The New Jersey 87’s will advance to its first-ever Eastern Hockey League championship game following a 3-1 victory over the New England Wolves in a Frozen Four semifinal.
New Jersey’s power play was a difference maker, as the 87’s went 2-for-5 on the man advantage with goals from Matt Herrick and Kyle Folkerson.
Matt Zdanowicz also found the back of the net with the opening goal of the game. A blocked shot from Herrick landed right in the low slot, as Zdanowicz ripped a shot low glove with 8:08 left in the second period for his fifth goal of the postseason.
Head coach Adam Houli praised Zdanowicz’s effort in the semifinal. In addition to the goal, he was throwing hits, forcing turnovers and facilitating the 87’s offensive attack.
“I thought he was top notch,” Houli said. “I thought he was one of the best players on the ice, every time he was out there, he was able to skate, move past guys and make plays. He was really good and big-time players step up in big time roles and I thought he did that tonight.”
The Wolves responded soon after the goal by Zdanowicz. Eli Brubacher carried the puck into New Jersey’s end on a two-on-one rush and slid a pass to Edijs Grigorjevs, who zipped a shot five-hole past 87’s goaltender Owen Hains.
Herrick gave the 87’s its second and final lead just two minutes and one second after New England’s goal. As the 87’s set up on the power play, Herrick took a wrist shot from the blue line with heavy traffic in front of the net, and his shot sailed just over the glove of Wolves’ goaltender Liam Kilgallen.
Folkerson extended the lead at 3:09 of the third period when Matt Anastasio had the puck knocked away from him on a zone entry, and Folkerson was trailing the play and snapped a quick shot upstairs to make it a 3-1 game.
When Zdanowicz spoke about the success of New Jersey’s power play, he said the team just kept it simple.
“Honestly it’s just a matter of working harder than the other team, touching pucks first, getting to the net and scoring goals.”
In addition to the 87’s top goal scorers, Houli gave heavy praise to his depth players, especially Michael Vesbland. New Jersey’s bottom six forwards saw plenty of ice time and they managed to cause havoc in the offensive zone with a strong forecheck.
“I brought up Michael because if you tracked his ice time in the first two games, he probably had no more than five minutes of playing time, but he was always up on the bench, always supportive and I felt like he could be an x-factor today and just playing good shifts while keeping us high-spirited, and he did exactly that,” Houli said.
Owen Hains stopped 18 of the 19 shots he faced. Some of those saves were high-quality chances from the Wolves, including a one-timer at point-blank range from Kevin Johnston in the first period, and a stuff-in attempt from Brennan Walker in the second period.
New Jersey will face the Walpole Express. While the EHLP team won the championship last year, this is the first time the 87’s EHL team will play on Championship Sunday.
As the team gets ready for Sunday, Zdanowicz said the team is happy with the win and that they should be prepared regardless of the opponent.
“It feels pretty great, all of the boys are going and we’re ready to go,” he said.
For a complete schedule of the EHL Frozen Finals, you can check out the official Frozen Finals hub on the league website