The Boston Junior Bruins, Springfield Pics and Florida Junior Blades won the first set of junior titles in the United States Premier Hockey League with playoff victories.
Boston won the USPHL’s Premier Division, Springfield won the Elite Division and Florida won the Empire Division.
Boston’s Tim Doherty had a hat trick and Ryan Cloonan scored the game-winner with 58 seconds left March 13 when the Junior Bruins defeated the Jersey Hitmen 5-4 to complete a sweep of the best-of-three Premier Division championship series. Boston rallied to come back after initially going down 2-0.
Springfield edged the Jersey Hitmen 3-2 in overtime in the Elite championship game. Brian Brown scored two goals, including the overtime game-winner, to lead Springfield over Jersey.
The teams had played to a 4-4 tie in the round-robin portion of the tournament a day earlier.
Springfield’s Michael Dion made 33 saves in the championship game after a 14-save shutout when the Pics defeated the Florida Eels 5-0 in the semifinals.
Florida was the USPHL Empire’s top team in both the regular season (37-1-0-2) and playoffs after a 5-2 win over the Boston Junior Bruins in Sunday’s final.
After pounding the South Shore Kings 8-1 in the semifinal, Florida handled Boston in the final, avenging a loss that ended the team’s season in last year’s Empire Junior Hockey League playoffs. Florida’s Chaise Howard had two goals and an assist in the final while Killian Gray, the team’s playoff scoring leader, also scored twice. Eric Sugrue had 44 saves.
Florida advances to the USA Hockey Tier III Junior Nationals April 3-7 in Simsbury, Conn.
PLAYOFF ROUNDUP: Damon Hanson had a goal and two assists Tuesday night when the Helena Bighorns opened the American West Hockey League’s best-of-five championship series with a 5-1 win over the Great Falls Americans.
The win improved Helena to 50-1-1 overall on the season. The Bighorns swept the Billings Bulls in three games in the semifinals. Great Falls eliminated the Gillette Wild in four games.
The regular-season champion New Hampshire Junior Monarchs advanced to the first Eastern hockey League finals, a best-of-five series against the Northern Cyclones, who finished second in the regular season. The finals open Friday in New Hampshire. Both teams made it through three rounds of playoffs.
Brent Beaudoin is New Hampshire’s top playoff scorer with goals in the last four games, including back-to-back two-goal efforts.
Northern is unbeaten in the playoffs, including two wins over the Philadelphia Little Flyers in the semifinals.
The Richmond Generals, North Jersey Avalanche, Boston Bandits and Boston Junior Rangers reached the Metropolitan Hockey League’s Keegan Cup Weekend, which starts Thursday at Middletown, N.J.
The Minnesota Junior Hockey League final four in Oregon, Wis. is set. The Illiana Blackbirds needed three games to get past the Tri City Icehawks, while the Dells Ducks, Hudson Crusaders and Marquette Royales posted two-game sweeps.
Drew Otto scored the game’s first two goals three minutes apart Sunday to lead the Granite City Lumberjacks to a 4-2 victory over the Alexandria Blizzard in the only North American 3 Hockey League first-round playoff series to go three games.
The other first-round NA3HL series were decided in two games each. Granite City will face the defending NA3HL champion North Iowa Bulls in the West Division Finals. The St. Louis Junior Blues and Peoria Mustangs will play in the Central Division, the Cleveland Junior Lumberjacks and Flint Junior Generals will meet in the East Division, and the Dallas Stars and Topeka Capitals will meet in the South.
The winners of the four divisional series will go to the Silver Cup Championship Tournament March 27-30 in Geneva, Ill.
Dallas defenseman Alex MacInnis had just 15 points in 35 regular-season games, but he had five points, including four goals, in two playoff games against the Sugar Land Imperials to open the postseason. MacInnis had two goals in a 4-3 opening win Thursday, then two goals and an assist in a 10-1 rout Friday.
NAHL TITLE RACE: The Topeka RoadRunners closed to within one point of the defending North American Hockey League champion Amarillo Bulls in the Southern Division race with a 3-2 overtime win Monday night followed by a 1-0 victory Tuesday when the two teams went head-to-head. James Ring had the game-winning goal in both games.
Topeka’s P.J. Bridges made 21 saves Tuesday to match the NAHL modern record with his 10th shutout of the season. Robert Nichols had 10 shutouts for the Wenatchee Wild two years ago.
COLLEGE COMMITMENTS: Nikolas Olsson, a forward with the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League, has committed to Boston University. The 19-year-old from Escondido, Calif. has played four seasons in the USHL, including two with Team USA. He has three goals and four assists while going plus-4 in 34 games this season.
Hayden Hawkey, the USHL leader in two major goaltending statistics, has decided to continue his career with Providence College. The 19-year-old from Parker, Colo. has a 1.85 goals-against average and .929 save percentage with the Omaha Lancers to lead the league.
Wenatchee goalie Chase Perry has committed to Colorado College. Perry, 18, from Andover, Minn., has a 2.32 GAA and .907 save percentage in the NAHL. He was ranked as the No. 4 North American goaltender in the latest NHL Central Scouting mid-term rankings.
Cody Champagne, a defenseman with the NAHL’s Topeka RoadRunners, has committed to the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The 19-year-old from Brookfield, Conn. is the team’s top scoring defenseman with 23 points in 54 games.
Brett Gervais, a center with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the NAHL, has committed to Clarkson University. The 19-year-old from Corona, Calif. has 22 goals and 16 assists in 56 games for the West Division leaders.
Jay Dickman followed up making his commitment to Bemidji State University by earning NAHL Central Division Star of the Week honors. Dickman, a 20-year-old from Shoreview, Minn., had four goals and an assist in two weekend wins. The 6-foot-6, 225-pounder is second in the league with 60 points in 55 games.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials.
USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?
Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.
USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season?
Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that.
The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.
USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?
Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.
USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official?
Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.
USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career?
Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.
USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?
Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.
USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?
Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.
USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career?
Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.