If fans thought that Week 1 was exciting, then Week 2 of the Eastern Hockey League’s 2020-2021 season was that much more impressive with several intriguing topics to review.
New England Conference
If one heads to the NEC standings, it’s apparent that the standing’s situation is tight atop of the conference. Yes, it’s early in the season, but this hockey enthusiast believes that it’s going to remain that close and intense among the top five seeds for a majority of 2020-21.
Respectively, the Seacoast Spartans proved that they’re one of the biggest surprises and talk of the town for the EHL so far this season. Bjorn Schuepbach and company enter Week 3 with a 3-0-1 record and are fresh off an overtime victory against the expansion Maine Eclipse. Keep in mind that the Spartans rallied back in their last contest against Maine and netted four goals in the third period.
Forward Azam Jiwa earned his fourth goal on the year after he recorded the game-winner in overtime, and it seems that Seacoast is not only resilient this season but also entails depth in all areas on the ice.
However, the New England Wolves reminded the league that they’re strictly business this season. New England is 4-1-0 on the year and its eight points in the standings are good for first place (NEC). The Wolves’ Kevin Bite not only leads the squad with eight points (2g-6a), but the defenseman was named one of the league’s Stars of the Month. Keep in mind that No. 22’s eight points lead all NEC skaters – not just blue liners.
Additionally, the Vermont Lumberjacks not only turned heads around the NEC but across the entire league. Vermont jumped two spots in the NexLevel Hockey Power Rankings this past weekend, and in large thanks to the team’s 3-0-0 start.
The Lumberjacks have scored four-or-more goals in all three contests and most recently took down the Walpole Express. Davis Bone (3g-0a) and company took down Walpole by a 4-1 final. Bone chipped in one goal, while Frank Mondi collected three points on the day (2g-1a). Vermont’s masked man David Reduzzi earned his second win on the season and has recorded 79 saves on 83 shots on goal, to date. The St. Louis, MO native’s .952 save% was not only impressive but also earned him Stars of the Month Honors between the pipes for the EHL.
Another squad that’s been brewing magic of their own is the East Coast Wizards. Following the Wizards Week 1 dramatic victory over Seacoast, the Wizards entered overtime for consecutive contests and again displayed their magic.
East Coast took down the Connecticut Chiefs, 3-2, after Ryan Webb netted the game-winner just 1:18 into the extra frame. The Wizards didn’t earn a nod in the league’s recent power rankings, but East Coast aims to make its case for a spot in the rankings when it skates next vs. Seacoast on Friday, Oct. 16.
Believe it or not, there was one team in action in Week 2 that dropped in the power rankings. After a jaw dropping 3-0-0 start, the New Hampshire Avalanche were stunned by the Valley Jr. Warriors, 3-2, on Thursday, Oct. 1.
The two squads exchanged goals during the first and second periods of play, but it was Valley’s Hunter Brackett who played the role of hero that day. Brackett, 19, found the back of the net with less than 10:00 remaining in regulation. The “W” marked Valley’s first victory on the season, and the Warriors enter Week 3 led by forward Gerhig Oppenheimer (2g-2a-4PTS).
Let’s start with a squad that recently bumped itself to the No. 1 spot in the power rankings.
The New Jersey 87’s improved to 4-0-0 after earning two in-conference victories in Week 2. It just so happened that both victories were by scores of 3-2, and the 87’s third win on the year was earned vs. the Philadelphia Little Flyers.
While New Jersey held a 2-1 lead after two periods, the contest boiled down to the final seconds. The blue and gold’s Jon Kopack was certainly a standout between the pipes after he turned away 30 of Philadelphia’s 32 shots. Yet, his timely saves were arguably what impressed the most.
The clutch victory marked Kopack’s second win on the year, and the 20-year-old owns a 1.50 goals-against-average entering Week 3.
Round 1 of the Battle for the Garden State between the 87s and Protec Ducks did not disappoint. The 87’s outshot the Protec Ducks, 51-21, in the duel but the contest still entailed overtime. Protec found the back of the net twice during the third period to erase a two-goal deficit, but 87’s’ forward Kei Yasuda scored the game-winner in overtime with less than two minutes remaining.
Unfortunately for the expansion Ducks and Star of the Month Brayden Patricia (4g-8a-12PTS), they have dropped four-consecutive games. Yet, the Ducks earned two points in the standings after losing two overtime contests since Week 1, which seeds them in third place for the MAC.
Yasuda finished the contest with two goals and the Japan native’s nine points (4g-5a) leads the 87’s.
Team Maryland entailed an opportunity to jump the 87’s for first place in the MAC when it hosted the Little Flyers on Tuesday. Maryland entered the contest with a 4-0-0 record and was fresh off two wins after sweeping New York Apple Core last week.
Vincent Maurice (2g-6a-8PTS) and company outscored Apple Core 11-5 in the back-to-back contests, while forward Connor Ball recorded consecutive multi-goal efforts vs. New York. Maryland’s netminder Bobby McCloskey hasn’t been a stranger to the blue paint, either. The 6-foot-netminder leads the EHL with four wins and the squad appears playoff bound, again.
