Eastern Hockey League – EHL Playoff Preview: Play-In Games Faceoff Tuesday; Divisional First Round Best-Of-3 Series Open Up Thursday

Anthony DiPaolo
Anthony DiPaolo
Anthony Di Paolo has been working in various levels of hockey over the last five years, ranging from juniors to the pros. Di Paolo spent four seasons as the Communications Director and play-by-play announcer for the New Jersey Titans of the North American Hockey League (2016-2020), and is entering his fifth season in a similar role with the New Jersey 87’s of the Eastern Hockey League. Graduating from Seton Hall University in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, the New Jersey native covered Division I athletics for his school’s radio station, WSOU, and spent two years writing for the Fischler Report, a newsletter run by U.S. Hockey Hall-of-Fame inductee Stan Fischler.

Related posts

The EHL postseason will consist of a play-in game between the number 4 and 5 seeds, followed by two divisional rounds. The four divisional winners in the EHL will make it to the Frozen Finals, which will feature a best-of-three series for the semifinals and a winner-take-all game in the championship round.

With a combination of familiar faces and new teams vying for a Frozen Finals appearance, there are plenty of great matchups to start the 2023 postseason. Here’s a rundown of all of the matchups that will start up this week.

North Division

#1 New Hampshire Avalanche (34-9-3) vs. #4 Vermont Lumberjacks (25-20-1)

Season Series: Avalanche 3-2-0 vs. Lumberjacks

Aden Hotchkiss
NH Avalanche

Why the Avalanche will win: The Avs have been a powerhouse ever since they joined the league, but this is the first time they have won a regular-season championship. Their offense–having scored a league-best 187 goals–is led by Aden Hotchkiss (19g, 45a, 64p) and Daniel McKiernan (29g, 29a, 58p) while Shane Paremba was rock solid in net this season with a 21-6-2 record and .922 save percentage. There’s also Kyle Dann, who scored six goals in six playoff games last season. This is a veteran lineup who will look to make the next step from last year, which is winning it all.

Why the Lumberjacks will win: The Lumberjacks are, without a doubt, the best last-place team in the league. They finished with a .554 points percentage in a stacked North Division and a plus-22 goal differential, with Victor Daigneault (22g, 33a, 55p) and Louis-Joseph Guernon (23g, 29a, 52p) leading the way offensively. Several players on the Lumberjacks also made it to the EHLP Frozen Finals for Vermont last year, including Trent King, Bobby Voss, Hayden Bullock, and even head coach Seth Gustin. Their success last year from the EHLP has translated well to the EHL so far, maybe that could continue against New Hampshire.

#2 Seacoast Spartans (30-12-4) vs. #3 New England Wolves (26-17-3)

Season Series: Wolves 3-2-0 vs. Spartans

Drew Olivieri Seacoast Spartans

Why the Spartans will win: Two years ago, the Spartans shocked the league with an upset over the Avalanche; now they look like favorites with a 30-win season. Drew Olivieri (34g, 39a, 73p) and William Pray (31g, 41a, 72p) finished first and second respectively in the EHL scoring race, and defenseman Eddie Mulligan has 10 points in 11 games since he was acquired from Vermont. And while the Spartans like to score goals, Tristan Fattedad and Ben Skelton have become one of the more dynamic goaltending duos in the league, which could be a difference-maker in this offense-heavy North Division.

Why the Wolves will win: The Wolves were last season’s Cinderella story, going from a 1-5-2 start to a semi finals appearance in Providence. This year they sprinted to a 10-1-1 start and have kept up with the gauntlet in the North. Heath Mensch is their leading scorer with 61 points (27g, 34a) and returning players like Edijs Grigorjevs, AJ Lackas, Nick Demio and Trevor Joule will lead the way with their experience. New England also defeated the Spartans in their final regular-season game to win the season series, and may look to use that kind of momentum heading into the playoffs.

