Entering Week #16, teams are breaking headlines more than ever in the Eastern Hockey League (EHL) this season.
It seems that 2021 opened doors for surprise teams on the rise and exciting finishes. The league’s new divisional alignment not only created fresh rivalries but rose the anticipation for madness once the postseason arrives.
Before the EHL witnesses more intriguing stories for the 2020-21 campaign, let’s recap Week #15 in another edition of Keeping Up With Kyle.
Let’s start with the North Division, where once again it was the Seacoast Spartans who arguably stole the league’s spotlight for consecutive weeks.
After the Spartans collected victories over the Lumberjacks Hockey Club and the New Hampshire Avalanche, Seacoast earned a spot at No. 5 for EHL’s power rankings. Forward Azam Jiwa and company took down the Lumberjacks, and in large thanks to the team’s power play.
Seacoast recorded three power-play goals against the ‘Jacks, while Jiwa netted two of those three tallies. Additionally, Spartans defenseman Tyler Harvey chipped in a season-high three assists on the day.
One of the more notable takeaways from the frame was the Spartans’ 2-1 victory against the first-place New Hampshire Avalanche in the first-ever Granite Cup matchup. The win marked Seacoast’s first win vs. the Avs this season, and just New Hampshire’s fourth loss overall.
The two North Division foes entered the third period tied at 1-1, but it was Clendenin Stewart who played the role of hero for “Spartans Country.” The 6-foot-7 forward earned the game-winning goal less than 2:00 into the contest’s final frame.
While both teams were strong and disciplined defensively, Spartans goaltender Jakob Wepman was another key reason why the Spartans collected two points in the standings. The Studio City, CA native recorded 35 saves in the contest and was named the top performing goaltender of the week, after standing all between the pipes for both the team’s wins.
Yet, the Avalanche were another busy squad in the North. New Hampshire faced off with all three divisional foes and collected wins vs. the Wolves and Lumberjacks. The Avs kicked off the frame with a dramatic 4-3 overtime victory over the Wolves on Wednesday.
After New Hampshire earned a 3-1 lead entering the third period, the Wolves responded with two goals to tie the score. Still, it was the Avs’ Corey Tumenas who netted a power-play goal in overtime which sent the squad home with another two points in the standings.
As for Tumenas, the tally marked his second game-winner on the year in addition to the forward’s third power-play goal. The No. 3 power-ranked Avalanche then served the Lumberjacks their third loss for Week #15.
New Hampshire rolled for six goals against the ‘Jacks (6-2), and in large thanks to depth scoring. Six different Avalanche skaters found the back of the net in the contest – Thomas Dempsey, Ryan Malko, Sami Hakkarainen, Christian Halbig, Parker Sondag and Andrew Clifford. Additionally, Avs’ goaltender George McMichael earned his league best (tied) 14th win of the year. The Goldens Bridge, NY native enters Week #16 carrying a 1.97 goals-against-average (GAA) and three shutouts.
Keep in mind that the Wolves and Ricards Jelenskis also earned a victory against the Lumberjacks. The Wolves defeated their division rivals by a score of 7-4 on Thursday, after Jelenskis recorded a hat trick and added one assist.
The Latvia native’s resume is impressive this season with the Wolves. Jelenskis has netted 16 goals and collected 16 assists for 32 points in 18 games played.
“This season with the Wolves has been very exciting,” said Jelenskis. “I’m also very grateful for a chance to play hockey this season. I’m excited and looking forward to the second half of the season.”
The Wolves received additional scoring help from Sergei Anisimov (1g-1a) and Brendan Ogle (2g-0a) who both recorded multi-point efforts in the team’s 12th win for the season.
The EHL’s Central Division entails the largest number of teams in a division with seven and Week #14 was full of intriguing matchups. The number of contests played in the Central was almost overwhelming and don’t be surprised to hear this week’s EShow Podcast portray entertaining debates and chatter.
