BOSTON, MA -- The 2023 Eastern Hockey League playoffs have arrived, and with it, a sprint to the Frozen Finals in Providence, RI.
Between the EHL and Premier Division, the postseason will consist of a play-in game between the number 4 and 5 seeds, followed by two divisional rounds. The four divisional winners in the EHL will make it to the Frozen Finals, while the Premier Division will have three divisional winners plus an at-large bid to the Divisional Finals runner up with the best record.
With a combination of familiar faces and new teams vying for a Frozen Finals appearance, there are plenty of great matchups to start the 2023 postseason. Here's a rundown of all of the matchups that will start up this week.
#1 New Hampshire Avalanche (34-9-3) vs. #4 Vermont Lumberjacks (25-20-1)
Season Series: Avalanche 3-2-0 vs. Lumberjacks
Why the Avalanche will win: The Avs have been a powerhouse ever since they joined the league, but this is the first time they have won a regular-season championship. Their offense--having scored a league-best 187 goals--is led by Aden Hotchkiss (19g, 45a, 64p) and Daniel McKiernan (29g, 29a, 58p) while Shane Paremba was rock solid in net this season with a 21-6-2 record and .922 save percentage. There's also Kyle Dann, who scored six goals in six playoff games last season. This is a veteran lineup who will look to make the next step from last year, which is winning it all.
Why the Lumberjacks will win: The Lumberjacks are, without a doubt, the best last-place team in the league. They finished with a .554 points percentage in a stacked North Division and a plus-22 goal differential, with Victor Daigneault (22g, 33a, 55p) and Louis-Joseph Guernon (23g, 29a, 52p) leading the way offensively. Several players on the Lumberjacks also made it to the EHLP Frozen Finals for Vermont last year, including Trent King, Bobby Voss, Hayden Bullock, and even head coach Seth Gustin. Their success last year from the EHLP has translated well to the EHL so far, maybe that could continue against New Hampshire.
#2 Seacoast Spartans (30-12-4 vs. #3 New England Wolves (26-17-3)
Season Series: Wolves 3-2-0 vs. Spartans
Why the Spartans will win: Two years ago, the Spartans shocked the league with an upset over the Avalanche; now they look like favorites with a 30-win season. Drew Oliveri (34g, 39a, 73p) and William Pray (31g, 41a, 72p) finished first and second respectively in the EHL scoring race, and defenseman Eddie Mulligan has 10 points in 11 games since he was acquired from Vermont. And while the Spartans like to score goals, Tristan Fattedad and Ben Skelton have become one of the more dynamic goaltending duos in the league, which could be a difference-maker in this offense-heavy North Division.
Why the Wolves will win: The Wolves were last season's Cinderella story, going from a 1-5-2 start to a semi finals appearance in Providence. This year they sprinted to a 10-1-1 start and have kept up with the gauntlet in the North. Heath Mensch is their leading scorer with 61 points (27g, 34a) and returning players like Edijs Grigorjevs, AJ Lackas, Nick Demio and Trevor Joule will lead the way with their experience. New England also defeated the Spartans in their final regular-season game to win the season series, and may look to use that kind of momentum heading into the playoffs.
#1 Express Hockey Club (30-15-1) vs. #4 East Coast Wizards (18-20-8) / #5 Valley Jr. Warriors (17-25-4)
Season Series: Express 3-1-0 vs. Wizards / Express 3-1-0 vs. Warriors
Why the Express will win: Last year, goaltender Jack Boschert willed the Express straight to championship Sunday with one of the most memorable goaltending performances. He followed that up with a 21-10-1 record along with a 1.96 goals against average, a .941 save percentage and five shutouts. While the Express do not have any players with any eye-popping point totals, their offense improved from last year thanks to forwards like Ben Saurbaugh, Devin Garnett and newcomer Nolan McDonough, who has 11 points (5g, 6a) in 12 games with the team. If Boschert can get some more goal support this time around, the Express could easily take home the EHL title this year.
Why the Wizards will win: Speaking of veteran goalies, Matt Gover had another terrific season with a 14-12-3 record and a .923 save percentage. Their offense is led by George Kolovos and Connor Roach, who recorded 49 and 46 points respectively. If the Wizards can get by the Valley Jr. Warriors, they will have a rematch of last year's series against Express, including their epic Game 2 win in triple overtime that stands as the longest game in EHL history at 117:37.
