The Jersey Hitmen did two very good things last weekend.
First, they welcomed the entire National Collegiate Development Conference, as well as the 18U and 16U Divisions of the USPHL, to their home state for the 2018 Hitmen Classic.
Second, within their NCDC games, they cemented their status as among the iron of the league.
Coming out of the Hitmen Classic, after all, the Hitmen and the Junior Bruins were tied for first overall in the league.
The Junior Bruins, having played one less game than New Jersey, technically have the best winning percentage, but it has been made official after four weekends of NCDC play that the Hitmen and Bruins are the early favorites each weekend.
Close - very close, two points close - behind them are both the New Jersey Rockets and Connecticut Jr. Rangers. Two more points behind them are Boston Bandits, who will not be denied a seat at the “big boy table.”
Classic show of force
The Hitmen stormed out of the gate last Thursday at their home Ice Vault and took down the South Shore Kings, 6-0. The next day, in their third game this year against their 2018 Dineen Cup championship series opponent the Islanders Hockey Club, it was a 5-1 win.
Their toughest outing of the weekend was their third in three days, when they just barely eked out a 2-1 win against the Syracuse Stars. They had every intention of making that another 4+-goal win, but the Stars’ David Otter stood on his head, hands and shoulderblades for 57 saves.
So, you ask, is this 8-2 team just loaded with superstars who are taking all the top 25 scoring spots? Not even close - only Philip Elgstam’s 11 points in 10 games (good for 12th in the league) give the Hitmen a representative in the upper reaches of the scoring leaderboard.
Defense has been the winner for the Hitmen - no other team even gets close to their 1.60 team goals-against average right now.
The streak continues
Getting into mid-October here, it’s almost hard to believe the Junior Bruins have lost a game this season. But it happened - way back on Sept. 15, when the Rockets defeated them. Since then, they’ve run the table for eight in a row and sit in the tie for first place at 8-1.
As defensively efficient as the Hitmen have been, the Junior Bruins have been offensively menacing. They have scored an average of 4.78 goals per game. Jonny Mulera leads with almost a fifth of those (eight total), but otherwise, the Junior Bruins have perfectly spread their scoring out. Sixteen players have scored at least one goal for the Junior Bruins, over just nine games.
The Junior Bruins and Jersey Hitmen have indeed set themselves in a class by themselves, that being the course on goal differential. The Junior Bruins are heads of the class with a +21, and the Hitmen are a close second at +17. The next nearest contender? The Connecticut Jr. Rangers at +5.
A tough draw
The Jr. Rangers played two of the top four teams in their three contests in New Jersey, but they were able to come out of the fray with a 2-1 record and jump into a tie with the Rockets for third in the league.
After an opening 6-1 win over the Northern Cyclones on Thursday, the Rangers drew the Junior Bruins for Friday. The Bruins scored the first four goals in a 4-1 victory. After licking their wounds, they were back to the ice Saturday against the Rockets. It was a 2-1 game going into the third, before Janis Vizbelis made it a 3-1 score in favor of the Rangers. That lasted all of five seconds. The Rockets answered right back and kept in striking distance of evening the score before the Rangers’ Joey Larossa popped in the eventual game-winner.
That only ended up being the game-winner, due to a last strike by Ilya Fedorov at 14:43 of the third. The Rangers ended their Hitmen Classic stand at 2-1, and the Rockets left the proceedings at 1-2 for the weekend.
Bandits bear watching
The Boston Jr. Bandits also went 2-1 on the weekend, getting in front of the Syracuse Stars (4-2) and the Rochester Jr. Monarchs (4-3), but coming up short against the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs. The Hitmen Classic stand, plus their prior weekend, left the Bandits at 4-1 in their last five games.
Kings take steps in right direction
The weekend in Wayne also helped another team previously in the bottom third advance up the ladder a bit - the South Shore Kings.
After being swept aside on Thursday by the host Hitmen, the Kings came back with two outstanding goaltending efforts back to back. First it was Cole Hudson stopping 49 regulation and five shootout shots for a 4-3 win against the Syracuse Stars. A day later, Premier call-up Cal Wilcox made his NCDC debut and shut out the Cyclones, stopping 32 shots.
The biggest games this weekend
The third-place Rockets and Rangers go right back into a head-to-head matchup this weekend, playing on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET. The latter is our HockeyTV Free Game Of The Week, so tune in with a free account, no subscription needed.
A few of the bottom four teams will go up against each other, trying to give themselves a big lift from a two-win weekend at least up into the middle pack. The 10th-place New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (3-6-0-1) and 11th-place Northern Cyclones (3-7-0-0) will play a home-and home on Friday and Saturday.
The 12th-place Rochester Jr. Monarchs draw the seventh-place P.A.L. Jr. Islanders, a team that had a great first five games, going 4-1. Since the Junior Bruins Shootout, the team has gone 0-3. The Jr. Islanders lost the league’s leading scorer Michael Colella to another league right after the Shootout and have been reeling offensively since then.