BOSTON, MA -- The EHL Premier Division is gearing up for the Division Final matchups, the last round of the postseason before heading to Providence.
Like the first round, the series will be decided in a best-of-three format with the winner of each series punching a ticket to the Frozen Finals.
Similar to the 2021 EHL playoffs, there will be an at-large bid at the conclusion of the second round. Of the three Division Final matchups, the losing team with the best record will also head to Providence. Since the New Hampshire Avalanche won the regular season championship, they will automatically head to the Frozen Finals whether it’s by defeating the Vermont Lumberjacks or securing the at-large bid. If the Avs win the series, the loser between the Boston Jr. Rangers and Railers Jr. Hockey Club will get the at-large bid.
Nevertheless, each team will anticipate a hard-fought series in order to secure an automatic bid to the Frozen Finals. Here is a preview of each Division Final matchup, including the teams’ records, the regular season series and why each team has a chance to win their division.
New Hampshire Avalanche (30-6-6) vs. Vermont Lumberjacks (24-13-5)
Regular season series: Avalanche 5-1-1 over Lumberjacks
Why the Avalanche will win: The New Hampshire Avalanche swept the New England Wolves 2-0 in the North Division Semifinal, winning Game 1 by a score of 5-2 and Game 2 by a score of 4-0. Goaltenders Nick Maringola and Jared Packman won a game each, and the scoring for New Hampshire was spread out pretty evenly. Tyler Sitnikov was the only Avs player to score two goals in the series, and 14 different skaters recorded at least a point. Since the teams are over 125 miles away from each other, the entire series will be played in New Hampshire, and the Avs have been excellent at Ice Den Arena. They have only lost two home games throughout the season with one of them coming on opening night. Expect the Avs to play with a chip on their shoulder too, as last postseason they were knocked out by the Lumberjacks after losing Games 2 and 3 in overtime. Getting revenge this year will send New Hampshire back to the Frozen Finals.
Why the Lumberjacks will win: There’s sweeping a playoff round, then there is dominating a playoff round. The Lumberjacks did the latter by outscoring the Valley Jr. Warriors 16-1 in its two-game sweep. Francis Hamelin, Robert Voss and Max Line scored three goals each, while goaltenders Vincent Parent and Joshua Kotai each picked up a win. The power play was also firing on all cylinders as the Lumberjacks went 4-for-8 on the man advantage in Game 2. By the end of the series, 14 different skaters picked up at least two points for the Lumberjacks. While they are playing the entire series on the road, the Lumberjacks have had success against the Avalanche late in the year, plus they managed to upset the Avalanche last postseason to advance to the Frozen Finals. With their locked and loaded offense, the Lumberjacks can very well do it again this year.
Railers Jr. Hockey Club (30-9-3) vs. Boston Jr. Rangers (31-11-0)
Regular season series: Rangers 3-2-0 over Railers
Why the Railers will win: The Railers swept the Walpole Express with a 3-1 victory in Game 1 and a 5-4 overtime win in Game 2. Jackson Duquette scored the overtime winning goal in the latter game, sending the Railers on to the second round. He, Brayson Bennett and Jayden Blackburn each recorded three points in the series, while Cam Wickens won both games while sporting a .926 save percentage. Thomas Carron, a former New Jersey Renegades forward who posted 11 points in 33 games in the regular season, had a goal and an assist in Game 2, and could be a player to watch as the playoffs continue. While their first-round matchup against Walpole went down to the wire in both games, it should be noted the East is the strongest division in the EHLP. The Railers only gave up 28 shots in their 3-1 victory, so expect this strong defensive team to make some adjustments after an unusual high-scoring Game 2. Veterans who were a part of the Railers’ playoff run last year such as Jayden Blackburn and Collin Berube are producing and leading by example, and they hope to bring the team back to the Frozen Finals with a win over the Jr. Rangers.
Why the Jr. Rangers will win: Similar to their EHL counterparts, the Boston Jr. Rangers Premier team knocked off the Seahawks Hockey Club in the first round. The offense broke through in both games, winning by scores of 6-2 and 7-3. Defenseman Chris Merryman currently leads the team with five points (1g, 4a) in two games, while Max Morris leads the team with three goals. Anthony Viola also went on a tear in the first round, picking up two goals and two assists in the two-game sweep. Mike Boschetto, who led the EHLP in goals this year with 29, has not scored yet in the postseason, but he has three assists. If he can start putting the puck in the net, the Jr. Rangers could put the heat on the number-one seed Railers. In goal, Boston will turn to Mitchell Taylor, who went 2-0 with a .925 save percentage in the first round. For the Jr. Rangers, this will be a shot at revenge as they were knocked out of the 2021 postseason by the Railers. Defensively, they have been just as good as the Railers this season, and if their big guns step up, they can very well win the juggernaut that is the East Division.
Philadelphia Little Flyers (24-15-3) vs. New Jersey 87’s (19-19-4)
Regular season series: 87’s 4-1-1 over Little Flyers
Why the Little Flyers will win: The Philadelphia Flyers took care of business by sweeping the New Jersey Renegades, winning by scores of 3-2 and 4-3 in Games 1 and 2 respectively. The games were a bit closer than they had expected, but the Little Flyers got revenge on the Renegades, who upset them in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Johnny Lee, who was tied for second among EHLP players in points during the regular season, had a goal and a pair of assists in two games against the Renegades. Their leading scorer, however, is Nicholas McKay with a goal and three assists. His one goal came in Game 1, which pulled Philadelphia ahead with just 1:07 left in regulation. He followed up that performance with two assists in Game 2. Goaltenders Ronnie Petrucci and Ronan Marley played one game each, and Marley made 34 saves on 36 shots in Game 1. While Philadelphia had some struggles against the 87’s this season, two of the final three games went beyond regulation with the Little Flyers winning one of them. Their final game of the regular season was a 5-3 loss with an empty netter (Ronan Marley also played up as a forward that game). With a full lineup and Marley playing in his natural position, the Little Flyers Premier team will look to join their EHL counterparts in Providence while getting there the same way: by beating the 87’s in the South Division Final.
Why the 87’s will win: The defending EHLP champions had a tight series with the Connecticut Chiefs, but they pulled through with a rather decisive Game 3 victory. Will O’Brien leads the pack with six points (3g, 3a) in three games, as Alexander Haar, Patrick Olenski and Michael Botti have two goals each. Jason LoRicco played in Games 1 and 2 while John Fox played the deciding Game 3, and both of them finished the first round with a save percentage over .950. In addition to the 87’s forwards producing at such a high rate, Adam Coley had a terrific first-round performance from the blue line with four assists over three games. Though it won’t show from the regular-season standings, the 87’s second-half surge and performance in the first round against the Chiefs suggests this will be an evenly-matched series. For the 87’s, they also went 2-0-1 at IceWorks Skating Complex in the regular season, so going down the Turnpike for one or two games may not be a problem for them. While they only have two players from last year’s championship run, this new-look 87’s team has a legitimate shot at returning to the Frozen Finals to defend their title.
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.