By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com
For what felt, in the grand scheme of a season, like about 10 minutes out of a 24-hour day, the Jersey Hitmen were not in first place. That’s already ancient history. With a 5-1 run in two three-game sets over seven days, the Hitmen launched back to the top of the standings with authority. They were two points up last Friday. They’re nine points up of anyone else now. So, they’re obviously a good starting point as we look closely at all teams going .500 or better over the last week and seeing what everyone’s up to over the next week.
Records Are For Games Between Jan. 20-26. Stats are through Jan. 26.
Jersey Hitmen (5-1)
The Hitmen not only got back to where they were at this same spot last year (which ended with their second Dineen Cup), but they’re a point better. They’re currently at 55 points off a 27-9-1-0, as opposed to a 26-9-2-0 mark last year. Their last week didn’t start perfectly, with a 6-3 loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. They shook that off the next day – Saturday, Jan. 21 – with a 6-4 victory and then closed the three-game set on Sunday with a 4-1 win. They may have caught their breath Monday, but Tuesday it was on the bus and off to Utica. They won their first two games 5-2 and 5-3, and Thursday closed out with a 6-3 victory and the three-game sweep. They came out of Thursday nine points north of the second-place P.A.L. Jr. Islanders. Mathematically, they can still be caught up to in their quest for a fifth straight Founders Cup, symbolic of the regular season championship.
- Who can really be surprised that the Hitmen are No. 1 in the standings? They have the best offense (3.94 goals for and 40.44 shots on goal per game), the best defense (2.33 goals against per game) and they are the least penalized team (9.36 per game), not to mention the best power play (22.6 percent).
- The Hitmen are also the best road team in the NCDC. Their three wins in Utica give them a 13-5-1-0 mark.
- Panayioti Efraimidis – returning to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 2 – put up a league-leading 10 points since Jan. 20, just ahead of Michael DiPietra’s nine points over the last six games. Efraimidis was kept off the board on Jan. 20, but scored six goals over each of the next five games, and added four assists for 6-4-10.
- Sean Melso hit the 100-point mark on Jan. 14, and then went and had a career-best five-assist game on Jan. 21. He currently stands with 108 points overall.
- Brandon Sacchetti, who comes in with two seasons of Alberta Junior League experience, didn’t hit the scoresheet in his Jan. 20 Hitmen debut, but has posted a 3-4-7 line in the last five games.
- Peyton Grainer, who joined J.J. Cataldo in helping the Hitmen win the 2022 Dineen Cup, is on a 4-0 run including two wins against each of WBS and Utica over the last week.
The Road Ahead: After six games in seven days, it’s more like the rest ahead. But the Hitmen, whose favorite hashtag is #NoDaysOff will certainly be staying sharp ahead of their big weekend against the No. 2 and 3 teams on Feb. 2 and 3, the Mercer Chiefs and P.A.L. Jr. Islanders.
New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (2-0-1-0)
The Monarchs started the last week on a high note, with a 6-0 victory over the Boston Advantage, and the next day took two more points while leaving the Advantage with just one from their two games. The second meeting, on Saturday, was a shootout victory. The Monarchs themselves got just a point from their showdown on Thursday, Jan. 26, with their Granite State rivals the Northern Cyclones. After jumping out to a strong 3-0 lead, the Cyclones came all the way back with a second goal by Charlie Ross being the difference-maker in OT. When the dust had settled the Cyclones had closed the gap between themselves and the first-place Monarchs to just two points. Just like New Hampshire has a huge role in politics with the nation’s first primary, the small mountains-to-ocean state will also play a major role in determining who finishes first in the NCDC’s North Division.
- After 32 games played by the Cyclones in the 2021-22 season, they were two points back of the Monarchs just as they are now (though not at the top of the standings a year ago). Always a battle with these rivals!
- With their shootout win and overtime loss over the last week, the Monarchs pulled to .500 in both post-regulation scenarios – 2-2 in OT and 3-3 in shootouts. Their 15 points earned after regulation is second only to Mercer’s 17.
- The Monarchs continue to have the second best overall team defense (2.59 goals per game) and D corps (allowing 30.95 shots against per game).
- Christopher Repmann leads the league in shorthanded points with five.
- Jake Fillion stands third in goals against average at 2.24. Currently injured, he is expected back early on in February. He still remains third in minutes played at 1,313.
The Road Ahead: The North Country continues to rumble, as the Monarchs play Twin City on Friday afternoon at 12:30 and then face the Cyclones again in Hudson on Sunday at 2 p.m.
- The Thunder and Monarchs have only met once so far this season, resulting in a 4-3 shootout win for the Thunder on Dec. 15. Overall, the Monarchs are 12-4-1-1 in their all-time series.
