BOSTON, MA -- With just over a month to go before the 2017-18 season begins, the Eastern Hockey League (EHL) and its 16 teams are excited to be kicking off season #5 this Fall. Each year has brought with it a new set of players, but a consistent level of parity has been present since the league was formed in 2013. That consistency held true all of last season when just over 59% of the league's games were decided by two goals or less. The number drops slightly when the margin is trimmed to just a goal, but even still, 37% of the league's games were decided by just a single tally. To put a bow on the parity, 16% of the total number of games went to either overtime or a shootout, and that includes three of the five games is last season's EHL Finals.
The #Eshow prides itself on providing a direct path to college hockey. A key reason for over 150 NCAA Commitments has to do with parity across the league, and the players developing from strong competition.
Looking ahead to this season, below you'll find breakdowns of each of the four divisions (two per conference), along with some key dates to circle on the calendar.
This year's New England Division takes on a little bit of a different look with both the Vermont Lumberjacks and New England Wolves returning, and the New Hampshire Avalancheand Valley Jr. Warriors joining the party.
Year-in and year-out the Vermont Lumberjacks are always highly touted as one of the toughest teams to play against in the EHL. Led by Doc DelCastillo, the Lumberjacks are consistently strong on the puck, and always a tough test at home in Burlington.
Head over to Laconia and the Wolves are feeling confident as Andrew Trimble takes over as the new Head Coach of the EHL team. After a couple years leading the Wolves' EHLP team, Trimble is ready for the jump and has been working endlessly all off-season as the Wolves seek to get back to the EHL playoffs.
Just 40 miles South of the Wolves, you'll find one of the newest EHL teams in the New Hampshire Avalanche. While September 16th will be the team's first game in the EHL, that will not be the case for Chris Cerrella (Head Coach and General Manager). After helping over 60 players (since EHL formed in 2013) make their NCAA Commitments while with the Hartford Jr. Wolfpack, Cerrella is ready for the challenge of helping launch a new junior hockey team this Fall.
Last, but certainly not least, the Valley Jr. Warriors move over to the New England Division fresh off winning the Boston Division title during the 2016-17 regular season. Last year's team was solid, and played a heavy style of play that led to them snapping the longest point streak in league history at 33 games (Philadelphia Little Flyers).
The Wolves and Avalanche kick-off their respective season's against each other on September 16th, while the Lumberjacks host the Connecticut Oilers on September 22nd and the Warriors travel to take on the Total Athletics Seahawks that same night.
Flip over to the Boston Division, and three of the four teams from last season are back for another year. The Boston Jr. Rangers, East Coast Wizards, and Walpole Express all have strong hopes as they welcome the Total Athletics Seahawks to both their division and the EHL.
Last year was one of the top season's in franchise history for the Rangers. Led by Rich DeCaprio, the Rangers finished 3rd in the North Conference, and then advanced past the Lumberjacks in the first round of the playoffs. The Rangers had strong play in net, and a handful of scorers at the top of the league leaders.
The nearby rival Wizards are also coming off a franchise season that included nine NCAA Commitments and the team advancing further than they ever had before in the EHL playoffs. Freddy Meyer is now faced with the challenge of reloading much of his roster, and then building off of last season's solid season.
You have to head South of Boston for the other two teams, starting with the NCAA Commitment leaders in the Walpole Express. Jon Lounsbury has placed the highest number of players in college hockey since the EHL was formed in 2013. Similar to Meyer, Lounsbury is faced with the challenge of reloading his roster, and advancing deeper in the EHL playoffs.
Finally we come to the new team in the Seahawks, led by Bill Zaniboni, the team's Head Coach. Zaniboni brings a strong hockey background to Hyannis and is backed by a co-partnership between Mike Sherman and Warren Nighan. You'll recognize Sherman's name with his long history of success in the National Football League (NFL).
Both the Express and the Seahawks start off on the road on the season's opening day, September 9th. Walpole will be taking on the Connecticut Oilers, while Total Athletics will be in Norwalk to face-off with the Connecticut RoughRiders.
This year's Central Division is a lot like the New England Division, with two teams out and two teams in. We'll start with the New York Applecore who return for another season. The same holds true for the New York Bobcats who return to action for the first time since the 2015-16 season. Rounding out the division are the Connecticut RoughRiders and the Connecticut Oilers.
Following a slight name change, the RoughRiders begin play in Norwalk with the same coaching staff of Eric Lind and Steven Brown, who've been there since the league was formed in 2013. Despite an average record during the 2016-17 season, Lind and Brown continued to help their players reach the next level, with 10 NCAA Commitments. The RoughRiders will look to reclaim their division and get deeper into the playoffs.
Up the road in Hamden, the Oilers name stays in play as Karl Linden helps launch a new team in the same town as Quinnipiac University. Linden comes with a strong hockey background, having played at Elmira College during his college days.
In New York, the EHL returns to Long Island as the New York Bobcats are back once again. Led by Ken Hoey, a fast start is essential as the Bobcats look to pick up where they left off.
Lastly, the New York Applecore will look to build off one of their best season's that saw them advance past the first round of the playoffs and into the EHL Quarterfinals. Graham Johnson is back once again, and is excited to have a full season with the team after joining them in late September last year.
The Oilers, RoughRiders, and Bobcats are all home on the EHL's opening night, September 9th, while the Applecore kick-off their season against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights on September 16th.
Speaking of the Knights, they are also back once again, as they join the tough Mid-Atlantic Division that includes the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers, Philadelphia Little Flyers, Philadelphia Revolution. The battle for every point was huge in this division last season, and that will be the case once again this year.
For Jerry Domish and the Jr. Flyers, their defense of the EHL Championship doesn't begin until September 24th, but fittingly starts with a matchup against the team they beat in the Philadelphia Little Flyers.
For the Little Flyers, George Lewis steps into the spotlight as he takes over behind the bench. The challenge of filling the shoes of Rocky Russo will be tough at first, but with Lewis' coaching experience and eight games in September, the Little Flyers are confident their new Head Coach will adjust quickly.
For the Knights, the return to the EHL brings with it a NAHL affiliate, as they continue to play a team at the Tier-II level. The Knights have always been a deep organization and with Tom Kowal (General Manager) and Josh Fusco (Head Coach) leading the way, the Knights are confident they'll be able to jump right back into the thick of things in the EHL.
Last, but not least, the Revolution will look to rebound after an early exit from last year's playoffs. The Revolution are led by Jon Rogger who faces a huge challenge of replacing last year's top scorer in the EHL, Richie McCartney. As always, it is expected that the Revolution will be strong between the pipes, with the help of Chris Kanaly (General Manger), one of the top goalie coaches in the league.
We are keeping our eyes on all the divisions this season, but especially the Mid-Atlantic Division that owned three of last year's final four playoff teams. Backed by the three the Philadelphia teams, these partners have more than 50 years of junior hockey experience in the city of brotherly love. They've placed more players in collegiate hockey than all junior teams in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland combined.