February 27, 2013

Juniors Journal: Predictions for the EJHL playoffs

By Shawn Hutcheon

For the Eastern Junior Hockey League, the second season has arrived.

A shot at glory is the reason each coach spends long hours behind a steering wheel and sipping too much coffee, searching for the players who will form the team that will win a championship. 

The EJHL’s playoff champion is awarded the Dineen Cup, named after the late Gary Dineen, who represented his native Canada in the 1968 Winter Olympics before embarking on a minor-league and NHL playing career. Dineen spent most of his time as a pro with the American Hockey League’s Springfield franchises. He was a founder of the Springfield Jr. Pics in 1972 and would enjoy a long career as coach and general manager of the Pics, which included 11 league championships. 

The postseason will see the top two teams in the Northern and Southern divisions receive first round byes. The Northern Division clubs getting a few days off from action are the first place Boston Jr. Bruins and second place Islanders Hockey Club. The teams in the Southern Division are No. 1 Jersey Hitmen and second place finishers South Shore Kings. 

The first round of the playoffs, which will take place Feb. 26-27, has the third through sixth place clubs crossover to participate in two game play-in series. That round will feature the following clubs with the first team listed being the host for each series:

- Valley Jr. Warriors vs. Connecticut Oilers

- Rochester Jr. Stars vs. New York Apple Core

- Bay State Breakers vs. Boston Bandits

- Springfield Jr. Pics vs. New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs

The clubs that received byes will face off against the winners of the play-in series. All teams will be reseeded one through eight based on regular season point totals, with the clubs that received the byes being the host teams. This round will be played on March 2-3.

Who has the best chance of winning the Dineen Cup? We’re glad you asked. Here are our predictions for the EJHL’s Dineen Cup playoffs:

The teams that should survive the first round are the Valley Jr. Warriors, Rochester Jr. Stars, Bay State Breakers and Springfield Jr. Pics. After the reseeding of the teams, the quarterfinals will have the following matchups:

- No. 1 Jersey Hitmen vs. No. 8 Springfield Jr. Pics

- No. 2 Boston Jr. Bruins vs. No. 7 Bay State Breakers

- No. 3 Islanders Hockey Club vs. No. 6 Rochester Jr. Stars

- No. 4 Valley Jr. Warriors vs. No. 5 South Shore Kings

The top four seeds should move on to the semifinals on March 9 and 10, which will see these series:

- No. 1 Jersey Hitmen vs. No. 4 Valley Jr. Warriors

- No. 2 Boston Jr. Bruins vs. No. 3 Islanders Hockey Club

The Hitmen will defeat the Warriors to advance to the EJHL finals while the Islanders, who were victorious over the Jr. Bruins three times during the regular season, will upset Boston.

The last round of the EJHL playoffs will be played at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Mass., on March 13, 14 and 15 (if necessary) and will feature the two survivors of the playoffs. That matchup will be:

- No. 1 Jersey Hitmen vs. No. 3 Islanders Hockey Club

This will be as good as junior hockey gets. Each club is built on speed and skill but will also grind it out in the “dirty areas” when necessary.

The Islanders will be led by Yale recruits Michael Doherty (Reading, Mass.), who finished the season as the third leading scorer in the league with 67 points, and Chris Izmirlian, seventh in EJHL scoring with 54 points but in the end it will be the Jersey Hitmen and their lethal firepower that boasts twelve Division 1 recruits and seven of the top ten scorers in the circuit, including the league’s top scorer in University of Vermont recruit Brendan Bradley (78 points), that emerges as Dineen Cup champions.

Game of the Week

With the playoff season upon us, just about any game you choose can qualify for our Game of the Week, however, the opening round series between the Springfield Jr. Pics and the EJHL’s defending Dineen Cup champion New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs should be the best series for fans and scouts alike.

The clubs had similar seasons: Springfield won 23 games during the regular season while New Hampshire was victorious 24 times. The Pics scored 137 goals compared to the Monarchs’ 141.

Springfield will rely on its leading scorer and UConn recruit Dan Mele while New Hampshire will look to its top point man Evan Schultz (Durham, N.H.).

Power Rankings

1) Boston Jr. Bruins (32-10-0-3-0)
2) Islanders Hockey Club (31-11-0-1-2)
3) Northern Cyclones (30-9-3-2)
4) Valley Jr. Warriors (29-15-0-0-1)
5) Walpole Express (28-11-4-0)

6) South Shore Kings (25-16-0-4-0)
7) Bay State Breakers (25-17-0-1-2)
8) Springfield Jr. Pics (24-17-0-1-3)
9) Connecticut Wolfpack (28-12-2-1)
10) New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (23-20-0-0-2)

11) Boston Bandits (18-23-0-1-3)
12) Boston Jr. Rangers (22-11-9-2)
13) Laconia Leafs (10-26-8-0)
14) Connecticut Oilers (12-28-0-4-1)
15) Portland Jr. Pirates (10-33-0-2-0)

Twitter: @ShawnHutcheon
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