NCDC This Week: Spud Kings’ Five-Game Winning Streak Puts Them In Playoff Position

By Joshua Boyd / 


We are just past the three-quarter mark of the 2023-24 NCDC season. No team has fewer than 10 games remaining or more than 14 games. In other words, time is tight for making a major move (and some moves just can’t be made anymore), but there’s also a lot of hockey left to shed light on our tighter playoff races. 

One of the most exciting races that has developed in the winter here is that between the Idaho Falls Spud Kings and Pueblo Bulls. While the Atlantic and New England Divisions have 4-vs.-5 play-in games in their playoff series, only the top four in the Mountain will make it. Idaho Falls has been on a five-game tear to now stand in fourth place with a three-point lead over the Bulls for the coveted playoff spot. Idaho Falls has an important three games in hand over Pueblo, who can finish no higher than third in the Mountain at this point, while mathematically the Spud Kings can still theoretically claim first. Obviously, a lot would have to go right for them and a lot would have to go wrong for the other three playoff position teams, including Ogden and Utah who have clinched half the available playoff spots already. 

The P.A.L. Jr. Islanders clinched their first Atlantic Division Championship – including home ice advantage in the Atlantic playoffs – while the Islanders Hockey Club and South Shore Kings are both guaranteed postseason spots. Elsewhere, there are small battles for spots all around. Let’s dive in, as always focusing on the teams that earned at least as many points as games played in the last week. 

P.A.L., the Islanders Hockey Club and South Shore Kings’ story lines will play out further at this week’s South Shore Kings Presidents Day Showcase, with three busy days of NCDC action at Foxboro Sports Center.


Spud Kings Increase Hold On Fourth Place With Big Winning Streak

The Spud Kings brought new head coach John Becanic on Jan. 18, and the Spud Kings have gone 6-2-0-0 since then, including their current five-game winning streak, which is the best active streak in the league. They showed just how much fun they could potentially have in the playoffs, as they defeated the Mountain Division’s top two teams – the Utah Outliers (4-0) and Ogden Mustangs (2-1). We’ve mentioned above the Spud Kings’ situation in terms of their lead in the division. They’re also just seven points back of the Provo Predators in third place, so they can begin pushing for that spot if they keep winning like they have been. 

  • The Spud Kings have played the most one-goal games in the league at 23 (12-7-4-0), including a tie for most one-goal wins at 12, tied with the Islanders Hockey Club (12-2-4-1). 
  • Defenseman D.J. MacLeish registered an assist this weekend to stand third in the league in scoring by a defenseman with 38 points, and he also remains in the lead in goals by a defenseman with 16. 
  • Goaltender Tucker Inabinet leads the entire NCDC in saves made with 1,202, and he’s on a career-best four-game winning streak going back to Jan. 27. His shutout on Feb. 9 with 30 saves was his second shutout of the season and also for his NCDC career. The last was on Oct. 20 as a member of the Rock Springs Grizzlies, when he stopped 32 against Pueblo. 
  • Owen Pitters is not only on a three-game goal streak, but he’s also on a three-game game-winning goal streak! He now has four on the season, since joining the Spud Kings just after New Year’s Day. He’s put up 12 points in 12 games in that stretch. 
  • Pitters and Timothy Kim both have five-game scoring streaks going into this weekend, and both have six points in that stretch. 


Jersey Hitmen Remain In Playoff Hunt With Weekend Sweep

The Hitmen are one point out of the fifth-place spot in the Atlantic, which in the end of the season will see a 4-vs.-5 play-in game. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, coming off a three-point weekend, are one point ahead of the Hitmen, who are coming off a 5-2 and 5-4 set of wins against Connecticut. The latter was in overtime off a game-winner from William Jasmin, an All-Star newly-acquired from (ironically enough) WBS. His 20th of the year was his first with the Hitmen. 

