February 13, 2014

Juniors Journal: EHL emerging as viable route to next level

By Shawn Hutcheon

It's been nearly a year since talks began between the Atlantic Junior Hockey League and seven of the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s franchises that would ultimately see the two leagues combine forces to form what is now known as the Eastern Hockey League.

The circuit has produced some of the best junior hockey games in New England and director of hockey operations Mark Kumpel (Wakefield, Mass.) could not be happier.

“I like where our league is headed,” Kumpel said. “The league focuses on putting a quality product on the ice and we want to give the players the opportunity to be seen by college coaches and we’ve done that. We have four or five top level teams then nine or ten mid-level teams followed by three or four teams that, well, someone needs to be in last place in their divisions but overall, when you go to see a game, the players are going to put on a very good show.”

In fact, Kumpel and the circuit’s owners are so happy with their product that they will add two new teams to the EHL.

Burlington, Vt., will be home to the Lumberjacks in 2014-15. They’ll play their home games at the Leddy Park Arena and will be coached by Chris Line (Essex Junction, Vt.), who played collegiately at Clarkson University and has a lot of experience coaching college teams (RIT, SUNY-Geneseo).

When asked why the EHL will expand to Vermont, Kumpel repeated the league’s mantra that it is all about exposure for the players.

“Vermont is a very strong market,” said Kumpel, who played on the 1984 U.S. Olympic hockey team. “The USA Hockey people up there are very excited to have a junior team and demographically, it makes sense because the players will be seen by the University of Vermont, St. Michaels College, Middlebury College, Norwich University and Plattsburgh State College.”

The Eastern Hockey League will also bring its brand to The Edge Arena in Bedford, Mass.

The East Coast Wizards will join the circuit with a former Team USA teammate of Kumpel’s, Scott Fusco (Burlington, Mass.), at the helm.

Fusco has operated a highly-successful youth hockey association also known as the Wizards. Fusco will employ former L.A. King Bobby Jay (Burlington, Mass.) as director of hockey operations for the Wizards junior club.

“Again, we felt, geographically, the Wizards would be a good fit for our league,” Kumpel said. “They are only a few minutes outside of Boston so the players will receive maximum exposure to the schools in and around the city.”

It is obvious that with the growth of junior hockey in New England, the Eastern Hockey League is developing into a viable route for a player to take in order to achieve his dream of playing college hockey.

 “We provide an atmosphere and locations for the athletes to be seen by college and NHL scouts,” the Director of Hockey Ops continued. “The older players (18-20 years old) can use the extra time to improve and prepare academically for that next academic and athletic opportunity.”

Game of the Week

This week’s game that is highly anticipated by the hockey community will see the South Shore Kings facing off against the Jersey Hitmen Monday, Feb. 17, at 12:30 pm in Foxboro, Mass., at the South Shore Kings Showcase. The fourth-place Kings trail the second-place Hitmen by six points.

This will be the fifth meeting of the season between the clubs. The Hitmen have won all four previous games.  

New EnglandPower Rankings

1) Boston Jr. Bruins (33-6-2-2) - After dropping both weekend games to the Jersey Hitmen, BJB’s lead over the Hitmen is down to six points in the race for first place in the United States Premier Hockey League. With five games remaining on the schedule, it will be interesting to see if the Jr. Bruins can hold on to that lead.

2) New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (31-6-1-0) - A win and a loss over the weekend has NHJM moving closer to the Eastern Hockey League’s overall regular season championship.They have a five point lead over the Northern Cyclones in the battle for first place.

3) Northern Cyclones (29-9-0-0) - The Cyclones gained two points on the Jr. Monarchs by splitting their two games over the weekend (a loss to the Jr. Monarchs and a win over Boston Jr. Rangers). Forward Kevin Valenti leads the EHL with 70 points in 33 games.

4) South Shore Kings (27-13-3-1) - In their only contest of the week, South Shore defeated Bay State in USPHL action. Nolan Vesey (North Reading, MA) had a goal and two assists for the Kings

5) Connecticut Oilers (23-12-2-1) - A split in Philadelphia with a loss to the Little Flyers and a victory over the Junior Flyers saw the Oilers maintain a four point lead over the New York Bobcats in the EHL’s Central Division.  Oilers leading scorer Joe Widmar registered a goal and assist in the win over the Jr. Flyers

6) Islanders Hockey Club (20-19-4-0) - Holding on to fifth place in the USPHL, the Islanders split a two game series with the Philadelphia Flyers. David Hallisey (Weathersfield, Conn.) scored a goal and an assist in the team’s win.

7) Bay State Breakers (15-21-4-3) - Bay State, like many of the teams in this poll, split a weekend series. Occupying seventh place in the USPHL, the Breakers split took place versus P.A.L. Jr. Islanders. Zach Sabatini scored the winning goal in the victory.

8) Hartford Jr. Wolfpack (19-14-3-3) - A 3-0-0 week included victories over Walpole, New Hampshire, and Washington. Hartford is in third place in the EHL’s Central Division trailing the New York Bobcats by one point. The Wolfpack’s leading scorer Dylan Vander Esche notched four points in the three contests.

9) Boston Bandits (19-13-3-2) - Losing two consecutive tilts coupled with giving up 11 goals to a struggling team (Valley Jr. Warriors) has dropped the Bandits from seventh to ninth in our rankings. Boston is firmly entrenched in third place in the EHL’s North Division.

10) Valley Jr. Warriors (14-18-3-5) - Valley scored a two game sweep over the Boston Bandits to jump from 12th to 10th in our weekly rankings. The Warriors have won three of their last five contests to take sole possession of fourth place in the EHL’s North Division.

11) Portland Jr. Pirates (12-30-3-1) - The USPHL’s eighth place Jr. Pirates swept the circuit’s ninth place Connecticut Yankees over the weekend. Portland has two games remaining on its schedule.

12) Walpole Express (12-20-6-2) - Three consecutive losses last week to Hartford, Philadelphia Junior Flyers, and Washington, has the Express in last place, seven points behind New York Apple Core, in the EHL’s Central Division.

13) Boston Jr. Rangers (14-20-2-3) - The Rangers dropped their only tilt last week to Northern. They are in last place in the EHL’s North Division and the players are looking forward to this season coming to a close.  

14) Connecticut Yankees (8-32-1-0) - The Yankees were hoping for better results than two losses to Portland in USPHL action last week. Connecticut is on a 14 game losing streak. This week, the Yankees are scheduled to play five games in seven days.

Twitter: @ShawnHutcheon
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