First place is trending in the NCDC. Five teams are in first place in their respective divisions – three tied for the top of the North Division, and two tied for No. 1 in the South Division (and overall). What does this all mean in mid-January for the playoffs? Very little – except that it’s going to be an extremely fun and wild next couple months to see how it all shakes out and who ends up as No. 1 overall (for the Founders Cup) and as the No. 1-4 seeds in each division. Let’s see how everything happened between Jan. 6-12 for the teams that went at least .500 in that space.
All Statistics/Records are for games between Jan. 6-12, or for the whole season through Jan. 12.
Boston Advantage (3-0)
Third year in, and the Boston Advantage are home. Their first season at the new Lovell Arena in Rockland, Mass., has gone like a charm. The squad is not only having its best season ever by far after 31 games. They stood at 19 points in their inaugural season in 2020-21, 30 points at the same mark last year and now they’re at 38 points with an 18-11-2-0 record, just three W’s off their all-time high of 21 set last year. The 38 points, more importantly, holds them for probably only until the games end on Friday and the deck may possibly all get shuffled again. For now, the Advantage can enjoy the glow of a 3-0 run in the new year.
- The Advantage continue to be No. 1 in the league when playing games after regulation. They’ve been beyond 60 minutes nine times and have earned 16 of their 38 points off a 4-2 overtime record and 3-0 shootout mark. Four games into 2023, and they’ve already been to OT twice, falling to the Islanders Hockey Club on Jan. 4 and a 5-4 OT win over the South Shore Kings on Jan. 11. They also won a 4-3 shootout on Jan. 7. They also defeated the Northern Cyclones, 4-2, on Jan. 6.
- The Advantage are tied for a league-best 4-for-7 in shootout production (57.1 percent) and they have not surrendered a shootout goal either in eight attempts against their goalies.
- They do well late in games obviously, but also early on – they are 12-1-0-0 when scoring the first goal at .927. They also have the best record when leading after two periods at 12-0-0-0.
- Luke Panchisin rose to a tie for second in league scoring with 38 points with a 4-2-6 line in his four 2023 games. He is fourth in goals (18), and leads the league in power play goals (seven) and is tied in power play assists (11).
- Jacob Bigras has the league’s best active scoring streak, registering 3-8-11 in his last seven games.
- Conor Lally is tied for first in assists by a defenseman (20) and he is tied for third in defenseman scoring (25). He also leads in power play assists by a defenseman (11).
- Arik Altman is the only NCDC player with two shootout game-winners.
- Nick Bevilacqua, tied for second in goalie wins with 15, is also one of five goalies with two shootoout victories.
The Road Ahead: After a fast start to 2023, the Advantage have just one game over this next week, playing the host Junior Bruins on Saturday at 12:50 p.m. The Junior Bruins are 13-3-0-0 all-time against the Advantage, but it’s the latter team that leads the 2022-23 season series, 2-1-0-0.
P.A.L. Jr. Islanders (2-0-0-0)
The Jr. Islanders are oh, so close, to first place overall. They won their last two games and stand with 41 points in 31 games, another team continuing to have their best-ever NCDC season at this point of a campaign. They also achieved an all-time series milestone by registering their first-ever shutout win of the Jersey Hitmen, when St. Lawrence University recruit Cam Smith stopped 45 shots on Jan. 6. For good measure, Smith went out and stopped another 35 faced by the Connecticut Jr. Rangers for a 1-0 win.
- P.A.L. registered back-to-back shutouts for the third time in their NCDC history, but the first by the same goalie (Smith). Between Oct. 19-20, 2019, Anthony Aureliano and current UMass goalie Henry Graham had back-to-back shutouts against the former Rochester Jr. Monarchs. One season later, near the start of Hub City Tampa, current Northeastern University goalie Harrison Chesney and A.J. Ruskowski had back-to-back shutouts against the Twin City Thunder.