East Division

#1 Express Hockey Club (30-15-1) vs. #4 East Coast Wizards (18-20-8) / #5 Valley Jr. Warriors (17-25-4)

Season Series: Express 3-1-0 vs. Wizards / Express 3-1-0 vs. Warriors

Jake Boschert
Walpole Express

Why the Express will win: Last year, goaltender Jack Boschert willed the Express straight to championship Sunday with one of the most memorable goaltending performances. He followed that up with a 21-10-1 record along with a 1.96 goals against average, a .941 save percentage and five shutouts. While the Express do not have any players with any eye-popping point totals, their offense improved from last year thanks to forwards like Ben Saurbaugh, Devin Garnett and newcomer Nolan McDonough, who has 11 points (5g, 6a) in 12 games with the team. If Boschert can get some more goal support this time around, the Express could easily take home the EHL title this year.

Why the Wizards will win: Speaking of veteran goalies, Matt Gover had another terrific season with a 14-12-3 record and a .923 save percentage. Their offense is led by George Kolovos and Connor Roach, who recorded 49 and 46 points respectively. If the Wizards can get by the Valley Jr. Warriors, they will have a rematch of last year’s series against Express, including their epic Game 2 win in triple overtime that stands as the longest game in EHL history at 117:37.

Why the Jr. Warriors will win: Let’s keep up the trend of leading with goalies; Samuel Boos joined the Warriors early this season and thrived with the team, earning 10 wins while posting a .918 save percentage. Up front, the Warriors offense is spread out pretty evenly with five different players recording at least 20 points and 10 goals and are led by Ryan Pappalardo (14g, 14a, 28p) and David Zoerner (13g, 13a, 26p). Valley is also 4-0-0 against the Wizards this season, so they’ll hope to continue that trend to set up a first-round date with the Express.

#2 Boston Jr. Rangers (29-15-2) vs. #3 Seahawks Hockey Club (21-19-6)

Season Series: Seahawks 2-1-1 vs. Jr. Rangers

Mike Boschetto
Jr. Rangers

Why the Jr. Rangers will win: The Boston Jr. Rangers failed to reach Providence the year after winning the 2021 title, and now they hope to bounce back. Three different forwards, Bret Beale, Michael Boschetto and Will Halecki, all reached the 40-point plateau. Boschetto, by the way, scored the championship-winning goal for the Rangers’ EHLP team last year. Goaltender David Filak proved to be the perfect replacement for Nathan Mueller, posting a 1.76 goals against average, a .946 save percentage and a league-best seven shutouts. This team is locked and loaded as they look to return to the Frozen Finals this year.

Why the Seahawks will win: The Seahawks couldn’t quite keep up with the Rangers and Express in the standings, but still saw a vast improvement from the last few seasons. Scott McManus hit 50 points this year (18g, 32a) and defenseman Adam Jubran led all EHL defensemen with 45 points (5g, 40a). Cade Herrera joined the team early in the season and scored 20 goals in 35 games, giving the Seahawks’ offense a shot in the arm. Also, the Seahawks arguably have the best overall special teams in the EHL; second-best power play at 22.6 percent, fourth-best penalty kill at 85.8 percent and a league-best nine shorthanded goals.

Central Division

#1 Railers Jr. Hockey Club (30-14-2) vs. #4 Connecticut RoughRiders (13-28-5) /#5 New York Apple Core (14-29-3)

Season Series: Railers 1-0-0 vs RoughRiders / Railers 1-0-0 vs. Apple Core

Jack Wineman
Railers JHC

Why the Railers will win: The Railers coasted to the Central Division title with a 24-point lead over second-place HC Rhode Island. Jack Wineman led the offense with 54 points (24g, 30a) while Stefan Kulhanek posted a 17-8-0 record with a .934 save percentage and three shutouts. Kulhanek also set the all-time wins record among EHL goalies with 54 and will have a chance to add to that. If that fails, the Railers can turn to Xavier Lapierre, who went 12-5-0 with a .922 save percentage and two shutouts. The Railers also have the best power play in the league at 26.7 percent. In short, the Railers are a well-rounded team and clear favorites to make it out of the Central again.

