skip navigation

2020-21 Season Head Coaches Bios

Director of Hockey Tony Lessel

Born and raised in St. Louis, MO  Tony enters his fifth season as Director of Hockey for the Jr. Everblades and the seventh year for Hertz Arena. Tony played youth hockey with the Chesterfield Falcons leading to tier 1 for the Jr. Blues and attending Chaminade College Prep. in St. Louis.

Since arriving in Florida in 2008 with a degree in Sport Management, Tony began working with the Florida Panthers in an entry-level sales position. From there he worked his way through the organization.  Within a couple of years, he was running the youth and adult travel/recreation programs out of Panthers Ice Den. Now with the Hertz Arena and the Jr. Everblades, Tony has grown both programs year after year with an emphasis on structure, development, and fun!

A USA Hockey Level 4 coach, Tony has coached numerous state championship teams of all levels over the years and worked with USA Hockey’s player development camps locally. He prides himself on development at the grassroots levels to ensure the stability of this great game in Florida for the future and has been recognized numerous times by USA Hockey for such achievements. Tony looks forward to raising many more championship banners once again this year for the Jr. Everblades.

8U Major Head Coach Ernie Hartlieb

Coach Ernie's interest in athletic performance development stems from his extensive career competing in ice hockey.  After a life-threatening hockey injury suffered at 18 years of age with a prognosis that he may never be able to play the game again, his passion for hockey and his desire to succeed expectations fueled his rehabilitation and lead him to become an all-rounded athlete who has garnered respect from coaches and players on all levels.

During his four years of collegiate play for the Miami OH Redhawks (CCHA), he received the Terry Flannagan Humanitarian Award recognizing Ernie's strong character and leadership skills both on and off of the ice.

Having played over a decade in the ECHL including four seasons playing at the AHL level (Worcester IceCats, Grand Rapids Griffins, Lowell Lock Monsters, and Rochester Americans), his eight seasons with the Florida Everblades culminated in the team Captain having his iconic #9 jersey retired.

Coach Ernie's leadership, motivational skills, training skills, and exceptional training ethics bring exciting elements to the Junior Everblades organization.

10U A2 Head Coach Austin Petersen

Coach Austin is originally from Los Angeles, California, and has been a part of the Junior Everblades organization for more than ten years.  He is currently working towards his Masters degree in Psychology at FGCU.

Austin played for the Junior Everblades in the 12U through 18U divisions, was selected for the USA Atlantic Developmental Team, and as a defenseman for Florida Gulf Coast University. 

Currently, a USA Hockey Level 4 coach, Austin has been coaching with the Junior Everblades the past four seasons and has been a skating coach with the Hertz Arena Learn to Skate program for the past seven years.  His coaching accomplishments include numerous tournament championships, the SAHOF State 12U A Championship, and  SAHOF State 10A Silver State Championship. 

Austin's coaching philosophy focuses heavily on, creativity, character development, leadership skills. 


12U A1 Head Coach James Johnstone

Coach James has more than 20 years of experience instructing at hockey clinics and camps from Ontario to Southwest Florida.  

James' coaching tenure with the Junior Everblades began in 2006 leading the Mite AA team and since then he has coached every youth age division. Some notable coaching achievements include winning State Championships at the U18 AAA level in 2008, U12 A in 2018, and U10 A Silver in 2020.

James played minor hockey in Guelph, Ontario, and then for the Junior Everblades. He played junior hockey for the Walkerton Hawks and club hockey for Florida Gulf Coast University. In addition to coaching and playing, James has been a linesman in the ECHL since 2007.

Some key components of James’ coaching philosophy include an emphasis on developing strong team chemistry as well as helping each player improve their fundamental skills. Winning AS A TEAM, or at least improving outcomes over the course of the season, is a good measure of whether we are succeeding in our primary objectives, so James likes to win; plus winning is fun.

14U A Head Coach Keith Van Damme

Keith comes to us from Crystal Lake, IL with a wealth of coaching and clinic experience.

It all began in Superior, Wisconsin for Keith at a young age and developed into playing at the University of Wisconsin Superior. He has coached and developed players for over 35 years with USA Hockey Level 5 Master certification and IIHF certificate in Training Theory.

He’s known as one of the finest hockey clinicians in the Midwest and has volunteered many summers working with players of all ages and levels. He has a proven track record of commended performance coaching at the youth and high school levels, with a passion for amateur hockey and commitment to optimizing an unwavering team, players, and organizational success.

Keith’s overall coaching philosophy remains the same no matter what level the players are at; make sure the kids are having fun and skills development.

16U AA Head Coach Matt Culot

Matt comes to us from El Paso, TX by way of Boston, MA where he started his junior hockey career with the Boston Jr. Bruins. His junior career continued with various teams with the EHL, USPHL, and WSHL including his final year of juniors was with the Utah Outliers where he posted a team-leading 81 points.

With a stint scouting for the Lehigh Valley Rebels of the EHL Matt brings experience evaluating talent at a high level as well. Now turning his career to coaching, Matt has been running high-level skill development clinics for the Rhinos Youth Hockey Club with emphasis’ on power skating and agility. In addition, Matt managed the learn to play hockey program with the Dallas Stars, working with El Paso Rhinos (back to back WSHL champions and newly of the NAHL) and coaching various levels and ages.

Matt strongly believes in teaching skills that make players think a step ahead and make quick decisions. Challenging players to go beyond their comfort zone is the key to both player and team development in Matt’s eyes.

16U A Head Coach Peter Jerabeck

Coach Peter Jerabeck has been coaching hockey for the past forty-seven years.

He has successfully coached every classification in the game, including 8U-18U, Junior, High School, and College hockey.  Peter continues to have the passion, determination, enthusiasm, commitment, and love of the game.  

His ability to remain professional while helping his athletes deal with everyday problems that interfere with their ability to realize their potential has led his teams to successful seasons year after year.  

Coach Jerabeck is a mentor and someone that can be counted on.  He is looking forward to the challenges the upcoming season will bring for his 16U A team.