There are several ways to tell Fall is coming: the weather gets cooler, the leaves begin to change color, and the entire Eastern Hockey League heads to Worcester, Massachusetts.
Starting on Thursday, the EHL and Premier Division will begin the first leg of the 2023-24 Showcase Series, featuring 62 games over the course of four days. Most games will take place at the Worcester Ice Center while a handful of games will be played at the Boston Sports Institute in Wellesley, MA.
Most teams have played a few games before the showcase, so here are some early observations and teams to watch out for in the first league-wide event of the season.
Hot Start for Huntsmen
Last season, the Pennsylvania Huntsmen played and won their first ever EHLP game during the Worcester Showcase. This year they’re bringing two teams, and their new EHL squad will come into the showcase with a 5-0-0 record. The Huntsmen have outscored opponents 25-9 in their opening stretch, including an 8-2 win over the Philadelphia Little Flyers and a 7-2 victory against Philadelphia Hockey Club.
John Manzi, who scored the overtime winner in the team’s first win against the New Jersey 87’s, leads the club with seven points (3g, 4a) in five games. Ryan Arendes, Alex Erlain and Hunter Hoffman have three goals each, and goaltender Cole Fennema is off to a terrific start with a 3-0-0 record and .951 save percentage. The Huntsmen will be the team to watch this weekend, and they’ll look to stay undefeated as they go up against the Valley Jr. Warriors, the Seacoast Spartans and Seahawks Hockey Club.
Beasts in the East
If any division is off to a good start, it would be the East. Coming into Worcester, the East Coast Wizards are 3-0-0 with wins over HC Rhode Island, the New Hampshire Avalanche and Valley Jr. Warriors. The Boston Jr. Terriers marked their debut in the EHL with a 6-5 overtime win against the Railers, then took three out of four points against the Vermont Lumberjacks with a 5-2 win and 3-2 overtime loss.
Meanwhile, the Express Hockey Club and Seahawks both won their first game of the season by large margins. The Express kicked off their season with an 8-1 win over the Bridgewater Jr. Bandits as Cody Walker scored a hat trick while adding three assists. The Seahawks opened their 2023-24 campaign with a 6-1 road win against HC Rhode Island. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but a combination of old and new teams getting hot out of the gate could make the race in the East fun to watch.
The Puck Stops Here
Let’s focus on netminders for a minute. Over the last few seasons, a handful of goaltenders became household names in the EHL and re-wrote the record books; Stefan Kulhanek of the Railers, Jack Boschert of the Express and David Filak of the Boston Jr. Rangers. As those goaltenders move on to the collegiate ranks, who will step up between the pipes this season?
Fennema has already been mentioned for the Huntsmen, but another goalie from the South Division is off to a hot start, and that’s New Jersey Bears’ goaltender Carson Frye. The Bears are off to a 4-1-0 start, and Frye was in net for all four wins. He’s already faced 160 shots and stopped 155 of them, good for a .969 save percentage.
Three goalies are currently 2-0-0 to start the season; 87’s netminder Erik Tarneberg, New England Wolves’ goaltender Cameron Reardon, and Lumberjacks’ goalie Cam Wickens. Another goalie who deserves a mention is Ryan Crowshaw of the Chiefs, as he stopped 69 of the 70 shots he faced in a 2-1 victory over New York Apple Core.
Wild Start in the EHLP
The Premier Division is bigger than ever with 16 teams, and things are off to a crazy start including a trio of 3-0-0 teams in the Boston Division.
Just a few months after limping into the playoffs and nearly upsetting the Boston Jr. Rangers, the Express Hockey Club won its first three games while outscoring opponents 16-1. They opened things up with an 8-0 win over the New England Wolves, then earned 3-0 and 5-1 wins over the Vermont Lumberjacks. Jonah Burd (3g, 3a) and defenseman Drew Coady (3g, 2a) are leading the way offensively for the Express as they enter the first showcase red-hot.
The Worcester Railers JHC started their season with a 7-6 win against the New Hampshire Avalanche, a 6-1 victory over the Lumberjacks and a 5-4 win over the Jr. Rangers. Nolan Tomczyk currently leads the team with five goals in his first three games. For a team with so few returning players, the Railers look like a team that is determined to get back to the Frozen Finals championship game, and they’ll have a rematch against the defending champions on Saturday morning when they face the 87’s.
Last year, the Valley Jr. Warriors had a solid year in the EHLP with a 19-17-6 record. They’re building off that performance by jumping to a 3-0-0 start and heading into the showcase with a league-best 24 goals for. Andrew Duval leads the team in points with eight (3g, 5a) while Colin Chrisom has five goals plus an assist. This weekend, they’ll go up against the Connecticut Chiefs, Pennsylvania Huntsmen and Union Jr. Thunder.
This will be the biggest showcase for the EHL and Premier Division, and will be only one of two showcases where all 39 teams will participate. Games will run from Thursday, Sept 28 to Sunday, Oct 1 at the Worcester Ice Center and Boston Sports Institute. The game schedule can be found here: www.easternhockeyleague.org