- The Jr. Isles are the only team undefeated in regulation when scoring first, at 16-0-1-1 – and not surprisingly they have the best record when leading after one period, at 14-1-0-0.
- They also stand alone in being the only team to not have given up a shorthanded goal this year.
- P.A.L. is third in both goals for per game (3.58) and goals against per game (2.52).
- Among the league skater leaders are Luca Leighton (second in assists with 26, tied for first in power play assists with 11), Donovan Powell (in a five-way tie for most GWG’s with four), Jack Hewitt (second among D in scoring with 26; tied for first in assists with 20; and leading in power play goals with five and points with 13, tied with Jonah Copre.
- Smith leads all goaltenders in minutes played (1,499), saves (860), and he is second in save percentage (.944), goals against average (2.04) and tied for second in wins (15).
The Road Ahead: Friday night at 7:50 p.m., the Jr. Islanders take on the Rockets Hockey Club in Bridgewater, N.J., and Sunday it’s back to Northwell Health Ice Center for a 1:30 p.m. showdown with the Connecticut Jr. Rangers.
- The Jr. Islanders have a 13-11-3-3 record against the Rockets (who are 17-11-0-2 all-time against P.A.L.).
- The Jr. Rangers and Jr. Islanders both have 2-2 records against each other this season. And again, because of a lot of OT and shootout games in their history – six – they both have winning records in the all-time series. P.A.L. is 17-12-1-0, while CJR is 13-12-4-1.
Boston Junior Bruins (2-1-0-0)
The Junior Bruins are making their playoff push, standing with the second best record after their last 10 games in the North Division (6-3-1-0). Over the last weekend, they enjoyed big wins against the South Shore Kings – who hold the No. 4 spot in the North that the Junior Bruins currently covet – and one of the division leaders in the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs, by 2-1 and 4-2 scores, respectively. Prior to these wins, on Jan. 7, they took a 3-1 loss to another first place team, the Northern Cyclones.
Their Jan. 12 win against the Monarchs put them into a fifth place tie with the Twin City Thunder. Both squads have 28 points, and the Kings are at fourth with 31 points. Potentially a problem for the Junior Bruins is the fact the Thunder have three games in hand on them, and the Kings have two.
- The Junior Bruins remain a top five team in shots against, with their D corps given up just 34.25 per game (an impressive number in a league where only one team has given up less than 30).
- Wesley Zolin (‘04) has been an impressive addition to the lineup, starting his Junior Bruins career in December. He has six points in six games, with five coming as part of an active four-game scoring streak going back to Dec. 13. Zolin was a 2021 second round draft pick in the QMJHL American Draft, so he is a highly-sought player on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.
- Goalie Cameron Carroll is unbeaten in regulation over his last five starts. He stands at 4-0-1-0 since Dec. 4, and has a .934 save percentage over that stretch. He stopped 61 of 64 shots faced in the recent wins against the Kings and Monarchs for a .953 mark.
The Road Ahead: The Junior Bruins stay busy through mid-January with three more upcoming games, two coming against division leaders. On Saturday at 12:50, they face the Boston Advantage at home; then it’s the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs on Tuesday at 5:40 p.m. in Hooksett, NH.; and they travel to the South Shore Kings next Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
- The Junior Bruins are 13-10-0-0 all-time against the Monarchs; they are 13-3-0-0 all-time against the Advantage; and they are 20-5-3-0 against the Kings all-time.
- This season, they are 2-0 against the Kings, 2-2 against the Monarchs and 1-2 against the Advantage.
Northern Cyclones (2-1-0-0)
The Cyclones continue to hold on to the top of the North Division, though with a crowd now – after all three is a crowd, with the Advantage and the Monarchs joining them there as of Friday morning. Over the last week, the Cyclones have managed to remain there with wins against the Junior Bruins (3-1 on Jan. 7) and the Islanders Hockey Club (4-3 in a shootout on Jan. 11). They started the last weekend with a 4-2 loss to the Boston Advantage, which opened the door to that team joining the Cyclones and Monarchs in first place, points-wise. The Cyclones still have the best winning percentage in the North at .679, which is second only to the Jersey Hitmen’s .741.
