Since 2019, only two teams have won the Dineen Cup - and this year, they’re both hitting the ice against each other to add a second NCDC title since the league’s inception in 2017.
The 2019 champion Boston Junior Bruins are traveling to face the 2021 champion Jersey Hitmen for a three-game Dineen Cup Final series in Wayne, N.J., beginning with Game 1 Friday at 6:30 p.m.
The teams faced each other a week apart, on Oct. 3 and Oct. 9. The Junior Bruins came away with wins in both games, both by one goal 2-1 and 3-2. Hitmen Head Coach Toby Harris, whose team finished first overall in the NCDC to earn their fourth straight Founders Cup as regular season champions, remembers those games well. He also says the teams are very different from those that met at the Junior Bruins Shootout and then the Hitmen Classic.
“Both teams have changed quite a bit as we only returned three players that suited up in the 2021 Dineen Cup championship game. It took time for our team to gel and since October we have made considerable upgrades to our roster,” said Harris, whose team beat the Rockets Hockey Club in three games to make the final. “We are extremely excited for this weekend. It’s what our club has been training for all year!”
Anderson, who defeated a higher-seeded New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs team (only ahead by two points in the final regular season standings), is certainly not putting any foresight into this weekend that would be drawn from a two-game season series that wrapped up almost six months ago.
“So much has changed. I don’t think those games have any relevance in this series. We will need to execute at a high level to have success. That’s what our focus is on this week,” said Anderson. “The Hitmen do everything at a very high level. They always have. You don’t win down there unless you’re really on top of your game for 60 minutes. It’s a test of every aspect of what you do. I liken it to playing golf in a US Open in that regard. You’ll need every club in your bag. [Keys are] puck management and remaining focused on ourselves and playing a solid team-first game to have success.”
The Hitmen started out with a 2-1 victory against the Rockets Hockey Club, followed by a 1-0 loss to the Jersey Hitmen the next night. It was anyone’s guess how Game 3 in the Battle of New Jersey would turn out. Well, it turned out that the Hitmen’s offensive machine kicked back in and posted a 5-1 victory against the Rockets to move on to the final.
“I was very impressed by our team’s resolve and ability to adjust quickly based on the Rockets’ game plan. Coach [Jason] Kersner and the Rockets came into the series with a very sound game plan,” said Harris. “We had to make adjustments on the fly and I was very impressed with how the team utilized these tactics especially in Game 3.”
The Junior Bruins found themselves down 1-0 in their series against the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs after a 5-4 Monarchs win. The next day, the Junior Bruins turned it around and pushed the Jr. Monarchs to OT, with Ikki Kogawa scoring the OT game-winner. The Junior Bruins took advantage of extra life to throw the kitchen sink at the Junior Bruins and win 5-1.
“We came up short in Game 1 and really didn’t take care of the puck well or stay disciplined at all coming back into our own zone. Even though we trailed late in Game 2 we had a much better approach and we were fortunate to get one late and then finish it in overtime,” said Anderson. “We carried that momentum into Game 3 and did enough to advance. We’ve been playing short bodies all postseason and our guys understand that everyone just has to step up and be willing to do more. They’ve bought into that and here we are.”
Harris took a very analytical approach after the Hitmen’s loss to the Rockets, which helped them win.
“After Game 2 we sat down and watched the film. Specifically, we looked at line matchups, our special teams and made minor adjustments in both areas,” he said. “I believe those adjustments in personnel and on the PP & PK made a huge difference [in the Game 3 win].”
Special teams also came up big for the Junior Bruins in their series, and the Junior Bruins currently lead in penalty killing, registering a 95 percent success rate (one PPG against on 20 occasions).
“We did enough on both sides of the special teams battle and made a couple plays in big spots in that series to ultimately advance. The Monarchs won our division for a reason. They had a great team and played to their strengths really well,” Anderson said. “We’ve been a bounce of the puck away from extinction in both series and we have just found a way to make the next play, kill the next penalty, work for the next power play, etc. That sort of speaks to the mental growth of many of our young players.”
All Games At Ice Vault, Wayne, N.J.
Friday, April 1, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 2, 5 p.m.
Sunday, April 3, 12:30 p.m.*
* = If Necessary