  • The Hitmen’s OT victory was their 30th win against the Jr. Rangers in 40 all-time regular season meetings since the start of the NCDC in 2017-18. 
  • The first goal in the eventual 5-4 victory was a shorthanded goal by Breyden Zupsansky, his second goal of the season. It gave the Hitmen a league-leading nine shorthanded goals on the season. 
  • By finishing the game in overtime, the Hitmen and Jr. Rangers remain the only two teams sitting in mid-February without any shootouts in 2023-24.  
  • Forward and All-Star Jack Matsukubo is in a five-way tie for longest active goal streak with three goals in his last three games, giving him 19 for the season (and along with 13 assists, he has 32 points in 41 games. 


P.A.L. Jr. Islanders Clinch Division Title, Bevilacqua Sets All-Time Wins Record

The Jr. Islanders will be able to hold onto home ice advantage for the duration of the Atlantic playoffs. They have clinched the Atlantic Division regular season title already, as no team in their division can now catch up to their 73 points. They still have to fight their way towards the Founders Cup, indicative of the Regular Season title. Ogden is 10 points back with one game in hand on P.A.L. The Islanders Hockey Club are 12 points back with two games in hand. P.A.L. clinched the title on Saturday in a 5-3 victory over Mercer. That made it one point too far for Mercer.

  • One day earlier, it was a 4-1 victory over Mercer, in which goaltender Nicholas Bevilacqua set the all-time record for NCDC goaltender wins with his 49th. The previous record-holder was former Jersey Hitmen and South Shore King Evan Szary, who is now playing for the NCAA Division I Army Black Knights. They have a very good chance of facing each other in college hockey as both Bevilacqua’s next team, Bentley University, and Army are both members of the Atlantic Hockey Association. Szary has two more seasons of NCAA eligibility. The two faced each other just once in their NCDC era, on Dec. 21, 2020 – their last game before the move in early 2021 to the Hub City Tampa six-week event. In a 5-3 Kings win, Szary stopped 38 of 41 at his end and Bevilacqua made 32 saves on 37 shots for the former Boston Advantage. Szary ended that 2020-21 season with 21 wins and was the Goaltender Of The Year. 
  • Bevilacqua leads the NCDC with the trifecta of the most wins (27), best save percentage (.948) and best goals against average (1.93). He’s also the league’s goaltender time on ice leader with 1,932 minutes. 
  • The 5-3 victory was the P.A.L.’s league-leading ninth victory by a two-goal margin. With the Islanders Hockey Club (2-0-0-0), the two Islander clubs are the only ones undefeated by that margin. 
  • The Jr. Islanders were up after the first period of the 4-1 victory and closed out their league-leading 18th win while staying undefeated when up after 20 minutes (18-0-0-0). They’ve been up after two periods 32 times and they’re 31-0-1-0 in that situation.
  • P.A.L. leads the league in team goals against average (2.05) and is second in goals for per game (3.76).
  • The league’s leading scorer among defensemen, Coleson Hanrahan (43 points), did not play in the Mercer series because he was making his United States Hockey League debut. He played two games with the Youngstown Phantoms (including the first on Feb. 9) and he came out a +2 with two shots on goal from their series against the Muskegon Lumberjacks, who won both games. Hanrahan is also the NCDC’s assist leader among blueliners with 36. 
  • Ty Broad, the league leading scorer with 59 points, and his 38th assist on Heikki Virtanen’s GWG in the 4-1 victory gives him the sole possession of the assist lead in the league as well. Ty Broad is fourth in P.A.L. career scoring with 107 points in 108 games and they’re just two points from second place. Broad is also the league leader in power play assists with 21. 
  • Carter Hanrahan is second in assists with 37 and brother Coleson is third with 36. 
  • Virtanen’s GWG in the 4-1 win was his league-leading 12th power play goal. 


Utah Outliers Go 2-1 On Weekend To Keep In Mountain Title Contention

The Outliers had a busy weekend in facing two different opponents in three different arenas, and they came out with four points off a 2-1 record. They defeated the Provo Predators in Provo on Feb. 8 in a 4-1 victory, and then fell 4-0 to Idaho Falls on Friday night. Back to the Salt Lake area, they won at home 5-2 over the Provo Predators. The four points pulled them to within four points of Ogden at the top of the Mountain Division. Ogden has two games in hand on Utah going down the road, with 12 remaining for Ogden and 10 for Utah. Provo – 10 points back of Utah – also has two games in hand on Utah, so the Outliers will be keeping an eye on the rearview mirror as well, despite giving themselves four more points worth of space this past weekend against their local area rivals. 

