It was back to school for a handful of players across the Eastern Hockey League, as the All-Star team completed its collegiate showcase over the weekend with games against Curry College and UMass-Boston.
While the score sheet showed two losses for the EHL All Stars, a 5-2 defeat to Curry College and 6-1 loss against UMass-Boston, numerous players took advantage of the opportunity to compete in front of NCAA Division III players and coaches.
Rich DeCaprio, who served as head coach for the EHL All-Star team, spoke about the players’ performance over the weekend.
“I thought that we competed hard for the two games. For only having one practice as a unit to put systems in place, the guys tried to execute as best they could. I really enjoyed watching these top players come together,” DeCaprio said.
On Friday night against Curry College, the All-Stars jumped to a 1-0 lead on a shorthanded goal by Connecticut RoughRiders forward Colin Bella. He and Philadelphia Little Flyers forward Kyle Patton forced a turnover in the offensive zone, and Bella ripped a sharp angle shot that went off the crossbar and in for the first goal.
The Colonels tied the game a few minutes later, but the EHL team got the lead right back on a goal by Team Maryland forward Farrell Dinn. He received a stretch pass from Protec Jr. Ducks defenseman Ryan Brow and scored on a breakaway by ripping a slap shot low-glove side.
Following Dinn’s tally, Curry responded with four unanswered goals, including an empty-netter in the final minute of the third period. Boston Jr. Rangers goaltender Nathan Mueller played the entirety of Friday’s game and made some terrific saves, most notably one on a partial breakaway from Colonels forward Alex Ochterbeck.
There were some notable EHL alumni playing for the Colonels that night, including defenseman Jacob Crespo and goaltender Jon Kopack of the New Jersey 87’s, former Connecticut RoughRiders forward Tao Ishizuka as well as forward George Vonakis who played for the Philadelphia Little Flyers, Railers Jr. Hockey Club and the New Hampshire Avalanche.
Next up was UMass-Boston, and just like the first game, the All-Stars struck first. Just 6:07 into the first period, Maryland forward Bobby Geier took a wrist shot from the top of the left faceoff circle that went just underneath the cross bar and in the back of the net. Nick Graziano picked up the assist on the goal as the Team Maryland players combined for three points over the weekend.
“It was an amazing feeling just to be out there on that ice, and to be able to bury a goal was a really good feeling,” Geier said about his goal against the Beacons. “I can’t wait to have more of those moments next year wherever I end up.”
New York Apple Core goaltender Jackson Bernard started the game while Railers netminder Stefan Kulhanek came in midway through the second period. Going up against a powerhouse team in the New England Hockey Conference, both goalies faced a number of shots but were up to the task. Kulhanek made a number of dazzling saves shortly after coming off the bench in the second, often times serving as the All-Stars best penalty killer.
Despite the 6-1 score, DeCaprio was proud of his team’s effort and reflected on the opportunity to play against collegiate programs.
“The weekend is very unique for our players and sets our league apart. To be able to play against top notch NCAA programs, it gives our guys a glimpse of where they need to be, but at the same time it gives the college coaches a glimpse into potential recruits for their programs,” he said.
It also provides an opportunity for the players, who normally compete against each other on a nightly basis, to come together as one and represent one of the top junior leagues in the nation.
Geier, who scored against UMass Boston, was also among some of the three-year EHL veterans who wore a letter for the exhibition games. He discussed what it meant for him to represent both the league both as a player and an alternate captain.
“It’s a really good experience, I’m really humbled and honored that they named me a captain to lead the best guys in the whole league, so to go into a college series and have that honor was an incredible feeling.”