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Gaming World Championships

NHL Gaming World Championship U.S. Regional preview

Eight players will face off seeking berths in tournament final on June 18

by Arda Ocal / Special to NHL.com

Editor's note: Arda Ocal, an Emmy award-nominated broadcaster and the voice of the NHL Gaming World Championship, will be covering the 2019 NHL Gaming World Championship for NHL.com. Here is his preview of the United States Regional Finals:

If you need proof that there's more than one path to success, look no further than David "JrPens" Roebuck and John "Johnwaynee" Casagranda.

Their resumes are similar: each made it through the U.S. Regional Finals in the first season of the NHL Gaming World Championship and represented the United States at the Grand Finals. Johnwaynee finished third, JrPens was the runner-up.

Entering the U.S. Regional Finals, which will be in Stamford, Connecticut, on Thursday, each is hoping to get back to the Final in Las Vegas on June 18.

Johnwaynee is a "champ champ," earning wins in the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings esports tournaments. JrPens captured the Pittsburgh Penguins crown.

JrPens is an actuarial science major at Robert Morris University. Give him a bunch of data and he will turn it into information gold. JrPens would be just as comfortable in a gaming chair on the big stage competing for $50,000 as he would in any NHL team's analytics department. His meticulous attention to detail leads JrPens to re-watch his NHL games, collecting data on his players; from that, he constructs his lines and methods of attack accordingly.

Video: Check out House of Chel with the world's best gamers

Preparing for the draft before the U.S. Regionals was no different.

"To help my approach in the draft, I went in RStudio, a statistical programming software I use for several classes at RMU," JrPens said.

"In this software, I took the data of the players' ratings and broke it all down to look at the pool from different perspectives. This enabled me to see what types of players had a lower supply and where some players were the most valuable with such a low number of them in their respective category. From this, I took that into account with players I enjoy playing with in the game and made a mock draft where for each round I had a list of players I would be interested in."

JrPens is treating the U.S. Regionals almost like an exam, and he is attacking his preparation.

"In the [Hockey Ultimate Team] tournaments or HUT Champs, I have been using my [Gaming World Championship] team against stacked teams to help me work on my defense and make my reaction time quicker," he said. "In addition, I have been studying the European and Canadian regionals to see if there's anything I can incorporate into my play and going in Practice mode to make sure all of my skills are fine tuned."

As for Johnwaynee's preparation for the U.S. Regionals, "I'm having Regs help me with it," he said.

No spreadsheets, no number crunching: just get some help and trust your gut.

Justin "Regs" Reguly is a fellow NHL "champ champ" this season, winning the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals esports tournaments. Regs chipped in by sending Johnwaynee ideas prior to draft day. Johnwaynee also enlisted the help of two other competitors, Canadian Regional finalist Josh "Josh Fearless" D'Eri and Chicago Blackhawks esports champion Josh "HockeyKings" Fuss, acting as consultants in a group chat.

"They helped a lot. Good friends, those three!" Johnwaynee said.

As far as preparation goes, he prefers to cram.

"I've been enjoying time with the family and dog. I always do that," said Johnwaynee, who feels the mental break allows him to recharge and gives him more focus during the tournament. "Then I cram hard the night before I hop on the flight [to Stamford]. Too much chel (NHL) makes me go crazy"

Joining them as a two-time NHL Gaming World Championships qualifier is Matt "Top Shelf Cookie" Gutkoski. The Ohio State student's 2019 season included a storybook victory at the Columbus Blue Jackets esports tournament, securing the win in his hometown at Nationwide Arena.

Rounding out the field are five newcomers:

Brendan "McLxvinn" Reed: He steamrolled through the competition in qualifiers, winning most games by at least four goals. He boasts a HUT record of 508-17-5. Reed is also a hockey instructor for young children.

Braedon "frogstomp33" Greenwood: Possibly a fan of the Australian band Silverchair ("Frogstomp" was its debut album), he has more than 800 wins in HUT. Though he hasn't played most of the other competitors in this tournament, his aggressive style of play might make for some exciting games.

