By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com
Here we are, the day where the final USPHL Showcase Series event begins for the NCDC, pitting five North Division teams against five South Division squads between Thursday and Saturday. It’s the South Shore Kings Presidents Day Showcase, hitting the Foxboro (Mass.) Sports Center and giving us the final cross-divisional games until, well, the Dineen Cup Finals. We’ll take a look at the teams that have been on big point gains the last couple weeks, finishing .500 or better since February 1.
Rockets Hockey Club (5-0)
Not only do the Rockets have the best points total since Feb. 1, only one other team (the South Shore Kings) can equal the points they’ve had since January 8 – translation being that they’ve been the hottest team not just for the last couple weeks, but really five weeks running. They have not lost in February, and they hope to keep that going heading into a two-gamer against the visiting Boston Junior Bruins, both teams opting out of the Kings Showcase proceedings this weekend. Most recently, the Rockets have usurped the fourth place position previously held by the Connecticut Jr. Rangers. The Rockets have 47 points with nine games remaining versus the Jr. Rangers with the same games remaining.
Since Feb. 1, the Rockets took three from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights, 7-3, 4-0, 5-2. They defeated the I-287 rival Jersey Hitmen by a 4-3 score on Friday, before defeating the Mercer Chiefs, 4-2, on Saturday.
- The Rockets, at 47 points, are only two points off the 49 they registered at the 41-game mark last year. Both teams are also similar in their post-New Year’s output, with 16 points so far this year versus 15 last year.
- The Rockets are one of four teams separated by a couple fractions in the top four of power play percentage. They are tied for second at 20.5, behind P.A.L.’s 20.6 and ahead of the Northern Cyclones’ 20.4.
- RHC is second in league offense at 3.76 goals for per game.
- Caden Cranston, a former Buffalo Stampede (USPHL Premier) player leads the league with 58 points, and also with 43 assists. Cranston also has the second longest active scoring streak at 10 games (3-15-18) going back to Jan. 13.
- Cade Baker is now tied for the lead in power play goals (nine), while Cranston is tied for power play assists (15) and power play points (19). Cam Bergemann is second in PP assists (13). Baker is on a six-game, 6-4-10 scoring streak.
- Quinnipiac recruit Jonah Copre is fourth among defensemen in scoring with 33 points, while being second in assists (27).
- Kyle Rohrer is on a five-game, 6-4-10 scoring streak. He will join Cranston, Baker and Copre – among other Rockets – at the NCDC All-Star Game event on Tuesday.
- Yakov Yakzhin, a two-year USPHL Premier player with 93 points to his credit at that level, scored a goal in his NCDC debut on Feb. 10 against the Hitmen.
- Matthew O’Donnell, a key member of the top Rockets Hockey Club NCDC team in their history (2020-21), recently came back from the NAHL and has posted a 5-0 run, with a 2.00 goals against average, a .946 save percentage and a shutout.
The Road Ahead: The Junior Bruins, visiting Bridgewater for a Feb. 17-18 series, are 13-5-0-0 all time against the Rockets, but the Rockets have won all but one of their last five meetings going back to 2020-21.
South Shore Kings (4-0-1-0)
The Kings are actually No. 1 among all NCDC teams for the year 2023 so far, posting an 8-3-2-0 record for a league-leading 18 points. All of this, and they’ve only recently broken out of a fourth place position they seemed to remain in forever. They have risen to 47 points and are 5-0-1-0 in their last six going back to Jan. 27, the best points streak in the North Division.
This all started with a 5-3 victory over the rival Boston Advantage – and it has most recently hit six games with a 3-1 victory over the same Advantage. In between, the Kings have defeated the Islanders Hockey Club (3-1) and fallen to the IHC in overtime (3-2), have beaten the Junior Bruins (1-0) and the Northern Cyclones (4-1). The Kings are now ready to host their namesake Presidents Day Showcase and will face three South programs in a row.
- The Kings’ defense corps are third in shots on goal against with 32.93.
- The Kings have earned the most points in the NCDC when leading after two periods, at 42 (19-2-3-1).
- South Shore’s Jack Hillier is second in game-winning goals with five, two of which he has this month.
