By Joshua Boyd / NCDCHockey.com
With the fantastic NCDC All-Star event just around the corner next Monday, the NCDC teams all look excited and fired up for the final half of the season. Most teams – in fact, all but the Twin City Thunder – have played more games than they have games remaining. As of right now, the Utica Jr. Comets, Utah Outliers and Pueblo Bulls have only 20 games remaining apiece, all representing the low end of the spectrum that also sees the Thunder with the most remaining at 27.
Going forward, of course, it’s all about either making the playoffs or jockeying for position really from now until the regular season ends in late March. Thus, our focus in a lot of these articles going forward, will be on just that – where teams are now and where they could get to within a week’s time if all goes well – or not.
As usual, we’ll focus in on the teams from the past week that earned at least as many points as games played, so jump right in with us as we kick off the 2024 portion of the NCDC’s seventh exciting season.
Islanders Hockey Club Extend New England Division Lead With Sweep
The Islanders entered December’s games just two points up from their closest competition, the South Shore Kings. Since then, the Islanders have been able to pull away a bit to five points up in the New England Division, going 7-1-1-0 vs. the Kings’ 6-3-0-0. Both teams are still doing well to maintain some space above possible challengers. However, there’s very little wiggle room in either of their quests for the No. 1 seed in that division.
The Islanders currently have a four-game winning streak going, second best in the league. Their two most recent wins came against the Northern Cyclones, their closest rival residing just about 10 miles away from the IHC’s home Skate 3 Arena. They won 3-2 and 5-0.
- When the Islanders won that 5-0 game, they also improved their record in five-goal decisions to 5-0.
- The Islanders also lead in one-goal wins, with a record of 10-0-4-1 with that differential. An OT game, it was their league-leading eighth such contest, and part of their league-leading 10 games beyond regulation. Their extra point from the victory (giving them a 4-4 OT record) also gave them the most points earned after regulation with 15.
- The Islanders remain a staunch defensive team, one that’s hard to get goals out of and also even a tough team to get a shot on net against. They are second in team GAA with a 2.10 mark and second in fewest shots against at 31.83.
- Frank Murphy’s fourth shutout (17 saves) tied him for the league lead with Connecticut’s Primo Baldassarre, and helped give the Islanders the most shutouts as a team with six this season. He is third in goals against average at 2.02, and third in save percentage (.937) and wins (15).
- Braxton Powers’ 15th of the season was the OT game-winner in the 3-2 win, putting him into a tie for the league lead for overall GWG’s (six) and OT goals (two). He joined teammate Max Lundgren, also with six GWG’s, on the list.
- Samuel Larsson’s power play assist on Powers’ first goal of that game added to his 13 power play assists and 15 power play points, both second in the league among defensemen. With 23 points in 30 games, he is sixth overall in NCDC defenseman scoring.
P.A.L. Jr. Islanders Send Atlantic Division Lead Further Out Of Reach With Two Wins
The defending Dineen Cup Champion P.A.L. Jr. Islanders went to Pennsylvania on Monday and Tuesday to face the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights, and came back with two more wins. Their league-leading record is 27-2-1-1 and 56 points are getting further and further away from anybody really hoping to match this season. Their sweep against the Knights extended their points lead in the Atlantic to 23 ahead of second-place Connecticut, who has been out of game action thus far in 2024. They defeated the Knights, 5-1 and 3-1, extending their season series record to 5-0-0-1 and overall series lead to 11-0-0-1. WBS defeated P.A.L. in a shootout, 5-4, in Game 2 of their respective seasons on Sept. 23, 2023 for WBS’ first points against P.A.L. In the Founders Cup (Regular Season Champion) race, they are seven points in front of their closest competition, the Islanders Hockey Club, winners of the first NCDC Founders Cup in 2018. The Jersey Hitmen won all five between 2019 and 2023.
- Not surprising from a team with such a commanding lead in their division and the league overall, P.A.L. is No. 1 in defense (1.90, the only team under 2.00) as well as No. 1 in shots on goal per game (42.48). They are a close second in overall offense at 3.84, right behind the South Shore Kings’ 3.86 goals per game.
- The Jr. Islanders led after the first and second periods in their 3-1 victory and are now 12-0 with a lead in 20 minutes and 24-0 when leading through 40 minutes.
- Dustin Patterson’s GWG in their 3-1 victory, was also his sixth point in six straight games. The returning Jr. Islander has put up a 3-3-6 line going back to Dec. 9. He has game-winners in two of his last three games.
- Also on a hot streak is defenseman Coleson Hanrahan, who has four assists in his last three games. Another returning champ, Hanrahan is leading all NCDC blueliners in scoring with 33 points, and assists with 29.
