Eastern Hockey League – Second Round Playoff Preview: Division Final Series Get Underway This Week

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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All of the first-round series in the 2022 EHL postseason have come to an end, and it’s on to the Division Finals. 

Starting on March 16, the final two teams in each division will play another best-of-three series. The winner will move on to the Frozen Finals, while the losing team will play in a one-game wild card for a last-chance bid to Providence.  

Interestingly enough, none of the divisions saw any upsets in the first round, but that could change in the division finals. Here’s a preview for each of the four divisions, including the regular season series, a recap of how each team made it to the second round and why each team can take home a division title. 

North Division 

#1 New Hampshire Avalanche (32-9-5) vs. #2 New England Wolves (23-19-4) 

Regular season series: Avalanche 4-1-1 over Wolves 

Why the Avalanche will win: The Avs got their revenge from the 2021 postseason by defeating the Seacoast Spartans, including a 6-5 overtime victory in Game 2 at the Rinks in Exeter. Similar to the regular season, New Hampshire’s offense was rolling with many of their top players producing. The leading scorer of the regular season, Michael Tersoni, was held off the scoresheet in Game 1 but bounced back with three assists in Game 2. Aden Hotchkiss went off for seven points (1g, 6a) and Matt Carlson had six points (2g, 4a). The Avs can also look to Kyle Dann, who scored four goals in the two-game sweep over the Spartans including the OT winner in Game 2. Those four goals matched his regular-season total in 26 games, and his surge is a good reminder of how deep the Avs’ lineup is and why they’re a favorite to reach Providence. 

Why the Wolves will win: New England had their backs against the wall in their matchup with the Lumberjacks. Down 1-0 in the series with Game 2 heading into overtime, a Vermont goal would have ended their season. But Nick Bosch came through with the overtime winner, and the Wolves carried that momentum with a 3-1 victory in the deciding Game 3. Alex Laracy leads the Wolves with six points (1g, 5a) while Edijs Grigorjevs leads the pack with two goals. While the games were low-scoring, Liam Kilgallen was spectacular in goal, stopping 64 of 66 shots in Games 2 and 3 against Vermont. If he can keep that going against a high-flying Avalanche offense, maybe the Wolves can turn it into a goalie duel and take advantage of Ronan Mobley, who finished the first round with an .862 save percentage and 3.49 goals against average. New England also finished the regular-season series with an overtime win over New Hampshire, proving this team really can compete with anybody in this league. 

East Division 

#1 Boston Jr. Rangers (34-9-3) vs. #2 Walpole Express (27-17-2) 

Regular season series: Jr. Rangers 3-0-1 over Express 

Why the Jr. Rangers will win: The two-time EHL goaltender of the year Nathan Mueller was perfect in Boston’s first-round matchup against the Seahawks Hockey Club, pitching 1-0 and 6-0 shutouts in Games 1 and 2 respectively. He also set the all-time record for EHL wins as a goalie (including regular season and playoff games) with 52, passing former Little Flyers goaltender Brendahn Brawley. Nick Cullinan leads the team with three goals, and 12 different skaters recorded at least one point in their first-round matchup against the Seahawks. If anything, that series showed how the Jr. Rangers are capable of locking it down defensively in a tight-scoring game or opening the flood gates offensively if necessary. The latter could come in handy when facing another exceptional goaltender in Jack Boschert. 

Why the Express will win: Speaking of Jack Boschert, let’s talk about his first-round performance. He finished the series against the East Coast Wizards with a .966 save percentage, and that number can be attributed to his spectacular 71-save performance in Game 2 that went into triple overtime. While he and the Express found themselves on the losing side of the longest EHL game in history at 117:37, the Red Train bounced back with a 5-2 win in Game 3, overcoming a 2-0 deficit and scoring five unanswered goals to move on to the Division Final. Similar to the Jr. Rangers, the majority of Express skaters have recorded at least a point (14), while Justin Guelph and Asher Connolly have two goals each. Overall, the Express have played the Jr. Rangers well in the regular season, earning at least a point in two of the four games while all four contests were decided by two goals or less. Boschert will have to play the best two or three games of his career for the Express to defeat the defending champs, and his marathon performance in the first round indicates he’s up to the task. 

