer events and work with different advisors. They will also run two selection camps for their Gatineau and Sherbrooke teams. Development will focus on each player’s confidence, self-evaluation and creativity. College Universel will work with teams at all levels – NCAA and USports (Canada’s interuniversity sports governing body), as well as pro hockey teams in North America and Europe for player placement. Education is extremely important, with players being able to pursue an IB High School Diploma, a Pre-University/CEGEP Diploma and keep themselves open to opportunities either in Canadian or U.S. universities.
College Universel Gatineau
The College Universel Gatineau is the one individual out of these six Canadian Division teams that is currently playing in the USPHL Premier.
“We are currently in our first USPHL season. We are competing well and have been competing and placing players within many junior leagues including the USPHL levels for several years now,” said Universel Sports Director Marco Pietroniro. “We strongly believe that developing the USPHL Levels within the Quebec and Ontario provinces will provide a strong option for athletes to achieve NCAA or USport College Hockey options.”
College Universel was created in Montreal, Que., in 2013. It expanded into Gatineau, Que., in 2017, and just added a location in Sherbrooke, Que. The school provides high school level, pre-university and CEGEP diplomas. Universel provides a premier private education for student-athletes with a selection of sports. Hockey has been at the school for four years and is looking forward to starting its fifth year. The team will play out of the Meredith Centre in nearby Chelsea, Que., as their home rink.
Pietroniro first got on the hockey map as a member of the Trois-Rivieres Draveurs as a player in 1986, moving on to become Captain of the team before an 11-year pro career took him to Europe and the former West Coast Hockey League (whose teams were later brought into the ECHL). He began coaching in his final playing year in Idaho Falls and founded a non-profit youth hockey development program. He has had many coaching stops including the Arizona Sundogs (CHL), Team Quebec’s Canada Games U15 team, and Team Canada’s U17 team, in addition to QMJHL coaching stints with Val D’Or and Baie-Comeau, the latter as Head Coach. In addition to College Universel, Pietroniro has also been Director of Hockey Operation at Bishop’s College School for the last six years, directing BCS to a very competitive level with strong recruiting.
— Joshua Boyd/USPHLPremier.com
(February 12, 2024)