- At 28 games, the Cyclones have the fewest games played in the league, so they stand with the advantage – no pun intended – of having games in hand on everyone else in the division down the stretch. In the current race for first, they have three in hand on the Boston Advantage and four on the Monarchs.
- The Cyclones are tied with the Advantage in another stat – they both have the best shootout performance this year. Both have scored four times on seven shot attempts, for a 57.1 success rate. The goalies are a close second on the defensive side, as the Cyclones’ opponents are just 1-for-9 on shootout attempts the other way.
- Luckily for the Cyclones, the league’s most-penalized team, they also have the best penalty kill. They’ve killed off all but 10 of 131 opponent power plays for a 92.4 percent average. They also have the most shorthanded goals scored, with six.
- The Cyclones get it done on both sides of the puck – they have the league’s second-best offense at 3.82 goals per game, and are the only team to keep shots against under 30 per game at 29.61.
- Dylan McElhinny and Paden Hicks both put up 2-2-4 in the last three games to lead the team. Hicks is tied for second in league scoring with 38 points, and he is the league’s goals leader with 22.
- Marko Giourof is tied for third in league scoring with 36 points, and he is fifth in goals at 17.
- Colin Ronan is one of just three goalies in the league who are 3-for-3 on making shootout stops. He is also one of five goalies with two shootout wins.
The Road Ahead: The Cyclones are up in Maine Friday for a 1 p.m. single game against the Twin City Thunder. They play next on Tuesday against the Islanders Hockey Club in nearby Tyngsborough, Mass., in a 12 p.m. game.
- The Cyclones are 9-4-0-0 against the Thunder all-time.
- The regional rivals the Cyclones and Islanders are one point apart in their six-year series going back to 2017-18. The Cyclones have earned 28 points off a 13-10-1-1 mark, while the Islanders have claimed 27 points by going 12-10-1-2.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights (2-1)
The Knights are hoping for, at the very least, the same degree of success they’ve had in their last two three-game stands against common opponents. They’ve gone 2-1 against the Connecticut Jr. Rangers to end December’s schedule and 2-1 against Utica to open the new year, all at home. Now, this weekend, they’re hitting the road for a Friday through Sunday three-game set at the Ice Vault in Wayne, N.J., against the Jersey Hitmen. The first-year Knights have at least put themselves into contention to potentially move up to fourth in the South. At 27 points, they are eight out of that last playoff position.
With 32 games played, they are in a four-way tie for most in that category, so everyone above them in the South has games in hand (except for Mercer, with whom they are even). Out of the two seventh-place teams in each division, the WBS Knights have the longest road to a playoff spot, but they’ve shown they can beat even top four teams, with their two December wins over Connecticut and an earlier victory against Mercer. Right now, no one has clinched a playoff spot and no one has been eliminated, so this is the Knights’ best chance to make their chess move.
- The Knights have been in the most shootouts of any team this year, winning three and losing three. Their nine points are the most earned from shootouts by any team in the NCDC.
- Their seven shootout goals are tied with Mercer for the most in the league, but on the other side, they’ve given up the most shootout goals with eight.
- The Knights are the only team undefeated in regulation when leading after one period, at 4-0-2-1.
- Teague Porter is enjoying a five-game scoring streak going into Friday, going back to Dec. 17. He has a 3-2-5 line in that time span.
The Road Ahead: The Knights began their NCDC existence on Sept. 23 with a 3-2 OT loss to the Hitmen. In their only other two meetings that first weekend, they also fell 3-2 in regulation and took a 5-0 defeat in Game 3 of the home weekend. They are certainly hoping for a better showing in their first trip to Wayne since the Hitmen Classic – where they did not face the hosts and went 1-1-0-1.
