Development, pride and passion. The USPHL Junior Islanders care about building not just players, but individuals. I sat down with three players from the team and asked them not only how the league works, but how various personalities can come together to create a great product.
Evan LaBrash is an 18-year-old from Ontario Canada who was traded to Florida. He stated that trades work basically the same as the NHL, without being able to trade for draft picks. Player-on-player trades are very common and sometimes players are just sent away “at the drop of a dime.”
This league also creates young stars. When asking if this league could lead to something like the Olympics or World Juniors, 20-year-old defenseman Mykyta Volobuyev answered that he was lucky enough to play for his home country Ukraine for the World Juniors.
I also asked the players if there are any rules and regulations that the Junior Islanders coach requires them to follow. 18-year-old forward Will Space stated that rules such as no hats while wearing a suit were in order. Though Volobuyev states that “that’s just good style.”
The team also has a group chat check in every night where everyone has to send their number in order until they get to 26 with their last name, similar to a roll call. This group chat makes sure no one is out doing something they’re not supposed to be doing.
They also have a curfew of 10:30 p.m. each night. During away games, the team has an itinerary to make sure the team stays on schedule and is not doing anything wrong. The coach will even go around from room to room to make sure each player is in their room.
In order for players like LaBrash and Volobuyev to play so far from home, they find themselves living with billet families. That’s where their other teammate Will Space comes into play.
Space and his family were kind enough to open their home for the two international defensemen in order for them to play with the Jr. Islanders. Volobuyev, who has been living in the United States since he was 14 years old, says that he sees his family every summer and winter break.
When asking them about what living with other teammates does, they said it formed a great bond on and off the ice. LaBrash and Volobuyev (both defensemen) would often find themselves paired together during games.
Both Space and Volobuyev are working and playing hockey at the same time. When asking how they balance both of those things, Space stated that most kids balancing things like work and school will do the same thing: work and school in the morning and then hockey in the afternoon.
Space also stated that during practice everyone is on the ice at the same time, while after practice the players who work will work out and do video after ice time, while people who don’t work will work out before.
When asking them about their personal life I asked if there are players they base their playing on. They responded by saying that there are players that they like, but that they enjoy making their own mark. Though they do enjoy watching some specific players such as Alexander Radulov for Mykyta, Duncan Keith for Evan and old-time Islander Jason Blake for Will, as well as defenseman P.K. Subban.
I also asked the young players what made them pick hockey as a sport that they wanted to dedicate their life to, as well as what makes it so special for them.
“It’s just a thrill, like every time you skate down the ice you don’t know what’s going to happen,” LaBrash said.
With Volobuyev, he stated that although he hated hockey at first and wanted to quit, he has grown to love it. While Space’s answer was similar to LaBrash, he added that he loved that “there’s always something happening. Other sports there’s always resting time. There’s always something happening whether someone is getting punched in the face or scoring a goal.” This quote is something most hockey fans can easily agree on.
Seeing what these young players are doing in order to play the sport they love is amazing. It is clear that Junior Islanders Volobuyev, Space and LaBrash have a bright future ahead of them.