Why the RoughRiders will win: While the RoughRiders finished fourth in the Central, they have the second-best offense with 125 goals scored. Dallas D’Amato leads the team with 53 points (20g, 33a) and Kieran Chung is the second-highest scoring defenseman in the league with 43 points (11g, 32a). Nick Fall, Cooper Smith and Peter Maro round out the Connecticut forward group, which could give teams like Apple Core and the Railers fits in the opening round. The key for the RoughRiders will be keeping pucks out of the net, and they will likely turn to Daniel Niewiarowicz, who finished the season with a .920 save percentage.

Why Apple Core will win: There’s no way around it: Apple Core had another tough season. That being said, they nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the EHL playoffs last year when they took the Railers to a decisive Game 3, and even had a 3-1 lead in that game. Third-year veteran Joe Lachase finished with 28 points (12g, 16a) while Nick Sweet led the team with 34 points (16g, 18a). New York also saw contributions from players acquired from other teams, like Brock Forrest, Michael Vesbland and Ryder Kunin, so this could be a team with something to prove. Last year Apple Core traded Jackson Bernard at the deadline, this time they kept their starter in Max Banoun, who finished the year with a .920 save percentage. They’ll have to get through the RoughRiders on the road for the play-in round, but who knows? If they end up facing the Railers, maybe Apple Core could repeat some of that magic from last year.

#2 HC Rhode Island (17-25-4) vs. #3 Connecticut Chiefs (15-25-6)

Season Series: Chiefs 3-0-1 vs. HC Rhode Island

Hunter Rossi
CT Chiefs

Why the Chiefs will win: Last season the Chiefs were one win away from the Frozen Finals, but lost in overtime to the eventual champion, New Jersey 87’s. Despite a sub .500 record, Adam Yost was brilliant this year with a .924 save percentage and three shutouts. Seven different players hit the 20-point plateau, while Ethan Lim (20g, 22a, 42p) and Hunter Rossi (12g, 18a, 30p) led the pack. Though Connecticut lost their final six games of the regular-season, they’ve had HC Rhode Island’s number this season and will hope to right the ship in the first round of the playoffs.

Why HC Rhode Island will win: HC Rhode Island’s first season in the EHL had its fair share of ups and downs, including a 4-0-0 start to the regular season. Alex Bauvais led the offense this season with 37 points (17g, 20a) while three other players reached double digits in goal. Callum Welch got the majority of starts for Rhode Island this season, posting a .910 save percentage to go with nine wins. Consistency was a problem for Rhode Island this year, but when they’ve proven capable of beating any team throughout the season. If they can recreate some of the magic they had at the start of the season, maybe Rhode Island can make a bid for the championship tournament in their home state.

South Division

#1 Protec Jr. Ducks (27-15-4) vs. #4 Team Maryland (22-17-7) / #5 Philadelphia Hockey Club (20-22-4)

Season Series: Ducks 5-1-1 vs. Maryland  / Ducks 4-3-0 vs. Philadelphia

Graham Broadfoot
Protec Jr. Ducks

Why the Jr. Ducks will win: The Protec Jr. Ducks came into the league competitive and have gotten better and better each season. They went on a 6-0-2 run at the end of this season to earn the number one seed in the South Division, which is a first for them. Four different players recorded 30 points or more, including forwards Graham Broadfoot (23g, 25a, 48p), Nick Hebert (14g, 23a, 37p) and Tanner Kontir (12g, 21a, 33p). Jacob Gates and David Dell finished as some of the higher-scoring d-men in the league with 35 and 30 points respectively. On top of their stellar offense, the Ducks have a wealth of riches in goal. Adam Casper went 11-4-0 this season with a .912 save percentage while Nate Kirschenbaum went 8-2-1 with a .924 save percentage and two shutouts since he was acquired by the Ducks from the Lumberjacks. They also picked up Austrian netminder, Jelle Lievens, right before the deadline. He went 1-0-1 with a .923 save percentage in two games against the New Jersey 87’s. This kind of depth in goal will certainly give the Ducks a good shot at making their first Frozen Finals.

