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EHL and EHLP Second Round Preview

By Anthony Di Paolo - HNIB Beat Writer, 03/19/24, 9:00AM EDT


Divisional Finals Start Today at Noon

BOSTON, MA -- One playoff round remains for the Eastern Hockey League and Premier Division until the Frozen Finals in Providence, RI.

The division finals will start on Tuesday, as eight EHL teams and six EHLP teams are still standing and fighting for a chance to play for a championship. Like the first round, the division final is a best-of-three series with the higher seed getting home-ice advantage for games 1 and 3.

Here is a breakdown of the seven matchups between the EHL and EHLP.

Eastern Hockey League (EHL)

EHL North Division
#1 New Hampshire Avalanche (34-9-3) vs. #2 Seacoast Spartans (24-16-6)
Season Series: Avs 4-0-1 vs. Spartans

Why the Avs can win: 
New Hampshire got off to a rocky start in the first round with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Valley Jr. Warriors. However, they bounced right back with a 7-1 win in Game 2, led by a four-point game for Ryan Pappalardo (3g, 1a) and a 5-2 victory in the deciding Game 3 where David Basin had two goals plus an assist. Sam Boos stopped 59 of the 62 shots he faced in Games 2 and 3 to eliminate his former team from postseason contention. The first round was a perfect indicator of why the Avs make the Frozen Finals year in and year out; they bounce back from adversity, they have a deep lineup (10 different skaters scored a goal in the first round) and they have rock-solid goaltending.

Why the Spartans can win: Seacoast swept the New England Wolves with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 1 and a 4-1 victory in Game 2. Myles Kidd, who scored twice in the EHLP championship game last year, netted the overtime goal and followed up with two goals in the clinching Game 2. T.J. Sullivan scored twice in Game 1 while Chase LeClerc and Maxim St. Pierre also found the back of the net in Game 2. The first round showed that some of the Spartans’ young guns and role players are contributing. If they can keep that up paired with Jonathan Groth finding an offensive groove in the second round, they have a shot at becoming the first team to deny the Avs a trip to the Frozen Finals.

EHL East Division
#1 Express Hockey Club (34-10-2) vs. #2 Boston Jr. Rangers (32-13-1)
Season Series: Both teams 2-2-0 against each other

Why the Express can win: 
The Express had some tight games with the Seahawks Hockey Club, a 3-2 Game 1 victory and a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 2, but rose to the occasion when it mattered most with a 6-1 win in Game 3. Daniel Belov, who had 16 points (9g, 7a) in 37 regular season games, excelled in the first round with six points including two goals plus an assist in Game 3. Alex Koenig was in net for both Express wins, posting a .956 save percentage and a strong case to be the starter against the defending champs. This will be the fourth consecutive year the Express will take on the Jr. Rangers in the East Division Final. With their mix of firepower and strong goaltending, this may be the best Express team in that stretch.

Why the Jr. Rangers can win: For the second straight year, the Boston Jr. Rangers won a game in triple overtime. Following a Game 1 win over the Wizards by a score of 3-2, the Rangers completed the sweep with a triple OT thriller that lasted 105 minutes and 51 seconds, as Kaleb Miller ended the marathon battle with his second goal of the series. Goaltender Ayden Pierce made 69 saves on 71 shots and has a .963 save percentage through two games. The term ‘battle-tested’ gets thrown around often in playoff hockey, but the Jr. Rangers truly live up to the term. With many of Boston’s veterans like Miller, Bret Beale and Tay Melis leading the charge, they have what it takes to repeat last year in beating the Express and returning to the Frozen Finals.

EHL Central Division
#1 Railers Jr. Hockey Club (36-8-2) vs. #2 New York Apple Core (34-11-1)
Season Series: Railers 4-0-0 vs. Apple Core

Why the Railers can win: 
For the third straight season, the Railers are moving on to the Central Division Final. They made quick work of the Connecticut Chiefs with 6-1 and 11-3 victories with 17 different skaters earning at least a point. Austin Jerzak and Edouard Souliere had multi-goal performances in Game 2 including a hat trick for Souliere, while Adam Casper and Fredrik Vaahtera each earned a win in net. With these lopsided scores, the Railers are playing like they are on a mission, and they seem laser-focused on earning a third straight trip to Providence.

