Eastern Hockey League – EHLP First Round Playoff Preview: Divisional Series: Play Gets Underway 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.

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The EHL Premier Division is set to begin the first round of the playoffs, meaning the EHL and EHLP postseason push for Providence is fully underway. 
 
Like the EHL, the Premier Division will feature #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 matchups in each of its three divisions, and the winners will be decided in a best-of-three series.  

Here’s a rundown of each series, including the head-to-head matchup and why each team has a chance to move on to the division finals. 

North Division 

#1 New Hampshire Avalanche (30-6-6) vs. #4 New England Wolves (10-27-5) 

  • Regular season series: Avalanche 6-1-0 over Wolves 
  • Why the Avalanche will win: The New Hampshire Avalanche finished with the best record in the EHLP, making them regular-season champions. If they can get past the first round of the playoffs, they automatically punch a ticket to Providence with an at-large bid. New Hampshire’s offense is powered by Nik Vasiljevs, who leads the team with 40 points (16g, 24a) and Layne Brubaker-Egner, who scored 20 goals. Jared Packman and Nick Maringola have shared the net for most of the season, picking up 12 and 13 wins respectively. This is a very deep lineup that has had the Wolves’ number this season, and as the number one team in the EHLP power rankings, they probably won’t have to rely on an at-large bid to reach Providence. 
  • Why the Wolves will win: It’s no secret the New England Wolves had a tough season, but they played competitive hockey in a very stacked North Division and picked up wins against quality opponents such as the Seahawks Hockey Club, Valley Jr. Warriors and New Hampshire Avalanche. RJ Sember leads the offense with 16 goals and 33 points, and Nathan Gines produced at about a point-per-game pace with 20 points (10g, 10a) in 21 games. Goaltender James Williams leads the team with four wins and a .904 save percentage and will very likely be tasked with stopping the Avs’ offensive powerhouse. New England lost their final three games of the regular season to the Avalanche, but they were all three-goal games, and that kind of familiarity could give them an opportunity to make adjustments for the upcoming series. Plus, their one victory against the Avs’ came on the road. An upset will be a daunting task for the Wolves, but anything is possible in the postseason. 

#2 Vermont Lumberjacks (24-13-5) vs. #3 Valley Jr. Warriors (22-18-2) 

  • Regular season series: Lumberjacks 3-1-0 over Warriors 
  • Why the Lumberjacks will win: Vermont went to the Frozen Final in Philadelphia last year and finished the 2021-22 season with an even better record. The Lumberjacks actually scored one more goal than the Avalanche, thanks to an offense led by Trent King (14, 22a) and Francis Hamelin (20g, 16a), who have 36 points each. Vermont also made a splash mid-season by acquiring Belarus native Arhip Sidarovich, who put up 27 points (13g, 14a) in just 19 games. Between the pipes, Vincent Parent led the team with 12 wins while posting a 2.39 goals against average and .915 save percentage. Though the Lumberjacks struggled in late January and early February with a five-game losing streak, they finished the season strong by winning six of their last eight games. On top of their offensive prowess, the Lumberjacks have several players from last year’s run to the Frozen Final, and they are motivated to get there a second straight year. 
  • Why the Jr. Warriors will win: What a turnaround season for the Valley Jr. Warriors. They finished the 2021-2022 regular season with more wins than the previous three seasons combined, and now they have a legitimate shot at competing for a North Division crown. Their lineup is a bit top heavy; only three of their players were in double digits for goals. The good news is they all finished with more than 20. MacAllister Ward, who has one of the best set of hands in the league, led the team with 22 goals. Luc Denney led the team with 51 points (21g, 30a) and Noah Ludeman matched Denney with 21 goals. The Warriors had four different goalies this season, and all of them finished with a save percentage over .900. Michael DelTrecco and Nick Mutschler shared a majority of the workload, but late arrival Salvatore Caruso made a strong bid for the starter’s role by posting a 3-1-0 record with a 1.46 goals against average and .960 save percentage. In the home stretch of the season, Caruso and the Warriors defeated the Boston Jr. Rangers and Railers Jr. Hockey Club. If they can beat some of the best teams in the league, the Warriors have every reason to believe they can take on the Lumberjacks. 