  • The Outliers improved to 7-1-0-1 against the Predators this season with the two wins. 
  • The 4-0 loss to the Idaho Falls Spud Kings marked the Outliers’ first shutout loss (and only, so far). They were the last team in the Mountain Division to be shut out, and only the Rockets Hockey Club remain to have never been shut out this year. 
  • Utah led after two periods in both their games against Provo, and they remain the only NCDC team to never be beaten in regulation or overtime when holding a 40-minute lead. They are 19-0-0-1 in that situation. 
  • A three-point game – all assists – by Matteo Mitrovic marked his first points as an Outlier after a late January trade from Idaho Falls. He’s tied for seventh overall in defenseman scoring in the league with 28 points. 
  • Philip Rondina went 2-1 on the weekend, and he remains in the top five league-wide for both wins (17, fifth) and goals against average (2.10, fourth). 
  • Garrett Joss scored two goals in the second win against the Predators, which puts him at fourth in league scoring with 48 points in 43 games. 


Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Three-Point Weekend Maintains Spot In Tight Atlantic Pack

If the regular season were to end today, the WBS Knights would be the fifth seed in a 4-vs.-5 Atlantic play-in game. But it ends after 11 more games at which time, mathematically, they could be the home team as a second seed. WBS is one of the handful of teams that can finish in or out of a playoff spot, and within the playoffs easily anywhere from second to fifth. The Knights went 1-0-1 against the Rockets Hockey Club, losing 5-4 in overtime and then winning 4-2. The wins allowed them to earn a point on the gap between themselves in fifth place and the fourth place Rockets. 

  • The WBS win pulled Wilkes-Barre/Scranton up to .500 in their all-time series with the Rockets, going 6-6-1-1 in their 14 meetings since the Knights started their NCDC existence in 2022-23. 
  • Jameson O’Flynn, who joined the Knights from the Jersey Hitmen – in the same trade that sent William Jasmin to the Hitmen – posted three assists to be one of the Knights’ leaders on the weekend. He had a shorthanded assist on a goal from another recent acquisition (George Goodwin) to give him a tie for most shorthanded points by a defenseman, with three. Fellow Knights defenseman Michael Gravina has three shorthanded assists to lead in that category. 


Islanders Hockey Club’s Single Win Keeps Them Two Points Up In New England Title Race

The IHC had a lighter week, playing only one game and coming out on top against the Twin City Thunder on Feb. 9, 4-1. The IHC knew they had to take the two points to remain above the South Shore Kings. The Islanders are only two points up on the Kings, as each team has 28 wins this year, but the Islanders have gone into OT two more times and are 28-7-4-1 vs. the Kings’ 28-9-1-2. The two teams have been nearly paralleling each other for the last 10 games. The Islanders are 6-4-0-0 in that stretch and the Kings are 6-3-1-0. Additionally, the Utica Jr. Comets can still very much make a run for the top as they’re only 10 points back. 

  • The IHC defense continues to make life tough for their opponents. They are second in goals against average at 2.20 and they’re second in fewest shots against per game at 30.83. 
  • Benjamin Skelton, who joined after two years in the EHL, earned his first NCDC victory with 22 saves on 23 shots against the Thunder. 


Utica Jr. Comets Take Win To Stay Very Much In Title Hunt

The Jr. Comets’ 4-0 victory against the Twin City Thunder gives the Utica Jr. Comets 51 points, putting them 10 points out of the New England Division lead with 11 games remaining. Overall, the Jr. Comets are well-situated in third place in the New England Division as they’re eight points back from second while enjoying a 13-point gap over fourth place. If all goes well the rest of the way for Utica, they should be able to avoid the 4-vs.-5 play-in game. 

