Eastern Hockey League – Philadelphia Showcase Preview: As Regular Season Closes, Teams Battle For Playoff Positioning

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 regular season is coming to a close for the Eastern Hockey League and Premier Division, but it will go out with a bang as the league will have its final leg of the Showcase Series in Aston, PA from March 1 to 4.

Between the EHL and EHLP, a total of 63 games will be played this weekend at IceWorks Skating Complex, home of the Philadelphia Little Flyers. It will go down as the biggest showcase in league history, beating the Worcester Showcase at the beginning of the season by one game.

What makes this upcoming showcase unique is that many teams are still fighting for playoff seeding and ideal postseason matchups, while other teams are battling to keep their season going.

Here is a quick look around the league and what is at stake in this showcase, as well as some matchups to look out for this weekend.

Central

The hottest team in the EHL right now is the Railers Jr. Hockey Club, as they are currently riding a seven-game winning streak while sporting the league’s best record at 34-7-2. This weekend, the Railers will take on the Vermont Lumberjacks, East Coast Wizards and New Hampshire Avalanche with a chance to capture the number one seed in the Central Division as well as the EHL regular-season championship.

Right below the Railers is New York Apple Core at 33-9-1. They trail the Railers in the standings by three points, but a good weekend against the Boston Jr. Rangers, New England Wolves and Pennsylvania Huntsmen could propel them to the top of the Central and home-ice advantage for the playoffs. While New York had its winning streak ended at 20 games in the regional showcase in Exeter, NH, they responded with a win the very next game as the team is showing no signs of slowing down.

In addition to the fight for the top of the Central, HC Rhode Island and the Connecticut Chiefs will battle for the fourth seed as the host of the play-in game. Rhode Island has a three-point lead over Connecticut heading into Aston.

North

As the only division with five teams, the North will not have a play-in game. The New Hampshire Avalanche and Seacoast Spartans have clinched the top two seeds, leaving the New England Wolves, Valley Jr. Warriors and Vermont Lumberjacks fighting for the final two playoff spots.

The Wolves have 42 points in the standings, five ahead of the Warriors and Lumberjacks. If they can win one game against Providence Hockey Club, the Pennsylvania Huntsmen or Apple Core this weekend, it will likely leave the Spartans and Lumberjacks fighting for the fourth and final seed of the division.

Right now, the Warriors are two points ahead of Vermont and will play the Express, Little Flyers and RoughRiders this weekend, while Vermont will face the Railers, Chiefs and New Jersey 87’s as they try to keep their season alive.

East

Coming into the showcase, the Express leads the division with a 32-9-2 record and a four-point lead over the second-place East Coast Wizards. Since the Express holds the tie-breaker over the Wizards, they need one win or two points in their games against the Warriors, Avs and Philadelphia Hockey Club. They are four points behind the Railers in the standings, so a good weekend could give the Express a small chance of contending for the regular-season championship as well.

The big race in the East, however, is for the second and third seeds. The Wizards have a one-point lead over the Boston Jr. Rangers for second place while holding the tie-breaker. With matchups against the New Jersey Bears, Philadelphia Hockey Club and the Railers, the Wizards will look to maintain home-ice advantage for at least the first round.

Meanwhile the Rangers are riding a four-game winning streak into Aston as they face Apple Core, the Huntsmen and the Little Flyers.

South

After a tumultuous December and early January, the New Jersey Bears managed to return to its winning ways and secure the number one seed in the South Division. That leaves two key races in the South Division for their hometown showcase.

The New Jersey 87’s are currently in second place with a three-point lead over Team Maryland, and the Little Flyers are just one point back of Maryland. New Jersey will face the Seahawks, Providence Hockey Club and the Lumberjacks this weekend, and these games could be the difference between locking up the second seed or having to host the play-in game as the fourth seed.

