The Jersey Hitmen Classic is in the books, and – along with the BJB Shootout one week earlier – two of the five NCDC Showcases for this season are already behind us.
With most teams venturing largely out of their division the first few weeks of the season, they’ll finally get some opportunities to go head-to-head against their division-mates over the next couple weeks ahead of showcase No. 3, the Fall Beantown Classic (featuring NCDC action from Oct. 29-31).
A lot happened this week, including the continued rise of the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders (the only team still undefeated in regulation) and the first defeat of the Jersey Hitmen in any kind of game since their only 2022 playoff loss to the Rockets Hockey Club way back on March 26.
Before we get into what happened at the Hitmen Classic, don’t forget to catch the USPHL and The Dan K Show’s first-ever ScoutCast games this week. On Wednesday, it’s the Twin City Thunder hosting the Boston Advantage, followed by Thursday’s broadcast of the Boston Junior Bruins against the visiting Northern Cyclones, and the week’s ScoutCast schedule concludes with the Rockets Hockey Club visiting the Connecticut Jr. Rangers on Friday. Further ScoutCasts will feature the eight other NCDC teams in November and February.
Now, let’s get right into the weeds of what happened in Jersey, looking at the teams that came out .500 or better on the weekend.
Note: Records listed are for the Hitmen Classic only.
P.A.L. Jr. Islanders (3-0)
The Jr. Islanders are off to their best start in team history, standing at 6-0-0-2. Their previous best was 4-1-2-1 in 2019-20, though they did start the 2017-18 season off unbeaten through five games (3-0-1-1). Coincidentally in both this season and in their inaugural NCDC season, the Jr. Islanders started with a shootout loss – 3-2 to Mercer on Sept. 23, 2022, and 3-2 to the former Syracuse Stars (now Utica Jr. Comets) on Sept. 16, 2017, their first-ever NCDC game.
The Jr. Islanders started out with a 5-1 win against the Boston Advantage, and enjoyed the same result in Game 2 against the Twin City Thunder. They ended with a 5-2 victory against the Islanders Hockey Club. Luca Leighton (‘03) posted 2-2-4 over all three games, part of an eight-game point streak of 2-10-12. Additionally, ‘02 Jeffrey Lee put up 1-3-4 there as part of an overall 3-5-8 scoring streak in his last five games.
Ty Broad (‘03) got on the scoresheet for the first time in Game 1 of the Hitmen Classic and ended up leading the team offensively with a 4-1-5 line over the three contests.
St. Lawrence University commit Cam Smith (‘02) stopped 70 of the 72 shots that he faced in net for his two wins.
The Road Ahead: P.A.L. faces the Mercer Chiefs for the second time, the first being a 3-2 shootout win for Mercer on Sept. 23 for the Chiefs’ first win in their inaugural NCDC game. Additionally, the Jr. Islanders will host the Connecticut Jr. Rangers on Sunday evening. The Jr. Islanders are 15-10-1-0 all-time against the Jr. Rangers (whom, conversely, are 11-10-4-1).
Connecticut Jr. Rangers (2-0-1)
The Jr. Rangers rode an impressive weekend up to third place in the South Division, where they currently reside at 5-2-1-1, just four points behind the division-and league-leading Jersey Hitmen (and, for the Rangers, they also have a greater points total at third than any North Division teams). They started with a 3-1 win over the Kings, continued with a hard-fought game against the Junior Bruins, which eventually ended with a 6-5 overtime loss. They closed out Saturday with a 5-1 win over the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs.
The team’s veteran leaders stood out most on the weekend – with ‘03 Billy Shields posting a team-leading 2-3-5 streak in the three games (part of an overall five-game scoring streak of 3-4-7), followed by ‘03 Jex Sheffield (2-2-4) and ‘02 Spencer Flansburg (3-1-4 in three games, and 3-2-5 over his last four). Newcomer Jack Arizo (‘03) is also on a 3-2-5 streak, with 3-1-4 coming at the Hitmen Classic.
The Road Ahead: The Rangers and Rockets face off in the third straight Dan K Show ScoutCast of the week. Though the Rockets won the 2021-22 season series by a 5-0-1-1 record, the Jr. Rangers hold the all-time series lead at 15-10-2-0. The Rockets also hold a winning record but with slightly fewer wins and points at 12-10-3-2. The P.A.L. Jr. Islanders will host the Rangers on Sunday.