Why the Jr. Warriors will win: Let's keep up the trend of leading with goalies; Samuel Boos joined the Warriors early this season and thrived with the team, earning 10 wins while posting a .918 save percentage. Up front, the Warriors offense is spread out pretty evenly with five different players recording at least 20 points and 10 goals and are led by Ryan Pappalardo (14g, 14a, 28p) and David Zoerner (13g, 13a, 26p). Valley is also 4-0-0 against the Wizards this season, so they'll hope to continue that trend to set up a first-round date with the Express.
#2 Boston Jr. Rangers (29-15-2) vs. #3 Seahawks Hockey Club (21-19-6)
Season Series: Seahawks 2-1-1 vs. Jr. Rangers
Why the Jr. Rangers will win: The Boston Jr. Rangers failed to reach Providence the year after winning the 2021 title, and now they hope to bounce back. Three different forwards, Bret Beale, Michael Boschetto and Will Halecki, all reached the 40-point plateau. Boschetto, by the way, scored the championship-winning goal for the Rangers' EHLP team last year. Goaltender David Filak proved to be the perfect replacement for Nathan Mueller, posting a 1.76 goals against average, a .946 save percentage and a league-best seven shutouts. This team is locked and loaded as they look to return to the Frozen Finals this year.
Why the Seahawks will win: The Seahawks couldn't quite keep up with the Rangers and Express in the standings, but still saw a vast improvement from the last few seasons. Scott McManus hit 50 points this year (18g, 32a) and defenseman Adam Jubran led all EHL defensemen with 45 points (5g, 40a). Cade Herrera joined the team early in the season and scored 20 goals in 35 games, giving the Seahawks' offense a shot in the arm. Also, the Seahawks arguably have the best overall special teams in the EHL; second-best power play at 22.6 percent, fourth-best penalty kill at 85.8 percent and a league-best nine shorthanded goals.
#1 Railers Jr. Hockey Club (30-14-2) vs. #4 Connecticut RoughRiders (13-28-5) / #5 New York Apple Core (14-29-3)
Season Series: Railers 1-0-0 vs RoughRiders / Railers 1-0-0 vs. Apple Core
Why the Railers will win: The Railers coasted to the Central Division title with a 24-point lead over second-place HC Rhode Island. Jack Wineman led the offense with 54 points (24g, 30a) while Stefan Kulhanek posted a 17-8-0 record with a .934 save percentage and three shutouts. Kulhanek also set the all-time wins record among EHL goalies with 54 and will have a chance to add to that. If that fails, the Railers can turn to Xavier Lapierre, who went 12-5-0 with a .922 save percentage and two shutouts. The Railers also have the best power play in the league at 26.7 percent. In short, the Railers are a well-rounded team and clear favorites to make it out of the Central again.
Why the RoughRiders will win: While the RoughRiders finished fourth in the Central, they have the second-best offense with 125 goals scored. Dallas D'Amato leads the team with 53 points (20g, 33a) and Kieran Chung is the second-highest scoring defenseman in the league with 43 points (11g, 32a). Nick Fall, Cooper Smith and Peter Maro round out the Connecticut forward group, which could give teams like Apple Core and the Railers fits in the opening round. The key for the RoughRiders will be keeping pucks out of the net, and they will likely turn to Daniel Niewiarowicz, who finished the season with a .920 save percentage.
Why Apple Core will win: There's no way around it: Apple Core had another tough season. That being said, they nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the EHL playoffs last year when they took the Railers to a decisive Game 3, and even had a 3-1 lead in that game. Third-year veteran Joe Lachase finished with 28 points (12g, 16a) while Nick Sweet led the team with 34 points (16g, 18a). New York also saw contributions from players acquired from other teams, like Brock Forrest, Michael Vesbland and Ryder Kunin, so this could be a team with something to prove. Last year Apple Core traded Jackson Bernard at the deadline, this time they kept their starter in Max Banoun, who finished the year with a .920 save percentage. They'll have to get through the RoughRiders on the road for the play-in round, but who knows? If they end up facing the Railers, maybe Apple Core could repeat some of that magic from last year.