Maryland, who won their last two games prior to the showcase, will face the Seahawks, RoughRiders and Bridgewater Bandits in a bid to overtake the 87’s for second. The hosting Little Flyers will take on Providence, the Warriors and Jr. Rangers as they look to escape the play-in game and potentially snatch the number two seed.

The other key race in the South is between the Pennsylvania Huntsmen and Philadelphia Hockey Club for the fifth and final playoff spot. Right now, PHC has a three-point lead over the Huntsmen, though the Huntsmen holds the tie-breaker.

If Philadelphia can secure two wins or four points against the Wizards, Bandits and Express, they will eliminate the Huntsmen. Pennsylvania will have a tough road ahead, however, as they need to pick up wins against the Wolves, Rangers and Apple Core to keep their season alive.

EHLP

All Premier Division teams will make the playoffs, so no team will be fighting for their postseason lives. However, a few teams will still be fighting for seeding in the Aston Showcase.

Up in the North Division, the second-place Wolves are one point ahead of the Avalanche while having a game in hand. Since the North is only made up of four teams, there will be no play-in round and the second-place team will host the first round.

In the South Division, the 87’s are riding a nine-game winning streak and trail the first-place Huntsmen by five points. New Jersey will finish the season with 41 games since a contest against the Connecticut Chiefs was canceled last month, so they could potentially leap past the Huntsmen if they finish the year with a higher points percentage.

Then we go to the juggernaut that is the Boston Division. The Railers have already clinched the division and regular-season championship while the Jr. Rangers have all but clinched the second seed. The Express has a one-point lead over the Valley Jr. Warriors for third place, as the two and three seeds could be the difference between facing the Seahawks Hockey Club or the Bridgewater Bandits in the first round.

Key matchups

As the showcase starts on Friday, the Wizards and Bears will be the first of many potential Frozen Finals matchups. Players like Aidan O’Connell, Will Rice and George Kolovos have driven the team offensively for the Wizards while they go up against the likes of Corbin Schiebel, James Vermeesch as well as goaltender Carson Frye.

Then on Saturday, the Rangers will face Apple Core in what should be a true heavyweight matchup. Many of the league’s top scorers are from these teams, including Boston’s Tay Melis, Kaleb Miller and Bret Beale, while Apple Core has been led offensively by the likes of Peter Unger, Nick Sweet and Gleb Ushakov. Goaltender Ryan Crowshaw is 16-1-0 with a .942 save percentage since joining New York, and he will likely go toe-to-toe with Boston netminder Charles Watson, who is 16-5-0 while sporting a .935 save percentage.

Another heavyweight matchup on Sunday will be the Express and Avalanche. David Basin is running away with the league lead in points as he has notched 78 (33g, 45a) through 40 games. Express forward Gavin Simopoulos is third in the EHL with 57 (19g, 38a) while his teammate, Cody Walker, is fifth with 56 points (26g, 30a).

On Monday, the Express will take on Philadelphia Hockey Club while Apple Core will face the Pennsylvania Huntsmen. Those games could potentially decide if the PHC or the Huntsmen will make the fifth and final playoff spot in the South Division.

As for matchups in the EHLP, some top picks include the Railers vs. Adirondack Jr. Thunder on Saturday, the Express vs. Huntsmen and Avalanche vs. Jr. Warriors on Sunday, and the 87’s vs. Jr. Rangers on Monday. All of those matchups could be a window to the EHLP Frozen Finals later in March.

The first games will start on Friday at 4 p.m. and will run until Monday at 6 p.m. IceWorks Skating Complex is a four-sheet facility, so it will be impossible to miss all of the action this weekend. On top of this showcase featuring the most games played, it will also be the one with the highest stakes as the teams get ready for the postseason.

Full EHL Schedule here: https://www.easternhockeyleague.org/view#/schedule/all-teams/22/3?league=1&gametype=-1

Full EHLP Schedule here: https://www.easternhockeyleague.org/view#/schedule/all-teams/23/3?league=2&gametype=-1

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