EXETER, NH -- For the final time this season, all 29 teams in the Eastern Hockey League and its Premier Division will meet up for another leg of the showcase series.
The fifth and final EHL showcase will take place in Exeter, New Hampshire, featuring a slate of 32 games from Saturday to Monday. While some teams returned to action after the holiday break, others will start out the calendar year of 2022 at the showcase. The Rinks at Exeter will also host the first-ever EHLP All-Star game on Saturday night.
So for the last time this season, here are some key storylines to watch out for in the upcoming showcase.
Three teams from the 2021 Frozen Finals--the Boston Jr. Rangers, New Hampshire Avalanche and New Jersey 87's-- are making their case for another championship bid. The Jr. Rangers haven't played since the Newington showcase where they went 1-2-0, but maybe an extended break could work in their favor before going up against the Connecticut RoughRiders and Connecticut Chiefs.
This week the Avalanche and 87's were voted number one and two in the EHL power rankings respectively. The Avs are riding a seven-game winning streak and will kick off their new year against the Chiefs and New York Apple Core. Goaltender Ronan Mobley ended 2021 with five consecutive starts--winning all of them--and will look to pick up where he left off.
While not getting the top spot in the power rankings, the 87's are the hottest team in the league with 11 consecutive victories. New Jersey made a statement last showcase with a 3-2 win over the Boston Jr. Rangers, but their lineup got a boost when forwards Matt Zdanowicz and Devlin O'Kane both returned from injuries. As a result, the 87's have outscored opponents 18-5 in their first four games of 2022 and will look to keep that momentum going as they face the New England Wolves, Railers Jr. Hockey Club and Seacoast Spartans.
Speaking of the Railers, they have won their last four games and are currently one of the five EHL teams with 20 victories. The Railers have also scored four or more goals in each of their five games, and Tyler Anastasi is leading the charge offensively with eight points (5g, 3a) over his last four games. After their matchup against the 87's, the Railers will face another formidable South Division opponent in the Philadelphia Little Flyers.
For the first time ever, the EHLP will have an All-Star game and will showcase many of the league's young, up-and-coming stars. It will take place on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Exeter, with two teams facing off in a full 60-minute game.
Team Gray will be coached by Brett Heigl of the Valley Jr. Warriors and Mike Richard of the Seahawks Hockey Club. Team White will be led by Jack Lowry of the Railers and Vinny Caligiuri of the New Hampshire Avalanche.
The two teams were drafted by members of the EShow podcast, and all 12 EHLP clubs will have at least three of their players participating in the competition.
Aside from the All-Star game, all 12 EHLP teams will have regular season contests this weekend as part of the showcase. The very first matchup will be one to watch for with the New Hampshire Avalanche and Valley Jr. Warriors. Like their EHL counterparts, the Avs Premier team is on a seven-game winning streak, but are two points behind the Warriors for the top spot of North Division.
The Vermont Lumberjacks currently sit third in the North, but are only three points behind the Warriors. Vermont has won its last four games, and will look to extend the winning streak with a pair of games against the New Jersey Renegades and one against the New England Wolves.
For the fourth time this season, the 87's and Seahawks will face each other in a showcase. The Seahawks are making a name for themselves as a first-year EHLP team by going 3-0 against the defending champions so far this season. The last two games, however, were each decided in overtime.
Two teams who also had a recent overtime battle include the Railers and Walpole Express. Back on Dec 19, the Express upset the first-place Railers with a 5-4 victory off an overtime goal by Aidan Parker. Though Walpole sits fourth in the East Division, they have the two leading scorers in the EHLP with Phillip Parker and Evan Gravel, providing a formidable offense against a notably stingy team like the Railers. That matchup will take place Monday at 10:10 a.m. and could prove to be one of the better battles in the final day of the showcase.
Anthony Di Paolo covers the EHL for HNIB and can be followed on Twitter @DiPaolo_016
Anthony Di Paolo has spent the last four seasons with the New Jersey 87's organization. Anthony's familiarity with the junior hockey landscape at the Tier II and Tier III levels will help him dive right into covering the EHL.
Anthony will cover our league showcases and events, as well as write weekly features and player spotlights throughout the 2021-22 season.