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2023 Second Round Preview

By Anthony Di Paolo - HNIB Beat Writer, 03/14/23, 9:00AM EDT


Tickets to Providence are on the Line

BOSTON, MA -- The Eastern Hockey League and Eastern Hockey League Premier are just one week away from the Frozen Finals in Providence, RI. Four more series will be played in the form of the Division Finals in the EHL, and the winner of each series will make it to the Frozen Finals.

As for the EHLP, 
four teams will also make it to Providence, and it will be the three divisional winners plus an at-large bid going to the Divisional runner-up with the best regular-season record.

Because the Boston Jr. Rangers and Railers Jr. Hockey Club have the top two records, they will both go to the Frozen Finals regardless of who wins the Boston Division Final. However, the winner of that series will go to the Frozen Finals as the number one seed while the loser will automatically get the number four seed via the at-large bid.

Similar to Round One, each series will go by a best-of-three format in both the EHL and EHLP.

Here is a preview of the four divisional matchups taking place this week in the EHL, as well as the three divisional matchups in the EHLP.

Eastern Hockey League (EHL)

North Division Final: #1 New Hampshire Avalanche (34-9-3) vs. #2 Seacoast Spartans (30-12-4)
Season Series: Avalanche 3-2-0 vs. Spartans

Why the Avalanche will win: 
The Avs’ offense was the best in the EHL regular season, and they kept it up against the Vermont Lumberjacks in the first round with 5-2 and 6-1 victories for a two-game sweep. The two veterans, Aden Hotchkiss (1g, 4a) and Kyle Dann (2g, 3a) led the team with five points each in the first round. Two rookies also led the way offensively as Daniel McKiernan (2g, 2a) and Aaron Racino (1g, 3a) had four points each against the Lumberjacks. Shane Peremba had a relatively light workload, making 43 saves over two games. Between their veteran leadership, Dann’s clutch playoff performances, and offensive depth, New Hampshire will look to maintain its momentum and knock out the Spartans for a second straight year.

Why the Spartans will win: Like the Avalanche, the Spartans’ offense overwhelmed their first-round opponent, defeating the New England Wolves in a two-game sweep with 6-3 and 4-2 scores. The big trio of William Pray (1g, 4a), Drew Olivieri (4a) and Kenny Maxwell (1g, 2a) found no problems finding their way onto the scoresheet. The Spartans also found contributions from newly acquired defenseman Eddie Mulligan, who had three goals and four points in the first round, and first-year forward Braden Reilly, who recorded a goal and four points. When Seacoast knocked out the Avs in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, it was considered a shocking upset. This year’s matchup, however, is shaping up to be more of a heavyweight battle between two offensive powerhouses. The Spartans may also have the edge in goaltending, as Tristan Fattedad stopped 69 of 74 shots against the Wolves; maybe he could be the answer to the Avs’ high-octane offense.

East Division Final: #1 Express Hockey Club (30-15-1) vs. #2 Boston Jr. Rangers (29-15-2)
Season Series: Jr. Rangers 4-0-0 vs. Express

Why the Express will win: 
Last season, Jack Boschert had the playoff run of his life with a 6-2-0 record and .967 save percentage. This year he is 2-0 with a .985 save percentage, stopping 64 of 65 shots in a two-game sweep over the East Coast Wizards. While the Express did not beat the Jr. Rangers at all in the regular season, there is no doubt that Boschert is capable of replicating last year’s performance, which included the Express’ upset over the Jr. Rangers in the Division Final. In addition to their goaltending, the Express is a little stronger offensively this time around, as Marcus Torgner (2g, 1a), Louis-Mathieu Ruel (2g) and Ben Saurbaugh (2a) were crucial in their 3-1 and 3-0 victories over the Wizards. The offense may need to step up their game in Round 2, but if this matchup boils down to a battle of the goalies, the Express could send the Jr. Rangers home for a second straight year.

Why the Jr. Rangers can win: The Jr. Rangers swept the Seahawks Hockey Club in two games, winning both contests by a score of 4-2. Bret Beale had three goals and four points in the series including two goals and a helper in Game 1. In addition to Beale, the Jr. Rangers found scoring from the likes of Will Halecki (1g, 1a), Akezhan Melis (3a) and Mike Boschetto (2a). Defenseman Adam Nedelka was acquired shortly before the roster freeze and had a pair of assists in the series; he could give Boston an offensive boost in Round 2 as he continues to gel with the team. David Filak finished the series with 66 saves, staving off an underrated Seahawks offense and will look to prove himself in a goalie battle against Boschert and the Express. If there is one word to describe the Jr. Rangers this season, it’s steady. They play a sound game and excel in all areas of the ice, and they proved it when beating the Express in all four matchups in the 2022-23 regular season. If they keep that trend going, they can avenge last year’s upset and return to the Frozen Finals.

