#DineenCupPlayoffs Series Preview: South Shore Kings vs. Utica Jr. Comets 

By Joshua Boyd / NCDCHockey.com 


South Shore Kings (2) vs. Utica Jr. Comets (3)

Best of Three

All Games At Foxboro Sports Center

Wed., March 27, 4:30 p.m. EST

Thurs., March 28, 4:30 p.m. EST

Fri., March 29, 7 p.m. EST (If Necessary) 


The South Shore Kings and Utica Jr. Comets will clash in the postseason for the very first time, despite being charter members of the NCDC (Utica formerly being known as the Syracuse Jr. Stars through 2019). 

They got here by finishing second and third, with Utica nailing down third place back on March 3, finishing at 30-17-4-1. They came across the regular season finish line 11 points back of South Shore and 11 points ahead of the fourth-place Boston Junior Bruins, so they were on a little bit of an island. The Jr. Comets are in the NCDC playoffs for the first time since 2021. 

South Shore, by contrast, went down to the final games of the New England Division in mid-March to try and clinch first overall, but were just beaten by a single point by the Islanders Hockey Club for the regular season division title. The Kings have increased their wins total each year since 2018-19 from 14 to 17 to 22 to 25 to 28 to this year’s 36-12-2-2 record. 

“This time of the year is exciting. Our guys are ready to go. We have had a few good days of practice and preparation. Our leadership group and returning group from last season have done an awesome job keeping the group focused,” said Head Coach Tyler Holske, who took over the program in 2022-23. “We had eight competitive and close games with Utica in the regular season. They are well-coached. They play fast in transition. They present many challenges. For us, it’s about getting to our game and playing to our strengths. We need to play with good details in all three zones. I expect it to be a tight checking series on both sides.”

During the regular season, the Kings won the majority of the matchups, going 5-2-1-0 in the season series (Utica went 3-5-0-0). Three of the games were decided by one goal, and four other games were decided by four goals, so this series could go in many different directions. 

“We are excited for the challenge to go into Foxboro and play one of the best teams in the league,” said Educate. “South Shore certainly has one of the most skilled teams in the league and they have the ability to create scoring chances in all situations. We feel prepared and expect to have a hard fought matchup against Tyler Holske’s team.”

Kotaro Murase finished in the top 10 of scoring in the NCDC this year, putting up 55 points in 52 games, giving the Kings their second-highest individual total in their NCDC history. Fellow returning King Nathan Stachowiak put up 53 points in 48 games and late season acquisition Justin Ryan finished with 53 points in 52 games for the full season. 

Additionally, Jake Kavanagh became the youngest Kings player to record 50 points, hitting the mark at age 18 as an ‘05-born player out of Montreal, Que. Veteran Salvatore Cerrato finished as the league’s third-highest scoring defenseman with 44 points in 50 games. 

In net, Ryan Keyes finished as the winningest goaltender for the 2023-24 season with 31 victories, one short of the NCDC record set by Holy Cross’ Thomas Gale. Keyes also finished with a 2.06 GAA (second) and .926 save % (ninth). 

On the other side of the ice, Payne Gatewood also registered his team’s second-highest points total in a season, putting up 58 points in 52 games. Gatewood finished sixth in NCDC scoring this year. 

With 41 points in 44 games, Fuji Suzuki – a former Japan National Junior Team teammate of Murase – was Utica’s second-highest scorer. Nick Dimatos led the way in scoring by a Utica defenseman with 36 points in 52 games.  

Waylon Esche’s 19 wins this season is the most all-time in a single season by a Utica goalie.