#2 HC Rhode Island (17-25-4) vs. #3 Connecticut Chiefs (15-25-6)
Season Series: Chiefs 2-1-1 vs. HC Rhode Island
Why the Chiefs will win: Last season the Chiefs were one win away from the Frozen Finals, but lost in overtime to the eventual champion, New Jersey 87's. Despite a sub .500 record, Adam Yost was brilliant this year with a .924 save percentage and three shutouts. Seven different players hit the 20-point plateau, while Ethan Lim (20g, 22a, 42p) and Hunter Rossi (12g, 18a, 30p) led the pack. Though Connecticut lost their final six games of the regular-season, they've had HC Rhode Island's number this season and will hope to right the ship in the first round of the playoffs.
Why HC Rhode Island will win: HC Rhode Island’s first season in the EHL had its fair share of ups and downs, including a 4-0-0 start to the regular season. Alex Bauvais led the offense this season with 37 points (17g, 20a) while three other players reached double digits in goal. Callum Welch got the majority of starts for Rhode Island this season, posting a .910 save percentage to go with nine wins. Consistency was a problem for Rhode Island this year, but when they’ve proven capable of beating any team throughout the season. If they can recreate some of the magic they had at the start of the season, maybe Rhode Island can make a bid for the championship tournament in their home state.
#1 Protec Jr. Ducks (27-15-4) vs. #4 Team Maryland (22-17-7) / #5 Philadelphia Hockey Club (20-22-4)
Season Series: Ducks 5-1-1 vs. Maryland / Ducks 4-3-0 vs. Philadelphia
Why the Jr. Ducks will win: The Protec Jr. Ducks came into the league competitive and have gotten better and better each season. They went on a 6-0-2 run at the end of this season to earn the number one seed in the South Division, which is a first for them. Four different players recorded 30 points or more, including forwards Graham Broadfoot (23g, 25a, 48p), Nick Hebert (14g, 23a, 37p) and Tanner Kontir (12g, 21a, 33p). Jacob Gates and David Dell finished as some of the higher-scoring d-men in the league with 35 and 30 points respectively. On top of their stellar offense, the Ducks have a wealth of riches in goal. Adam Casper went 11-4-0 this season with a .912 save percentage while Nate Kirschenbaum went 8-2-1 with a .924 save percentage and two shutouts since he was acquired by the Ducks from the Lumberjacks. They also picked up Austrian netminder, Jelle Lievens, right before the deadline. He went 1-0-1 with a .923 save percentage in two games against the New Jersey 87’s. This kind of depth in goal will certainly give the Ducks a good shot at making their first Frozen Finals.
Why Team Maryland will win: Maryland had a trend over the last few seasons where they would start off hot and then fizzle out. That is not the case this year, as they won five straight games to close the regular season and will come into the play-in game against Philadelphia with plenty of momentum. Six different players reached double digits in goals and were led offensively by Tommy Tracy (16g, 14a, 30p) and Morley Phillips (17g, 10a, 27p). In goal, Lincoln Crosby and Colin Berke split time pretty evenly and were both rock solid. Crosby notched 12 wins to go with a .917 save percentage while Berke posted a .922 save percentage and two shutouts. Maryland will get home ice in the play-in game, and they are 2-1-0 against Philadelphia at Piney Orchard Arena. If they keep up that trend, they could get a first-round date with the Ducks.
Why Philadelphia will win: Despite finishing last in the South Division, Philadelphia had a solid first year in the EHL and kept up in a rather hectic South Division. Ethan Byrne led Philadelphia’s offense with 49 points (21g, 28a) while Justin Nakagawa and Nolan Wutzke also reached the 30-point mark this season. Nicholas Hansen and Cross Sherman split their time in goal, as Hansen finished the year with an 11-10-1 mark and a .911 save percentage. PHC faced some adversity at the end of the season, dropping their last four games, but they’ve had some close matchups with Team Maryland over the last few weeks including two wins in Hollydell. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the play-in game will be in Maryland, but they are more than capable of stealing a game in Piney Orchard Arena for a potential first-round matchup against Protec.
