Eastern Hockey League – EHLP Second Round Preview: Divisional Winners All Look To Punch Ticket To Frozen Four

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 Eastern Hockey League’s Premier Division is gearing up for the second round of the playoffs with three Divisional Finals. Four teams will make it to Providence, RI, and it will be the three divisional winners plus an at-large bid going to the Divisional runner-up with the best regular-season record.

Because the Boston Jr. Rangers and Railers Jr. Hockey Club have the top two records, they will both go to the Frozen Finals regardless of who wins the Boston Division Final. However, the winner of that series will go to the Frozen Finals as the number one seed while the loser will automatically get the number four seed with the at-large bid.

Here is a preview of the three series as the EHLP gets ready for the final round of the playoffs before Providence.

Boston Division Final: #1 Boston Jr. Rangers (34-7-1) vs. #2 Railers Jr. Hockey Club (31-9-2)

Season Series: Jr. Rangers 3-2-0 vs. Railers

Tyler Blassingame
Jr. Rangers

Why the Jr. Rangers will win: The defending EHLP champions squeaked by the first round, avoiding a massive upset at the hands of the Express Hockey Club. After dropping Game 1 by a score of 2-1, the Jr. Rangers responded with a 3-2 win in Game 2 and a 2-1 overtime victory in the deciding Game 3. It may not be the best look to nearly get knocked out by a team who only had nine wins in the regular season, but that kind of adversity could also have a positive effect on the players as they move on to the second round. Tyler Blassingame scored three of Boston’s six goals in the series, including a pair of goals in Game 2. Nicholas Mutschler stopped 80 of the 85 shots he faced, good for a .941 save percentage. A couple of players were interestingly kept off the scoresheet in the first round, including EHLP forward of the year Drake Tomak. Now that the Rangers aren’t facing a red-hot Express goalie in Nick Piazza, those forwards could turn it around as they look to beat the Railers in the Divisional Final for the second straight year.

Mike O’Malley
Railers JHC

Why the Railers will win: The Railers offense was firing on all cylinders when they swept the Valley Jr. Warriors in two games, picking up 6-4 and 7-1 victories. Michael O’Malley (4g, 1a) and Aiden Swain (5a) led the way with five points each while Max Beaulac and Colin Berube scored three goals each. Aidan Healey and Dom Walecka shared the net as they each earned a win, and Walecka stopped 25 of 26 shots in Game 2. By having the second-best record in the league only behind the Jr. Rangers, the Railers are going to the Frozen Finals for the second time in three seasons. That being said, there are several returning players from last season when they were knocked out of the playoffs by Boston. While both teams are heading to Providence regardless, the Railers still have an incentive to win this series; by getting revenge on the Jr. Rangers as well as earning that number one seed.

New England Division Final: #3 New England Wolves (25-11-6) vs. #4 New Hampshire Avalanche (24-14-4)

Domenicks Domokejev
NE Wolves

Season Series: Wolves 4-1-0 vs. Avalanche

Why the Wolves will win: Despite going winless against the Lumberjacks in the regular season, the Wolves managed to knock out Vermont in three games. After dropping the Game 1 by a score of 4-1, the Wolves won the next two games by scores of 6-4 and 5-3. Eight different skaters notched at least three points in the series for the Wolves, but they were led by Domeniks Domokejevs as he recorded five points (4g, 1a) including a hat trick in the deciding Game 3. Owen Currier also came in the clutch that game as he made 48 saves on 51 shots to hold off the Lumberjacks’ relentless attack. New England continues to defy expectations as one of the youngest teams in the league, and they hope to keep up their momentum as they face a team they have dominated all throughout the regular season. If they can knock out the Avalanche, it will be their first Frozen Finals appearance since their championship run in 2019.

Zach Needham
NJ Avalanche

Why the Avalanche will win: The Avs were relegated to the play-in game in a stacked New England Division, but they have proven they are just as good as any other team in EHLP and then some. They breezed past the Connecticut Chiefs with a 7-1 victory and followed that by knocking off the number one seeded Adirondack Jr. Thunder, including a 5-0 win on the road and a wild 4-3 victory at home. In that Game 2 win, New Hampshire scored three goals in the final 6:33 of regulation including the game-winning goal by Zach Needham with five seconds left. John D’Errico (4g, 5a) scored a hat trick in the 5-0 Game 1 win over the Thunder, and is tied with Hunter Atkinson (5g, 4a) for the team lead in points. Needham has two goals and eight points over three games, and Alex Gerard is rocking a 3-0 record and .955 save percentage in goal. While New Hampshire does not have too many returners from last year’s run to the championship, the Avs are going into this Division Final red-hot and could potentially storm its way to Championship Sunday yet again.

Mid-Atlantic Division Final: #1 New Jersey 87’s (30-8-4) vs. #2 Pennsylvania Huntsmen (25-14-3)

Season Series: 87’s 5-2-1 vs. Huntsmen

Tyler Brannish
NJ 87s

Why the 87’s will win: The New Jersey 87’s swept the Philadelphia Little Flyers in two games, winning by scores of 6-1 and 5-0. Jason LoRicco didn’t have a heavy workload, stopping 36 of 37 shots over two games, but he became the all-time EHLP leader with seven shutouts after the 87’s Game 2 victory. Zach Gruber led the offense with six points (3g, 3a) while Robert Calice netted two goals and defenseman Tyler Branish recorded four assists. New Jersey was also lethal on the penalty kill by scoring three shorthanded goals. Nik Shoats has proven to be one of league’s top PK forwards, and he recorded a goal and an assist while shorthanded in the first round. While the 87’s stumbled at the end of the regular season, their Round 1 performance looked more like the team that won 10 straight games and will look to make the Frozen Finals for the second time in three seasons.

Max Finkeldy
PA Huntsmen

Why the Huntsmen will win: The Huntsmen won its first-ever playoff series by knocking off the New Jersey Renegades in three games. After losing the first game 5-2, the Huntsmen cruised to a 7-0 win in Game 2 and ended the series with a 3-1 victory. Ryan Arendes, who was tied for third in the regular season with 67 points, had a solid showing in the first round by recording a goal and four points. However, Namibian native Max Finkeldey stole the show by scoring five goals and six points over three-games, including two-goal performances in Games 2 and 3. While the Huntsmen lost some key players as EHL call-ups late in the season, the Huntsmen will still be a tough out for the 87’s so long as Arendes and Finkeldey are doing their thing offensively. Goaltender Ty Jones is better than his .893 postseason save percentage implies, and a bounce back performance in Round 2 could spell trouble for the 87’s high-octane offense.

For more details regarding the 2023 EHL Premier Division playoffs, check out the Frozen Finals page here: https://www.easternhockeyleague.org/frozen-finals

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