- Veteran goaltender Jacob Torgner is second in goals against average (2.08) and fourth in save percentage (.935). Torgner is No. 1 in save percentage in February so far with a .972, off 106 saves on 109 shots, with one shutout. He is also first with a 0.75 goals against average.
- Newly acquired defenseman Jack Barbro, with four assists in five games as a King, is third in defenseman scoring with 34 points in 41 games. He’s also third in goals with 11 and fifth in assists with 23. He and Mercer’s Trevor Davis are tied for game-winning goals with three apiece.
- Ben Jenkinson and Hillier are the only two with at least five points in their five February games. Jenkinson, Barbro, Hillier and Torgner are all among South Shore’s NCDC All-Star event contingent.
The Road Ahead: The Kings start Thursday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. against the Mercer Chiefs, followed by a Friday showdown at noon against the Utica Jr. Comets and a game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
- The Chiefs won their first and only meeting, 6-5, at the Hitmen Classic on Oct. 8, 2022.
- The Kings defeated the Utica Jr. Comets, 6-1, when they last met on Oct. 3 at the BJB Shootout, the first USPHL Showcase Series event featuring the NCDC.
- South Shore beat the WBS Knights, 3-2, at the Islanders Hockey Club on Nov. 17 in their only meeting so far.
Boston Advantage (3-1-0-0)
The Advantage started the month with a 4-2 win over the Twin City Thunder and a 5-3 victory over the Northern Cyclones. Their only loss so far in February happened 3-1 against the South Shore Kings, but they quickly rebounded with a Valentine’s Day 5-4 victory over the Islanders Hockey Club. The Advantage have their most wins (21) after 41 games in their three-year stint in the NCDC.
- With a 3-1 record in shootouts, it should come as no surprise that the Advantage are tops in the 1v1 challenge, with a 4-for-10 performance on the shooter side, and 1-for-11 save performance for the goalies.
- The Advantage aren’t lighting the world on fire with offense, but getting the job done just enough to stay on the good side of a W-L record in February. Luke Panchisin leads the way in February with six points (4-2-6) and Jacob Bigras is second at 2-2-4, both in four games. Both players are bound for the NCDC All-Star Game on Tuesday.
- Panchisin is third in the NCDC scoring race, with a 23-27-50 line, already the best by an Advantage player in a single season by 10 points – with eight games remaining. His 23 goals is third in the league.
- Goaltender Nicholas Bevilacqua is tied for second in wins (17), and he is also second in minutes (1654).
- Conor Lally is fifth among NCDC defensemen with a 5-25-30 line, and Lally is tied for first in power play assists by a defenseman at 12.
The Road Ahead: The Advantage will kick off the NCDC schedule at the South Shore Kings Showcase with a 1 p.m. Thursday game against the Connecticut Jr. Rangers. They continue Friday afternoon against the WBS Knights, and they close Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. against the Jersey Hitmen.
- The Advantage defeated Connecticut, 4-1, at the Islanders Hockey Club Showcase. The Advantage hold a 3-1-1-0 record all-time against the Jr. Rangers.
- They beat the WBS Knights 3-2 in a shootout at the Hitmen Classic in October, their only meeting so far.
- The Advantage also got their first victory against the Hitmen at the Hitmen Classic, defeating the hosts 3-2 in regulation. Overall, the Hitmen are 4-1-0-0 all-time against the Advantage.
Twin City Thunder (3-2-0-0)
The Thunder may have a good, if not great, February going so far for themselves. However, the challenge remains that they’re seven points out of fourth place. And even on that chase, they’re pursued by two other hungry teams looking to make the playoff grade.
After a 4-2 loss to the Advantage to open the month, they turned around and beat the Northern Cyclones, 2-1. Having defeated the second-place North team, they went on to face the No. 1 New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs and shut them out on Feb. 8. Two days later, they tacked on a 2-1 victory over the Islanders Hockey Club, who remain two points back of their heels. On Feb. 15, the Monarchs got their revenge by posting a 6-2 defeat over the Thunder.
- The Thunder are third in the NCDC in fewest penalty minutes at 10.33.
- Twin City has the fourth best defense in the league at 2.87 goals against per game.
