By Joshua Boyd / USPHLNCDC.com
South Shore Kings (2) vs. New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (3)
All games to be played at Foxboro Sports Center
Game 1: Friday, March 17, 7 p.m. EST
Game 2: Saturday, March 18, 7 p.m. EST
Game 3: Sunday, March 19, 7 p.m. EST (if necessary)
Heavy lies the crown when one is looking to advance. Two teams come in wearing a crown, but in this chess game of Monarchs vs. Kings, there will have to be a checkmate after either two or three games. One royal family will have to abdicate for the time being.
The South Shore Kings just barely nabbed the second seed, finishing three points ahead of the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs – a team the Kings actually trailed in the standings for much of the stretch run. The Monarchs were first in the North at the start of December, January and February, and tied for first in points at the start of March. However, they struggled a bit in the final month at the same time as the Kings finished on a four-game winning streak to leapfrog the Monarchs and close out in second place to join the Northern Cyclones in securing the division’s two home ice seeds.
So if the Monarchs come into this series with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, it’s understandable. Head Coach Clint Edinger knows his team is ready to play with the house money, even if they’re the away team.
“I thought we had a solid regular season especially after losing key members of our team with season-ending injuries, including Jake Fillion, Jimmy Fallon and Max Noll,” said Edinger, whose team closed at 25-17-2-6. “It’s a long season and we had a lot of new faces this year. To remain in a playoff position all year long is a tribute to the team’s hard work day in and day out. Everyone is back 0-0 now.”
Edinger is in his third season as head coach, including last year when the Monarchs defeated the Kings in two games to advance to the North Finals (where the Boston Junior Bruins triumphed in three games). On the other side, this is the first playoffs for Head Coach Tyler Holske in South Shore, after several years as an assistant. He’s certainly excited to see what his team can do, and how long they can keep winning.
“Overall, the transition to GM/Head Coach has been great for me. We started off the year a bit slow as we lost a fair amount of one-goal games. I knew it would take some time early on as we have one of the youngest teams in the NCDC. I think the biggest thing was trusting the younger guys and understanding that it would take time for them to adjust to junior hockey and the overall day to day approach,” he said. “By late October, we really started to find our game and the younger players started to gain confidence. Along the way, we added a few pieces that really boosted our lineup. I look at our captain, Ben Jenkinson – just a true culture driver. Ben was here from the start and did a real good job helping the younger guys early on. With that being said, I have been impressed with how consistent our group has been for most of the regular season.”
The Kings came in at 28-17-2-1 on the season, a testament to the drive of the youngest head coach in the league and the league’s third youngest team with an average age of 18 years, 259 days in the end.
“I am very pleased with the progress the players made both on the ice and in the gym. I look at our two 2005 born players, Joey Melo and Owen Drury. Both players played U16 hockey last season. This was a big jump for them,” said Holske. “We knew that it would take some time but I think the biggest thing is we allowed them to face adversity early on. We just continued to work with them daily on good habits and it has really paid off down the stretch.”
So many similarities
The Monarchs saw their share of adversity, including the aforementioned season-ending injuries to some of their leading players. However, they soldiered on and only made minor tweaks to a close locker room.
“We remained very loyal to our group and we know they have grown as both players and young men. They have become a very tight team that I know will play hard for each other in the playoffs,” said Edinger. “Our goal is always to advance players to the next level and help them achieve their dreams. We will have a nice list of players moving on to college hockey next season. For now, the new season starts Friday!”
Bryce Bollman stepped up in a huge way, leading the team in scoring with 45 points, an anchor within a scoring-by-committee system that saw no players average one point per game, but which saw 20 players register points over the course of the year. This included third-year defenseman Zander Lizotte, who put up 31 points in 50 games to rank eighth among league blueliners.
“Our leaders have been our veterans who have returned from last season. Bryce Bollman is a new forward that has led by example,” said Edinger. “It was only a handful of returners, but they have the experience from last year’s team that had a strong season. These guys have been very vocal and are also leading by example.”
Jake Fillion was commanding goaltender stats for the North at the time of his injury 23 games into his season. When the dust settled, he was still fourth in GAA (2.24) and fifth in save percentage (.926). NCDC veteran Jed Baliotti stepped in and put up a .912 save percentage and won seven games, including three in shootouts.
Offensively, South Shore is almost a mirror image of New Hampshire. It’s all depth and scoring by committee. Only Jenkinson registered at least a point per game – with 50 in 49 – but they also had 35 players register NCDC points this season. Newcomer Jack Hillier found his way into the top 10 in goals with 24 this year, and closed with 49 points in 50 games. The Kings acquired one of the league’s top point-producing defensemen in Jack Barbro, who finished with 40 points to rank third in the league.
Another veteran defenseman Jacob Torgner came in at third in save percentage (.935), and second in goals against average (2.07).
“We acquired Ben Jenkinson, who played for the Jr. Rangers last season, in August.I think it was important to have someone like Ben, especially early on with a younger group. Ben led the way for us from start to finish. He played in all situations and was arguably one of the best PK guys in the league. He really developed into a 200-foot player on a consistent basis,” said Holske.
“Jack Hillier also had a monster year for us. Jack is also a younger player that needed to learn some things early on. I am very pleased with how he matured as the season went on. Not only did he lead our team in goals but he really bought into playing in all three zones,” Holske added. “Charlie Killian led the way for us on the back end from start to finish. Charlie was very consistent for us. He is another guy that really helped guide the younger players early on in the season. I also look at forwards Nate Stachowiak and Aiden Lindley. These are two guys that came from a winning program in the Frederick Gunn School. They have both been great for our group.”
South Shore won five of the six match-ups during the 2022-23 regular season, including the Kings’ only two shootout wins – the most recent on March 7, 6-5.
“The Kings have been playing some great hockey and we know we must tighten up the gaps. Defense first from everyone has to be our game plan,” said Edinger. “We had some good games with them during the regular season. We must stay out of the penalty box,that’s for sure. They have some talent that can make you pay! Their goalie has been seeing the puck well and we must make sure he doesn’t. We are looking forward to the series.”
The respect for each other’s talent level certainly runs both ways and Holske knows his group can’t leave anything in the tank.
“The Monarchs have a really good group and are well-coached. Clint does a good job getting the most out of his guys and they play a good brand of hockey,” said Holske. “Essentially every game between us during the regular season was a one-goal game. They check well and are constantly playing above the puck. They also do a good job defending their blue line. We will need to play smart hockey if we want to have success against them.”