Jersey Hitmen (2-1)
After sweeping through the BJB Shootout one week earlier, the Hitmen looked poised to do the same when they earned a decisive shutout victory in Game 1 of the Hitmen Classic against the Junior Bruins in the second (and final) Dineen Cup Final rematch this season. They went on to post a close 2-1 victory against the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs and finished with a close 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Boston Advantage, their first loss of the season. So, although not the perfect weekend they were going for, they still were able to hold on to first place in the South Division and the league at 8-1-0-0. Their top players remain the league’s top players, as well.
J.J. Cataldo (‘03)’s early season performance has cemented him as the must-see goaltender for NCAA Division I college coaches. He added to his standing by putting up a 2-0 record, stopping 52 of 53 shots and earning his third shutout against the Junior Bruins.
Vincent Gould (‘03) continues to impress as a returning veteran. He had goals in each game, including the GWG vs. the Monarchs. He now has a seven-game point streak with seven goals and two assists for nine points, and with goals in each of his last four straight games. Tanner Mahoney put up a 1-2-3 line over all three games and fellow ‘03 Panayioti Efraimidis, of Montreal, Que., made his debut for the Hitmen on Oct. 8 after coming over from the Junior Bruins and now has points in all five NCDC games this year at 1-4-5.
Penn State recruit Drew Tsakounis was strong on D with a 1-2-3 line for the Hitmen over the course of the weekend as well.
The Road Ahead: The Hitmen face the Mercer Chiefs in their first ever game against each other on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. From there, it’s a nine-day break between games before facing the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders on Oct. 21.
Mercer Chiefs (2-1)
The first-year Chiefs doubled their wins total from their limited pre-Classic games, and now stand with an impressive 4-1-1-0 record out of their NCDC gates. After starting out with a close 2-1 loss to the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs, but bounced back with a 3-2 win over the Islanders Hockey Club and then closed with a dramatic 6-5 overtime win against the South Shore Kings. Clear leaders are beginning to emerge on the new squad, like ‘03 Ryder Nienhuis, who scored their only goal against the Monarchs and two games later broke out for a 3-2-5 performance against the Kings, including the OT game-winner. French import Elowan Orme-Lynch (‘02) has also been impressive early. His goal in the second game against the Islanders saw him extend a streak of five goals in his first four games, to which he also added an assist in Game 1 of the weekend for a 5-1-6 line through his first five NCDC games.
The Road Ahead: The Chiefs get their first-ever games against both the Hitmen (Wednesday) and the Rockets Hockey Club (Saturday), with their second tilt against P.A.L. in between on Friday.
Boston Advantage (2-1)
The Advantage got a big monkey off their back the final day by earning their first win against the two-time defending Dineen Cup champion Jersey Hitmen in their three-year history. Their 2-1 record on the weekend also helped them leapfrog the South Shore Kings and idle Northern Cyclones from fifth into third place in the early North Division standings. After a 5-1 loss to the buzzsaw P.A.L. Jr. Islanders, the Advantage turned it around and won a 3-2 shootout victory against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights in these opponents’ first game ever.
Conor Lally (‘02) scored the deciding shootout goal. The week ended with the piece de resistance, their 3-2 victory against the Hitmen. Kyle Gonzalez (‘03) and Lally scored in the first, followed by the Hitmen’s Vincent Gould in the first, with Gould scoring with three seconds remaining. Tanner Mahoney’s first NCDC goal evened it at 2-2 apiece in the second, but it was a combination of Arik Altman’s third period goal and knock-down goaltending by fellow ‘03 Nick Bevilacqua (44 stops on 46 shots) that led to the historic victory for the Advantage.
The Road Ahead: The Advantage and Thunder tangle in Maine Wednesday in the inaugural NCDC ScoutCast Presented by The Dan K Show. On Friday, they visit the Northern Cyclones, and they finally get to have their first-ever game at the new Lovell Arena on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against the Islanders Hockey Club. A busy seven days sees them going up against the Boston Junior Bruins on Tuesday, Oct. 18.
Twin City Thunder (2-1)
The Thunder’s positive two-win weekend in New Jersey showed up in the standings when they came out of it all tied with the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs for the North Division lead. Like every season, it’ll be a Top Gun-style dogfight to maintain air supremacy up there at the top, but they’re up to the task. In the Garden State, they started with a 7-1 performance against the WBS Knights, but then got caught in the headlights of the P.A.L. tractor, before rebounding Saturday against the Rockets Hockey Club with another 7-1 victory.
Trace Norwell (‘02) was on fire on the weekend, scoring four goals and three assists for seven points, and stood as the only Thunder player with goals and points in all three contests, and hopes to keep the streak alive this week.
