October 3, 2012

Juniors Journal: Valley off to best start in franchise history

By Shawn Hutcheon

With a 6-0-0-0 record, the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s Valley Jr. Warriors are off to their best start since becoming a franchise back in 1996.

The Warriors have been on a roll since the first drop of the puck, and up to now, they have been unstoppable. Valley has ranked as the No. 1 team in New England in our power rankings since the poll debuted this season and is determined to remain the top club until the last game is played in March.

With some of the biggest names in high school and prep school hockey becoming members of the Warriors during the offseason, expectations were high for coach Andy Heinze’s club, but the undefeated streak his players have strung together has helped the team exceed those lofty expectations thus far.

It has been those new players who have taken the reigns and are meeting their new challenges by leading Valley to victory in their battles against their EJHL brethren. Brendan Collier (Charlestown, Mass.) was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes last June and is looking down from the top of the team’s scoring mountain with three goals and five assists for eight points. He is followed by linemate Ryan Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.) who has posted one goal and seven assists, totaling eight points of his own.

Fellow EJHL freshman Devin Tringale (Medford, Mass.) is just one point off the pace with five goals and two assists, producing seven points. And by the way, all three had college scholarships in their hip pockets for 2013 before this season began with Collier committed to Boston University, Fitzgerald going to Boston College and Tringale headed off to Harvard.

Currently, 18 Warriors have notched at least one point during the streak.

The club’s power play is cruising along at a 23.1 percent clip.

The defense has supported the forwards with key goals and assists when called upon. Gus Harms is the leading offensive contributor among the blueliners with one goal and five assists. His six points ranks him fourth in scoring on the Warriors. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound defender has been solid in his own zone as well.

Between the pipes, Brendan Leahy (Reading, Mass.) has received a bulk of the starts this season. He boasts a league-leading 4-0-0-0 record. His .933 save percentage is seventh best in the EJHL, while Leahy’s goals-against average of 2.25 is among the best in the circuit. Leahy shares goaltending duties with Marcus Born. The native of Kumia, Sweden is 2-0-0-0 on the season. His save percentage of .943 stands fifth in the EJHL. A shutout victory over the Bay State Breakers contributed to his 1.09 goals-against average.    

The Warriors know the undefeated streak will come to an end at some point, but until that day comes, they will continue to use their team speed, skill, scoring ability, toughness and strong defensive play to be regarded as the top junior team in the East and one of the best clubs in the nation.

Game of the Week

This week, all eyes in the hockey world will be on the matchup between the Northern Cyclones and the New York Bobcats at 11:40 a.m. on Saturday at the AJHL Columbus Day Showcase in Hudson, N.H.

The Bobcats lead the Atlantic Junior Hockey League with a 6-1-0-0 record and 12 points. Northern is in second place with a 5-0-0-0 record and 10 points. The Bobcats also have four of the top five scorers in the league while Northern’s Connor Bates (Laconia, N.H.) is sixth in league scoring. Derry, N.H., native J.J. Solloway of the Cyclones leads the AJHL with a 1.09 goals-against average. The Bobcats lost in last spring’s AJHL finals to Walpole and are determined to win it all this season. The Cyclones went to the semifinals last season and are looking to become the champions in 2013.

Power Rankings

To read Shawn Hutcheon’s analysis of each team in the top 15, head over to our junior power rankings page.

1. Valley Jr. Warriors (6-0-0-0)
2. Boston Jr. Bruins (4-0-0-0)
3. Islanders Hockey Club (3-0-0-0) 
4. Northern Cyclones (5-0-0-0)
5. South Shore Kings (3-2-0-2)

6. New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (3-3-0-0) 
7. Boston Jr. Rangers (3-0-2-0) 
8. Boston Bandits (3-4-0-0)
9. Walpole Express (2-1-0-0)
10. Bay State Breakers (3-4-0-0)

11. Connecitcut Wolfpack (4-0-0-1)
12. Connecticut Oilers (2-3-0-1)
13. Springfield Jr. Pics (2-3-0-0)
14. Laconia Leafs (1-4-0-0)
15. Portland Jr. Pirates (0-4-0-2) 

Shawn Hutcheon can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.