Mesa’s Bjella winning big with USPHL Premier’s Whalers
There are a lot of benefits to being in Arizona around the holidays, and Mesa native Blake Bjella takes advantage of all of them.
“It’s not snowy, not white, but I’ve gotten used to it not being so cold,” Bjella said. “It’s nice to have Christmas dinner outside and enjoy it with the family.”
He also got in some rounds of golf during the holiday break, with Las Sendas Golf Club being a hometown favorite. The rest and recreation were well-deserved, because prior to the Dec. 17 start of the two-week break, Bjella was a workhorse in goal for the Hampton Roads (Va.) Whalers, a top team in the Tier III junior USPHL Premier Division.
In the 2018 portion of the season, the 1998-born Bjella went 13-0 for the Whalers. He had three shutouts during that time, and then added one more when he returned to action in the Boston area for the USPHL Winter Showcase.
The Whalers had a start that few in the 51-team Florida-to-Minnesota USPHL Premier Division enjoyed, as they stand at 30-2-1-0. The defending Premier champion Whalers went undefeated between last Feb. 17 through last year’s playoffs and into Nov. 4 of this year.
“I knew Hampton Roads had a good winning tradition, and it’s obviously fun to win,” said Bjella. “I have a lot of good things to say about playing for Hampton Roads, especially their will to make you better. They want to make you a better player and a better person.”
In terms of making Bjella a better goaltender, he feels like he has an edge on other goalies in the league because of the offensive talent on his team. He is facing hard shots every day from players such as the league’s leading scorer and Utica College commit Brandon Osmundson, who had 27 goals and 74 points in 37 games this season.
“We have such a talented team and we push each other,” Bjella said. “They don’t take any breaks on me at all, which makes our games easier, for sure.”
USPHL Premier playoffs began for most divisions in January, and the Whalers hope to pull off the repeat championship and make it their third title in four years.
Bjella first started playing goal when he was 13 years old, back with the Williston (N.D.) Coyotes in the state of his birth. It was shortly after that 13-year-old year that the Bjella family relocated to Arizona.
“It was just a change for the family,” Bjella said. “You obviously can’t beat the weather, and there are a lot of things to do. I love being outside, and you can’t beat that.”
He had played goal a little bit before that season but became serious about it in Arizona.
“Even after I started playing goal, I still switched off and skated out sometimes,” said Bjella.
He joined the Phoenix Firebirds youth program and remained there until he turned 17. From there, he played two 18U seasons with the Arizona Bobcats organization, which gave the world Auston Matthews.
“I grew up in the house league and worked my way up to AAA,” said Bjella. “With the Firebirds, it was good for me as a goalie because I saw a ton of shots. The Bobcats run a great organization. It’s just run the right way, and everyone wants to play.”
After his 19-year-old year playing in a different Tier III junior league, Bjella found a home in Hampton Roads this season. He saw some of the teams he hadn’t seen before at the USPHL Winter Showcase and took his first loss there. That was a preview of what the USPHL Premier Nationals back in Massachusetts March 8-10 might be like, but the Whalers must keep winning like they have this season to get there.
Photo/Stephen Spencer/Action Photography
— Joshua Boyd/USPHL.com
(Feb. 5, 2019)