  • The shutout was the fourth career blanking for Jr. Comets goaltender Waylon Esche, who made 20 saves. It is his third shutout this year, good for third-most in the NCDC.
  • Veteran Niko Benjamin scored his 12th goal of the season, which also extended an active point streak to seven games going back to Jan. 19. In that time, he’s had a 5-7-12 line. Benjamin is the all-time games played leader for the Jr. Comets at 133 regular season games. 
  • Utica was able to stay No. 1 in penalty killing league-wide, giving up just 20 power play goals in 152 times shorthanded for an 86.8 percent success rate. Twin City was 0-for-3 last weekend against Utica. 


Around The Boards 

Twin City was the busiest team in the NCDC between Feb. 7-13, going 2-2 over four games, including a home-and-home against the Northern Cyclones, with a road game against the Islanders Hockey Club in the middle. They also had a Monday, Feb. 12, game against the Utica Jr. Comets, the aforementioned 4-0 loss. They won both games against the Cyclones, 4-3 in OT on the road and 4-1 at home, while falling to IHC 4-1. 

The four points they earned in going 2-2 – including taking all available points away from the Cyclones in their series – helped them to pull to within two points of the fifth-place Cyclones. With 14 games remaining, the Thunder have one game in hand on the Cyclones and the most games remaining of any NCDC team. Mathematically, they can rise as high as third place in the New England Division. 

  • Nolan Leonard’s shorthanded overtime goal was the second such goal scored this season, after the Jersey Hitmen’s Daniel Prazma also scored a shorthanded overtime goal (into an empty net) on Nov. 21. 

The Boston Junior Bruins, who have 12 games remaining, are fighting hard to hold onto that fourth playoff spot, as they are currently eight points above the Northern Cyclones. Mathematically, the Junior Bruins could still run the table and technically climb to first, but having said that, they’re also 13 points back of third place, so it is still a big hill to climb. The Junior Bruins lost 4-1 and won 4-3, both against the South Shore Kings. 

The Kings, for their part, have clinched a playoff berth already and are two points back of the Islanders Hockey Club, and both teams have 12 games remaining. 

  • Nick LeVasseur has goals in his last three straight games for the Boston Junior Bruins, comprising half of his six goals for the season. 
  • Ryan Keyes’ 23 wins (the 23rd coming against the Junior Bruins) is good for second in the league, and his 2.08 GAA is third. 
  • The Kings’ defensive corps in front of Keyes is also No. 1, as they have given up just 29.45 shots on goal this year, the only team to average under 30. 

Ogden and Rock Springs each had split weekends last weekend. We’ve shown above where Ogden is, as they continue to lead the Mountain Division. Rock Springs is now more in the position of playing spoiler for those teams still trying to nail down playoff spots. Ogden defeated Pueblo, 7-2, and then fell 2-1 against the Idaho Falls Spud Kings. 

Rock Springs lost to Provo, 5-2, on Friday before defeating Pueblo, 4-2, on Saturday. Rock Springs is heading to Pueblo for two games this weekend. 

  • The Mustangs led after both periods in their win against Pueblo, giving them their league-best 26th win when leading after two. They outshot both teams this weekend as well and are 27-5-0-0, the 27 wins being tied for league-best when having the higher number of shots. 
  • Offense remains the name of the Mustangs’ game, as they are first in goals for per game (3.95) and first in shots on goal per game (42.20). 
  • Ogden also scored first in the win, their league-high 26th when scoring the first goal. They are 26-2-1-1 when striking first for a league-best 54 points. 
  • Nikolas Charles played in his first start in net since December and got the win for Rock Springs, making 32 saves on 34 shots. 

The Rockets Hockey Club split against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, winning 5-4 in OT and losing 4-2 in regulation. 

  • Their overtime win tied them for most games beyond regulation this year with 11, and they are one of four teams with four OT victories this year. 
  • Jonah Copre had two assists this weekend to give him 39 points on the season, second best among NCDC defensemen. His 18 power play points (both his assists were PP helpers this weekend) are also the second most for blueliners. 
  • Cam Bergeman scored a goal and four assists for five points this past weekend, putting him at third in league scoring with 51 points, and he’s second in goals with 29.