- Ironically it was October 2021 the last time the Thunder scored seven goals in two out of three games, doing so Oct. 8 and 13 against the Islanders Hockey Club and Northern Cyclones. This was the first time they’ve done it entirely in a showcase setting.
The Road Ahead: After a busy stretch of two showcases and the ScoutCast game this Wednesday, the Thunder will get a chance to rest the bumps and bruises over eight days without games. They get back into action on Oct. 21 against the Islanders Hockey Club.
The Thunder are 6-3-0-0 all-time against the Boston Advantage entering Wednesday afternoon.
Junior Bruins (1-1-0-1)
The Junior Bruins broke through into the win column and left Jersey with three points from their three games. Their first W of the season was an overtime tilt against the Connecticut Jr. Rangers, and they came away with another point Saturday following a 4-3 loss in the shootout to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. The three-game stretch in Jersey started with their second defeat at the hands of the host Hitmen in four days, but they quickly rebounded and put up their best offensive showing of the season in their 6-5 win against Connecticut.
Returning veteran Easton Ryan (‘03) had the OT game-winner, his fifth career GWG but first in the extra session. He also scored in the third period of that game and finished the weekend with a 2-2-4 line.
The Road Ahead: The Junior Bruins take on the Cyclones Thursday in a Dan K Show ScoutCast. The Junior Bruins hold a close 11-9-1-1 all-time series lead on the Cyclones (whose record shows 10-11-1-1). From there, it’s Monday against the Islanders Hockey Club and Tuesday, Oct. 18 against the Boston Advantage.
WBS Knights (1-1-0-1)
The Knights, like Mercer, have looked impressive out of the gate. After a prior weekend sweep against the Islanders Hockey Club, they came into the Hitmen Classic feeling good. Although dealt a passing blow with a tough opening 7-1 loss to Twin City, WBS looked much better in a close 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Advantage in Game 2. They left the weekend with at least as many points as games played when they defeated the Boston Junior Bruins 3-2 in a shootout on Saturday. Marks Sklivinskis (‘03) was impressive in net in the win against the Junior Bruins stopping 41 of 44 shots during the first 65 minutes of the game.
The Road Ahead: It’ll be a three-game road trip to face the Utica Jr. Comets (idle last weekend) for the first time ever.
South Shore Kings (1-1-1-0)
The Kings saw a little bit of everything, taking an opening loss to Connecticut (3-1), then shaking that off to rebound with a 4-3 overtime win against the Rockets Hockey Club.
In their final game of the weekend, they went up against the Mercer Chiefs for the first time ever, and the Chiefs got the 6-5 win in overtime.
Japanese import ‘03 Kotaro Murase’s third goal of the season was the OT winner against the Rockets. Kai Shen (‘02) emerged as the only Kings player to score in all three showcase games (2-2-4) and is also the only Kings player to have scored in every game this season. He stands with 3-3-6 in his five games and remains a great example of #USPHLAdvancement success, having played most of last season in the USPHL Premier. Shen also played in the USPHL 16U Futures (now USPHL 15U), USPHL 16U and USPHL 18U Divisions in past seasons.
- The 11 goals in their overtime loss were the most the Kings and an opponent have scored in a game going beyond 60 minutes since a 7-6 victory over Utica on Oct. 30 of last year, at the Fall Beantown Classic.
The Road Ahead: After two straight three-game showcases, the Kings are taking a 10-day break from game action before resuming against the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs on Oct. 18. The Kings have the slightest of leads in the all-time series at 8-7-0-1.
Rockets Hockey Club (1-1-1-0)
The Rockets would have liked to leave their northern New Jersey neighbors with more than three points, but were certainly happy with at least one win. Their run began Thursday with a 3-1 victory against the Islanders Hockey Club, before finding themselves in overtime against the South Shore Kings (4-3). The end of the Classic was not what they were looking for, as the Twin City Thunder came away with a 7-1 victory against the Rockets. Veteran defenseman Jack Barbro (‘02) came out with one of the best individual performances of the weekend from a blueliner, with two goals and one assist, including the game-winner against the Islanders.
Another veteran, Army recruit Barron Woodring (’02), put up impressive numbers with two goals and an assist over the weekend.
The Road Ahead: The Rockets go up against the Connecticut Jr. Rangers on Friday in the Dan K Show’s Scoutcast. The Rockets turn right around and face the Mercer Chiefs for the first time ever on Saturday.
Drop The Pucks!