BOSTON, MA -- The Eastern Hockey League’s postseason, otherwise known as the Road to Providence, is officially underway.
Starting on Tuesday, the four divisions will hold a semifinal and final through a best-of-three series, and the winner of each division will move on to the Frozen Finals at Schneider Arena on the campus of Providence College.
The East Division, the only division in the league with five teams, will have an extra play-in game to determine the number-four seed.
There are plenty of matchups to watch out for in the 2022 EHL Playoffs, here’s a rundown of all the matchups, their records in the regular season, and why every team has a shot at moving on to the next round.
#1 New Hampshire Avalanche (32-9-5) vs. #4 Seacoast Spartans (19-23-4)
Regular season series: Avalanche 4-1-0 over Spartans
Why the Avalanche will win: The New Hampshire Avalanche finished second in the EHL both in goals for (179) and goals against (97). Three of their players finished with 60 or more points including Michael Tersoni (27g, 39a, 66p), Matt Carlson (25g, 37a, 62p) and Aden Hotchkiss (16g, 45a, 61p). Ronan Mobley took the lion’s share of work in goal, posting a 25-9-2 record with a 1.66 goals against average, a .935 save percentage and six shutouts. While New Hampshire struggled in the final leg of the season—winning just three of its final 10 games—this is still a team motivated on returning to the finals after losing last year’s championship game to the Boston Jr. Rangers in overtime. This will be a rematch of last year’s first-round matchup against the Spartans. Remember, the Spartans upset the Avalanche with a 2-0 sweep, but New Hampshire still reached the Frozen Finals because the playoff format guaranteed a spot to an eliminated team with the best regular season record. This year’s format is different, and if the Avs want another crack at the title game, they must avenge last year’s upset and defeat the Spartans.
Why the Spartans will win: It’s been an up-and-down season for the Spartans as one of the streakier teams this year. They had a pair of 20-goal scorers in William Pray (24) and Thomas McGaffigan (20), while Cooper Board had a solid campaign with 41 points (13g, 28a) in just 35 games. Goaltending seemed to be a question mark for the Spartans this season, especially since Ty Franchi left to play for Lebanon Valley College mid-season. However, they have several quality netminders to choose from including Carmine Andranovich, who posted a 5-3-0 record, Drew Adams, who led all Spartan goaltenders in minutes and wins along with a .909 save percentage, or newcomer Michael Sochan, who posted a .912 save percentage in four games this season including an incredible 61-save performance in the Spartans’ 4-2 win over the Avalanche on Feb 26. They pulled off the improbable last year against the Avs, and if Seacoast can get hot and ride good goaltending in the first round it can very well happen again.
#2 New England Wolves (23-19-4) vs. #3 Vermont Lumberjacks (21-20-5)
Regular season series: Wolves 4-2-0 over Lumberjacks
Why the Wolves will win: The Wolves had a tumultuous start to their season, losing nine of its first 11 games, but had a remarkable turnaround to secure the number-two seed in the North. Ricards Jelenskis and Kevin Johnston led the offense with 40 and 37 points respectively, and Julius Kvandal produced 30 points (7g, 23a) as one of the league’s top defensemen. Part of the Wolves’ resurgence can be attributed to the addition of forward Edijs Grigorjevs, who notched 26 points (9g, 17a) in 28 games. Liam Kilgallen provided stability in net with a 12-3-0 record along with a .908 save percentage. The team has played with a chip on its shoulder since the turn of the calendar year and has defeated top teams such as the Avalanche, Jr. Rangers and Little Flyers while winning 14 of 21 games in 2022. In their first 11 games, the Wolves went 0-3 on home ice, but went 12-2-0 at Merrill Fay Arena since. That kind of play on home ice can help propel the Wolves into the second round.