Why Team Maryland will win: Maryland had a trend over the last few seasons where they would start off hot and then fizzle out. That is not the case this year, as they won five straight games to close the regular season and will come into the play-in game against Philadelphia with plenty of momentum. Six different players reached double digits in goals and were led offensively by Tommy Tracy (16g, 14a, 30p) and Morley Phillips (17g, 10a, 27p). In goal, Lincoln Crosby and Colin Berke split time pretty evenly and were both rock solid. Crosby notched 12 wins to go with a .917 save percentage while Berke posted a .922 save percentage and two shutouts. Maryland will get home ice in the play-in game, and they are 2-1-0 against Philadelphia at Piney Orchard Arena. If they keep up that trend, they could get a first-round date with the Ducks.

Why Philadelphia will win: Despite finishing last in the South Division, Philadelphia had a solid first year in the EHL and kept up in a rather hectic South Division. Ethan Byrne led Philadelphia’s offense with 49 points (21g, 28a) while Justin Nakagawa and Nolan Wutzke also reached the 30-point mark this season. Nicholas Hansen and Cross Sherman split their time in goal, as Hansen finished the year with an 11-10-1 mark and a .911 save percentage. PHC faced some adversity at the end of the season, dropping their last four games, but they’ve had some close matchups with Team Maryland over the last few weeks including two wins in Hollydell. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the play-in game will be in Maryland, but they are more than capable of stealing a game in Piney Orchard Arena for a potential first-round matchup against Protec.

#2 New Jersey 87’s (26-14-6) vs. #3 Philadelphia Little Flyers (23-16-7)

Season Series: 87’s 3-2-1 vs. Little Flyers

Charles Lavoie
New Jersey 87s

Why the 87’s will win: When the 87’s first joined the EHL, they were an offensive powerhouse. Last year they won a championship by strengthening their defense, and this year they are even better in the back end. New Jersey gave up the fewest goals in the league with 90, and it starts with their goaltending. Kyle Spann was the starter for most of the season, going 13-7-4 with a 1.94 goals against average, a .931 save percentage and four shutouts. Jake Hugessen joined the team midway through the season and recorded nine wins while posting a .927 save percentage. Their penalty kill was also stellar this year at 89.4 percent. Charles Lavoie (18g, 23a, 41p) and Kyle Folkerson (12g, 24a, 36p) led the scoring while Aleks Gamzatov and Patrick DeMarinis also reached double digits in goals. With several returning players from last year’s championship team, the 87’s are capable of making another run; they just have to get out of a very tough South Division.

Why the Little Flyers will win: While the Little Flyers are going up against the defending champions, they actually swept New Jersey in the South Division Final last year (the 87’s reached Providence through the wildcard round). This year they are charging into the postseason with a five-game winning streak, scoring 26 goals in that span. Philadelphia led the South Division with 151 goals in the regular season, and the offense was led by Koby Howat (22g, 27a, 49p) and Tristan D’Elia (19g, 28a, 47p), who were both just shy of the 50-point plateau. Howat also turned it up a notch after the holiday break, recording 35 points in 20 games since January 1. Meanwhile in goal, Louis Finnegan earned 13 wins in net with a .910 save percentage and two shutouts. If Philadelphia’s offense can keep up the momentum in the first round, they could potentially overwhelm the 87’s in a bid to dethrone the reigning champs.

- Sponsor -


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Sponsor -
- Sponsor -
- Sponsor -