- The Cyclones and Monarchs have been past regulation in 11 of their 25 all-time meetings, with the Monarchs holding a 14-7-2-2 record for 30 points, one point more than the 29 Cyclones have gathered by going 11-7-5-2 all-time in the Granite State campaign.
Islanders Hockey Club (2-0)
The Islanders Hockey Club continues to work on their path to a playoff spot, paving it with gold such as a Thursday, Jan. 26, win against the Twin City Thunder. Currently, the Thunder now sit in a tie for sixth with the Islanders and both teams are just two points from fourth place. The South Shore Kings currently sit in fourth place, a tenuous one point above fifth. They’re facing big challenges by both the Islanders and Junior Bruins, the only North teams with six wins out of their last 10 contests. It’s called a stretch drive surge and boy do the Islanders like the direction in which they’re headed. Along with their 5-3 win over the Thunder, they also beat the Junior Bruins 3-2 in regulation on Jan. 21. That regulation was extremely important in keeping the Junior Bruins only one point north of them and easily within reach.
- The IHC is in a much better place after 36 games (15-18-1-2), standing with 33 points, than last year. They had just 24 points last year and 32 points at the same game count in 2020-21. They hope they can do something big with this mathematically best season so far in three years.
- The Islanders’ current 4-0 winning streak is their best since winning 11 in a row in 2019-20.
- The Islanders tend to fall behind early on (outscored 32-28 in the first and 41-33 in the second), but they are tied for the most wins when trailing after one period – five – or trailing after two periods – also five.
- Leo Piandes has a five-game scoring streak going with a 3-5-8 line, while Braxton Powers is enjoying a four-game point streak of 2-4-6.
- Connor Strobel stands fourth in save percentage in the NCDC at .931, and he is sixth in GAA at 2.50.
The Road Ahead: The Islanders travel to face the Boston Advantage on Monday at 2 p.m., followed by the South Shore Kings at 1:30 on Wednesday.
- The Islanders are 9-5-1-0 all-time against the Advantage, but just 1-1-1-0 this year (the Advantage are 2-0-1-0 on their end).
- The IHC is 22-8-1-0 all-time against the Kings, and the Islanders have won all four games this season, one in a shootout.
Northern Cyclones (2-0)
Shootouts, shootouts and more shootouts. The Cyclones have been in three 1v1 challenges since Jan. 11, going 2-1 in that stretch (1-1 vs. the Twin City Thunder alone). They’ll take the two points however they come, but they’d rather deny their opponents any parting gifts of a single point from a post-reguation loss, thank you very much. On Jan. 22, they defeated the Thunder, 2-1, in the shootout, and then went up to the Ryan Frew Memorial Rink in Hooksett and defeated the rival Monarchs, 5-4. It should be of course noted, amidst the heated Granite State rivalry, that the Cyclones run the annual Ryan Frew Memorial Golf Tournament to benefit Coach Frew’s family, and they also award a Ryan Frew Memorial Youth Hockey Scholarship in memory of the late Monarchs NCDC coach, who was simply a great man, a friend to all, and just a beautiful human being.
- In terms of points, the Cyclones are fifth overall in the NCDC, but when looking at games played (32, the fewest of all NCDC teams) and in turn winning percentage, they are second only to the Jersey Hitmen, .743-.672.
- The Cyclones, unsurprisingly, have the best shootout performance in the league. They’ve scored six on 13 shooter attempts for a 46.2 percent success rate. Defensively, they’re third at three goals against on 15 attempts (20 percent).
- The most penalized team is, luckily for the Cyclonoes, also the best penalty-killing team. Northern has given up just 14 power play goals on 149 opposition advantages, for a 90.6 percent rate. They are the only team north of 90.
- They hurt you the other way when they’re down, too. Their seven shorthanded goals are No. 1 in the NCDC.
The Road Ahead: The Cyclones face the Junior Bruins in Marlboro, Mass., on Saturday at 2:30, and they host the Monarchs on Sunday at 2 p.m.
- See the Monarchs’ entry above for the history of their all-time series.
- The Junior Bruins hold an all-time series lead of 14-9-1-2, though the Cyclones hold the slight 2-1-0-0 edge this year.
Boston Junior Bruins (2-1)
The Junior Bruins’ four points over the last week helped them drive to just outside the door of the top four playoff positions. They sit just one point behind the South Shore Kings. Like the Islanders Hockey Club, their six wins are the most in the division over their last 10 games. Their challenge, if it ends up being one, is that at 38 games played, the Junior Bruins are No. 1 in that category. The Kings have four games in hand on them at this point. That further emphasizes how big a win it was for the Junior Bruins to defeat the Kings, 6-5, on Jan. 25. Especially after falling 3-2 to the Islanders – with whom they’ve been tangling to climb from the bottom of the division in such a tight pack. The cherry on top came on Thursday, Jan. 26, when they had an offensive explosion to win 8-3 against the Boston Advantage. Tuesday’s game against the Twin City Thunder, one point back of the Junior Bruins currently and tied for sixth with IHC, is going to be a big win in the movement towards playoff territory for both teams.
