There’s quite a race going on in the Elite Division of the Eastern Hockey League with the first-place New Hampshire Monarchs four points clear of the Boston Jr. Rangers and five points up on the Boston Bandits. Fourth-place Walpole is within striking distance of the top and has opened a 12-point gap on the league’s second tier.
Several teams eased back into action last weekend following the holiday hiatus. The Bandits hosted two games at Bridgewater Ice Arena with an opportunity to close within one point of the top. However, things didn’t quite go as anticipated First, the Valley Jr. Warriors squeezed past the Bandits, 4-3. Then the Vermont Lumberjacks followed suit, pinning a 4-0 defeat on their hosts.
Adam Czarnecki’s second goal at 14:54 of the third period was the game-winner for the Jr. Warriors, who also got two goals from Joe Sartorelli. Rodahn Evans, Michael Lavoie and PJ Vinci had the Bandits’ goals.
The Lumberjacks and Bandits battled through two scoreless periods before the visitors put four on the board in the third. Kyle McDonald’s game-winner came 11 seconds into the period. David Rosales doubled the lead with five minutes to play, then Nicholas Cramer and Thomas Hardy scored in the final minute. Chris Mattone sent back 24 shots for the shutout.
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The first-place Monarchs are the league’s highest-scoring team behind three Top 10 scorers – James Pelton (19-26-45), Adrian Sjoqvist (14-25-39) and Joe Nutting (14-20-34). Aaron Brickman and Devon Savodnick get most of the work in goal.
The second-place Rangers feature the division’s top two scorers in Jonathan Andrews (17-30-47) and Mike McPherson (26-21-47), along with Nikita Kuznetsov (14-26-40). Goalies Mike Paglucca (4) and Harrison Vangellow (2) have combined for six shutouts.
PJ Vinci (13-21-34), Riley Kraemer (19-14-33) and Victor Lombardi (17-10-27) drive the Bandits, who still hold two games in hand on the front-running Monarchs.
Walpole’s Eric Wright shares the division lead for goals (26) and is joined by Logan Stark (36 points) and Jared Balzarini (10-16-26) as the offense’s catalysts. Goalie Bradley Arvanitis (.928, 2SO) has been sound.
The Lumberjacks provided a glimpse of their potential for the second half by shutting out the Bandits. The ‘Jacks two Australian-born players, Kieren Webster and Lynden Lodge of Perth, are heading to Novi Sad, Serbia to skate for Australia in the Div. IIB U-20 IIHF World Junior Tournament. Kyle McDonald leads Vermont in scoring with a 10-12-22 line.
The Valley Junior Warriors have received consistent production from Brendan Hussey (13-16-29) and Adam Czarnecki (13-9-22). Zander Allen (10-23-33) and Kyle Carignan (17-14-31) continue to provide a potent one-two combo for the New England Wolves. Ricky Beckwith (15-15-30) and John Fine-Lease (9-15-24) power the Northern Cyclones.
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The post-season push resumes in earnest this weekend with a full slate of games. The Rangers and Monarchs meet in a key clash Saturday night (Tri-Town, 8:30).
The league playoff format is set. Group A will consist of the first, fourth, fifth and eighth seeds while Group B will be made up of the second, third, sixth and seventh finishers. Teams will play three round-robin games in their group the weekend of Feb. 26-28 at Breakaway. The championship game will be held the following weekend (TBD).