Mercer Chiefs (1-0-0-1)
The Chiefs certainly shouted from the social media rooftops when, after defeating the Rockets Hockey Club 4-2 on Jan. 6, they took sole possession of first place in the South Division and the NCDC overall. It didn’t last very long, as their Jan. 7 4-3 shootout loss to the Jr. Rangers, combined with a Jersey Hitmen win over the Rockets Hockey Club, put the two teams back into a first place tie. So, they can certainly stand tall and proud going into this weekend’s action with a share of the overall league and division lead. And, of course, for having the best record by a first-year team that was not part of the inaugural 2017-18 season after 32 games. Their 43 points at this juncture is five more than the next best at the same milepost, 38 posted by the 2018-19 first-year Monarchs.
- The Chiefs have the most games beyond regulation so far with 10. In overtime, they are a league-best 4-1 and are also on the winning side in shootouts at 3-2, all for a league-leading 17 points in extra time.
- Mercer starts firing early and keeps it up, giving them the league’s second best shots on goal per game average of 38.56.
- The comeback kings have the best records when trailing after one period (5-3-0-1, the only better-than-.500 mark in that situation) and after two periods (5-7-1-1). They are also over .500 even when being outshot at 7-6-0-1.
- Trevor Davis is tied for third in scoring by a defenseman with 25 points, and both he and Luke Stevens are in the top five for goals at eight (third) and seven (tied for fourth), respectively.
- NCDC veteran Frank Jirak is on a four-game scoring streak, posting 2-4-6 in his last four games going back to Dec. 16.
- Also over the last four games, three goalies have contributed to the team’s 3-0-0-1 point streak. Jacob Stern is 2-0, making 80 saves on 84 shots; Peter Pirone stopped 37 of 40 in 65 minutes before taking a shootout loss; and Ryan Keyes earned a 24-save win over the Rockets in December.
The Road Ahead: Mercer makes its second and final trip to Utica, after playing a single game there in November. They start at 2:25 p.m. on Friday against the Jr. Comes and at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Chiefs are 3-1-0-0 against the Jr. Comets this year.
Twin City Thunder (1-0-0-1)
The Thunder are in a peculiar place, three points ahead of seventh place and just three points out of fourth. They certainly don’t want to go to the wrong side of this see-saw, upon which they stand in the middle. Their three-point run is actually part of a larger 3-0-0-1 stand going back to December which has kept them a part of the playoff conversation in 2023. They recently defeated the Islanders Hockey Club, 6-2, on Jan. 6, but then fell in a shootout the next night 4-3 to the Boston Advantage.
- The Thunder are a top five defensive team, standing fifth in goals against at 3.03 per game.
- Twin City is one of six teams with a better-than-.500 record when being outshot, as they stand 7-5-1-0 in that situation.
- Veteran Trace Norwell, leading the Thunder with 31 points in 27 games, is tied for third in power play goals with six.
- Goaltender Trey Miller is one of three goaltenders in the league who are perfect on at least three shootout attempts.
- Nicholas Pomerleau, one of only four defensemen with a shootout goal this year, is fifth in power play points by a defenseman with nine.
The Road Ahead: The Thunder got started on Friday afternoon with a home game against the Northern Cyclones, and then they’ll get back to their home Norway Savings Bank Arena Saturday evening for a 5 p.m. tilt against the Islanders Hockey Club – the team that is just three points behind. They know that now is the time to keep the wolves at bay.
- The Northern Cyclones are 9-4-0-0 all-time against Twin City, including two wins this year. The teams went 3-3 last year.
- Twin City is 11-4-1-0 against the Islanders Hockey Club all-time, including a 3-0 mark so far this year.
Connecticut Jr. Rangers (1-1)
The Jr. Rangers continued a theme of one-goal games into the new year. They had ended 2022 with a regulation and shootout loss to the WBS Knights, but came back strong with a 4-3 shootout win over the Mercer Chiefs, ending their brief reign as the sole holders of first place for a number of hours between Friday and Saturday. The next night, though, the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders – backed by a red-hot Cam Smith – earned a 1-0 shutout of the Jr. Rangers in another chapter of the ongoing Battle of Long Island Sound.