Let’s start with the first-place Boston Jr. Rangers who faced-off with the Western Mass Chiefs twice during the frame. Let’s not forget that the Chiefs are the newcomer to this group, considering they’re the lone team in the central that previously played in the former Mid-Atlantic Conference.
While Western Mass provided the Jr. Rangers with a scare during the first contest, Boston prevailed and defeated the Chiefs 6-3. Tied 3-3 entering the third period, the Jr. Rangers earned three tallies on 20 shots in the contest’s final frame. Boston’s Ryan Bailey, Joey Schaeffer and Jack Moore were the period’s goal-scorers in addition to Moore finishing the contest with two goals and one helper.
The win marked the eighth time this season that the Jr. Rangers recorded six-or-more goals in a contest, and represented the team’s league-leading 21st victory. However, captain Max Phillips and the Chiefs rebounded with a key win of their own.
In the second meeting, the Western Mass. Chiefs took down Boston 3-2, which marked the first time since Nov. 14 that the Jr. Rangers lost (10-0 since that time). Chiefs forward Matt Loftus earned the game’s first tally in the third period, but the two sides were scoreless until the third period.
The Chiefs received clutch goals from Jason Gordon and Dominic Chirico less than 2:00 into the third, which was enough for the Chiefs to earn a statement victory. Keep in mind that the Jr. Rangers outshot the Chiefs 46-30, so it’s safe to say that J.P. Mella was arguably the game’s first star.
Mella recorded 44 saves in the contest and faced 17 shots in the third period, alone.
Yet, prior to the key victory over Boston, the Chiefs earned another notable win over a top-ranked team. Head coach Neil Breen and his squad earned a 4-2 victory against the No. 4 ranked Walpole Express.
There’s no doubting that the Express were one of the hottest teams entering the second half of the season, so the win for the Chiefs is eye-opening. Western Mass’ Ashton Jones tallied two goals in the win, while Chirico recorded three points (1g-2a). Given Chirico’s clutch play over the frame, it’s no surprise that No. 62 was awarded Week #14’s top performing defenseman.
Yes, the Chiefs clearly made noise for the Central, but the East Coast Wizards were the other squad from the Central that won more than one contest. The Wizards brought the magic and collected all six points available on the table in Week #15. East Coast defeated the likes of the Seahawks Hockey Club, Valley Jr. Warriors and Railers Jr. Hockey Club.
“They (Wizards) are starting to figure out playing simple and not puck watching, works,” said East Coast head coach Kory Falite. “Sometimes you have to lose a bit before you can win.”
The Wizards’ three-game winning streak tied a season-high that dates back to the team’s first three games of the year. Still, the victory against the Seahawks witnessed Ryan Webb (2g-3a), Ryan Turse (0g-4a) and Will Jennings lead the way (2g-2a).
It seems that the Wizards received scoring help from numerous players on the roster, considering that Cole Scott posted a two-goal effort against Valley, while four different skaters scored vs. the Railers – Scott, Turse, Andrew Stefura and Zachary Papapetros.
The Wizards enter Week #16 with an 11-16-1 record (23PTS) and are three points behind the Seahawks for third place.
While the Spartans and Chiefs gained the EHL’s full attention over the frame, it was the Philadelphia Little Flyers and New Jersey 87’s who both collected multiple wins in the south.
On Friday, Philadelphia laced up the skates for the first time in one month when the Little Flyers faced-off with Team Maryland. The division rivals have flipped-flopped between second and third place numerous occasions this season, but lately it’s been Philadelphia on a surge.
The Little Flyers and forward Mikey Giampapa earned their 12th win on the year after defeating Maryland in a 3-2 shootout victory. Giampapa, the league’s top performing forward for Week #15, netted two goals on the day and one of which on the man advantage.
After a late third-period goal from Maryland, the game was later decided by the stick of Philadelphia defenseman Jake Frankenfield who converted the game-winner in the shootout. Little Flyers’ masked man Joseph Henson was also stellar in net and turned away 29 Maryland shots.