Why Apple Core can win: Apple Core’s storybook season rolls on after a two-game sweep over Providence Hockey Club. New York took the first game by a score of 3-1, then completed the sweep with a 2-1 overtime victory as Hunter Lee scored the game-winning goal. Jonathan Waselko leads the team with four points (1g, 3a) from the first-round matchup. Now, Apple Core gets to face the Railers in the postseason for the first time since 2022, where they nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the EHL. This time around, however, it will be a much more even—and highly anticipated—matchup. While the Railers were 4-0-0 in the regular-season matchup, goaltender Ryan Crowshaw and forward Maxim Maziarchuk were not yet on the roster, and Luke Golisano only played in two of those matchups. Apple Core became a much better team in December, and they are ready for a heavyweight bout against the three-time defending Central Division champion.

EHL South Division
#2 New Jersey 87’s (25-16-5) vs. #4 Philadelphia Little Flyers (23-20-3)
Season Series: Little Flyers 4-2-0 vs. 87’s

Why the 87’s can win: 
New Jersey is coming off a two-game sweep over Team Maryland, both games being won by a score of 3-2. Six different skaters have a goal for the 87’s as forward Ryan Karbach and defenseman Mikhail Kukareka each recorded a goal plus an assist in the series. Kyle Spann made 62 saves on the 66 shots he faced, good for a .939 save percentage. Overall, the team stuck to the things that made them successful all season, scoring by committee and locking down opponents with a strong defensive effort. This will be the fourth straight year the 87’s are facing the Little Flyers in the postseason, and New Jersey will need their best defensive effort yet if they want to win a three-game series against Philadelphia for the first time since 2021.

Why the Little Flyers can win: Make no mistake, Philadelphia is a four-seed in name only, and they proved that with a two-game sweep over the first-place New Jersey Bears. Trevor Kruczek has been on fire this postseason with five points (4g, 1a) in three postseason games. He had a goal plus an assist in a 4-1 Game 1 victory, then scored a goal in the Flyers’ 3-1 win to clinch the series. Ronnie Petrucci has been stellar in net, stopping 41 of the 42 shots he faced in Game 2 while rocking a .963 save percentage in three playoff starts. The Little Flyers have won the last two playoff matchups against the 87’s, and if their forwards can keep up this level of play while current EHL MVP Jack Costabile can get things going, they can make it three straight playoff wins against their long-standing rival.

Eastern Hockey League Premier (EHLP)

EHLP Boston Division
#1 Railers (38-4-0) vs. #2 Boston Jr. Rangers (31-8-3)
Season Series: Railers 4-1-0 vs. Jr. Rangers

Quick note: 
The EHLP at-large bid goes to the Division Finals runner-up with the best record. Since the Railers and Jr. Rangers have the two best records of all the remaining EHLP teams, the loser of this series will still advance to the Frozen Finals. However, the winner of this series will be the #1 seed in Providence while the at-large bid recipient will be the #4 seed.

Why the Railers can win: The Railers squared up against a formidable opponent in the Valley Jr. Warriors and skated away with a two-game sweep; winning Game 1 by a score of 4-1 and then completing the sweep with 4-3 overtime win. Plenty of forwards stepped up in this series; Zackary Warner-Senee scored twice in Game 1, Jaymin Rolfe potted two in Game 2, and Braeden McKenzie scored the series-clinching goal. Christopher Gingras and Matteo Medoro split time in goal, with the latter goaltender making 37 saves on 40 shots to clinch the series. This is the second straight year in which the Railers will face the Jr. Rangers while already having a spot in the Frozen Finals. Last year they lost to Boston in three games, but considering how improved the team is this year, the Railers will do whatever they can to exact revenge and secure the #1 seed in Providence.

Why the Jr. Rangers can win: For the second straight season, the Jr. Rangers have eliminated the Express Hockey Club from the EHLP postseason. Boston came out on top in Game 1 with a 5-4 double overtime victory. The Express bounced back with a 4-3 victory in Game 2, but the Jr. Rangers cruised to a 6-1 win in the deciding Game 3. Carter Amidon scored the double OT winner as well as the game-winning goal in Game 3. Max Wretsell led the team with six points (5g, 1a) while PJ Sweeney had a goal plus four helpers in the series. While the Railers had a leg up in the regular-season series, the Boston Division has proven to be such a juggernaut this year that this matchup could go either way. Similar to the Railers, there’s also no reason to believe the Jr. Rangers will take it easy this series despite clinching a Frozen Finals appearance.

