BOSTON, MA -- The Frozen Finals are here, and eight different teams have punched their ticket to Providence, RI to compete for the Eastern Hockey League and Premier Division titles.
Starting on Wednesday, the EHL will have a pair of semifinal matchups that will be a best-of-three series. The Boston Jr. Rangers will face the Railers Jr. Hockey Club while the New Hampshire Avalanche will take on the Philadelphia Little Flyers. The winner of those series will play a one-game championship on Sunday.
The Premier Division will go by a round-robin format, featuring the Boston Jr. Rangers, Railers Jr. Hockey Club, New Hampshire Avalanche and New Jersey 87’s. The top two teams in the round-robin will also play a one-game championship on Sunday.
Here is a quick look at all the teams competing, and why each team has a chance to win the Frozen Finals.
Why the New Hampshire Avalanche will win: At times, it appeared the regular-season champions were going to be knocked out by the Seacoast Spartans, but the Avalanche prevailed and won the North Division. New Hampshire jumped to a 3-0 lead in Game 2, coasting to an eventual 4-1 win, then finished the series with a 3-2 overtime victory where Daniel McKiernan scored the series-clinching tally.
It cannot be overstated how fierce the North Division was this year, and the fact New Hampshire came out of the division shows this may actually be the season the Avs will come out on top. Aden Hotchkiss and Kyle Dann both lead the team with nine points each while McKiernan is tied with Dann for the team lead in goals with four. Shane Paremba has a 4-1 record with a .939 save percentage and made 54 saves on 56 shots in Game 3 against the Seacoast. The Avs are dominant in all areas of the ice and led by a veteran core; they show no signs of slowing down and will look for its third title in five years.
Why the Railers Jr. Hockey Club will win: While the Railers cruised to a first-place finish in the Central Division, the Connecticut Chiefs put up a fight in the Division Final. The Railers won Game 1 by a score of 4-2, but Connecticut responded with a 3-0 win in Newington to force a deciding Game 3. In that final game, Railers forward Thor Hansen scored in the opening period and goaltender Stefan Kulhanek took it from there with a 22-save shutout.
Any championship caliber team needs great goaltending, and the Railers have it with the all-time EHL wins leader in Kulhanek. He’s coming into the Frozen Finals with a 3-0 record and .946 save percentage, plus this will be his second trip to Providence as the starting goaltender. Meanwhile, the Railers’ offense is led by Jack Wineman (3g, 6a), Dan Lemanski (3g, 1a) and Nate Palumbo (3g, 1a). This team has come a long way from their inaugural 2019-20 season that only saw seven wins, and this could be the year they win their first title.
Why the Boston Jr. Rangers will win: Boston got their revenge on the Express Hockey Club, defeating them in three games to win the East Division title. After losing to the Express 1-0 in Game 1, the Rangers won each of the following two games by a score of 2-1. The deciding Game 3 went into triple overtime where James Berg became the hero, scoring at 6:22 of the sixth period. Clocking in at 106:22, it was the second-longest contest in EHL history.
Like the Railers, the Jr. Rangers are a defense-first team led by their goaltender. David Filak, who made 50 saves on 51 shots in the triple OT game, has a mind-boggling .964 save percentage and a 4-1 record through two rounds. Bret Beale leads the team with four goals and five points, and while the offensive numbers do not necessarily jump out of the page for Boston, 17 of their skaters have recorded at least a point this postseason. That depth can be handy in the postseason, and if Boston can play their stifling game like they have all season, they can earn their second EHL title in three seasons.
Why the Little Flyers will win: The Philadelphia Little Flyers made it out of the gauntlet that is known as the South Division, and they are the only #3 seed to make the EHL Frozen Finals. Facing Team Maryland in the second round, the Little Flyers won Game 1 in overtime by a score of 2-1 on a game-winning goal by Jack Costabile. Maryland won Game 2 on home ice, but Philadelphia won Game 3 by a score of 3-1, and captain Shane Green led the way with a pair of power-play goals.