- The Thunder fare well when they are outshot by opponents, standing with a 9-5-1-1 record. That is behind only the Jersey Hitmen’s 13-6-1-1 for most wins over losses when being outshot.
- Fourteen players have registered a point in the month of February’s five games before.
- Twin City’s Trace Norwell put up nine power play goals to tie for the league lead in that category.
The Road Ahead: Three more games over four days put the Thunder as one of the busiest teams this week. After their game against the Monarchs Wednesday, they’re on to Foxboro to face the WBS Knights, the Mercer Chiefs and the Utica Jr. Comets.
- The Thunder defeated the WBS Knights, 7-1, at the Hitmen Classic in their only meeting.
- Twin City and Mercer had a barnburner at the Islanders Hockey Club Showcase, with Twin City winning 7-6.
- Utica won 4-2 when they faced the Thunder on Nov. 17, but Twin City holds a 6-3-0-0 all-time lead going into this 10th all-time meeting.
P.A.L. Jr. Islanders (2-1-0-0)
The Jr. Islanders are one of the four NCDC teams not heading to Foxboro, but rather remaining at their home rink and bringing in the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs for what will be a No. 2 vs. No. 3 showdown. The Jr. Islanders have 54 points on the season so far, and it’s 53 for the Monarchs. Both teams are also not out of the running for the Founders Cup, trailing the Jersey Hitmen by four and five points, respectively. The Jr. Islanders’ 54 points is already their most since racking up 62 in the 2019-20 season, the first for Head Coach Mike Marcou.
The Jr. Isles faced the Hitmen on Feb. 4, coming out with a 3-0 victory. Six days later, St. Lawrence recruit and goalie Cameron Smith put up shutout No. 2 in a row, 5-0 against the Mercer Chiefs. The Hitmen defeated the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders, 6-4 on Feb. 11.
- The Jr. Isles are No. 1 in home wins, standing with 16. Their 16-3-0-1 record as the home team also gives them the most points of 33.
- P.A.L. stands as the only team undefeated in regulation when scoring the first goal, putting up a 21-0-1-2 record.
- They hold the No. 1 power play in the league with a 20.6 percent success rate, scoring 36 for 175. Also in special teams, they have the second most shorthanded goals for (seven) while being the only team to have never given up a shorthanded goal this year.
- The Jr. Islanders are third in offense with a 3.70 goals for per game, and they are also third in defense at 2.60.
- P.A.L. is No. 1 when leading after one period, going 19-1-0-1 overall in that situation.
- Luca Leighton is definitely on a mission to try to hit 100 career points. At 94, he has posted a 9-9-18 line over his last 11 games for the league’s longest active current scoring streak. He is third in league scoring with 49 points in 36 games and second in assists with 32, and he leads in power play assists with 15.
- Jack Hewitt is No. 1 in power play points with 19.
- Heikki Virtanen put up two points in each of the Jr. Islanders’ games so far, giving him a team-leading six points in three February games, and an active 3-5-7 scoring streak in four games.
- Carter Hanrahan has four goals and three assists in his last four games, including posting his first GWG of the season and first since his rookie season of 2020-21. Also on a four-game hot streak is Ty Broad (4-3-7). Broad is also the league leader in shorthanded goals with three.
- Smith, who put up a combined 77 saves in his consecutive shutouts, is second in the league since Feb. 1 with a .957 save percentage among goaltenders with at least two games played.
- Smith is the only goaltender with 20 wins so far in the league, at 21. Along with leading that category, he is first in saves (1,145) and minutes (2,021) and second in save percentage (.941).
New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (2-1-0-0)
The Monarchs are headed to Long Island with the North Division lead, holding on by three points above the Northern Cyclones – who have three games in hand. Recently, they split a series with the Twin City Thunder, falling 2-0 on Feb. 8 and rebounding with a 6-2 victory exactly a week later on Feb. 15. The Monarchs had started the month with a 3-2 victory against the Boston Junior Bruins.
- After 42 games, with eight remaining in the regular season, the Monarchs remain on pace for their best NCDC season since joining the league in 2018-19. They have 53 points at this juncture (24-13-2-3), two points better than the 51 points at the same spot in the season last year.
- The Monarchs have statistical history going for them heading down to Long Island, as they are a better road team (14-4-0-2) than when they’re the home squad (9-9-2-1).
