As the calendar year draws to a close, the Eastern Hockey League is getting ready for its fourth showcase of the season in Newington, Connecticut.
From Tuesday to Thursday, there will be 35 games between the EHL and EHLP at Newington Arena, home of the Connecticut Chiefs. Before the league starts up its fourth leg of the Showcase Series in the 2021-2022 season, here are some themes and storylines to watch out for this week.
Top teams vs. hot teams
Reaching the halfway point of the season, it seems clear that last year’s Frozen Finals participants–the Boston Jr. Rangers and New Hampshire Avalanche–are still the teams to beat in the league.
The Jr. Rangers have won seven of their last 10 games, and each of those seven victories were shutouts. They sit first in the East Division with a remarkable 20-4-1 record and a nine-point lead over the Walpole Express. Meanwhile the Avalanche are riding a four-game winning streak, including a recent 6-2 win over the Railers Hockey Club. They lead the North Division with a 19-3-3 record.
Though on day one of the showcase, both of them will be facing two of the hotter teams in the EHL. Boston will go up against the New Jersey 87’s, a team that responded to an eight-game losing streak with a five-game winning streak is starting to find their groove offensively.
New Hampshire will also have their hands full as they face the Philadelphia Little Flyers, who are on a three-game winning streak and have scored 15 goals over their last two games. That includes a 7-6 come-from-behind overtime victory against New York Apple Core and a convincing 8-2 win against the Connecticut RoughRiders.
Despite trailing the Jr. Rangers in the standings, the Walpole Express currently sit atop of the EHL power rankings. They have won nine of their last 11 games, including victories over the Jr. Rangers, Avalanche and Railers. On Wednesday they will go up against another hot South Division team in the Protec Jr. Ducks. While losing their most recent game, Protec has won five of its last seven games, including a 4-3 victory over first-place Team Maryland.
Separating from the pack
Parity has been a common theme in the EHL for most of the season, and it’s evident by the small gap in points between teams in the standings. In the Central Division, for example, spots two through four (Connecticut RoughRiders, New York Apple Core and Connecticut Chiefs) are all tied with 17 points.
It will be interesting to see if any of those teams will be able to close the gap with the first-place Railers. Apple Core will get a chance to do exactly that as they face the Railers on Tuesday, followed by a matchup against the Jr. Rangers on Thursday.
The RoughRiders, who have won three of their last five games, will play three games in Newington as they play the Express, Railers and East Coast Wizards. The host Chiefs will also play three games, as they go up against the Seacoast Spartans, New England Wolves and Little Flyers.
Over in the East Division, the Wizards, Valley Jr. Warriors and Seahawks Hockey Club are all separated by five points. As the only five-team division in the league, staying in the top four will be critical for the East teams, setting up an important matchup on Thursday between the Seahawks and the Jr. Warriors.
As the RoughRiders play three games in the showcase, it is very likely that Colin Bella will establish himself as the franchise’s all-time leader in goals in Newington. He is tied with his older brother Andrew with 55 goals in a RoughRider uniform. Colin also leads all active EHL players with 119 points (55g, 64a).
While the EHLP schedule is normally lighter than its EHL counterpart during the showcases, there will be no shortage of exciting matchups in Newington this week. The Vermont Lumberjacks are riding a four-game winning streak, and on Tuesday they will go up against the Philadelphia Little Flyers, who are first in the South Division. Later that night, the 87’s will play the Seahawks, a rematch from the Walpole showcase where the Seahawks defeated New Jersey 2-1 in overtime.
The Railers EHLP team will have their hands full with the South Division on Tuesday and Wednesday. They open things up with a Tuesday morning matchup against the Connecticut Chiefs, and on Wednesday they will have a double header against the Little Flyers and 87’s at 8:10 a.m. and noon respectively. Though Worcester has dropped three of its last five games, they have scored 19 goals in their last three games including a 5-1 road win against the Little Flyers.
Wednesday will feature a game between the two top teams in the North Division with the Valley Jr. Warriors and New Hampshire Avalanche. This will be the second matchup between the two teams, as the Warriors defeated New Hampshire 4-3 in overtime back on Oct 13. However, if the Avalanche can defeat the New England Wolves on Tuesday, they will pull to within two points of the first-place Warriors, and could tie them in the standings with a regulation win on Wednesday.