East Division 

#1 Railers Jr. Hockey Club (30-9-3) vs. #4 Walpole Express (17-20-5) 

  • Regular season series: Railers 3-0-1 over Express 
  • Why the Railers will win: The Railers Jr. Hockey Club fell just short of an EHLP title last season when they lost to the New Jersey 87’s. They responded by decimating teams early in the season and never looking back. It took the Railers 13 games to give up 10 goals as a team, recording six shutouts in that span. Cam Wickens had two of those shutouts while posting 19 wins along with a .920 save percentage and 1.78 goals against average. As strong as they are on the back end, the Railers are even better offensively as they led the Premier Division with 175 goals in the regular season. Connor McAleer led the team with 22, and six other players reached double digits in goals. Among those forwards is third-year veteran Jayden Blackburn, who was an integral part of the Railers’ playoff run last year and will likely lead the charge this year as the team itches for another shot at the championship game. 
  • Why the Express will win: Someone had to finish last in a loaded East Division, and it just happened to be the Walpole Express. Despite their number four seed, there is no shortage of talent on the Red Train with two of their players finishing top three in the league in scoring. Phillip Parker was in a two-way tie for the league lead with 55 points (28g, 27a) and Evan Gravel was right behind him with 52 points (21g, 31a). Phillip’s brother, Aidan, also had a solid season with 11 goals and 31 points. In goal, William Padula led the Express with eight wins, a .902 save percentage and two shutouts. Out of the four games between the Express and Railers, Walpole took two of them beyond regulation and managed to win one. Of all the #1 vs. #4 matchups in the EHLP, the Express is the most likely four-seed to pull off an upset. 

#2 Boston Jr. Rangers (31-11-0) vs. #3 Seahawks Hockey Club (23-15-4) 

  • Regular season series: Jr. Rangers 3-2-0 over Seahawks 
  • Why the Jr. Rangers will win: It’s hard to believe a team like the Jr. Rangers could be considered underrated, but after the Railers’ tremendous start to the season, everyone seemed to forget how the Rangers were just as dominant in the Central. Their offense was right behind the Railers with 157 goals, and Mike Boschetto led the league with 29 goals and 55 points. Max Morris also had a strong campaign with 24 goals and 44 points while Anthony Viola—who returned to the Jr. Rangers after a stint with the New England Wolves’ EHL team—put up 31 points (9g, 22a) in just 25 games. Overall, Boston had 12 players finish the season with at least 20 points. Mitchell Taylor led all goaltenders with 14 wins and two shutouts, but David Myers could be another option after going 9-0-0 in the regular season with a .953 save percentage. Last postseason the Jr. Rangers were denied a Frozen Finals bid after a Game 3 overtime loss to the Railers. The chance of a rematch in the Central Division Final alone should motivate Boston to power their way past the Seahawks and onto the next round. 
  • Why the Seahawks will win: This was the Seahawks’ first season in the EHLP, and it was one to remember. They won six of their first eight games and managed to keep up in the gauntlet known as the East. Their offense isn’t overpowering like some of the other top teams in the Premier Division, but the production is spread out pretty evenly up and down the lineup. Dylan Szabo and Ethan Decker led the team with 14 and 12 goals respectively, and the Seahawks have nine players with at least seven goals in the regular season. What they may lack offensively is made up for in goaltending, as the Seahawks finished only behind the Avalanche with a .920 total save percentage. Liams Chasse led all Seahawks netminders with an 8-3-0 record and .937 save percentage. In five matchups against the Jr. Rangers this year, the Seahawks finished 2-2-1 and took the last matchup back on Feb. 16. Not bad for the new kids on the block, and they will come into this series with the expectation of knocking off the Rangers. 

