The Atlantic Junior Hockey League swings into its second week of action this weekend with a two-game series between the Washington Jr. Nationals and the New Jersey Jr. Titans at the Gardens Ice House Arena in Laurel, Maryland.
The Junior Nats struggled through a long 2011-2012 season, winning just three of 43 games, but they are ready to come out of the gate and begin the new campaign on a strong note.
Anthony DiPalma, who took over the coaching reigns in January, was able to get the players to believe in themselves. A total of 13 Washington skaters moved on to college hockey for this season.
The coach has seven returning players for 2012-2013, including goaltender Mitch Collum. The netminder, born in 1992, has garnered interest from Division 3 colleges due to his highly-respectable, 3.23 goals-against average during a difficult 2011- 2012 season. Collum will need to have a big year to lead his club into the AJHL playoffs.
Washington will have to overcome the loss of their two top scoring defensemen from last season, both of which hailed from New England. David O'Connor (Manchester, Conn.), who led Nats blueliners with six goals, is now playing at Westfield State. Joe Harvey (Southington, Conn.), who led the way offensively on the back-end with 14 points in 2011-12, is joining Becker College this fall.
The New Jersey Jr. Titans are entering their first year in the Atlantic Junior League and, as an expansion squad, their inexperience at this level may show.
Titans coach Dustin De Palma will rely primarily on players who played on the Titans Metropolitan League team last season. One of them will be David Ramos. The forward scored 77 points in 35 Met League games and hopes to carry that scoring prowess over to the Atlantic League.
Last weekend, the 2011-2012 AJHL playoff finalist New York Bobcats opened the campaign with a two-game sweep over the Philadelphia Little Flyers (4-1, 7-6) to take over first place in the league standings.
The entire league will be in action Sept. 21-23 in the AJHL Showcase. The event will take place at Ice Works in Aston, Pa., and feature 18 games involving all of the teams in the circuit under one roof. All of the matches will count in the league standings. The showcase is sure to be a scout’s delight.