Central Division 

#1 Railers Jr. Hockey Club (28-15-3) vs. #2 Connecticut Chiefs (18-23-5) 

Regular season series: Railers 5-2-0 over Chiefs 

Why the Railers will win: The Railers had a bit of a scare when trailing New York Apple Core 3-1 in the deciding Game 3, but they prevailed with five unanswered goals en route to a 6-3 victory. Worcester’s offense came to play in the first round, outscoring New York 16-7 in those three games. Drew Olivieri and Damon Dulac had nine points each (3g, 6a) in the first round while Mike DiMascolo had six points (3g, 3a). Stefan Kulhanek finished the series with a .916 save percentage, which is no small task when going up against EHL forward of the year Colin Callanan along with Nick Weber and Colby Walters. If anything, the Railers’ near-upset could work in their favor as a wake-up call. They are already the favorites to win the Central Division, and their three-game battle could motivate them to step up their game against a stronger opponent in the Chiefs. 

Why the Chiefs will win: The Connecticut Chiefs won the Nutmeg State showdown in convincing fashion with a two-game sweep over the RoughRiders. All the big names for the Chiefs produced, and Jack Devine led the team with six points (3g, 3a). The first-year EHL forward also scored a shorthanded goal in Game 2 that turned out to be the game-winner in a 4-2 victory. Marshall McKallip posted a .955 save percentage and a 1.50 goals against average; pretty good numbers considering the RoughRiders sent nearly 70 shots his way in two games. While the Railers have had success in the regular-season series, the Chiefs won the final matchup in the first week of March. And if there’s one thing that could tilt the series Connecticut’s favor, it will be special teams. The Chiefs only had three power plays against the RoughRiders but scored once. Meanwhile the Railers’ penalty kill struggled against Apple Core, especially in Game 3 where New York went 3-for-4 on the man advantage. If the Chiefs can capitalize on power-play chances, they could be the ones taking home the Central Division title while punching its first-ever ticket to Providence. 

South Division 

#1 Philadelphia Little Flyers (30-12-4) vs. #2 New Jersey 87’s (30-12-4) 

Regular season series: Little Flyers 4-3-0 over 87’s 

Why the Little Flyers will win: It‘s sort of ironic how both series in the South Division, which was the tightest EHL division all season, ended in sweeps. Team Maryland put up a fight each game and saw a remarkable bounce-back from Jackson Bernard, who faced 95 shots in the two games, but was overpowered by the Little Flyers’ relentless offensive attack. In Philadelphia’s 6-2 and 5-2 victories, 15 of their 20 skaters recorded at least a point, while Tony Andrews (3) and Adam Beauvais (2) lead the team in goals. Joseph Henson finished the series with a .941 save percentage, stopping 64 of the 68 shots he faced. Numbers and stats aside, it seems like the Little Flyers just have to beat the 87’s this year. Philadelphia was eliminated last year by New Jersey in the South Division Final, and this season the Little Flyers won the regular-season series over the 87’s for the first time in the EHL, a possible foreshadowing for post-season revenge. This series is shaping up to be a bloodbath on both sides, and right now the Little Flyers are the favorites to win the division. 

Why the 87’s will win:  Like the Little Flyers, New Jersey also finished the regular season hot and proceeded to dismantle its opponent in the first round of the playoffs, with 7-1 and 8-0 victories over the Protec Jr. Ducks. The 87’s already have nine different goal scorers and are the only team in the EHL with a positive goal differential in the double digits. Devlin O’Kane leads the team with four goals while Matt Zdanowicz is the leader in points with seven (2g, 5a). Owen Hains won both of his starts, stopping 42 of 43 shots in the series for a .977 save percentage. While the Little Flyers are the favorites, the 87’s have done everything they can to challenge that notion through their play in the first round. On top of having veterans who played in the 2021 Frozen Finals, the 87’s also have former Little Flyer Robbie Seewagen, who scored seven goals in as many games against Philadelphia this season. Overall, you have two teams who have gotten exponentially better over the last few weeks, and of all the Division Final matchups this clash of the titans in the South will be the one to watch. 

For a complete schedule of the EHL Frozen Finals, you can check out the official Frozen Finals hub on the league website.

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