The Atlantic Junior Hockey League’s President Cup playoffs have come down to the final two teams. The defending champion Walpole Express will face off against the league’s third seed New York Bobcats.
Head coach Mark Kumpel’s Express lost just five of 43 league games this season on their way to the regular season championship. In the playoffs, Walpole eliminated the New Jersey Rockets in a two-game sweep followed by another sweep of the Boston Bulldogs. Along the way, the Express have scored 21 goals and given up just seven.
“We’ve been scoring by committee,” said Kumpel when asked about his team’s offense. “Dylan Fox and Jake Brightbill have been very good but we’ve been doing it mostly with team play. Our top guys are getting checked while the others are picking up points. Colby Emma (Hope, R.I.) has picked up some huge points for us in the playoffs. The fourth line was big against the Bulldogs. I like to go with five-man units. I have confidence in everyone.”
Kumpel was quick to praise his goaltenders as well.
“Kyle Shapiro and Tommy Conlin (Norwood, Mass.) have been great for us,” he said.
Shapiro led the league with a 1.48 goals against average. Conlin finished third in the AJHL in that same statistical category at 1.61.
When asked what he expects to see from New York, Kumpel answered, “Both teams are very deep. We each play a puck possession game and that will be the key. Neither team plays dump and chase hockey. It will be exciting to watch.”
The Bobcats finished third in the regular season standings with a 31-12-1 record. In the AJ playoffs, they dismissed the Hartford Jr. Wolfpack in three games then upset the Northern Cyclones in a thrilling three-game series.
Asked about his club’s performance in the playoffs, head coach Ed Galiani said, “Those series were wars. They were very physical, high-tempo series. We’re a young team and it took time to get adjusted.”
The ‘Cats enter the finals versus the Express with two of the top three scorers in the league. William Pascalli won the regular season scoring title with 17 goals and 55 assists, totaling 72 points, while Tommy Telesca posted 25 goals and 40 assists for 65 points. They have played very well in the postseason but others have contributed to the team’s success.
“You rely on your top players but in the playoffs but the other teams focus on checking them and stopping them.” said Galiani. “Other players have stepped up and played really well so far. Christopher Wallace, who is a 1994 birth date, scored four goals against Northern. Joe Gilhooly and Spiros Markopoulos are other players who have really stepped up their games for us. Even on defense, we go with six every game and they’ve been a very strong, competitive corp. All of the players have pulled together to play big and contribute.”
In goal, David Lynch brought a .932 save percentage into the playoffs and has remained consistent by posting a .930 percentage while manning the crease for all six postseason games.
“David has been huge,” Galiani responded when asked about his 18-year-old netminder. “Without him, getting to the finals would have been a lot more difficult. He’s a big, skilled goaltender and he always makes the big saves when we need them.”
Asked what type of challenge Walpole will present, the ‘Cats coach said, “They are a highly skilled and highly competitive team. They’ll be looking to repeat as champions. We split the season series with them but we’re definitely the underdog going in and all three games will be played in Walpole, which will be tough but you have to win two games to win the championship and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Walpole took Game 1 by a score of 2-1 on Saturday. Game 2 will be on Sunday at 11:30am. If necessary, Game 3 will take place on Monday afternoon. All of the contests will be played at the Iorio Arena in Walpole, Mass.