South Division 

#1 Philadelphia Little Flyers (24-15-3) vs. #4 New Jersey Renegades (7-30-5) 

  • Regular season series: Little Flyers 7-1-0 over Renegades 
  • Why the Little Flyers will win: Similar to their EHL counterparts, the Little Flyers managed to lock down the number one seed after a strong regular season. Johnny Lee finished third in the league with 25 goals and 52 points, and believe it or not he finished with more shorthanded goals (6) than he did power play goals (4). Five other players reached double digits in goals, and Logan Downs joined Lee at the 20-goal plateau. Philadelphia’s strong offense can be attributed to their power play finishing at 24.2 percent, nearly four percent better than the second-best team in the league. The Little Flyers ran with three goalies this season, and they all played between 747-790 minutes. Ronnie Petrucci led the team with nine wins and two shutouts, and Ronan Marley led the trio with a .924 save percentage. Last postseason the Little Flyers were upset in a three-game battle against the Renegades, but they return stronger this year and are favorites to win the division. 
  • Why the Renegades will win: The Renegades, like the Wolves, faced quite a bit of adversity in the regular season. That being said, there have been some bright spots for the Renegades and players who have emerged as standouts in the EHLP. Connor Weiskerger had a terrific rookie year with 16 goals and 28 points while first-year defenseman Lukas Carny finished third on the team with 18 points (10g, 8a). Midway through the season, Eddie Kaiven stepped in as the Renegades’ starter and responded by posting a .910 save percentage while facing nearly 40 shots per game. For what it’s worth, four of the Renegades’ last five games against the Little Flyers were decided by two goals, so they’re within striking distance. Four of their seven wins also came in the final month of the season, including a doubleheader sweep over the Connecticut Chiefs for the final two games. If the Renegades can ride off that momentum, maybe they can do the unthinkable and upset the Little Flyers once more. 

#2 New Jersey 87’s (19-19-4) vs. #3 Connecticut Chiefs (15-20-7) 

  • Regular season series: 87’s 4-2-0 over Chiefs 
  • Why the 87’s will win: The defending EHLP champions had a sluggish start to the regular season, but finished with a 9-2-1 record since January. Will O’Brien and Geoffery Bokor were linemates throughout the season and led the offense with 41 points (21g, 20a) and 39 points (14g, 25a) respectively. Alex Haar, an ‘05 birth year, finished second on the team with 15 goals while Patrick Olenski rounded out the offense with 12 goals. Jason LoRicco earned the starter’s role late in the season, finishing with a .918 save percentage and three shutouts. Defensemen Ian Lindberg and Adam Coley, who were in and out of the lineup with the 87’s EHL squad, joined the Premier team and provided much-needed experience and stability for one of the youngest teams in the league. The 87’s will also have the benefit of having the entire series played in New Jersey; a warm welcome after having just three home games in all of 2022.  
  • Why the Chiefs will win: The Connecticut Chiefs struggled late in the season with an 11-game losing streak, but the playoffs are a whole new season and the Chiefs will look to start fresh against the 87’s. Michael Ceneri paced the Chiefs’ offense with 33 points (17g, 16a) while Evan Fassett notched 10 goals and 27 points. Tait Sawden and Jared Martin also reached the 20-point plateau. The offensive numbers may not be earth shattering, but all of those players were called up throughout the season to play in some EHL games. That experience against older, faster and more physical competition could come in handy for the postseason. Logan Givens backstopped Connecticut for much of the season, recording nine wins and a .917 save percentage. While the Chiefs will have to deal with a surging 87’s team on the road, they did manage to split a doubleheader at Jersey Shore Arena to start their regular season. They’ll need to recapture that magic in order to advance to the South Division Final. 

For a complete schedule of the EHLP Frozen Finals, you can check out the official Frozen Finals hub on the league website.  

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