It’s been a long and scorching off-season, but as the summer comes to a close, the Eastern Hockey League will begin its 10th season of operation on September 15, when the Connecticut Chiefs host the Connecticut RoughRiders.
Leading up to the 2022-23 campaign, there have been a plethora of changes including new teams, coaching staffs and the EHL becoming a self-governing league. As the games kick off this Thursday, here are some things to watch for throughout the season.
Staying on top of their game
The New Jersey 87’s won their first-ever EHL title in Providence back in April, while the Boston Jr. Rangers won their third EHLP championship. Both organizations have excelled throughout their respective histories, and the same can be said for teams like the New Hampshire Avalanche and Philadelphia Little Flyers.
On top of making the 2022 Frozen Finals, the 87’s, Jr. Rangers, Avalanche and Little Flyers were the four teams to record 30 or more wins in the 2021-22 season. Some notable returners include Kyle Folkerson for the 87’s, Aden Hotchkiss for the Avalanche and Caleb Catchart for the Little Flyers. The Boston Jr. Rangers’ EHL team will feature some prominent call-ups from their championship-winning Premier team like Mike Boschetto, who scored the OT winner in the final, and defenseman Chris Merryman.
With great success comes great expectations, and it would not be surprising to see these clubs return to Rhode Island this spring.
New kids on the block
Five teams will be joining the EHL and EHLP this season. In the EHL, Philadelphia Hockey Club, coached by Jeff Perreault, will join the South Division while HC Rhode Island, under the direction of James Mello, will play in the Central. The Premier Division will see two teams joining the Mid-Atlantic Division in the form of the Union Jr. Thunder, led by Samuel Tafel, and Pennsylvania Huntsmen, who will be coached by Blaise Kilroy. The Adirondack Jr. Thunder, under the direction of coach Glenn Merkosky, will play in the New England Division.
Coming into the league as an expansion team comes with its own set of challenges, but over the last few years we have seen EHL and Premier teams come out of the gate competitive like the 87’s, Protec Jr. Ducks, Seacoast Spartans and the Railers Jr. Hockey Club. With five new teams in the mix, there’s a good chance that a few of them will be making a postseason push in March.
Back with a vengeance
The 2022 postseason featured some incredible stories and bracket-busting series. The Express Hockey Club punched a one-way ticket to the championship game, and goaltender Jack Boschert was the engine of that playoff run by posting a 6-2 record with a 1.07 goals against average and .967 save percentage. The Missouri native will return to the team this season as they look to build off that incredible run.
After stumbling out of the gate early last season, the New England Wolves had a remarkable turnaround and became one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Latvian forward and mid-season acquisition Edijs Grigorjevs sparked the team’s offense by racking up 26 points (9g, 17a) in 28 regular-season games, and was one of the reasons why New England made it to the semifinals in Providence. He and A.J. Lackas, who had 10 goals and 28 points last season, will both return this year as the Wolves will look to prove that their second-half surge was no fluke.
A league of its own
During the offseason, the EHL announced it would become a self-governing league and break away from its USA Hockey affiliation. Some of the most notable changes include a five-person Executive Committee elected by the board of governors, each roster consisting of 30 protected players and the adaptation of NCAA On-Ice Hockey rules. The last change will benefit the players and allow a more seamless transition when they move on to the collegiate level.
Return of the Showcase Series
One week into the season, all of the EHL and EHLP teams will travel to the Worcester Ice Center for the first of five showcases in the 2022-23 campaign. The Worcester showcase, slated for September 22-25 and hosted by the Railers Jr. Hockey Club, will feature 50 games over the course of four days, giving teams a chance to start the season on the right foot and for players to make a strong first impression in front of college coaches. We’ll take a closer look at those matchups leading up to the start of the showcase.
In the meantime, it’s finally time to drop the puck; let the new season begin!