Central Division Final: #1 Railers Jr. Hockey Club (30-14-2) vs. #3 Connecticut Chiefs (15-25-6)
Season Series: Railers 4-1-0 vs. Chiefs

Why the Railers will win: 
The Railers swept the Connecticut RoughRiders in the opening round, winning Game 1 by a score of 7-2 and Game 2 by a score of 4-3. Jack Wineman led the offense with six points (2g, 4a) while Dan Lemanski led the team with three goals in the First Round. Nate Palumbo and Anthony Marchant also have a pair of goals, and four Railers defensemen have recorded at least a point, rounding out a deep and talented team that has tormented the rest of the Central Division all season. Stefan Kulhanek and Xavier Lapierre split the series in goal, and it will be interesting to see if the Railers will do it again in Round 2. If push comes to shove and the Railers find themselves in a must-win game, it could be advantageous having the all-time EHL wins leader starting a game with an extra day of rest.

Why the Chiefs will win: After dropping Game 1 to HC Rhode Island by a score of 4-1, the Chiefs bounced back with 4-2 win in Game 2 and a 2-1 victory in the deciding Game 3. Ethan Lim (2g, 1a), Luke Holyfield (1g, 2a) and Max Morris (3a) notched three points each in the series while Gavin Glaubitz (2g) and Hunter Rossi (1g, 1a) also had multiple points against Rhode Island. Adam Yost, who made his playoff debut last season in the Wild Card game against the New Jersey 87’s, bounced back from his Game 1 loss and made 59 saves on 62 shots in the final two games. While the Chiefs only beat the Railers once in five games, two of their losses were one-goal games, including one that went to overtime. The Chiefs have proven to be a scrappy team that can utilize its size, and if they can bully the Railers and neutralize their skill, Connecticut could pull off the upset and represent the Central Division this year.

South Division Final: #3 Little Flyers (23-16-7) vs. #4 Team Maryland (22-17-7)
Season Series: Maryland 4-2-0 vs. Little Flyers

Why the Little Flyers will win: 
The Philadelphia Little Flyers dethroned the defending EHL champion New Jersey 87’s in a three-game series. After dropping the first game 5-0, they responded with a 3-1 win in Game 2 and a 4-3 overtime win in the deciding Game 3. Tristan D’Elia, who scored the series-winning goal in overtime, led the Little Flyers with two goals and three points in the series. Cristo Walker (1g, 2a) and Koby Howat (3a) also recorded three points while Braedon Dougherty and Cole Oriani each had a goal and an assist. In addition to Dougherty, Philadelphia’s blue line has proven dangerous on the attack as Jack Costible, Cyril Jebousek and Shane Green all recorded at least a point against New Jersey. Their power play specialist and defenseman Andrew Henry, who missed about a month due to an injury, played in Game 3 and did not show any signs of rust, which could further bolster the Flyers’ back end. Coming off such an emotional series win over a long-time rival, the Little Flyers will look to ride that momentum into a second-straight trip to Providence.

Why Team Maryland will win: It’s rather fitting that the only #4 seed to make it to Round 2 came from the South Division. Team Maryland dominated the play-in game with a 7-1 victory over Philadelphia Hockey Club, then proceeded to upset the #1 seed Protec Jr. Ducks in three games. They had dropped Game 1 in double overtime by a score of 3-2, but responded with a 4-1 victory in Game 2 and a 4-0 win in Game 3. In a showcase of depth, 13 players recorded at least two points and 16 skaters have at least a point. Morely Phillips is leading the charge with six goals in four games, while Andrew Low (4a) and Sean Donoghue (2g, 1a) have also pitched in offensively. Lincoln Crosby established himself as the go-to goalie for Maryland, posting a 2-0-1 record with a 1.13 goals against average and .966 save percentage. He also made 33 saves in a Game 3 shutout. Between the regular-season success against the Little Flyers and their decisive victories over Philadelphia and Protec, Maryland could very well punch their first-ever ticket to the Frozen Finals.

Eastern Hockey League Premier (EHLP)

Boston Division Final: #1 Boston Jr. Rangers (34-7-1) vs. #2 Railers Jr. Hockey Club (31-9-2)
Season Series: Jr. Rangers 3-2-0 vs. Railers

Why the Jr. Rangers will win: 
The defending EHLP champions squeaked by the first round, avoiding a massive upset at the hands of the Express Hockey Club. After dropping Game 1 by a score of 2-1, the Jr. Rangers responded with a 3-2 win in Game 2 and a 2-1 overtime victory in the deciding Game 3. It may not be the best look to nearly get knocked out by a team who only had nine wins in the regular season, but that kind of adversity could also have a positive effect on the players as they move on to the second round. Tyler Blassingame scored three of Boston’s six goals in the series, including a pair of goals in Game 2. Nicholas Mutschler stopped 80 of the 85 shots he faced, good for a .941 save percentage. A couple of players were interestingly kept off the scoresheet in the first round, including EHLP forward of the year Drake Tomak. Now that the Rangers aren’t facing a red-hot Express goalie in Nick Piazza, those forwards could turn it around as they look to beat the Railers in the Divisional Final for the second straight year.