Why the Lumberjacks will win: Despite finishing below the Wolves in the standings, the Lumberjacks scored 30 more goals in regular season and had four players hit the 40-point plateau. Leading the pack was Victor Daigneault with 17 goals and 37 assists, while Brandon Clark and Louis-Joseph Guernon scored 20 and 21 goals respectively. Corey Popowcer led all EHL defensemen with 32 assists, with 11 of those coming on the power play. Speaking of the man advantage, the Lumberjacks had the best power play in the league, operating at 25-percent. Vermont’s biggest addition, however, was goaltender Lenny Perno, who posted an 8-2-1 record with a 2.48 goals against average and .934 save percentage. Since his debut on January 30th, Perno won each of the Lumberjacks’ 8 wins in their final 12 games of the season, and will be looked upon to lead the 'Lumbies' past the Wolves and back into the Frozen Finals.
Play-in Round: #4 Valley Jr. Warriors (18-21-7) vs. #5 Seahawks Hockey Club (15-23-8)
Regular season series: Jr. Warriors 4-1-1 over Seahawks
Why the Jr. Warriors will win: While the Valley Jr. Warriors finished fourth in the East Division, they were only behind the Boston Jr. Rangers with 140 goals scored in the regular season. Billy Hartnett and Jonathan Lapsa both hit the 20-goal plateau (with 22 and 23 respectively) while Garrett Alberti notched a team-leading 42 points, including 20 on the power play. Dominic Metro had a remarkable rookie season and led all defensemen with 29 points in 42 games, and Nico Carere posted an 8-7-0 record in goal with a .911 save percentage. The Jr. Warriors have had the upper hand over the Seahawks for most of the year, they’ll need to keep that trend going in order to win the play-in game and maintain that number four seed.
Why the Seahawks will win: The Seahawks managed to spread the wealth with their scoring this season. Scott McManus led the team with 19 goals while Austin Pick and Will Crowley both led the team with 32 points, and Adam Jubran led the Seahawks d-corps with 20 points (3g, 17a). Alexander Rohlf and Nathaniel Hopkins shared the net for most of the season, and both of them posted save percentages at .900 or higher. While the Seahawks only won three of its final 10 games of the season, so did the Jr. Warriors. Plus, the Seahawks won the final two games in the season series, so maybe the tide could turn in their favor for the play-in round.
#1 Boston Jr. Rangers (34-9-3) vs. #4 Jr. Warriors (18-21-7) or #5 Seahawks (15-23-8)
Regular season series: Jr. Rangers 6-0-0 over Jr. Warriors and 4-0-0 over Seahawks
Why the Jr. Rangers will win: The defending EHL champions are serious about their repeat bid and went on to win this year’s regular season championship. Offensively, 10 players recorded at least 20 points, as Will Halecki and midseason acquisition Josh Grund led the pack with 43 and 46 points respectively. What makes Boston so formidable, however, is their defense and goaltending. The Jr. Rangers recorded 12 shutouts this year, 10 of them at the hands of the 2021 EHL goaltender of the year Nathan Mueller. His goals against average was a microscopic 1.05 while recording a .959 save percentage. Chris Jackson was a backup in name only, posting an 11-6-0 record with a .922 save percentage. While Boston struggled at the start of 2022, losing four of its first seven games of the calendar year, Rich DeCaprio’s squad ended the season by winning 10 of its final 11 games and should be firing on all cylinders in their hunt for another title.
Why the Jr. Warriors or Seahawks will win: Whoever wins the play-in round, beating the Boston Jr. Rangers in a best-of-three will be a very tall task. That being said, the Jr. Warriors or Seahawks could use their momentum from the play-in game and try to get an early jump on a Boston team getting some extra rest (or as fellow #Ecrew member Jefferson Mills would put it, ‘Rest or Rust?’). While neither team managed to beat the Jr. Rangers in the regular season, both the Jr. Warriors and the Seahawks managed to take at least one game against Boston past regulation. The winner of the play-in round will have a tough series ahead of them, but if the Spartans’ upset over the Avs in 2021 showed us one thing, it’s that anything could happen.
