The 2022-2023 Eastern Hockey League is entering the home stretch coming out of the holiday break, which also means it is time for the final leg of the showcase series in Exeter, NH, home of the Seacoast Spartans as well as Hooksett, NH, home of the New Hampshire Avalanche.
Between the EHL and Premier Division, 45 games will take place in the two rinks in addition to the EHLP All-Star game on Saturday night.
Every team in the league is well past the halfway point of their respective schedules, and now a playoff picture for each division is taking shape. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some storylines and matchups to watch out for in New Hampshire this weekend.
Separating from the pack
A couple of EHL teams are starting to run away with the lead in their respective divisions, mainly the Railers Junior Hockey Club, the New Hampshire Avalanche and Boston Jr. Rangers.
The Railers have an 11-point lead in the Central Division and are coming off a 2-1 overtime win against the Connecticut Chiefs. Their offense took a hit with Jack Lee leaving for Nichols College, but they still have plenty of offensive weapons in Jack Wineman, Matt Lombardi and Connor McAleer as well as great goaltending in Stefan Kulhanek. The Railers will play one Central Division foe in the Connecticut RoughRiders during the showcase as well as two teams from the South in the Philadelphia Little Flyers and New Jersey 87’s.
Up in the North Division, the New Hampshire Avalanche will come into the showcase with an eight-point lead over the host Seacoast Spartans. The Avs have picked up points in each of their last seven games and started the calendar year with an 8-2 win over the Spartans and 4-1 victory against the Express Hockey Club. They lead the league with 118 goals, and that’s mostly thanks to Aden Hotchkiss (13g, 33a, 46p) and Daniel McKiernan (18g, 21a, 39p) who are second and fifth in the EHL respectively in scoring.
New Hampshire will play two games this weekend, including a matchup against the defending EHL champion 87’s on Sunday. It will be a clash between the best offense and the best defense in the league, making this game a must-see event.
The Boston Jr. Rangers have a one-point lead in the East Division over the Seahawks, but a closer look at the standings will show the Rangers in a prime position to separate themselves from the pack. They currently have six games in hand against the Seahawks and are on a four-game winning streak. Their latest win was a 6-2 victory over the Seahawks, and Michael Boschetto had a monster performance with two goals and two assists. Meanwhile in goal, David Filak has been dominant, posting a .947 save percentage since joining the team.
This week, the Jr. Rangers will face the hosting Spartans as well as the Protec Jr. Ducks and Philadelphia Little Flyers.
Duel in the South Division
The 87’s have a one-point lead in the South Division as well as a game in hand over the Protec Jr. Ducks. That being said, the Ducks are heading into Exeter with a four-game winning streak that includes a 4-1 victory over the 87’s.
Both teams will face quality opponents this weekend as the 87’s will play the Vermont Lumberjacks, Avalanche and Railers. The Ducks will face the top three teams in the East Division—who are all separated in the standings by two points—with the Express, Rangers and Seahawks. Depending on how the showcase goes, the race in the South could either intensify between the two Jersey teams, or we could see another South Division rival like Philadelphia Hockey Club or Team Maryland gain some ground in the standings.
The EHLP teams are making a return to the showcase series, with games being played in Exeter and Hookset.
Throughout the season, the New England and Boston Division have had inter-division matchups. Now we get to see the Mid-Atlantic Division thrown into the mix including the 87’s and Pennsylvania Huntsmen. Pennsylvania is having an impressive inaugural season with an 18-8-2 record, and they will be put to the test by facing the two best teams in the Boston Division with the defending champion Jr. Rangers and Railers.
New Jersey, who has a one-point lead over the Huntsmen, will also face the Railers and Jr. Rangers in addition to the Express.
Speaking of new teams, the Adirondack Jr. Thunder is second in the New England Division and only one point behind the Lumberjacks. They are coming off a two-game sweep against the New Hampshire Avalanche and have played a league-leading 11 games that have gone beyond regulation. This weekend, Adirondack will face the Little Flyers, Railers and Chiefs, and it’s probably safe to say one of those games will go into overtime.
EHLP All-Star Game
At 8 p.m. this Saturday, the EHLP will have its second annual All-Star Game in Exeter. It will be a matchup between Team White and Team Gray, as each squad will showcase 12 forwards, six defenseman and three goaltenders.
You can visit the EHL website to see the full roster of players and coaches who will be participating this weekend.