Charles "NippinBiscuits" Ferris: A diehard New York Rangers fan, the New York native wasn't alive in 1994 when his favorite team won the Stanley Cup but still points to Mark Messier as one of his favorite players. He notes that his strategy is very big on puck possession, being a "magician" behind the net (perhaps he is also a fan of Messier's longtime teammate Wayne Gretzky) and being great at using the manual goaltender.

Mike "NJD3VS" Duro: The Newark, New Jersey, resident lives in the home city of his beloved New Jersey Devils (in case you couldn't tell by his username). NJD3VS is also the lone competitor in the NHL Gaming World Championship who chose to rep the Devils in the game. Unlike his counterpart "NippinBiscuits," the 32-year-old can remember his team's Stanley Cup championships. NJD3VS impressively defeated HockeyKings in overtime to qualify for the tournament.

Vic "Fishercelll25" Ferreira: The Washington, D.C., native and Capitals fan would have liked to snag high-scoring forward Alex Ovechkin for his GWC roster, but he's happy to have goalie Braden Holtby and his favorite player, center Nicklas Backstrom, up front. Fe is the Flagship Radio producer for the Washington Nationals, also serving as the flagship producer for Wizards and the Caps.

U.S. regional finals rosters

NHL teams chosen by competitors to represent:

JrPens91 -- David Roebuck -- Pittsburgh Penguins

johnwaynee90 -- John Casagranda -- Arizona Coyotes

Top Shelf Cookie -- Matthew Gutkoski -- Columbus Blue Jackets

McLxvinn -- Brendan Reed -- New York Rangers

frogstomp33 -- Braedon Greenwood -- Colorado Avalanche

NJD3VS -- Mike Duro -- New Jersey Devils

Fishercelll25 -- Vic Ferreira -- Washington Capitals

NippinBiscuits -- Charles Ferris -- Dallas Stars

Predictions from the experts

Josh "HockeyKings" Fuss (@OFs_5), Chicago Blackhawks NHL esports champion, Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets NHL esports tournament finalist:

"Cookie is sweeping the one side easily. The guy has been great all year and is one of the top offensive players in the world right now. On the other side the finals to make Vegas will be Johnwaynee and JrPens. This game could go either way, they are both great players at the end of the day, but I think that John will pull it out, with the year that he has had and winning as much as he has this year!"

Tyler "Daddy Padre" Stewart (@Daddy_Padre), NHL 19 competitor, Toronto Maple Leafs Gaming League runner-up, St. Louis Blues emergency goalie

"Cookie would be my bet from the top bracket. I believe JrPens will play JW. That could be a toss-up with how this game is. But I think JohnWaynee will go through because he's the most consistent at tournaments.

Michael "Nuge" Nugent (@NugeTV), 2018 NHL GWC U.S. Regional Finalist

"Starting with the two favorites: Johnwaynee and JrPens, unfortunately they play each other in the semifinal so only one can make it through. The matchup should be incredibly close, but I have to give the edge to Johnwaynee. He's too cool under pressure and I think he'll win a couple of low-scoring games. From the other side of the bracket I think the two guys to look at are McLxvinn and Top Shelf Cookie. Cookie has been there before; last year he was was a total underdog and played exceptionally well. This year I think he's probably the player most would expect to win his side of the bracket, but personally I think McLxvinn will take it."

Dustin "The Clapperton" Wade (@TheClapperton), NHL Community Manager

"Cookie will go undefeated in the U.S. Regionals. Nothing else matters."

Alexander "The JERZ" Cerrano (@JERZNetwork), Content Creator and self-professed NHL community Legend

"Take it from someone who has breathed virtual hockey gaming since 1993: These eight are of the very best virtual athletes America has to offer. With that said, there is no doubt in the JERZs mind that Johnwaynee will yet again stamp his ticket to Vegas. The kid has heart, plays elite manual defense and gets it done when it matters. He'll have a tough task getting through JrPens and his rebound shot offense, but in my opinion John goes to Vegas again.

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