The orange and black then hosted the Protec Jr. Ducks for the third time this season while improving to 7-3-0 in Philadelphia’s last 10 contests. The Little Flyers took down the Ducks by a 7-4 final but in a back-and-forth battle.
While the teams combined for three goals in the first period, the foes also combined for four goals in both second and third periods of play. After Jr. Ducks’ forward Brody Selman tied the contest at 3-3 during the early stages of the second period, it was Connor MacDonell who netted his second goal of the day midway through the game.
The Little Flyers then outscored Protec 3-1 in the third period which also witnessed MacDonell record his first hat track for the year. Let’s not forget that Giampapa finished the week with three tallies and four helpers for seven points.
The 87’s not only resumed play for the first time in one month, but also earned a win over Protec. Kei Yasuda and company defeated the Jr. Ducks, 6-4, on home ice and the Japan native tallied one goal and one assist. Yet, Matthew Bielinski posted four assists to lead the way. The four-point night marked a career-high for the Getzville, NY native.
Still, there was one point in the game when New Jersey led 5-1 and found itself in a jam after the Jr. Ducks came within one goal towards the end of regulation. However, the 87’s held on and a late empty-net goal sealed the deal.
The 87’s then hosted another team that hadn’t played in over a month…the Connecticut RoughRiders. Keep in mind that the RoughRiders are one of three teams (New York Apple Core, Maryland) that can say “they’ve won” against New Jersey this season.
That wasn’t the case for the RoughRiders on Friday when the 87’s earned a 6-2 victory. The difference maker was arguably New Jersey’s power play which went three for four on the day. Dante Terramani, Tim Debord and Yasuda all netted tallies on the man advantage, while Matt Herrick recorded two assists.
The 87’s enter Week #16 just one point (20-1-2) behind the Jr. Rangers for the league’s top record, and Yasuda still leads the EHL with his 42 points (14g-28a)…remember that he hadn’t played in over a month.
Eastern Hockey League Premier
The EHLP level was no stranger to Week #15’s schedule. The league witnessed 14 contests over the frame, which also included the Jr. Rangers, Avalanche, Lumberjacks, Railers and Little Flyers all collecting two or more wins.
The Jr. Rangers led the way with their three victories while outscoring opponents 21-2. Additionally, Jr. Rangers forward Kyle Sintiris was one of the awardees for Top Performers of the Week. The five-foot-nine forward tallied four goals and two assists over the frame and enters the upcoming week leading Boston with 33 points (14g-19a).
The Lumberjacks and Little Flyers were also represented in the top performers category. Defenseman Aaron Damren of the Lumberjacks took home this week’s honor for all blueliners, while between the pipes it was Philadelphia’s Trey Mattern.
Entering the new frame, is it Déjà vu?
The Avalanche sit in first place for the North Division (15-1-0-30PTS), Jr. Rangers rank first for the Central (19-2-4-42PTS) and the 87’s are atop of the South (16-3-2).
Keep An Eye On
Last week, this hockey enthusiast suggested that the hockey community keep a look out on the Spartans.
Well, the North Division standings are tight and there’s plenty of hockey left. The Wolves and Spartans are neck and neck at each other, and both provided the Avalanche with trouble last week. In Week #16, it’s the Lumberjacks who are busy and face-off with the Avs twice.
In the Central Division, depth-scoring and goaltending seem to be a common theme – just ask the Rangers and Chiefs – both of whom are scheduled for two contests over the next frame but not against each other. The Wizards are making a case that they’re a team on the rise – but East Coast can’t overlook the Valley Jr. Warriors this week – expect that game to potentially hit overtime.
Flying south, the RoughRiders are an interesting topic – are the other teams just deeper at this point and the extensive time off hurt them? Or, can Connecticut shake off the rust – and collect points against the 87’s and a much different looking Protec roster that’s just as hungry for points in the division. Long story short, it’s a big week for the RoughRiders.
See you at the rink…
(Kyle McKenna covers the EHL for HNIB and can be followed on Twitter @KMcKenna_EHL)