#2 New Jersey 87’s (26-14-6) vs. #3 Philadelphia Little Flyers (23-16-7)
Season Series: 87’s 3-2-1 vs. Little Flyers
Why the 87’s will win: When the 87’s first joined the EHL, they were an offensive powerhouse. Last year they won a championship by strengthening their defense, and this year they are even better in the back end. New Jersey gave up the fewest goals in the league with 90, and it starts with their goaltending. Kyle Spann was the starter for most of the season, going 13-7-4 with a 1.94 goals against average, a .931 save percentage and four shutouts. Jake Hugessen joined the team midway through the season and recorded nine wins while posting a .927 save percentage. Their penalty kill was also stellar this year at 89.4 percent. Charles Lavoie (18g, 23a, 41p) and Kyle Folkerson (12g, 24a, 36p) led the scoring while Aleks Gamzatov and Patrick DeMarinis also reached double digits in goals. With several returning players from last year’s championship team, the 87’s are capable of making another run; they just have to get out of a very tough South Division.
Why the Little Flyers will win: While the Little Flyers are going up against the defending champions, they actually swept New Jersey in the South Division Final last year (the 87’s reached Providence through the wildcard round). This year they are charging into the postseason with a five-game winning streak, scoring 26 goals in that span. Philadelphia led the South Division with 151 goals in the regular season, and the offense was led by Koby Howat (22g, 27a, 49p) and Tristan D’Elia (19g, 28a, 47p), who were both just shy of the 50-point plateau. Howat also turned it up a notch after the holiday break, recording 35 points in 20 games since January 1. Meanwhile in goal, Louis Finnegan earned 13 wins in net with a .910 save percentage and two shutouts. If Philadelphia’s offense can keep up the momentum in the first round, they could potentially overwhelm the 87’s in a bid to dethrone the reigning champs.
#1 Adirondack Jr. Thunder (30-6-6) vs. #4 New Hampshire Avalanche (24-14-4) / #5 Connecticut Chiefs (14-25-3)
Season Series: Thunder 2-1-2 vs. Avalanche / Thunder 4-1-0 vs. Chiefs
Why the Thunder will win: Out of five expansion teams in the EHL and Premier Division, Adirondack had the best inaugural season by winning the New England Division and finishing the regular season on a 17-0-1 stretch. Jack Merkosky led the team and league with 80 points (29g, 51a) and Andrew Blanchard led the team with 35 goals. Overall, six players for Adirondack recorded 30 or more points as the team scored 206 goals, the most in the EHLP. Kian Hodgins finished the regular season with a 16-3-3 record in net with a .909 save percentage. This team has a little bit of everything, including speed, size, skill and grit, making them a favorite for the Frozen Finals. It will be a tough road in a stacked New England Division, but head coach and AHL hall-of-famer Glenn Merkosky has done an admirable job leading his team in Glens Falls, it would be no surprise to see them in Providence.
Why the Avalanche will win: Last year, the Avs made it all the way to the Championship Sunday before losing to the Boston Jr. Rangers in overtime. While they are slated for the play-in round, New Hampshire ended the regular season with a .619 points percentage and 21-point lead over the fifth-place Connecticut Chiefs. Zach Needham, Hunter Atkinson and John D’Errico all reached the 50-point plateau while three more forwards reached 40 or more points. Alex Gerard started most of New Hampshire’s games, picking up 15 wins and three shutouts in the process. If New Hampshire wins the play-in game, they’ll go toe-to-toe with Adirondack, where both teams finished with a 2-1-2 mark against each other.
Why the Chiefs will win: Connecticut had the misfortune of playing in an otherwise loaded New England Division, finishing the season with 14 wins. That being said, the Chiefs did open their season series against the Avalanche with a 2-1 shootout win in the Worcester showcase, so an upset here wouldn’t be that unheard of. Jordan Palacio led the team with 34 points (16g, 18a) and Michael Holland 22 points in 28 games since going from the Railers to the Chiefs. Jordan Nicolucci and Hunter McNichol finished with .916 and .914 save percentages respectively, though Barr Bialik led the trio with 829 minutes played. Any one of them could start in the play-in game against New Hampshire, and whoever it is, they’ll have to stand on their head if they want to pull off the upset.