The Jr. Rangers come into this new weekend alone in fourth place, with 35 points, which has them six points behind the third-place P.A.L. Jr. Islanders, and four points ahead of the Rockets Hockey Club.
- The Jr. Rangers are fourth in the league, defensively, giving up 2.84 goals against per game, one of just four teams under the 3.00 mark. The other way, they’re also third in shots on goal per game at 38.39.
- The Jr. Rangers are tied for the third-most one-goal games this year, standing with a 7-5-3-2 record in the closest of margins over 17 instances.
- Goaltender Mason Joseph remains among the league leaders in save percentage (.942, third) and goals against average (2.21, fourth).
- The scoring by committee continues, as 25 Jr. Rangers have registered an NCDC point, and 21 skaters have at least one goal.
The Road Ahead: The Jr. Rangers bring in the Jersey Hitmen for a Friday afternoon 1 p.m. game, before traveling on Sunday to face the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders in a 1:30 p.m. Sunday game.
- The Hitmen have won all three 2022-23 meetings so far (twice by one goal), and they have wins in 24 of the teams’ 28 all-time meetings.
- The Jr. Islanders and Rangers are tied at 2-2 in the season series, while P.A.L. holds an all-time advantage of 17-12-1-0.
Jersey Hitmen (1-1)
The Hitmen remain where they’re used to, at No. 1 in the standings. They are the sole holders of the top spot in winning percentage at .741, but they are tied in points with the Mercer Chiefs, who temporarily had the sole points lead after their Friday win. The Hitmen have hit some speedbumps recently, going 4-5-1-0 in their last 10, but you can never expect this organization to struggle for much time. Their depth at all positions continues to drive the Hitmen, and it certainly helped them to bounce back from a 3-0 loss to the Jr. Islanders by putting up their own shutout victory, 6-0, against the Rockets Hockey Club. The goaltending “band [is] back together” as Peyton Grainer has rejoined after joining current teammate and leaguel-leading goaltender J.J. Cataldo in pushing the Hitmen to their second straight Dineen Cup last spring. Grainer saw USHL action since departing Jersey with a ring, and in his first game back, he posted 40 saves as the Rockets outshot the Hitmen by one.
- The league leaders in points and winning percentage are also the least-penalized team, being clocked for just 9.21 minutes per game on average.
- The Hitmen went into Friday’s games as the only team to not have been in a shootout yet in 2022-23.
- Special teams are key to their success, as they are No. 1 in power play percentage (22.6) and No. 3 in penalty killing (90.9). They are the only team to enter Friday not having been shorthanded 100 or more times, standing at 99 that morning.
- Best offense and best defense – they have both – 3.90 goals for per game, and 2.10 goals against per game. They also led in shots on goal per game at 39.97.
- They are the only team completely undefeated when tied after one period, at 9-0. They also have the best record when being outshot at 10-3-1-0.
- Tyler McNeil is tied for fourth in league scoring at 36 points, and he joins teammate Vincent Gould and three others in leading the league with four game-winners apiece.
- Sean Melso is third in defenseman scoring at 25 points this season, though he holds the all-time scoring record for blueliners in the NCDC at 99 points, and looking for his 100th. He is second in defenseman goals with nine this year.
- Cataldo is No. 1 on the goaltending leaderboard in wins (16), goals against average (1.61), save percentage (.955) and shutouts (eight). He has the league record for shutouts in both a season (eight) and a career (nine).
The Road Ahead: The Hitmen jumped to the Chelsea Piers Ice on Friday hoping for a 25th win in their all-time series with the Jr. Rangers. They’ll face their old I-287 rivals the Rockets Hockey Club again on Saturday at 4:20 p.m.
- The Rockets and Hitmen have each won a round of their season series, while the Hitmen have won 25 of their 29 all-time meetings.
Drop The Pucks!