Speaking of power-play goals, six out of the seven goals scored by Philadelphia in the second round came on the man advantage. Green, Cristo Walker and Koby Howat each have two power-play goals this postseason, though it’s Tristan D’Elia who leads the offense overall with six points (2g, 4a). The Little Flyers have also gotten offense from their back-end, as Costabile (2g, 2a), Braedon Dougherty (1g, 3a) and Andrew Henry (4a) have four points each. This is the second straight year Philadelphia has reached Providence, and this year’s team will look to bring home its first-ever EHL championship.
Why the Boston Jr. Rangers will win: The Boston Jr. Rangers could have been content with the at-large bid after winning the regular-season championship, but they took it to the Railers in the Boston Division Final by winning in three games. After dropping Game 1 by a score of 3-2, the Rangers found themselves trailing 3-0 early in Game 2, but would go on to win 7-6 in overtime. Drake Tomak completed the hat trick with the overtime-winning goal. They proceeded to clinch the number one seed for the Frozen Finals with a 4-2 win in Game 3.
After a slow start in Round 1, Drake Tomak has picked up his offensive game and leads the team with seven points (4g, 3a) in six games, which is a great sign for the Jr. Rangers. Skylar Luo (1g, 5a) and Tim Mattingly (2g, 2a) have also pitched in offensively while six more skaters have recorded at least three points. The Jr. Rangers also have depth in goal as Nicholas Mutschler and Luciano Chinappi have two wins each. So far, Boston has won three of the six EHLP championships including last season, and this year’s team will be gunning for a repeat.
Why the New Jersey 87’s will win: New Jersey dominated the Mid-Atlantic Division, sweeping the Philadelphia Little Flyers and Pennsylvania Huntsmen in the first two rounds. Following a 4-2 win on home ice against the Huntsmen, they went to Power Play Rinks and won Game 2 by a score of 6-3 with a two-goal performance from defenseman Tyler Branish.
It could be argued the 87’s have flown somewhat under the radar this season. They finished the season with the second-most goals and best goal differential in the EHLP and have shown throughout the year they can compete with the best teams in the league. Zach Gruber has 10 points (5g, 5a) in four playoff games while Vasily Vasin (3g, 3a) and Robert Calice (4g, 1a) have also led the forward group. Jason LoRicco is a perfect 4-0 with a .938 save percentage. New Jersey’s special teams have also been lethal, scoring seven power-play goals and three shorthanded goals. Having won the 2021 Frozen Finals in West Chester, PA, this will be the EHLP team’s first trip to Providence. Regardless of the location, the 87’s will look for its second title in three seasons.
Why the New Hampshire Avalanche will win: The Avs are the only team, EHL or Premier Division, to go from the play-in game to the Frozen Finals. Granted, the New England Division was a juggernaut this season, but they knocked off some really good teams like the Adirondack Jr. Thunder and New England Wolves. They were also the final team to punch its ticket to Providence with Monday’s 4-3 win over the Wolves in a winner-take-all Game 3.
Three forwards have driven the bus for New Hampshire this postseason: Hunter Atkinson (7g, 7a), John D’Errico (7g, 5a) and Zach Needham (3g, 9a) are the top three playoff scorers heading into the Frozen Finals. They also have a chance to break the EHLP record for points in a single playoff that was set last year by Trent King of the Vermont Lumberjacks (14). In addition to the Avs’ trio, 13 other skaters have notched at least a point. In net, Alex Gerard has a 5-1 record with a .947 save percentage and one shutout. Last year’s Avs team made it to Championship Sunday but fell just short to Boston. With the way this year’s team is playing, they could take it one step further and earn their first EHLP title.
Why the Railers Jr. Hockey Club will win: Despite losing to the Boston Jr. Rangers in the Boston Division Final, the Railers secured the at-large bid by having the best record of all the losing teams from Round 2. And to be fair, taking the Jr. Rangers to three games is noteworthy in itself.
Six different skaters are producing at a point-per-game or better for the Railers. Michael O’Malley (7g, 2a) leads the team in goals and points while Max Beaulac has five goals and seven points. Zack Warner-Senee, a mid-season acquisition, has fit in nicely with the team while putting up six points (2g, 4a) through five playoff games. Aiden Healey and Dom Walecka have shared the net so far in the postseason, and Healey has earned two of the team’s three wins. The last time the Railers were in the Frozen Finals, they lost to the 87’s in 2021. This year they have a chance to flip the script, where they hope to bring in the organization’s first championship.
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.