August 6, 2012

Eastern Junior Hockey League gets new look

By Shawn Hutcheon

The 2011-2012 season for the Eastern Junior Hockey League was highlight-filled campaign. The Boston Jr. Bruins claimed the regular season championship by finishing one point ahead of the South Shore Kings; however the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs, guided by coach Sean Tremblay, finished third overall but went on to become EJHL champions by defeating the Jersey Hitmen in the league finals. The playoff crown was the seventh in eleven seasons for the Monarchs.

The 2012-13 season is shaping up to be another exciting one especially when one looks at the changes the Eastern Junior League has undergone during this offseason.

The Green Mountain Glades were purchased by the ownership group of the Portland Junior Pirates. That group is headed by Ron Cain (Billerica, Mass). The Jr. Pirates, based at the MHG Ice Centre in Saco, Maine, have competed in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League since 2003. The organization has ceased their AJHL operations in order to become members of the EJHL.  

EJHL Commissioner Bob Mainhardt told the Jr. Pirates’ website that he is very happy to see Portland added to the league.

"I am personally very excited about this move,” Mainhardt said. “The facility and staff in Saco is second to none. Portland will continue to build on the rich tradition that has been created by the Green Mountain Glade organization."

Portland head coach Brad Church told New England Hockey Journal the shift from the AJHL to the EJHL was made to maximize exposure for the team’s players to college and professional scouts.

“The players will be exposed to college coaches at all of the league’s venues and showcases,” said Church. “Another reason for our move to the EJ was the elevated exposure for the players both at MHG Ice Centre and the venues we visit during the season. The member organizations have done a great job building the EJHL brand and what it represents. PJP is excited to be a part of that and will work to be a strong contributing organization for many years to come.” 

Another organizational shift will see the league move into Connecticut by way of New York. Long time EJHL member Capital District Selects were sold to a group of owners headed by Ryan Hughes. Hughes and his partners moved the Selects from Albany, New York to Norwalk, Conn., and renamed the team the Oilers. The club will be coached by former Yale assistant coach Eric Lind (New Canaan, Conn.). He will be assisted by Tim Horst and Chris Gragnano.

Gragnano feels having an EJHL team in the Norwalk area will benefit local players.

“This is a very rich hockey community,” he said. “We are in a great location with a great network of hockey guys. The coaches have college and pro experience and contacts. We offer kids a new option for development.”  

Perhaps the news that made the biggest splash was the New England Huskies being acquired by Richard Gallant. The organization’s new owner also heads the Middlesex Islanders youth franchise, therefore, upon purchasing the Huskies, he promptly renamed the team. The squad will take the ice as the Islanders Hockey Club. Gallant also hired the most successful coach in EJHL history, Tremblay, away from the Monarchs. The Islanders will play their home games at the Skate 3 Arena in Tyngsboro, Mass. 

Associate head coach Paul Jenkins (Boston, Mass.), who had been the Huskies’ head coach, enters the new season filled with optimism.

“I think the league will be the strongest one we’ve had in a decade,” said Jenkins. “Frankly, when we were the Huskies, we were a middle of the pack group and we’re not there anymore. I think we have a pretty good club. We’ve got Sean (Tremblay) who has always done a great job. I’ve worked with Sean before when we took the EJ Select team to Russia (2011 World Junior Cup Tournament) and we have a very good relationship.

“We have a new owner and it’s a great change and from everyone I’ve talk to around the league. They feel that the league will be one of the stronger junior leagues in the country.”

Veteran members of the league agree with Jenkins.

When asked about the new EJHL, Hitmen coach Toby Harris said, “I think it’s a positive. My feeling on the situation, especially with the Oilers, we’ve always been searching for a good team in Southern Connecticut. It’s a rich talent pool up there and they’ll be able to keep a lot of kids in the area.

"I think the move from Green Mountain to Portland is another good move because they’ll get great ownership. Maine has always had a rich hockey history with the University of Maine. And obviously, Sean (Tremblay) moving from the Monarchs over to the Islanders and teaming up with Paul Jenkins will be great for that franchise and strengthen the league all around and I’m excited for it.”

Bay State Breakers head man Dave McCauley agrees with Harris.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said McCauley. “It will deepen the league overall. Every year, you have four or five really good teams in the league but now I think we’ll see that number expand to seven or eight. ”

Andy Heinze of the Valley Junior Warriors, last season’s EJHL Coach of the Year, gave the new members of the league high praise.

“I think it’s a real positive for the league,” he said. “The guys up in Portland do a really great job. I believe the Connecticut team is going to be really good. Overall, I think it’s going to make the league better.”      

There are those who say that a change in appearance is necessary from time to time to keep from getting lost in the crowd. With the additions of Portland and Connecticut and the new ownership and coach in Tyngsboro, it is a safe bet that the Eastern Junior Hockey League will receive plenty of attention from the hockey world. 

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