Why the Railers will win: The Railers offense was firing on all cylinders when they swept the Valley Jr. Warriors in two games, picking up 6-4 and 7-1 victories. Michael O’Malley (4g, 1a) and Aiden Swain (5a) led the way with five points each while Max Beaulac and Colin Berube scored three goals each. Aidan Healey and Dom Walecka shared the net as they each earned a win, and Walecka stopped 25 of 26 shots in Game 2. By having the second-best record in the league only behind the Jr. Rangers, the Railers are going to the Frozen Finals for the second time in three seasons. That being said, there are several returning players from last season when they were knocked out of the playoffs by Boston. While both teams are heading to Providence regardless, the Railers still have an incentive to win this series; by getting revenge on the Jr. Rangers as well as earning that number one seed.

New England Division Final: #3 New England Wolves (25-11-6) vs. #4 New Hampshire Avalanche (24-14-4)
Season Series: Wolves 4-1-0 vs. Avalanche

Why the Wolves will win: 
Despite going winless against the Lumberjacks in the regular season, the Wolves managed to knock out Vermont in three games. After dropping Game 1 by a score of 4-1, the Wolves won the next two games by scores of 6-4 and 5-3. Eight different skaters notched at least three points in the series for the Wolves, but they were led by Domeniks Domokejevs as he recorded five points (4g, 1a) including a hat trick in the deciding Game 3. Owen Currier also came in the clutch that game as he made 48 saves on 51 shots to hold off the Lumberjacks’ relentless attack. New England continues to defy expectations as one of the youngest teams in the league, and they hope to keep up their momentum as they face a team they have dominated all throughout the regular season. If they can knock out the Avalanche, it will be their first Frozen Finals appearance since their championship run in 2019.

Why the Avalanche will win: The Avs were relegated to the play-in game in a stacked New England Division, but they have proven they are just as good as any other team in EHLP and then some. They breezed past the Connecticut Chiefs with a 7-1 victory and followed that by knocking off the number one seeded Adirondack Jr. Thunder, including a 5-0 win on the road and a wild 4-3 victory at home. In that Game 2 win, New Hampshire scored three goals in the final 6:33 of regulation, including the game-winning goal by Zach Needham with five seconds left. John D’Errico (4g, 5a) scored a hat trick in the 5-0 Game 1 win over the Thunder, and is tied with Hunter Atkinson (5g, 4a) for the team lead in points. Needham has two goals and eight points over three games, and Alex Gerard is rocking a 3-0 record and .955 save percentage in goal. While New Hampshire does not have too many returners from last year’s run to the championship, the Avs are going into this Division Final red-hot and could potentially storm its way to Championship Sunday yet again.

Mid-Atlantic Division Final: #1 New Jersey 87’s (30-8-4) vs. #2 Pennsylvania Huntsmen (25-14-3)
Season Series: 87’s 5-2-1 vs. Huntsmen

Why the 87’s will win: 
The New Jersey 87’s swept the Philadelphia Little Flyers in two games, winning by scores of 6-1 and 5-0. Jason LoRicco didn’t have a heavy workload, stopping 36 of 37 shots over two games, but he became the all-time EHLP leader with seven shutouts after the 87’s Game 2 victory. Zach Gruber led the offense with six points (3g, 3a) while Robert Calice netted two goals and defenseman Tyler Branish recorded four assists. New Jersey was also lethal on the penalty kill by scoring three shorthanded goals. Nik Shoats has proven to be one of league’s top PK forwards, and he recorded a goal and an assist while shorthanded in the first round. While the 87’s stumbled at the end of the regular season, their Round 1 performance looked more like the team that won 10 straight games and will look to make the Frozen Finals for the second time in three seasons.

Why the Huntsmen will win: The Huntsmen won its first-ever playoff series by knocking off the New Jersey Renegades in three games. After losing the first game 5-2, the Huntsmen cruised to a 7-0 win in Game 2 and ended the series with a 3-1 victory. Ryan Arendes, who was tied for third in the regular season with 67 points, had a solid showing in the first round by recording a goal and four points. However, Namibian native Max Finkeldey stole the show by scoring five goals and six points over three-games, including two-goal performances in Games 2 and 3. While the Huntsmen lost some key players as EHL call-ups late in the season, the Huntsmen will still be a tough out for the 87’s so long as Arendes and Finkeldey are doing their thing offensively. Goaltender Ty Jones is better than his .893 postseason save percentage implies, and a bounce back performance in Round 2 could spell trouble for the 87’s high-octane offense.

For more details regarding the 2023 EHL and Premier Division playoffs, check out the Frozen Finals home page.

Anthony Di Paolo

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.