BOSTON, MA -- In the ever-changing world of junior hockey, teams come and go from year to year. For the Eastern Hockey League (EHL), this past off-season brought with it a handful of teams leaving, and a group of teams joining the highly accomplished developmental league on the East Coast. The group that has joined the EHL has helped to make the league stronger, and through the first quarter of the season, this year could be labeled as one of the best seasons in the league’s history.
“This is our fifth year of the EHL, and so far, it has been filled with some great hockey,” said Mark Kumpel, the EHL’s Director of Hockey Operations. “We strive for parity and consistency across the board. In the first 100 games of the season, 29 percent were decided by just a single goal. That’s a great stat, and it really shows how competitive the EHL is. Our players are learning every day what it takes to compete when the pressure is on.”
Of the class of new EHL teams, one organization came flying out of the gates. The New Hampshire Avalanche are in their inaugural season in the EHL, and through the first couple months have made their presence felt across the league.
Led by Mario Martiniello (Owner and President) and Chris Cerrella (Head Coach and General Manager), the Avalanche haven’t skipped a beat while moving along through their first season of junior hockey.
The early success is satisfying for New Hampshire, and Martiniello knows the key catalyst behind the success is the guy he hired as head coach this past summer.
“The EHL has a great history of direct-to-college placements,” said Martiniello. “My goal has always been to create a program with a direct path from youth to the collegiate levels. The New Hampshire Avalanche program has been regarded as one of the best Tier-1 programs in the state of New Hampshire for many years now. By acquiring an EHL franchise and hiring a coach like Chris, we are now able to offer that direct path from youth to the collegiate levels.
“I am very proud of how Chris and his team have started off this year,” Martiniello added. “I’m looking forward to seeing how far they’ve gone when the season comes to an end.”
For Cerrella, the praise from his owner is appreciated after a diligent off-season. Coming over from the Hartford Jr. Wolfpack, where Cerrella was the coach for many years, he had to make a huge adjustment while moving his family to New Hampshire.
Through it all, Cerrella has put together one of the top teams in the EHL this season, and even had a college commitment done before his first game of the year. The Quinnipiac alum took some time to reflect on his decision to join Martiniello and the Avalanche.
“Mario and I talked about joining together a few years ago, but it never happened,” said Cerrella. “Last season was going to be my final year with my former team and it was the perfect time to make the move, not just for my family, but for my career.
“I knew I wanted to stay in the EHL, based off of the success that I have had in this league,” Cerrella added. “When I say success, to me this is solely focused on moving players on to college. I knew by joining up with Mario that he wanted to do everything top-notch and have all the right features and all the amenities it took to run a successful junior program. From a great facility, to brand new locker rooms and offices, I am reassured every day that I made the right decision. To also come into an organization with such a top-notch youth program, it only made the decision to relocate that much easier. It’s a great environment here at the Ice Den, and I am proud to be a part of it. It’s only going to continue to improve and get even better.”
While the Avalanche have been one of the leaders out of the gate this season, the rest of the new EHL franchises have also earned a ton of respect as the year has gone on.
Sticking with the North Conference, the Total Athletics Seahawks are another organization that’s navigating its way through its first season of junior hockey. Starting a new team from scratch is never an easy process, but Warren Nighan, the Co-Owner of the Seahawks, knows that his group chose the perfect league to join.
“Total Athletics of Cape Cod (TACC) programs are built on the model of keeping athletes on the Cape and providing our community with programs that they have not seen before,” said Nighan. “Hence, as we created the youth hockey Seahawks program and brought the Boston Hockey League and E9 to the Cape, we also realized that our region was the hidden gem of the northeast for junior hockey. The EHL has consistently placed athletes in all levels of college hockey and the Cape was the perfect choice to start a top level junior program.”
With ownership locked in, the Seahawks searched for a leader like Cerrella to take charge of the program. Just like the Avalanche’s bench boss, Bill Zaniboni was faced with the tough task of re-locating his family. Zaniboni had previously been the Head Coach and General Manager of the Dells Ducks in Wisconsin. The opportunity with the Seahawks gave him a chance to join a league that he had always wanted to be a part of, while also returning to the area where he grew up.
“Getting back east has always been in my plan,” said Zaniboni. “When Total Athletics came open, it was an exciting time for my family and I. As a coach, the EHL has great exposure to college hockey and the depth and level of play across the EHL is very highly respected. It’s been a great transition for my family, and helping the Seahawks grow as a first-year program has been very exciting. I appreciate the opportunity that Total Athletics has provided for myself, my family, and these players.”
Rounding out the new teams in the EHL this season brings us to the Central Division of the South Conference. After a year off, the New York Bobcats are back on Long Island.
Staying in the division, the Connecticut Oilers are still in the league, just at a different location up in Hamden. The franchise in Norwalk is now called the Connecticut RoughRiders. The name change was part of an affiliation agreement with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (United States Hockey League).
Heading further South, last year’s top division, the Mid-Atlantic, is strong once again this season. All three Philadelphia teams (Revolution, Little Flyers, and Jr. Flyers) continue to battle each other. Fellow Mid-Atlantic competitors, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights, are also back in the EHL.
Through all the change, the EHL continues to deliver the same message to the hockey community. For the past two years, the EHL has finished as the leader in the Direct-To-College Advancement at the Division 2 and 3 levels. This past season alone, the EHL accounted for nearly one in every five freshmen on NCAA Division 2 and 3 rosters.
To go along with the NCAA commitments, the EHL has also helped over 50 players work their way up the USA Hockey Ladder of Development to the NAHL and the USHL.
This area of advancement is not limited to just players. The EHL has seen a number of coaches make the jump up the ladder as well.
Whether it’s college hockey or staying under the USA Hockey umbrella, the EHL provides all of its players with the resources to improve their game and reach the next steps in their respective journeys.
Every story is different, and the EHL is ready to help you write the next chapter in yours.
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