#2 Vermont Lumberjacks (29-12-1) vs. #3 New England Wolves (25-11-6)
Season Series: Lumberjacks 4-0-0 vs. Wolves
Why the Lumberjacks will win: Vermont made it to the semifinals in Providence last year, and followed that up with a second-place finish in the New England Division. Brendan Manning led the team with 65 points (26g, 39a) while Justin Prim and Peppi Delliquadri both surpassed 50 points. Defenseman Oliver Hertzberg proved to be solid acquisition from the Chiefs, recording 13 points in 12 games with Vermont. Caiden Boucher and Vincent Parent shared the net for most of the regular season, and both goalies have a save percentage above .920. The Lumberjacks won all four games against the Wolves in the regular season, and if they can continue that trend, they’ll be on track for a trip back to Providence.
Why the Wolves will win: What a turnaround for the Wolves’ EHLP team; going from 10 wins last season to a 25-11-6 record in the 2022-23 season. What’s even more impressive, most of their best players are ’06 birth years, which could bode well for the future of the program. That includes Domeniks Domokejevs, who led the team with 52 points (26g, 26a). RJ Sember returned for another solid year, scoring 18 goals, while his younger brother and defenseman, Ryan, recorded 36 points in 38 games. Despite going winless against the Lumberjacks this year, all four games were decided by one goal with three of them going into overtime. A little bit of puck luck could make all the difference for the Wolves to advance to the second round.
#1 Boston Jr. Rangers (34-7-1) vs. #4 Seahawks Hockey Club (15-24-3) / #5 Express Hockey Club (9-30-3)
Season Series: Jr. Rangers 4-1-0 vs. Seahawks / Jr. Rangers 6-0-0 vs. Express
Why the Jr. Rangers will win: The 2022 EHLP champions are 2023 regular-season champions, and a favorite for the Frozen Finals once again. Drake Tomak led the offensive attack with 67 points and a league-best 38 goals. Charlie Mulligan and defenseman Cam Arakelian both finished the season with 40-plus points, and Nicholas Mutschler posted a 12-2-0 record with a .931 save percentage. The Jr. Rangers are a well-rounded team without many weaknesses. Their power play was middle of the pack at 16.9 percent, but they made up for it with the best penalty kill at 87.8 percent while scoring a league-best 14 shorthanded goals. Also, by winning the regular-season title, getting past the Seahawks or Express will guarantee the Rangers a trip to the Frozen Finals.
Why the Seahawks will win: The Seahawks struggled in the final stretch of the regular season, losing 12 straight to end the year. Still, there were plenty of positives for the EHLP team in Cape Cod, including Atticus Beane finishing second in the league scoring race with 69 points (31g, 38a). Max Greco (19g, 20a) and defenseman Zach Micciche (7g, 22a) were also big contributors for the Seahawks’ offense. Their power-play was fifth best in the league at 20.3 percent while the penalty kill was right behind Boston at 87 percent. If the Seahawks get past the Express in the play-in game, they could certainly put up a fight against the Jr. Rangers; their lone win against Boston was a 5-1 victory in November.
Why the Express will win: The Express had a tumultuous season with nine wins, but hope is not lost. Jonah Burd led the team with 46 points (24g, 22a) while Ben Douglas reached 30 points and Hudson Perry scored 18 goals. Nick Piazza won seven games in the regular season while earning one shutout; he also led the league with 873 saves. His ability to handle a higher workload could come in handy when they face the Seahawks, but the Express could also capitalize given the Seahawks’ late-season struggles. The play-in round is such a toss-up, so don’t write off the Express as a one-and-done.
#2 Railers Jr. Hockey Club (31-9-2) vs. #3 Valley Jr. Warriors (19-17-6)
Season Series: Railers 3-2-0 vs. Warriors
Why the Railers will win: The Railers have dominated the EHLP over the last three seasons, including a run to the Final in 2021, but are still looking for their first championship. Six different players scored at least 30 points while Michael O’Malley led the offense with 40 points (23g, 17a). In goal, Dom Walecka and Aidan Healey each won 12 games and combined for four shutouts. The Railers have some momentum on their side with a five-game winning streak to end the regular season, and they’ll hope to get past the Warriors for a potential rematch against the Jr. Rangers.