- Nicholas Bevilacqua has command of many goaltending stat leaderboards, including wins (22), save percentage (.952), minutes played (1,512) and saves (907). He is second in goals against average at 1.83.
- You can never count out Ty Broad, who continues to climb the P.A.L. all-time NCDC leaderboards. With 93 career points as a Jr. Islander, he is fourth all-time for the team, while standing fifth at 38 goals and fourth in assists with 55. He leads the NCDC with 47 points in 31 games, and he leads in assists at 30 (with Coleson Hanrahan right behind at 29). He also leads in power play assists (17) and power play points (21).
South Shore Kings Go 2-1 Over Three-Game Opening Weekend Of New Year
The Kings went up to Maine for a three-game set against the Twin City Thunder and the trip was somewhat productive as they came back with four points off a 2-1 run against the Thunder. After opening with a 3-2 win, the next day they were the victims of a huge 46-save shutout by the Thunder’s Jeffrey Kreidler on Friday, Jan. 5. The Kings got some vengeance the next day with a 2-0 victory. All told, the two teams tied the weekend in goals, 5-5.
- The shutout loss and win Jan. 5 and 6 marked the first time that the Kings traded shutout wins with the same opponent on consecutive days.
- Adam Stevenson, an ‘05 rookie goaltender, turned away all 31 shots he faced against the Thunder for his first career NCDC doughnut. The Kings’ fourth round selection in the 2022 NCDC Entry Draft has gone 3-2-0-1 in six games this year, including three straight wins going back to Dec. 14. He won both of the Kings’ games against the Northern Cyclones on Dec. 14 and 17 just prior to the holiday break.
- Even with Kreidler’s shutout (the only shutout loss for South Shore this season), the Kings still have the best offense with a 3.86 goals for per game average. They’re also No. 1 in fewest shots against at 28.93, the only NCDC team to surrender less than 30 shots on average per game.
- A power play goal by Karim Gayfullin on Jan. 6 kept the Kings at the top of the power play leaderboard at 28.9 percent. They’ve scored 35 power play goals on 121 opportunities this year.
- The Kings scored the first goal in both of their wins this past week, and they join the Islanders Hockey Club as the only two teams undefeated in regulation when scoring the first goal. The Kings are 15-0-1 in that situation (the IHC is 17-0-2-1).
- With two assists against the Thunder, Sal Cerrato stands at fourth overall in NCDC defenseman scoring, with 26 points.
- Ryan Keyes went 1-1 in net this past weekend, helping him stay high on the goaltending leaderboards. He is fourth in GAA with a 2.09 mark, and he is second with 16 wins.
Utica Jr. Comets Take Two Out Of Three To Keep Strong Hold On Third In New England
The Jr. Comets were winners of two games out of their three-game set against the Boston Junior Bruins Jan. 5-7, including a huge 11-3 win that matched the biggest winning margins of this season. The two wins helped them improve to 18-11-2-1 for 39 points. They closed the gap on idle Connecticut, while improving their lead on the fourth-place Junior Bruins to 12 points. The weekend started with another big victory – an 8-1 Jr. Comets Friday win, before the Boston Junior Bruins countered with a 6-3 win on Saturday. That just made the Jr. Comets hungrier for an even bigger win.
- The eight-goal margin of victory was the highest all-time in the Jr. Comets’ (and previously the Syracuse Stars’) seven-year history in the NCDC. The Jersey Hitmen also had an eight-goal win on Jan. 5 and the WBS Knights won by eight goals on Nov. 11, 2023, to share the tie for the league lead in largest victory margin.
- No other team has been in as many games decided by six or more goals – and the Jr. Comets have won all three of these instances.
- The Jr. Comets also set a league high mark for goals in the first period with six from their Jan. 7 game, which also ties the WBS Knights (again from Nov. 11) for most in any period. The Knights scored their six in the third period of that game.
- Twice the Jr. Comets have seen a game with 14 total goals this year, a league-wide season high. Along with the Jan. 7 win against the Junior Bruins, they also saw 14 goals shared with the South Shore Kings in a 9-5 Kings win on Oct. 15, 2023.
- In the Jan. 5 8-1 victory, Garrett Krieger scored a hat trick of just power play goals, tying a league high mark for 2023-24 for most PP goals in a game. That is shared with the Kings’ Xavier Vaillancourt from the Oct. 15 game.
- Payne Gatewood has registered four assists over each of his last three games for one of the longer active assist streaks in the league. Gatewood stands at third in goals with 21, and he is tied for sixth in points at 37.
- Goaltender Waylon Esche remains one of the league’s top goalies, standing in the top five for wins (12, tied for fourth), minutes (1,400, second), saves (665, fourth) and he is sixth in goals against average (2.62).