#2 Walpole Express (27-17-2) vs. #3 East Coast Wizards (20-23-3)
Regular season series: Express 4-1-0 over Wizards
Why the Express will win: Walpole had a pair of losing streaks that lasted eight games and four games in different parts of the season, but were absolutely dominant aside from those stretches. Jack Boschert proved to be one of the top goaltenders this season with 1.82 goals against average, a .940 save percentage and three shutouts. When he wasn’t in goal, Scott Bird excelled as a 1B by posting a .922 save percentage and recording a shutout. Justin Guelph and Chris Paige led the team with 17 goals each, and both of them had six goals on the power play. The offense isn’t exactly overwhelming like some of the other top teams, but the Express are third in the league with a .929 overall save percentage and that could be the difference-maker in a potential postseason run.
Why the Wizards will win: Similar to the Express, the Wizards relied more on solid goaltending and strong defensive play to win hockey games in the regular season. Matt Gover finished the season with a .918 save percentage while taking a majority of the starts this year. Cole Scott, Connor Roach and Jack Straub reached double digits in goals for the Wizards, and Straub led the team with six game-winners including two in overtime. Perhaps that clutch factor could come in handy if these games go beyond regulation.
#1 Railers Jr. Hockey Club (28-15-3) vs. #4 New York Apple Core (12-30-4)
Regular season series: Railers 1-0-0 over Apple Core
Why the Railers will win: The Railers have just completed its third and best season yet in the EHL, dominating the Central Division to earn the number-one seed. They have a balanced offensive attack featuring two 20-goal scorers in Damon Dulac and Mike DiMascolo, and high-scoring defensemen in Tyler Anastasi and Tyler Drummond. In the back end, Stefan Kulhanek has been solid by posting a 17-10-2 record while earning two shutouts. Overall, the Railers have a well-rounded and deep lineup that makes them the favorite to win the Central Division.
Why Apple Core will win: If there is one thing the Apple Core has this season, it’s offensive firepower. Colin Callanan finished 2nd in the league with 75 points (26g, 49a) while his linemates Nick Weber (25g, 35a, 60p) and Colby Walters (17g, 23a, 40p) combined to form one of the top lines in the league. The fact these two teams only played once in the regular season could also work in Apple Core’s favor since the Railers haven’t seen much of that line. But if the Railers do shut down that trio, New York can also look to Charles Lavoie, who put up 17 points (11g, 6a) in his last seven games of the season. The team has also rallied around interim head coach Joe Wegwerth, as Apple Core earned four of its 12 wins in the final seven games of the year. Perhaps they ride that momentum for a Central Division upset.
#2 Connecticut Chiefs (18-23-5) vs. #3 Connecticut RoughRiders (14-26-6)
Regular season series: RoughRiders 3-2-0 over Chiefs
Why the Chiefs will win: The Chiefs, similar to the Railers, have a little bit of everything throughout their lineup. Jack Devine led the team in scoring with 51 points (16g, 35a) in 41 games and is in the running for EHL Rookie of the Year award, defenseman Dominic Chirico has been a vocal leader as the Chiefs captain while recording 28 points (8g, 20a) and playing a solid two-way game, and Marshall McKallip has been strong in net with a .911 save percentage and two shutouts this year. While the Chiefs have struggled a bit in the home stretch of the regular season, head coach Greg Heffernan has been resting some of his players, and maybe that could ready his squad for their first-ever playoff matchup against the RoughRiders.
Why the RoughRiders will win: Let’s keep the comparisons going; the RoughRiders are like Apple Core with a high-octane offense. Colin Bella led the league in scoring with 47 goals and 83 points in 46 games, setting the all-time record for goals in the EHL as well as the single-season record. Dallas D’Amato had a stellar season with 54 points (18g, 36a) while defenseman Kieran Chung put up 35 points (6g, 29a) in 39 games as an ‘04 birth year. Goaltenders Ryan Dailida and Nicholas Junkin are both capable of stealing games for the RoughRiders, recording a combined nine wins where they made at least 40 saves. This team is dangerous on the penalty kill too as Bella led the league with six shorthanded goals, and D’Amato not far behind him with four. The RoughRiders are also 2-1-0 against the Chiefs on the road, so that could play to their favor in this battle of the Nutmeg State.