- The Monarchs are third in penalty killing at 89.7 percent (15 goals against on 146 times shorthanded).
- New Hampshire is second in both goals against (2.50) and shots on goal against per game (31.02).
- The Monarchs have the league’s best record (15-0-0-0) when leading after two periods, and they are one of just two teams completely undefeated in that situation.
- Matthew Sullivan (2-3-5) and Christopher Repmann (3-2-5) are tied for the team lead in scoring in February so far.
- Christopher Repmann is the league leader in shorthanded points at five, and is tied for the lead in shorthanded assists (three). He’ll be meeting the shorthanded goals leader (Ty Broad, three) this weekend.
- Monarchs goaltender Oliver Drum has played all 180 minutes this month for the Monarchs, going 2-1 with 82 saves on 88 shots for a .932 save percentage.
- Drum’s colleagues Jake Fillion and Jed Baliotti are both in the Top 10 for GAA at 2.24 and 2.63, respectively. No other team has two in the top 10. Fillion and Repmann will be part of the 2023 NCDC All-Star Game event this coming Tuesday.
The Road Ahead: The Monarchs lead the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders 7-4-0-0 all-time.
Connecticut Jr. Rangers (2-2-0-0)
The Jr. Rangers were situated in fourth place for quite a while, but the storm surge of the Rockets Hockey Club going 5-0 have dislodged them to the point where the Rangers are now having to chase fourth instead.
Last weekend, the Jr. Rangers went 2-1 at Utica, winning their first two games 7-1, 7-2, before yielding a 5-4 decision on Sunday, Feb. 12. Their month started with a 3-2 loss to the Mercer Chiefs on Feb. 4. They’re ready now for a packed weekend against three North Division opponents in Foxboro.
- The Jr. Rangers fire the most shots on goal per game (40.85), and are fifth in league offense (3.15 goals per game).
- Tight games late prove to be no real problem for the Jr. Rangers, who have the most points in the league (17) when tied after two, off a 7-3-3-0 record when knotted after 40.
- The Jr. Rangers have been great beneficiaries of scoring depth lately, with four players posting a combined 24 points between them – and all with six apiece. Jex Sheffield, C.J. Beals and Jack Houser all have a 2-4-6 line, Robert Barrasso has an 0-6-6 mark.
- Mason Joseph remains among the league leaders in save percentage (.939) and goals against average (2.37), and he’s fourth in wins (14). Joseph and Beals will be among the Jr. Rangers’ representatives at the NCDC All-Star Game event.
The Road Ahead: Thurs., Feb. 16 sees the Jr. Rangers taking on the Boston Advantage, and the Advantage have a 3-1-1-0 lead in the all-time series, though the Jr. Rangers are 2-2-0-1 on the other side.
- Next up for the Jr. Rangers are the Northern Cyclones on Friday at 3:10 p.m. The Cyclones won a 6-5 shootout against the Jr. Rangers at the BJB Shootout in October. The series is so close all time that both teams have winning records, thanks to four games that went beyond regulation – all won by the Cyclones. Northern’s record is 10-9-0-0, while the Jr. Rangers are 9-6-2-2 all time, giving the Jr. Rangers a two-point lead in the proceedings since 2017.
- The Jr. Rangers take on the Islanders Hockey Club at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, and hold a 12-6-0-0 all-time lead against IHC. After going 1-4 in the Islanders’ Dineen Cup season of 2017-18, the Jr. Rangers have since won each season series between 2018-19 and 2021-22, and they earned a 7-3 win at the 2022 IHC Showcase against the hosts to lead so far here in 2022-23 as well.
Mercer Chiefs (2-2-0-0)
The Chiefs remain in that tight top three pack of the South Division, but are still six points back of the top spot. After a bright enough start to the month, they then fell in two straight before their trip up to Foxboro.
February began with a 2-1 shootout win over the Jersey Hitmen, and then a day later (on Feb. 4), they defeated the Connecticut Jr. Rangers, 3-2. The next weekend was a tougher go, with the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders pulling ahead of them into second with a 5-0 victory, and then the Rockets Hockey Club picking up their fifth straight at the Chiefs’ expense on Feb. 11 by a 4-2 score. They can be optimistic about moving forward, having gone 6-3-0-0 this year in showcase games. They put up a 2-1-0-0 mark in each of the Hitmen Classic, the Fall Beantown Classic and the Islanders Hockey Club Showcase.