Why the Jr. Warriors will win: While the Jr. Rangers and Railers were fighting for the top spot in the Boston Division, the Jr. Warriors quietly had a solid season in the EHLP, finishing above hockey .500. Matt Devin led the team with 25 goals and 40 points, and four other players reached double digits in goals. Anthony Beaulieu and Michael Del Trecco combined for 17 wins, and both goaltenders had a save percentage of .910 or higher. A first-round matchup against the Railers won’t be easy, but they did pick up two wins against them including a 2-1 road win in early February.
#1 New Jersey 87’s (30-8-4) vs. #4 Philadelphia Little Flyers (13-28-1) / #5 Union Jr. Thunder (5-36-1)
Season Series: 87’s 6-1-0 vs. Little Flyers / 6-1-0 vs. Jr. Thunder
Why the 87’s will win: After winning the 2021 EHLP title, the 87’s finished .500 in the 2021-22 season and were knocked out by the Little Flyers. They bounced back this year by earning the number one seed in the division while scoring the second-most goals in the league and having the best goal differential at plus-97. Long-time 87 Ivan Borisov led the team with 43 points (22g, 21a), and 14 different skaters recorded at least 20 points. Jason LoRicco picked up 12 wins in goal with a .917 save percentage, and rookie goaltender AJ Golden earned 11 wins while posting a .929 save percentage. On top of their regular-season dominance, the 87’s have two members from that 2021 championship team in Borisov and Robert Calice, where that veteran leadership could lead them to Providence.
Why the Little Flyers will win: After making it to Providence in 2022, the Little Flyers have struggled in the 2022-23 regular season and will host the play-in game against Union. Ian Finley, Dan Lawless and Zachary Ruffenach led the offense as they all reached the 20-point mark while John Shelton and AJ Basich were rock solid on the blue line. Philadelphia also finished second in the league with 11 shorthanded goals and a penalty kill rate of 87 percent. Their win against the 87’s was early in the season, but if they get past the Jr. Thunder in the play-in round, this team could certainly get motivated to play a long-time division rival.
Why the Jr. Thunder will win: Out of all the expansion teams, Union had the roughest season by picking up just five wins. But just like the Express, let’s not write this team off right away. Team captain Tyler Gobel led the Thunder with 18 goals and 26 points while Ethan Potash recorded 20 points (10g, 10a). Matt January, Dean Ponik and Kevin McHale also reached double digits in points, while goaltender Aiden Meeker recorded three wins and a .900 save percentage. It should also be noted that Union ended the 87’s 10-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory in the Philadelphia mini showcase, so maybe they can keep that going and shock some teams in the postseason.
#2 Pennsylvania Huntsmen (25-14-3) vs. #3 New Jersey Renegades (12-26-4)
Season Series: Huntsmen 6-2-0 vs. Renegades
Why the Huntsmen will win: Pennsylvania’s inaugural season wasn’t as eye-popping as Adirondack’s, but the Huntsmen managed to make their mark in the EHLP by finishing second in the Mid-Atlantic. Ryan Arendes led the team with 33 goals and finished third in the league with 67 points. Reese Gilmore finished the season with 39 points (6g, 33a) and defenseman Conlan Carpenter notched 21 points from the blue line. Ty Jones won 17 games in goal while recording a .908 save percentage and three shutouts. Head coach Blaise Kilroy has done a remarkable job in his first season with the team, and they are favorites over the Renegades in this first-round matchup.
Why the Renegades will win: Two years ago, the Renegades pulled off a massive upset against the Little Flyers in a best-of-three series. Now they hope to do the same against a different Pennsylvania team. Four different players recorded 20 points or more for the Renegades: Dylan Idland, Cameron Cherry, John Bellantoni and Justin Sergeant. Aidan Gambone finished the season in net with a .916 save percentage and two shutouts, though Aiden Chominsky finished the year with six wins and 724 saves. The overall record may not be flashy, but the Renegades have shown they can compete with any team, salvaging wins against the Huntsmen as well as going toe-to-toe with the Adirondack Jr. Thunder in the mini showcase in Philadelphia.
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 2022-23 season.
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