The Eastern Hockey League is just one week away from the Frozen Finals in Providence. Four more series will be played in the form of the Division Finals, and the winner of each series will make it to the Frozen Finals.
Similar to Round One, each series will go by a best-of-three format. Here is a preview of the four divisional matchups taking place this week in the EHL:
North Division Final: #1 New Hampshire Avalanche (34-9-3) vs. #2 Seacoast Spartans (30-12-4)
Season Series: Avalanche 3-2-0 vs. Spartans
Why the Avalanche will win: The Avs’ offense was the best in the EHL regular season, and they kept it up against the Lumberjacks in the first round with 5-2 and 6-1 victories for a two-game sweep. The two veterans, Aden Hotchkiss (1g, 4a) and Kyle Dann (2g, 3a) led the team with five points each in the first round. Two rookies also led the way offensively as Daniel McKiernan (2g, 2a) and Aaron Racino (1g, 3a) had four points each against the Lumberjacks. Shane Paremba had a relatively light workload, making 43 saves over two games. Between their veteran leadership, Dann’s clutch playoff performances and offensive depth, New Hampshire will look to maintain its momentum and knock out the Spartans for a second straight year.
Why the Spartans will win: Like the Avalanche, the Spartans’ offense overwhelmed their first-round opponent, defeating the New England Wolves in a two-game sweep with 6-3 and 4-2 scores. The big trio of William Pray (1g, 4a), Drew Olivieri (4a) and Kenny Maxwell (1g, 2a) found no problems finding their way onto the scoresheet. The Spartans also found contributions from newly acquired defenseman Eddie Mulligan, who had three goals and four points in the first round, and first-year forward Braden Reilly, who recorded a goal and four points. When Seacoast knocked out the Avs in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, it was considered a shocking upset. This year’s matchup, however, is shaping up to be more of a heavyweight battle between two offensive powerhouses. The Spartans may also have the edge in goaltending, as Tristan Fattedad stopped 69 of 74 shots against the Wolves; maybe he could be the answer to the Avs’ high-octane offense.
East Division Final: #1 Express Hockey Club (30-15-1) vs. #2 Boston Jr. Rangers (29-15-2)
Season Series: Jr. Rangers 4-0-0 vs. Express
Why the Express will win: Last season, Jack Boschert had the playoff run of his life with a 6-2-0 record and .967 save percentage. This year he is 2-0 with a .985 save percentage, stopping 64 of 65 shots in a two-game sweep over the East Coast Wizards. While the Express did not beat the Jr. Rangers at all in the regular season, there is no doubt that Boschert is capable of replicating last year’s performance, which included the Express’ upset over the Jr. Rangers in the Division Final. In addition to their goaltending, the Express is a little stronger offensively this time around, as Marcus Torgner (2g, 1a), Louis-Mathieu Ruel (2g) and Ben Saurbaugh (2a) were crucial in their 3-1 and 3-0 victories over the Wizards. The offense may need to step up their game in Round 2, but if this matchup boils down to a battle of the goalies, the Express could send the Jr. Rangers home for a second straight year.
Why the Jr. Rangers can win: The Jr. Rangers swept the Seahawks Hockey Club in two games, winning both contests by a score of 4-2. Bret Beale had three goals and four points in the series including two goals and a helper in Game 1. In addition to Beale, the Jr. Rangers found scoring from the likes of Will Halecki (1g, 1a), Akezhan Melis (3a) and Mike Boschetto (2a). Forward Adam Nedelka was acquired shortly before the roster freeze and had a pair of assists in the series; he could give Boston an offensive boost in Round 2 as he continues to gel with the team.
David Filak finished the series with 66 saves, staving off an underrated Seahawks offense and will look to prove himself in a goalie battle against Boschert and the Express. If there is one word to describe the Jr. Rangers this season, it’s steady. They play a sound game and excel in all areas of the ice, and they proved it when beating the Express in all four matchups in the 2022-23 regular season. If they keep that trend going, they can avenge last year’s upset and return to the Frozen Finals.
