December 4, 2013

Juniors Journal: Morelli, Cyclones firing on all cylinders

By Shawn Hutcheon

The Northern Cyclones, one of the Northeast’s most successful junior franchises since its inception in 2005, forced a deciding Game 3 in last year’s Atlantic Junior Hockey League Final before bowing to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights.

The AJHL no longer exists, but the Hudson, N.H.-based franchise is showing no signs of slowing down in the brand new Eastern Hockey League this season.

Coach Bill Flanagan’s club, along with all but one AJHL team, joined forces with five Eastern Junior Hockey League organizations to form the EHL. While some teams needed time to adjust to the circuit, the Cyclones jumped out to an 8-2-0-0 record in their first ten contests and currently boasts a 17-6-0-0 record. They are in second place the league’s North Division, three points behind former EJHL power New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs.

When congratulated on his team’s quick start out of the gate, Flanagan was quick to deflect the praise onto his players.

“We’re a good skating team. The boys have outstanding speed. We’re a really good team,” Flanagan said.

Special teams have assisted in the team’s success this season. The Cyclones’ power play has converted on 19 percent of its chances. It is the sixth best in the EHL.

“Our defensemen are moving pucks really well.” the coach said. “In fact, we’re deeper on defense this year and that’s made a huge difference for us. They’re big, mobile and see the ice really well.”

Flanagan did not hesitate to offer lofty praise to three defensemen, in particular.

“We have three of the top defenders in the league in Grant Gallo, Dalton Carter and Bryan Dallaire (Saco, Maine),” Flanagan explained. “They’re big kids. Gallo is 6-foot-4, Carter is 6-foot-2, and Dallaire is the little guy at 6-foot-1.”

The three blueliners have also been solid contributors to penalty killing units that have successfully defended 94 percent of opponents man-advantage situations. In other words, the Cyclones have been shorthanded 100 times this season and have given up just six goals. It is no surprise that the club leads the EHL in that category.

Of course, the adage in hockey is “your goaltender needs to be your best penalty killer,” and in the case of Northern’s netminder, Evan Morelli, this holds true.

Morelli is first in the circuit with 11 wins, second with a 1.88 goals against average and third with a .930 save percentage. He is also fourth with 15 games played. Numbers like those make the puck stopper one of the most valuable in any league.

While the defensive corps and Morelli are doing their jobs in outstanding fashion, the club needs to look no further than forward Kevin Valenti for scoring. After accumulating two goals and two assists in twenty-five games last season, Valenti is on a two points per game pace this season. In 23 games, he has amassed 20 goals and 27 assists totaling 47 points to lead the EHL.

After getting so close the reaching the pinnacle of the AJHL mountain last year, the Northern Cyclones look to be on a mission this season. Through solid scouting, recruiting, and a returning group of outstanding players, Flanagan and his staff have improved their team to the point where it is only three points away from being the overall points leader in the EHL. It remains to be seen if they have improved their squad enough to go from contender to champion but you may not want to bet against them.

Game of the Week

This weekend will see the Eastern Hockey League’s Central Division leading Connecticut Oilers travel to the Keystone State to face off against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights in a two game series that could change the landscape of the division’s standings. The Knights trail the Oilers by four points and would like nothing more than to emerge from the two tilts tied for first place with Connecticut.

NE Junior Hockey Rankings

1) Boston Jr. Bruins(19-3-1-1) - A 3-0-0-0 week saw the Jr. Bruins remain at the top of the United States Premier Hockey League. Goaltender Sean Lawrence continues his dominance over opponents with a .938 save percentage and 1.90 goals against average.

2) South Shore Kings(16-8-2-1) - A weekend split with the Islanders Hockey Club prevented the Kings from jumping over the Jersey Hitmen into second place in the USPHL, however, they trail the Garden State skaters by one point and may overtake them sooner rather than later.

3) New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs(18-4-1-0) - NH went into the Eastern Hockey League’s Thanksgiving Showcase and ran the table, going 3-0-0-0. They lead the Northern Cyclones by three points in the circuit’s North Division. Shawn Nelson is second in league scoring with 33 points in 23 games.

4) Northern Cyclones(17-6-0-0) - The Cyclones won two of three at the EHL Thanksgiving Showcase. They trail New Hampshire by three points in the North Division and hope to gain ground this coming weekend with contests against the Boston Jr. Rangers and the Valley Jr. Warriors.

5) Islanders Hockey Club(13-9-2-0) - The Islanders split a weekend series at South Shore and are tied for fourth place in the USPHL with the Philadelphia Flyers. They will be face off against the Portland Jr. Pirates in a home and home series this weekend.

6) Connecticut Oilers (14-6-1-1) - The Oilers were undefeated at the EHL’s Thanksgiving Showcase until they ran into the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs. Connecticut lost that match by a 3-1 score proving that they are among the elite of the league. They hold a four point lead over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights in the Central Division.

7) Boston Bandits(12-7-3-1) - After winning twice and tieing once at the EHL Thanksgiving Showcase, the North Division’s third place club have won three of their last five games and have opened a seven point lead over the Boston Jr. Rangers.

8) Bay State Breakers(6-11-4-2) - The Breakers were idle last weekend. This week, they will host the Boston Jr. Bruins on Thursday before traveling to Philadelphia for a two game series versus the Flyers. They occupy seventh place in the USPHL.

9) Connecticut Yankees(7-13-1-0) - Like the Breakers, the Yankees had the weekend off. They go into this week’s competition trailing Bay State by three points in the USPHL standings. Connecticut will be in Philadelphia for a match versus the Flyers on Thursday and will return home for a two game series against the South Shore Kings on Saturday and Sunday.

10) Boston Jr. Rangers(9-11-2-1) - The Rangers hosted the EHL Thanksgiving Showcase but playing three consecutive games on home ice did not help Boston. Coach Mario Martiniello’s squad lost two of their three games and are only two points ahead of the last place Valley Jr. Warriors in the North Division.

11) Valley Jr. Warriors(8-10-1-2) - At the EHL Thanksgiving Showcase, the Warriors lost twice but also tied a very good Philadelphia Jr. Flyers club. It was that tie which enabled Valley to move up in our rankings this week. They will look to move up in the league’s standings when they face off against the Jr. Rangers on Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7th).

12) Portland Jr. Pirates(5-18-2-1) - To say the season has not gone as planned for the Jr. Pirates would be an understatement at this point. Portland is in the midst of a 14 game losing streak. The good news is December just began which means there is time to turn this ship around and make some noise in the USPHL before the season ends in February.

13) Hartford Jr. Wolfpack(7-9-2-2) - An overtime loss to the Northern Cyclones came on the heels of a stunning upset victory over the Cyclones in a week where the Wolfpack played their best hockey of the season. The ‘Pack is tied with Walpole for fifth place in the EHL’s Central Division.

14) Walpole Express(7-10-3-1) - Four consecutive Express losses have seen the Hartford Jr. Wolfpack catch Walpole in the EHL standings. The two clubs will meet Friday night in Walpole to settle the score.  

Twitter: @ShawnHutcheon