Utah Outliers Claim Lead In Mountain Division With Best Weekend Of Six Teams
The Utah Outliers yielded their first point to the Rock Springs Grizzlies this season when the Grizzlies won 3-2 in overtime on Jan. 5, but were able to come back with the regulation victory the next night, 4-1. In doing so, the Outliers led all Mountain Division teams with three points on the weekend as the other five teams all saw straight 1-1 splits for the weekend. More importantly, the Outliers took over the top spot in the Mountain Division, giving them 47 points and a tenuous one-point lead over their longtime Salt Lake regional rivals the Ogden Mustangs.
- The Outliers now have points in 11 straight games going back to Dec. 2, 2023, the league high for active team point streaks. The next closest is five games with points earned by the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders.
- Utah may not always have the best first periods, but no team has as many wins when tied after the first 20. They were 1-1 against Rock Springs in both games this weekend and came out with three points, giving them a 12-3-1-0 record in that situation.
- Philip Rondina, currently on a seven-game winning streak in net, stands at the top of the league’s goals against average leaderboard with a 1.46 GAA and he’s second in save percentage at .951.
- David Utkin’s goal scored on Jan. 5 made him the league’s top goal-scorer, with 24 on the season. Along with 20 assists, his 44 points make him second overall in NCDC scoring.
Jersey Hitmen Win Big In Single Match To Start 2024
The Hitmen approached their first game of 2024 with heavy hearts, as former Hitmen play-by-play broadcaster Bret Leuthner passed away due to cancer on New Year’s Day after a long battle. Bret was a kindhearted friend to all, one of the biggest fans the Hitmen ever had and a staple at the USPHL Premier and Elite National Championships the past couple years. The NCDC and USPHL Media Department will miss Bret with all of our hearts and will always remember his positive spirit as one of the most likeable gentlemen you could ever hope to meet.
The Hitmen went out and had their biggest winning margin of the season when they defeated the rival Rockets Hockey Club, 9-1, on Jan. 5. As aforementioned, that matched the WBS Knights’ Nov. 11 game and then the Jr. Comets became the third team this year to win by eight goals on Jan. 7.
In sixth place currently in the Atlantic, the Hitmen are only three points out of fourth place, representing the final playoff berth available in the division. That spot is currently held by the very same Rockets, so this was a huge victory for the Hitmen, a veritable “four-point game.”
- A number of Hitmen hit their season high in points for a game against the Rockets, including Aiden Ryan and Jayar Luedke (2-1-3 apiece), Noah Wood (0-2-2), and Camden Prier (1-1-2), and two players who matched their season highs in Jace Koenigsmark (1-2-3) and Yahor Ramanau (1-1-2).
Around The Boards
All of our 1-1 teams profiled here are the Mountain Division teams who each slightly improved their standing with two points apiece.
The Idaho Falls Spud Kings and Pueblo Bulls split by seeing a 6-5 Spud Kings victory on Jan. 4, followed a day later by a 4-3 Bulls victory. Neither team helped or hurt their positions in the division, as Pueblo remains in fourth place and they stay three points ahead of Idaho Falls.
- Eight of the Spud Kings’ last nine games have been one-goal decisions – and their 18 such games lead the league. They have an 8-6-4-0 record in one-goal games.
- Jack Hanson of Pueblo is tied for the league’s longest active point streak, with six points (2-4-6) in his last six games going back to Dec. 15, his second of three games at the NCDC Frozen Futures Showcase, also in Idaho Falls.
The Ogden Mustangs and Provo Predators went head to head in a pair of games that saw Ogden win 4-0 on Jan. 5 and Provo win 4-2 on Jan. 6. Ogden stands in second place with 46 points. Utah certainly thanks Provo for their victory which allowed the Outliers to take over first in the division. Provo is eight points back of second with 38 points, and they are also five ahead of fourth place Pueblo.
- Ogden are second in shots on goal in the NCDC at 42.29 per game.
- The Mustangs have the league’s second best penalty kill at 86.2, just a fraction behind the Northern Cyclones’ 86.8. Ogden’s opponents have only scored 18 goals on 130 power plays.
- Ogden and P.A.L. are the only two teams with two players in the top five of overall scoring. Parker Osborn is third at 42 points and Dimitriy Voyatzis is 38 points in 30 games.
- Michael Polston’s 4-2 victory was his 12th of the season, putting him in a tie for fourth in that category league-wide.
The Rock Springs Grizzlies’ 3-2 OT victory over the Utah Outliers was their historic first overtime win in the NCDC. They are currently 1-3 in the extra session.
- The game-winner was scored by Greyson Settipane, who had started the season with Utah and was acquired by Rock Springs in November.