Central Division Final: #1 Railers Jr. Hockey Club (30-14-2) vs. #3 Connecticut Chiefs (15-25-6)
Season Series: Railers 4-1-0 vs. Chiefs
Why the Railers will win: The Railers swept the Connecticut RoughRiders in the opening round, winning Game 1 by a score of 7-2 and Game 2 by a score of 4-3. Jack Wineman led the offense with six points (2g, 4a) while Dan Lemanski led the team with three goals in the first round. Nate Palumbo and Anthony Marchant also have a pair of goals, and four Railers defenseman have recorded at least a point, rounding out a deep and talented team that has tormented the rest of the Central Division all season. Stefan Kulhanek and Xavier Lapierre split the series in goal, and it will be interesting to see if the Railers will do it again in Round 2. If push comes to shove and the Railers find themselves in a must-win game, it could be advantageous having the all-time EHL wins leader starting a game with an extra day of rest.
Why the Chiefs will win: After dropping Game 1 to HC Rhode Island by a score of 4-1, the Chiefs bounced back with 4-2 win in Game 2 and a 2-1 victory in the deciding Game 3. Ethan Lim (2g, 1a), Luke Holyfield (1g, 2a) and Max Morris (3a) notched three points each in the series while Gavin Glaubitz (2g) and Hunter Rossi (1g, 1a) also had multiple points against Rhode Island. Adam Yost, who made his playoff debut last season in the Wild Card game against the New Jersey 87’s, bounced back from his Game 1 loss and made 59 saves on 62 shots in the final two games. While the Chiefs only beat the Railers once in five games, two of their losses were one-goal games, including one that went to overtime. The Chiefs have proven to be a scrappy team that can utilize its size, and if they can bully the Railers and neutralize their skill, Connecticut could pull off the upset and represent the Central Division this year.
South Division Final: #3 Little Flyers (23-16-7) vs. #4 Team Maryland (22-17-7)
Season Series: Maryland 4-2-0 vs. Little Flyers
Why the Little Flyers will win: The Philadelphia Little Flyers dethroned the defending EHL champion New Jersey 87’s in a three-game series. After dropping the first game 5-0, they responded with a 3-1 win in Game 2 and a 4-3 overtime win in the deciding Game 3. Tristan D’Elia, who scored the series-winning goal in overtime, led the Little Flyers with two goals and three points in the series. Cristo Walker (1g, 2a) and Koby Howat (3a) also recorded three points while Braedon Dougherty and Cole Oriani each had a goal and an assist. In addition to Dougherty, Philadelphia’s blue line has proven dangerous on the attack as Jack Costible, Cyril Jebousek and Shane Green all recorded at least a point against New Jersey. Their power play specialist and defenseman Andrew Henry, who missed about a month due to an injury, played in Game 3 and did not show any signs of rust, which could further bolster the Flyers’ back end. Coming off such an emotional series win over a long-time rival, the Little Flyers will look to ride that momentum into a second-straight trip to Providence.
Why Team Maryland will win: It’s rather fitting that the only #4 seed to make it to Round 2 came from the South Division. Team Maryland dominated the play-in game with a 7-1 victory over Philadelphia Hockey Club, then proceeded to upset the #1 seed Protec Jr. Ducks in three games. They had dropped Game 1 in double overtime by a score of 3-2, but responded with a 4-1 victory in Game 2 and a 4-0 win in Game 3. In a showcase of depth, 13 players recorded at least two points and 16 skaters have at least a point. Morely Phillips is leading the charge with six goals in four games, while Andrew Low (4a) and Sean Donoghue (2g, 1a) have also pitched in offensively. Lincoln Crosby established himself as the go-to goalie for Maryland, posting a 2-0-1 record with a 1.13 goals against average and .966 save percentage. He also made 33 saves in a Game 3 shutout. Between the regular-season success against the Little Flyers and their decisive victories over Philadelphia and Protec, Maryland could very well punch their first-ever ticket to the Frozen Finals.
For more details regarding the 2023 EHL and Premier Division playoffs, check out the Frozen Finals page here: https://www.easternhockeyleague.org/frozen-finals