The Eastern Hockey League is officially in the home stretch of the 2021-2022 regular season, as the playoffs and Frozen Finals are fast approaching.
As teams continue to battle for the top spot in their respective divisions, the league recently passed its deadline for the roster freeze, meaning teams can no longer trade between USA Hockey member teams or move players between its EHL and EHLP clubs.
Leading up to the deadline, teams will usually secure last-minute acquisitions to bolster their roster in hopes of a potential playoff run. One player who stands out is none other than Vermont Lumberjacks goaltender Lenny Perno. The Rochester, NY native joined the Lumberjacks in late January and has posted a 7-1-0 record with a 2.33 goals against average and .940 save percentage.
Three of his wins have come against the North Division-leading New Hampshire Avalanche, including a 44-save performance in the Lumberjacks’ 3-2 win over the Avs on February 13. He picked up another win on Wednesday, a 6-3 victory over the Railers Junior Hockey Club, as Vermont extended their winning streak to seven games. Head coach Gary Gill spoke about the importance of Perno’s addition to the team.
“Without a doubt, Lenny has had a very big impact with our team. Not only is he bringing solid goaltending, but he brings a great attitude to the locker room. The boys in front of him have confidence now, we were always a good scoring team, we just had little breakdowns that usually cost us a game. Now if we have a breakdown, Lenny battles hard to keep us in the game, and in turn the boys in front of him work harder for him,” Gill said.
While Vermont is riding hot with their new goaltender, it’s time to take a look around the EHL and how the other teams are doing on the road to the Frozen Finals.
Sticking with the North Division, the New England Wolves are on a four-game winning streak including a recent 4-1 victory over Seacoast Spartans. It’s a rather remarkable turnaround for New England, a team that secured just one win in their first eight games of the season. They have now won 10 of their last 13 and are second in the North Division. Part of that turnaround can be attributed to Latvian forward Edijs Grigorjevs, who has points in 11 of his last 12 games, as well as goaltender Liam Kilgallen, who has won each of his last eight starts.
In the East Division, the Boston Jr. Rangers have been regaining momentum with a four-game winning streak. It’s the first time they have won four straight since November, and their most recent game was a 2-1 overtime victory over the Seahawks Hockey Club. Adam Zukowski scored the overtime winner, just as he did eight days earlier against the Valley Jr. Warriors.
The Railers Jr. Hockey Club still leads the Central Division, but the team has struggled lately with four consecutive losses. Meanwhile, the Connecticut Chiefs and RoughRiders had a recent back-to-back to decide the Connecticut Cup, a trophy that goes to the team who wins the season series.
On Monday, the Chiefs defeated the RoughRiders 10-0, and 16 of the Chiefs’ 19 skaters notched at least a point. The following day, the RoughRiders bounced back with a 6-4 win thanks to a four-point performance (2g, 2a) from Colin Bella. With that victory, the RoughRiders won the season series by having a 3-2-0 record against the Chiefs, and EHL Associate Commissioner Neil Ravin presented the Connecticut Cup to the RoughRiders.
Speaking of Bella’s two-goal game, he is now at 75 career goals in the EHL and just one behind Bryce Witman for the all-time record. As of Thursday morning, the RoughRiders have six games left in the regular season, including their upcoming game against the Philadelphia Little Flyers.
Meanwhile the South Division continues its season-long dogfight, as the first and last place teams are separated by only 11 points. The New Jersey 87’s extended its winning streak to three games with a 3-0 win over Team Maryland. Devlin O’Kane is leading the offense with a four-game point streak and six points (3g, 3a) in his last two games. Goaltender Owen Hains has also earned a shutout in consecutive starts.
Despite sitting in third place, the Little Flyers were recently given the number one spot in the EHL power rankings. They are on a three-game winning streak and have won nine of their last 10 games, including a 2-1 overtime victory on Monday against the Protec Jr. Ducks. Philadelphia also leads the league with 174 goals this season, and 12 players have recorded at least 20 points.
Similar to their EHL counterpart, the Little Flyers’ Premier team has been dominant. They are riding a four-game winning streak while sitting atop of the South Division, and their most recent win was a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over the 87’s. AJ Basich and Colin Berry scored in the third period to erase a 4-2 deficit while Logan Downs picked up the game-winning goal in overtime.
Up in the North Division, the New Hampshire Avalanche has a nine-point lead over the Lumberjacks for first place. However, the Lumberjacks have won three of their last four games including two victories over the Avs. Francis Hamelin scored an overtime goal in the Lumberjacks’ 2-1 win over the Avalanche on Wednesday.
If there is one division that will go down to the wire in the EHLP, it’s the Central. The Boston Jr. Rangers, prior to a 3-2 loss against the Seahawks, had an eight-game winning streak and currently have a four-point lead over the second-place Railers. Meanwhile the Railers, who snapped out of a three-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak, still have three games in hand. The two teams will face each other on February 25, and it could very well be a preview of the playoff battles we will see come March.