“Expansion hockey team” is a phrase that, for the most part, brings negative thoughts about the team it describes. Even the casual observer knows that first-year team will likely lose more games than it wins. They also know it will take a few years to get the players on the same page and buying into a culture and atmosphere that will produce a winning squad.
All of the above is true unless you are the Connecticut Oilers.
Last season, the Oilers won 12 of 45 Eastern Junior Hockey League games and finished seventh of eight teams in the league’s North Division. This season, Connecticut has eight wins in its first 11 contests and is the top team in the new Eastern Hockey League’s Central Division.
Head coach Eric Lind (Stamford, Conn.) is very happy with what he has seen from his club this season.
“Last year, the season started before our rink was completed so it was tough to get off on the right foot for our team,” Lind said. “This year, we were able to bring everyone in here in August and get started on team-building stuff. We couldn’t do that last year.”
After suffering through a difficult season, most coaches are inclined to “clean house” and start anew, but Lind and his staff took a different approach.
“We had more of a chance to recruit for this season because the rink was built and everything was in place and we refocused on hockey, but we also brought back nine players,” said Lind, a former assistant coach at Yale. “This is a very hard working group in games and in practices. We also have a weekly skating and skills session where the players are on the ice for two and a half hours just working on that aspect of their game. Every kid is stronger on his edges and in his stride already.”
The team’s leadership is another reason for the quick and impressive turnaround and Lind recognizes that his leaders are fully invested in the program.
“Our captains, Jay Heinle and Jared Chin, and our alternate captains, Tommy Nolan and Dan McMullan (Ridgefield, Conn.), have really stepped it up this year and fulfilled our expectations of them.” Lind noted.
Hard work, strong leadership and a group of individuals who have become a team are exactly what Lind and assistant coaches Chris Gragnano and Tim Horst are seeing more and more with each passing day. They look forward to seeing the success their team is capable of having this season.
“We know every game will be a grind,” Lind said when asked about the new circuit and what it will take for his squad to achieve its objectives for the season. “The Eastern Hockey League is run professionally by (EHL Director of Hockey Operations) Mark Kumpel (Wakefield, Mass.) and his staff. There are great owners and coaches and the hockey is fast. I’ve been really impressed with all the teams and talent but we’re going to continue to work hard and keep getting better and better. Our team motto is ‘never satisfied’ and our players won’t be until they achieve the goal of winning it all.”
Game of the Week
Last week, the team that is ranked number one in our New York/New Jersey junior rankings, the Jersey Hitmen played in our Game of the Week against the Islanders Hockey Club. They will do so again this week as part of the USPHL Showcase when they face off against league leader and the number two team in New England, the Boston Junior Bruins. The game will take place at the University of New Hampshire on Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m.
Boston has won 10 of 13 league contests while Jersey has been on the winning side of the ledger in eight of their ten USPHL tilts. Overall, the Hitmen are 17-2-0 for the season.
Arrive early to ensure a seat, the building will be packed with college and NHL scouts for this clash.
New England Junior Power Rankings
1) New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (11-2-0-0) - A seven game win streak has helped the Eastern Hockey League’s top club pick up 22 of a possible 26 points. The Monarchs retain the number one ranking for the third consecutive week.
2) Boston Junior Bruins (10-3-0-0) - The Jr. Bruins split a weekend series with the Connecticut Yankees but maintain a three point lead over South Shore in the race for first place in the United States Premier Hockey League.
3) South Shore Kings (8-5-1-1) - The Kings have been on a roller coaster ride when it comes to the USPHL standings but after winning three consecutive contests, they may have righted the ship.
4) Connecticut Oilers (8-2-0-1) - CT’s winning streak ended at five games at the hands of EHL rival Hartford Jr. Wolfpack. Should the Oilers go on another run, they will climb up in the rankings quickly. They lead the league’s Central Division.
5) Northern Cyclones (7-1-0-0) - A five game win streak has seen the Cyclones move up in the EHL standings. Currently, they are in a second place tie with the Boston Jr. Bandits in the North Division.
6) Portland Jr. Pirates (5-5-1-1) - The surprise team of the USPHL did not qualify for the EJHL playoffs last season. This year, the Maine-based club has shown improvement in every facet of the game and should see postseason action when it is all said and done.
7) Boston Jr. Bandits (6-2-1-1) - Locked in a second place tie with Northern in the EHL’s North Division, Boston lost it’s only game last week to New Hampshire and looks to exact a little revenge on the Jr. Monarchs this Wednesday at home.
8) Connecticut Yankees (5-5-0-0) - A 2-1-0 week was enough to move the Yankees up two spots in our rankings. CT has won five of their last seven games.
9) Islanders Hockey Club (5-6-1-0) - An 0-3-0 week has the North Andover, Mass-based club sliding down in the rankings. IHC has dropped four of its last five contests and are only one point ahead of Connecticut in the USPHL.
10) Bay State Breakers (5-5-2-1) - The Breakers jumped out of the blocks looking like the team to beat in the USPHL this season. Since going 5-1-0, they have hit a seven game losing streak (including two losses in overtime) and are sinking quickly in USPHL standings and in our poll.
11) Walpole Express (3-3-3-1) - The Express have been victorious once in their last five tilts and sit in fourth place in the EHL’s Central Division.
12) Valley Jr. Warriors (4-5-0-1) - After being an EJHL power last season, the Warriors have been quite the disappointment this season. Valley currently resides in fourth place in the EHL’s North Division and trail the third place Bandits by five points.
13) Hartford Jr. Wolfpack (3-5-0-0) - Hartford ended a four game losing streak last week by defeating their Nutmeg State rival Connecticut Oilers to move out of the final spot in our poll.
14) Boston Jr. Rangers (2-6-1-0) - The Jr. Rangers split the weekend with a win and a loss over two South Division foes but own the second worst record in the EHL.