- At 9.63 penalty minutes per game, the Junior Bruins are second only to the Jersey Hitmen in that category, and the two stand alone in averaging under 10.
- When they do become shorthanded, their offense is still dangerous as they are third in shorthanded goals with five.
- Easton Ryan is fifth in team scoring with 42 points, and with 89 points in 82 games, he is fifth in all-time Junior Bruins NCDC scoring. The 100-point career mark is certainly within reach.
- Ryan is also tied for second in power play assists (11) and tied for third in power play points (15).
- Shane Baker is tied for second in shorthanded points (three) and third in GWG (four).
- Jonathon Surrette had a monstrous 10-point outburst during the last three games, scoring 4-6-10, including a 2-3-5 showing against the Kings and 1-3-4 against the Advantage.
The Road Ahead: The Junior Bruins face the South Shore Kings on Saturday, and as aforementioned, make the trip to face the Twin City Thunder on Tuesday for a 1:30 faceoff.
- See the Cyclones’ entry above for their all-time series history.
- The Thunder are having their best season against the Junior Bruins, with a 4-0-1-0 Thunder lead so far in the season series. The Junior Bruins hold an 11-4-1-1 all-time series lead.
P.A.L. Jr. Islanders (1-0-0-1)
The Jr. Islanders are in second place currently at 21-10-1-3, but they find after seeing the Hitmen’s recent run, that their path to first place just got a lot tougher. They have a couple games in hand on the Hitmen, but nine points is still a wide gulf entering February. The Jr. Islanders were able to defeat the team they’ve been jockeying with for first (and now mostly second), the Mercer Chiefs. That 5-2 win on Jan. 20 preceded a 4-3 shootout loss on Saturday to the Rockets Hockey Club.
- After 35 games, the Jr. Islanders are in possession of their best point total at this milestone of a season. At 46 points, they have gone past their previous best of 44 after 35 contests set just last season.
- P.A.L. is the No. 1 point-earning home team this year, with a 15-3-0-1 mark on Long Island. Their 31 points earned there is more than twice what they’ve earned as the away team.
- The Jr. Isles are the only team undefeated in regulation when scoring the first goal (17-0-1-2).
- Special teams are strong, as their power play clicks for a 21.9 percent average – and they’re tied for first in power play goals with the Hitmen’s 31. P.A.L. stands alone in not allowing a single shorthanded goal yet this season.
- Luca Leighton stands fourth in points (43), second in assists (29), and he and teammate Jack Hewitt are tied for first in power play points (17). Leighton has scored in each of his January games, putting up a 6-6-12 line.
- Hewitt is second in defense points in the NCDC at 32, and first in power play goals (seven) and points (17). He is on a four-game point streak with a 3-3-6 line.
- Donovan Powell ranks third in game-winning goals with four.
- St. Lawrence University commit Cameron Smith is first in wins (17), minutes (1,718) and saves (970), second in goals against average (2.16), and third in save percentage (.940). Since 2018, Smith leads all P.A.L. goaltenders in wins (30) and is second in save percentage (.934).
The Road Ahead: The Jr. Islanders head out to face the Mercer Chiefs on Saturday, and they go to Utica for a single game on Monday.
- The Jr. Islanders are one point up on Mercer this year, at 2-1-0-1 vs. Mercer’s 2-2-0-0 mark.
- They are tied 1-1 with the Jr. Comets this season. The two teams split one-goal games over the Dec. 17-18 weekend.
Rockets Hockey Club (1-0-1)
The Rockets are on a four-game point-earning streak of 2-0-2-0, which has helped them stand above .500 at 16-14-3-2 for 37 points, which is just two points shy of the Rangers at fourth place in the South. The Jr. Rangers got their two points with a 4-3 OT win against the Rockets on Jan. 20, but the Rockets shook that off and went and beat the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders one night later, 4-3, in a shootout (their first shootout win of the season).
- The Rockets went beyond regulation three games in a row between Jan. 14 and Jan. 21, going 1-2. They last played three games in a row beyond regulation Feb. 25 and March 2 of last year, going 2-1.
- Like the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders, the Rockets are also at least twice as effective at earning points at home (25) than they are away (11).
- Also like the P.A.L., the Rockets are tied for second in offense in the league, averaging 3.66 goals per game.
