The Maine Moose will field 16U and 18U teams next winter in the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL), the same league in which the Twin City Thunder will debut.

Ben Gray, who owns the Maine Moose and the fledgling Twin City Thunder — based in Auburn — said the move was designed to continue finding the best competition for his teams.

“(The USPHL) is the best league in New England, for sure, and our midget 16 and 18 programs have been very strong,” Gray said. “We wanted to continue to push (the) envelope on skill and developing our players.”

The announcement of the formation of the Twin City Thunder came last fall, and in December the USPHL officially added the team to its Premier North Division. The Thunder became the league’s first team from Maine, giving the USPHL reach into 17 of the 50 states in the U.S.

“Everything with the Thunder is going well,” Gray said. “We had to wait until the season wrapped up before we could really start signing guys and recruiting. We’ll be announcing a coach at end of the month — once we do that, we’ll start doing some player announcements.”

The Moose have won a pair of national championships playing out of the Easter Junior Elite Prospects League (EJEPL), including its 18U squad most recently in 2017.

The Moose 18U team is 11-7-0-0-1 in the EJEPL Platinum division, while the Moose 16U squad is 11-8-0-0-1 in the Diamond division. Former local high school standouts Cam Wilson (Cony) and Jackson Aldrich (Waterville), whom play at Kents Hill, are among those on the Moose 18U squad. Gardiner’s Joe Clark and Matthew Poirier are among the players on the 16U roster.

Jumping to the USHL will allow for the Moose to expand their recruitment beyond their current base while offering a more rigorous practice and game schedule. The core of the Moose, Gray said, will remain Maine players while there may be opportunities to bring in players from New Hampshire and Canada.

“We’re won’t significantly (overhaul the roster),” Gray said. “We really want to have a good base of Maine kids to try and keep developing players here in Maine.”

The Moose will remain a midget program for 16U and 18U teams. The Thunder will be a full-fledged junior hockey program.

Gray said the workload for him hasn’t increased as much as it would appear. Because the Moose have been in operation for years, it’s simply a matter of having a new schedule and facing new teams next season without noticeable changes to the program.

He is excited to have the Moose join the Thunder under the USPHL banner.

“It’s a pretty high-end league, and we’ll play against teams that have four, five or six players that are already committed to Division I schools,” Gray said.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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