EHLP North Division
#2 New England Wolves (19-19-4) vs. #4 Vermont Lumberjacks (14-24-4)
Season Series: 
Both teams 2-2-0 against each other

Why the Wolves can win: The New England Wolves knocked out the New Hampshire Avalanche with a two-game sweep, winning Games 1 and 2 by scores of 9-5 and 5-4 respectively. The 2024 EHLP Top Forward Prospect Harrison Kramer had five points (4g, 1a) in the Wolves’ Game 1 victory, and Jan-Sebastian Vancura tallied a pair of goals in the series-clinching win. Alex Valentini and Perry Collatos are the other two skaters who scored multiple goals this series, and Zach Spicuzza leads the team with six points (1g, 5a) in two games. All the top guns for the Wolves are firing on all cylinders, and if they can overpower the Lumberjacks, the Wolves will secure its first Frozen Finals appearance since 2019.

Why the Lumberjacks can win: In our previous preview, we said the Lumberjacks would need a Herculean effort to stop the offensive attack of the Adirondack Jr. Thunder, but crazier things have happened in the EHLP. In the words of Lumberjacks’ play-by-play announcer, Liam Sample, “The crazy has happened,” because Vermont stopped the Thunder’s attack and then some, pulling off the upset with a 4-2 win in Game 1 and a 5-1 victory in Game 2. JT Gary scored twice in Game 1 while Chase Porter had a goal and two assists in the series clincher. Noah Munn-Jennings also recorded four points (2g,2a) in the sweep. On the back end, Ian Boutin was outstanding in goal by making 70 saves on 73 total shots, good for a .959 save percentage. What seemed highly improbable is now very possible; despite winning just 14 games in the regular season, the Lumberjacks have a legitimate shot at reaching the Frozen Finals for the third time in four seasons.

EHLP Mid-Atlantic Division
#1 New Jersey 87’s (31-10-0) vs. #2 Pennsylvania Huntsmen (30-9-3)
Season Series: Huntsmen 4-3-0 vs. 87’s

Why the 87’s can win: 
The defending EHLP champions cruised to a two-game sweep over the Little Flyers, winning their games 9-0 and 7-2. Between the two games, 11 different skaters recorded multiple points for the 87’s, and Gabriel Santamaria led the way with two goals and four assists. Logan Behrje and Nikita Sobolev also scored two goals each, and Frankie Smith won both games in net for New Jersey. With a number of returning players from last year’s championship roster, the 87’s have plenty of postseason experience and will be prepared for another battle with the Huntsmen in the Mid-Atlantic Final. If New Jersey comes out on top, it would be their third Frozen Finals appearance in four seasons.

Why the Huntsmen can win: Similar to the 87’s, Pennsylvania overwhelmed their first-round opponent, sweeping the New Jersey Renegades with 5-1 and 13-4 victories. Cooper Ireland (2g, 4a) and Zander Lunnie (3g, 2a) led the charge offensively along with some big-time contributions from a pair of ’07 forwards in Nick Smith (1g, 3a) and Paul Auge Cisar (2g, 1a). Brock Burrell, who was named the EHLP Top Defenseman Prospect, had a goal and three assists against the Renegades. Overall, the Huntsmen are thriving in their sophomore season in the EHLP, and they’ll be playing with a chip on their shoulder in this Division Finals rematch. With their combination of speed, skill and grit, they have a chance to dethrone the reigning champs while punching their first-ever ticket to Providence.

Anthony Di Paolo

Anthony Di Paolo covers the EHL for HNIB and can be followed on Twitter @DiPaolo_016

Anthony Di Paolo has been working in various levels of hockey over the last five years, ranging from juniors to the pros. Di Paolo spent four seasons as the Communications Director and play-by-play announcer for the New Jersey Titans of the North American Hockey League (2016-2020), and is entering his fifth season in a similar role with the New Jersey 87’s of the Eastern Hockey League. Graduating from Seton Hall University in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, the New Jersey native covered Division I athletics for his school’s radio station, WSOU, and spent two years writing for the Fischler Report, a newsletter run by U.S. Hockey Hall-of-Fame inductee Stan Fischler. In addition to writing features and player spotlights throughout the season, Anthony is a fixture on the weekly #EShow podcast.