#1 Philadelphia Little Flyers (30-12-4) vs. #4 Team Maryland (25-19-2)
Regular season series: Little Flyers 4-2-2 over Maryland
Why the Little Flyers will win: The Little Flyers are challenging the old saying that ‘defense wins championships,’ as they’re the only team in the league that scored more than 200 goals in the regular season. Four players—Kyle Patton, Savva Smirnov, Jordan Comilla and Adam Beauvais—notched at least 50 points and 10 players on the Little Flyers scored at least 10 goals. Forward Connor MacDonnell and defenseman Chris Blango both provided a huge boost for Philadelphia midway through the season and have produced more than a point per game, and Joseph Henson emerged as their number-one goaltender with a 2.18 goals against average and .922 save percentage. The Little Flyers also had the best penalty kill in the league, operating at 91.5 percent. They won 16 of their last 18 games of the season to overtake the 87’s for the top seed in the South, and they hope to use their momentum and sheer firepower to move on to Providence.
Why Team Maryland will win: Don’t be fooled by the #4 next to their name, Team Maryland is the best "last-place" team in the EHL. Defenseman Alex Newton and forward Nick Graziano both led the team in points with 35 each, and Patrick Doyle became a point-per-game player after he was traded to Maryland from New Jersey. Bobby Geier and Evan Donnelly have both provided leadership as third-year veterans for the team while scoring 12 and 14 goals this season respectively, and their experience could help this team shake off a six-game losing streak to end the regular season, which also happened last year before sweeping the Connecticut RoughRiders. Maryland could also have answer to the Little Flyers’ offense with goaltender Jackson Bernard. He has struggled a bit since joining Maryland, but if he bounces back and looks like the goaltender who averaged 41 saves per game for Apple Core, then Team Maryland could win its first division title in their four-year history.
#2 New Jersey 87’s (30-12-4) vs. #3 Protec Jr. Ducks (25-16-5)
Regular season series: 87’s 4-2-0 over Jr. Ducks
Why the 87’s will win: The 87’s had a remarkable turnaround to their season in November, going from an eight-game losing streak to a 15-game winning streak and never looking back. Part of that turnaround can be attributed to Matt Anastasio giving life to a then anemic offense, putting up 16 goals and 35 points in 31 games with the team. Matt Zdanowicz, Devlin O’Kane, Robbie Seewagen and Jason Atkinson also exploded offensively in the second half of the season, turning into a top six that can go toe-to-toe with any team in the league. On defense, 87’s captain Matt Herrick and midseason acquisition Jimmy Mettler teamed up to be one of the top pairings in the league, excelling on both ends of the ice. In goal, Jeremy Connor and Owen Hains proved to be a 1A and 1B tandem, posting a .921 and .911 save percentage respectively. Despite losing most of the players who punched the 87’s first-ever ticket to the Frozen Finals last postseason, this year’s team has a real shot at repeating that feat and then some.
Why the Jr. Ducks will win: Great goaltending can carry a team through the postseason, and the Jr. Ducks may have the best tandem in the league. Trey Miller and Tristan Fattedad each recorded 12 wins in the regular season while posting .922 and .930 save percentages respectively. Spencer Quinn led the offense with 22 goals and 56 points, along with Nick Newman who posted 47 points (15g, 32a) in 38 games. Forwards Rhett Evjen and former RoughRider Dominic Civitano have also provided a boost to the offense as midseason acquisitions. Ryan Brow has emerged as a premier offensive defenseman with 10 goals and 38 points in the regular season, including four goals and 19 points on the power play. Overcoming a slow start to the season, the Jr. Ducks managed to keep up in a stacked South Division and finish above .500 in their second season in the league. This will be the first time two New Jersey teams square off in the EHL postseason, and the Ducks would love nothing more than to win its first playoff series against their intrastate rival.
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.
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