- With their win over the P.A.L., they pushed their one-goal game record above .500 at 6-5-3-2.
- Caden Cranston continues as the No. 1 scorer in all of the NCDC, with 45 points and he also leads in assists with 32. He is on a four-game point streak with a 1-4-5 line in that stretch going back to Jan. 14.
- Additionally, Jack Barbro leads all defensemen in goals (11) and is third in points (30) and Quinnipiac recruit Jonah Copre is third in assists (20) and fifth in points (25).
The Road Ahead: The Rockets have a bit of a quieter week with just one game Friday night at 7 p.m. against the Mercer Chiefs.
- The Rockets are 2-1-0-1 against Mercer, one point ahead of the Chiefs’ 2-2 record the other way.
Connecticut Jr. Rangers (1-1)
The Jr. Rangers are winning the games they need to remain in a playoff position, but life could be better certainly. They are only two points above fifth place, and they have a six-point gulf to third. With 37 points, they are feeling far more pressure from the Rockets just below them at 35 than they have been able to apply to Mercer (45 points) or P.A.L. (46). Jersey is an extremely far 18 points north of the Jr. Rangers at the moment. A 4-3 win over the Rockets was a good booster to help them keep the surging RHC at bay a little bit, but their 3-0 loss to Mercer the next day was not what the doctor ordered. The Jr. Rangers will stay home and hope for the trifecta between Friday and Sunday against the WBS Knights to help them get back to pushing those upper teams and getting some more distance over the Rockets.
- Led by Mason Joseph (see below), the Jr. Rangers have the No. 4 defense in the league at 2.91 goals against. Their offense also fires plenty of shots on target, as they are second in shots on goal for at 38.60 per game.
- Connecticut has the best record when tied after one period, going 7-3-2-0 in that situation. They are also above .500 even when being outshot at 7-6-1-1.
- Joseph is second in save percentage (.941) and fourth in goals against average (2.28).
The Road Ahead: The Knights went 2-1 when the two teams met for three in Pennsylvania Dec. 16-18. The Jr. Rangers won the opener, 4-2, then WBS won a pair of one-goal games in regulation and shootout.
Mercer Chiefs (1-1)
Hopefully the Chiefs did celebrate a bit when, on Jan. 13, they briefly held the No. 1 points total in all of the NCDC. The Hitmen spoiled that party the next day and have continued to do so for two weeks now. That doesn’t mean the Chiefs can’t still mathematically catch up being 10 points behind with 14 games remaining. They are certainly, however, going to be also focusing on switching places right now with the Jr. Islanders in order to eventually secure at least the second seed in the South Division for home ice advantage in the March playoffs. They recently fell 5-2 to P.A.L., but then came back to beat the Connecticut Jr. Rangers, 3-0.
A lot of hockey to play, but the first-year Chiefs are in a great position to potentially make history as the best first-year NCDC team (not including the inaugural 2017-18 season).
- The Chiefs’ hold on their honor as the interim best first-year NCDC team outside of the original 2017-18 group is courtesy of a slim two-point lead after 36 games over the 2019-20 Twin City Thunder’s 43 points after 36 games.
- Mercer still has the best post-regulation point total even after a week where they didn’t venture that far and many other teams did. The Chiefs are 4-1 in OT and 3-2 in shootouts for 17 total points.
- The Chiefs have the most points in the league when trailing after one period (5-5-0-1, 11 points) and after two periods (5-12-1-1, 12 points). They are also in a three-way tie for most points when tied after one period (18, 8-5-1-1).
- Ryan Keyes leads the league in shootout saves, with 11 on 13 attempts. His 84.6 percent success rate is No. 1 for goalies seeing at least five shot attempts.
The Road Ahead: Old friends the Rockets Hockey Club (Friday night) and the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders (Saturday) are on the dance card this weekend. The Chiefs are 2-2 against both, with both opponents holding a slight edge from post-regulation points at 2-1-0-1 each.
In Other Action
The Boston Advantage took losses to New Hampshire and the Junior Bruins in the last week and hope to rebound against South Shore on Friday.
The South Shore Kings, facing the Advantage Friday afternoon, played in just one game over the last week, a 6-5 defeat against the Boston Junior Bruins. In addition to their game against Boston, they’ll also face the Islanders Hockey Club on Wednesday, an important game for both in jockeying for potential playoff positioning.
The Utica Jr. Comets, smarting from three home losses to the red-hot Hitmen, will host P.A.L. on Monday and then bring in the Northern Cyclones for games next Thursday and Friday. They are in the midst of an 11-game home stand.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights, who went 1-2 against the Hitmen last weekend, are currently on ice against Connecticut for their first of three games at Chelsea Piers.
Drop The Pucks!