Juniors Journal: Jersey Hitmen Dineen Cup favorites
by Shawn Hutcheon/Contributor
For the Eastern Junior Hockey League, the second season has arrived.
A shot at glory is the reason each coach spends long hours behind a steering wheel and sipping too much coffee, searching for the players who will form the team that will win a championship.
The EJHL’s playoff champion is awarded the Dineen Cup, named after the late Gary Dineen, who represented his native Canada in the 1968 Winter Olympics before embarking on a minor-league and NHL playing career. Dineen spent most of his time as a pro with the American Hockey League’s Springfield franchises. He was a founder of the Springfield Jr. Pics in 1972 and would enjoy a long career as coach and general manager of the Pics, which included 11 league championships.
The postseason will see the top two teams in the Northern and Southern divisions receive first round byes. The Northern Division clubs getting a few days off from action are the first place Boston Jr. Bruins and second place Islanders Hockey Club. The teams in the Southern Division are No. 1 Jersey Hitmen and second place finishers South Shore Kings.
The first round of the playoffs, which will take place Feb. 26-27, has the third through sixth place clubs crossover to participate in two game play-in series. That round will feature the following clubs with the first team listed being the host for each series:
- Valley Jr. Warriors vs. Connecticut Oilers
- Rochester Jr. Stars vs. New York Apple Core
- Bay State Breakers vs. Boston Bandits
- Springfield Jr. Pics vs. New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs
The clubs that received byes will face off against the winners of the play-in series. All teams will be reseeded one through eight based on regular season point totals, with the clubs that received the byes being the host teams. This round will be played on March 2-3.
Who has the best chance of winning the Dineen Cup? We’re glad you asked. Here are our predictions for the EJHL’s Dineen Cup playoffs:
The teams that should survive the first round are the Valley Jr. Warriors, Rochester Jr. Stars, Bay State Breakers and Springfield Jr. Pics. After the reseeding of the teams, the quarterfinals will have the following matchups:
- No. 1 Jersey Hitmen vs. No. 8 Springfield Jr. Pics
- No. 2 Boston Jr. Bruins vs. No. 7 Bay State Breakers
- No. 3 Islanders Hockey Club vs. No. 6 Rochester Jr. Stars
- No. 4 Valley Jr. Warriors vs. No. 5 South Shore Kings
The top four seeds should move on to the semifinals on March 9 and 10, which will see these series:
- No. 1 Jersey Hitmen vs. No. 4 Valley Jr. Warriors
- No. 2 Boston Jr. Bruins vs. No. 3 Islanders Hockey Club
The Hitmen will defeat the Warriors to advance to the EJHL finals while the Islanders, who were victorious over the Jr. Bruins three times during the regular season, will upset Boston.
The last round of the EJHL playoffs will be played at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Mass., on March 13, 14 and 15 (if necessary) and will feature the two survivors of the playoffs. That matchup will be:
- No. 1 Jersey Hitmen vs. No. 3 Islanders Hockey Club
This will be as good as junior hockey gets. Each club is built on speed and skill but will also grind it out in the “dirty areas” when necessary.
The Jersey Hitmen, who finished the season by winning 26 of their last 27 EJHL games, will be too much for the Islanders. Jersey’s lethal firepower that boasts twelve Division 1 college recruits and seven of the top ten scorers in the circuit – including the league’s top scorer in University of Vermont recruit Brendan Bradley (78 points) – will emerge as Dineen Cup champions. The Hitmen have been the best junior hockey team in the Northeast and will continue to be in this postseason.
Game of the Week
With the postseason upon us, the Eastern Junior Hockey League will have a New York Thruway Series as New York Apple Core will make the trip from Brewster to Rochester February 26 and 27 for the league’s play-in round.
Rochester put on a strong end of season push to finish fourth in the circuit’s Northern Division with 54 points, while New York rested comfortably in the middle of the pack, ultimately placing sixth in the Southern Division with 39 points.
Players to watch in this series will be Rochester goaltender Will Massey (Penfield, N.Y.). The 18-year-old enters the playoffs with an 18-11-1-0 record. NYAC will look to its leading scorer, Tyler Young (Sayville, N.Y.), who netted 11 goals and 32 assists for a regular season total of 43 points.
NY/NJ Junior Power Rankings
1) New Jersey Hitmen (39-6-0-0-0)
2) Rochester Jr. Stars (25-15-0-5-1)
3) New York Bobcats (24-16-3-1)
4) New Jersey Rockets (19-18-5-1)
5) New York Apple Core (17-23-0-4-1)
6) New Jersey Titans (14-27-3-0)