However, it was the Little Flyers who served Maryland its first loss of the season, after Philadelphia earned a 4-2 victory on Tuesday afternoon. The Little Flyers entered the contest having lost consecutive outings, but wasted no time finding the back of the net vs. Maryland.
Philadelphia earned two first-period goals when Kyle Patton and Luke Headman both netted even-strength goals. Veteran blue liner and first-Flyer, Ryan Clear, was later credited with the game-winning goal after earning his first tally of 2020-21 during the middle stages of the second period.
Though, let’s not forget about the Connecticut RoughRiders.
While the RoughRiders dropped their first three games this season, Connecticut bounced back with a commendable winning streak in Week 2. Forward Tyler Buonopane (5g-9a-14PTS) and the RoughRiders earned victories against Philadelphia and Protec, respectively.
What’s impressive is that not only did Connecticut defeat the Little Flyers by a 4-3 score, but all four goals were tallied in the contest’s second period. Even better, four different RoughRiders found the back of the net in the clutch effort – Anthony Tavares, Lukas Baksay, Buonopane and Colin Bella.
It was a much different story for Connecticut during its second win. The RoughRiders opened the floodgates and took down Protec, 6-1. Again, the squad proved that its depth is of the essence considering six different skaters found the back of the net – Bella, Buonopane, Tavares, Trey Deloury, Dominic Civitano ad James Gregory.
Bella (5g-6a-11PTS) and Buonopane rank in the top-three for points.
Eastern Hockey League Premier
While the Eastern Hockey League (EHL) debuted a successful Week 1 for the 2020-21 campaign, the Eastern Hockey League Premier (EHLP) level was also nothing short of entertaining.
There were 13 contests completed for the EHLP, which featured four undefeated squads in the New Hampshire Avalanche, Vermont Lumberjacks, Boston Jr. Rangers and New Jersey 87s.
Let’s not forget that the Jr. Rangers, Avalanche and Renegades earned spots in the Week 1 NexLevel Hockey Power Rankings. Speaking of the Avs and Renegades, skaters from both squads were named EHLP Top Performers for Week 1.
New Hampshire’s Graham Hassan and Brendan Schmidt were the top skaters, while New Jersey’s Joey Jamison took home the honors for the EHLP’s top performer between the pipes.
Entering Week 2 the Renegades’ Dylan Idland (4g-7a), James Mattson (5g-5a-11PTS) and Jason Mozkowitz (5g-4a-9PTS) lead the EHLP in scoring – quite the tri-fecta, no?. However, New England Wolves’ forward David Hoftiezer is right behind the Renegades’ trio, after posting one goals and seven helpers, to date.
Between the pipes, other than Jamison leading the way, Vermont’s Sam Fath displayed impressive performances during the September. The Colchester, VT native posted a 1.20 goals-against-average in 50 minutes of action and helped the Lumberjacks collect two victories in the process.
Keep in mind that the EHLP entails three divisions this season – North, South and Central. The Avs currently lead the North (3-0-0) and are owners of a +10 goals differential after finding the back of the net on 10 occasions. Still, what’s interesting is that the Avs’ division rivals in the Wolves lead the league with 27 goals-for, yet New England has just two wins in five contests.
Transitioning to the Central, it’s the Boston Jr. Rangers who are making their case for a division title. Boston is 2-0-0 with 11 goals-for and just three goals-against. However, the Walpole Express might have other plans. Walpole lost a tough and close contest to Vermont (4-3) in its second game on the year, and hopes to bounce back when the Express face-off with the Wolves on Saturday, Oct. 10, for a 2:00 p.m. puck drop.
In the South, and similar to its EHL team, the New Jersey 87’s sit in first place entering Week 3. The 87’s have netted 18 goals-for while posting a 2-0-1 record.
Week 2 for the EHLP witnessed Top Performers in Jackson Collins (Vermont Lumberjacks), Ben Peiffer (New Jersey 87’s) and between the pipes it was Justin Bucalo (Maine Eclipse). Additionally, the league announced that Graham Hassan (New Hampshire Avalanche), Alarico Valentini (New England Wolves) and Joey Jamison (New Jersey Renegades) were named the September Stars of the Month.
Four games were decided over the weekend of Oct. 3, when the New Jersey 87’s lost a tough overtime contest to the Philadelphia Little Flyers, 5-4.
Still, the 87’s bounced back on Sunday and took down the Renegades, 5-2, after forward Brock Forrest netted his second multi-goal effort on the year. The Hillsborough, NJ native inked a hat trick during the team’s first contest against the Renegades back on Oct. 2.
While the Maine Eclipse had not won a game at the EHL or EHLP level entering Sunday, that all changed when the EHLP squad earned a 2-1 victory over the Valley Jr. Warriors. The expansion Eclipse witnessed two-first period goals from the likes of Luke Geiger and Jacob Hall.
Week 2’s Top Performer between the pipes in Justin Bucalo took care of the rest for Maine. The youngster shut the door on Valley and recorded 35 saves on 36 shots.
Considering that both the EHL and EHLP have two weeks of hockey under their belts, expect Week 3 to entail plenty heated matchups and a sense of urgency. Teams are slowly but surely not only becoming more familiar with their own teams – but their also their rivals.
See you at the rink…