- No team has gone beyond regulation nor earned more points beyond 60 minutes this year than the Chiefs, as they stand with 20 points off a 4-1 OT record and a 4-3 shootout mark.
- Not surprisingly, the Chiefs have the most goals in shootouts (11) – but also the most against, with 10.
- Mercer is third in shots on goal per game at 38.95.
- The Chiefs are tied with the Islanders Hockey Club for most points earned when trailing after two periods – they each have 14 in that situation.
- Mercer has had 12 different point-scorers in February, but only one – Frank Jirak (1-1-2 in two games) has averaged a point per game.
- Carson Skove is tied with P.A.L.’s Luca Leighton for the lead in shootout-winning goals with two. Mercer’s Dylan Young is tied with the Cyclones’ Marko Giourof for most shootout goals with three.
- Trevor Davis, named to the NCDC All-Star Game, is tied for fourth in goals by a defenseman with nine.
The Road Ahead: Mercer kicks off the South Shore Kings Presidents Day Showcase with a tilt against the hosts at 4:30 on Thursday, picking up after a 6-5 Mercer OT win at the Hitmen Classic in their only game so far.
- Friday sees a 5 p.m. game against the Twin City Thunder, against whom Mercer won 7-6 in November at the IHC Showcase.
- Two days earlier at the same event, the Cyclones beat the Chiefs, 4-2.
In Other Action
The Jersey Hitmen have picked up three of a possible eight points so far in February, going 1-2-0-1 this month. They are still able to hold on to their lead for a fifth potential Founders Cup – they have won all of the regular season titles except for the inaugural season of 2017-18, when the IHC captured the Founders and Dineen Cups (a feat also accomplished by the Hitmen the last two years).
The Hitmen take on the Northern Cyclones at the SSK Showcase first, picking up after a 4-0 shutout victory on Oct. 1. The Islanders Hockey Club pulled off a big 6-1 victory over the Hitmen to close their IHC Showcase in November, setting up some revenge hopes for the Hitmen Friday. Saturday will see the Hitmen go up against the Advantage, who defeated Jersey at the 2022 Hitmen Classic for the first time, 3-2.
The Northern Cyclones come into the SSK Showcase with a 2-3-0-0 record in February so far. The Cyclones take on the Hitmen Thursday at 3:30, Connecticut Friday at 3:10 and the Mercer Chiefs Saturday at 1:10. See those teams’ entries above for more info on these matchups.
The Islanders Hockey Club are heading into some big games as they try to push their way into a playoff position. The IHC takes on the Utica Jr. Comets Thursday evening to start their SSK Showcase run, after having defeated Utica 5-1 in their first IHC Showcase game. Next up will be the Jersey Hitmen as the Islanders try to build off their November 6-1 win against the two-time defending Dineen Cup champs. They close up with a showdown Saturday afternoon against the Connecticut Jr. Rangers, the only team to beat the Islanders at their November showcase, 7-3.
The Utica Jr. Comets avoided a sweep against Connecticut by winning their final game last weekend by a 5-4 victory. They pick up games at the SSK Showcase against the Islanders Hockey Club, the host Kings and the Twin City Thunder. The Islanders won 5-1 in their November meeting; Utica fell to South Shore, 6-1, on Oct. 3 at the BJB Shootout; Utica beat Twin City, 4-2, on Nov. 17 at the IHC Showcase.
The Boston Junior Bruins have played the lightest February schedule so far, and have fallen in two games. They make the trek south to the Bridgewater Sports Arena to face the Rockets Hockey Club this weekend.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights are up in Foxboro hoping to jam on the brakes to halt a three-game February losing streak. WBS faces the Twin City Thunder on Thursday night at 7 p.m. The Thunder won 7-1 at the Hitmen Classic in their first meeting. The Boston Advantage, Friday’s opponent, won a 3-2 shootout also at the Hitmen Classic. The host Kings are Saturday’s opponent and won 3-2 in the IHC Showcase.
Drop The Pucks!