Eastern Hockey League Frozen Finals: NJ 87s Hold Off Avalanche, 3-2, Secure Bid In Sunday’s EHLP Championship

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Zach Gruber fires home one of his two goals in NJ 87s 3-2 win over the NH Avalanche to secure a berth in Sunday’s EHLP Championship game.

In a round robin, the clinching scenarios can be funky. 

The #3 seeded New Hampshire Avalanche needed just one point heading into their game against the #2 seeded New Jersey 87’s. The 87’s needed a regulation win. Behind three power play goals and 42 saves from Jason LoRicco, the 87’s have punched their ticket to the Eastern Hockey League Premier Championship game on Sunday, with a 3-2 win over the Avalanche.

“We were due,” New Jersey head coach Conall McNelis said. “We were due for a couple of bounces. I think we finally got them, and the power play connecting was kind of a sealer for us.”

LoRicco was tested early, turning away a prime chance from Avalanche forward Rocco Bifano in the right circle. Alex Gerard made his fair share of quality stops as well, including a one-on-one with Logan Berhje. However, Zach Gruber’s blocker-side shot could not be stopped by the Avalanche goaltender. After corralling the puck following a turnover, the ‘03 forward burst into the offensive zone for a partial breakaway, and put one past Gerard.

The wheels came off in the second period, which featured a litany of penalties. 87’s forward Shay Keating was whislted for a holding infraction followed by a 10-minute misconduct. By the halfway mark, both Ivan Borisov and Ethan Paligo took back-to-back majors and game misconduct penalties for checking from behind.

NJ 87 defenseman Tyler Branish fires shot on goal in EHLP Round Robin battle with the NH Avalanche. 87s won 3-2 to advance to Sunday’s final.

“We got carried away a bit in that second period,” 87’s defenseman Jack Foote said. “But we came together and got the job done on the ice.”

LoRicco shined on the kill, despite allowing a goal from Ryan Dann. The defenseman received a crisp pass from forward John D’Errico and whistled one past the 87’s netminder.

“My legs were burning, my hips were feeling it, but you just gotta keep going. Just gotta keep finding the puck through all the screens,” LoRicco said when asked about his performance on the penalty kill.

The Avalanche would take a major penalty of their own, resulting in Hunter Atkinson being caged for an unreleasing five minutes. The 87’s made them pay with back-to back-net front goals from Gruber and Vasily Vasin, respectively.

“Our main play is to get the puck down to me, and I get the choice on what to do from there,” Gruber explained. On both plays, he sent the puck in front with his backhand. The first caromed off an Avalanche player, while the second connected with Vasin, who tapped it home.

“That backhand play is definitely something we’ve worked on,” Gruber concluded. 

The third was all about shutting down the Avalanche’s top gunners. Save for a clean look between the circles from Jake Hines, the 87’s did their job.

“We just try to eat pucks, stay in our position, and not let them score,” Foote said of the effort in the third. 

“The mindset was just to keep pushing on the gas. We just had to weather the storm, try to weather them down, and put in deep,” LoRicco said.

LoRicco was a key fixture in the final 20 as well, making several remarkable saves, including a wraparound on Atkinson. 

“He’s been fantastic,” McNelis said of his goaltender. “I think he’s raised his game to a level I’ve never seen before in two years of coaching him. I’m unbelievably excited and thrilled for him.”

Both McNelis and LoRicco share the same sentiment. When asked of what he told his locker room, McNelis responded, “job’s not done.” 

“We wanted this opportunity. We wanted to come up here and show that we can play, and we’re going to show that tomorrow,” LoRicco concluded. 

The 87’s will take on the Worcester Railers Junior Hockey Club tomorrow at 11:00AM for the EHLP championship. 

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