Eastern Hockey League showcase games mean a little more to a veteran team like the Boston Junior Rangers.
“With the ‘99s, this is their final year,” Junior Rangers coach Rich DeCaprio said of his team, which has used a multitude of third-year players to climb to the top of the league with a 27-4-0 record. “It’s more visible. You have college guys who watch all year, mostly on the weekends, or they might be watching online.
“We might have three or four college guys there at a regular-season game, but when the guys are walking into the rink or they’re walking out of the locker room and they’re walking by 60 college coaches, they’re like, ‘Uh oh, this is real.’ There’s a little more sense of urgency.”
The Junior Rangers have shown they can perform when the stakes are higher.
With wins Sunday and Monday in Exeter, New Hampshire, site of the fifth showcase in the 2019-20 EHL series, Boston finished 9-1-0 in showcase games this season. No EHL team has ever put together a better season record in showcases.
“They’re playing in front of the schools,” DeCaprio said. “I think that probably has a lot to with it.”
DeCaprio said he tries to prepare the team for the differences in the showcase games. With the hectic schedule, games are reduced to 50 minutes with two 25-minute halves, and only a five-minute warm-up. The pregame routine changes.
“In practice, the week leading up to the showcase, we talk about it every day,” DeCaprio said.
No matter the setting, not much disrupts the Junior Rangers lately. The two showcase victories increased the team-record winning streak to 14 games, the fifth-longest in EHL history.
It was not necessarily easy.
After shutting out the Connecticut Chiefs 3-0 on Sunday, the Junior Rangers let a two-goal lead get away in Monday’s game. Team Maryland took a 4-3 lead midway through the second half. The shorter game meant less time to recover, but Boston remained calm.
“The guys on the bench never get down,” DeCaprio said. “We’ve come from behind quite a bit this season, including from three down.”
Team captain Mitchell Haight, a defenseman who recently committed to NCAA Division III Elmira College, agreed.
“We’ve been in that situation a couple of times this season and we’re usually able to claw back,” Haight said.
Haight, who had a power play goal early for the 2-0 lead, started the winning play in the final minute.
“We were stuck in the defensive zone with not a whole lot of time left,” Haight said.
After the Junior Rangers gained control off the faceoff, Haight and his defensive partner Tom Skold worked the puck back-and-forth behind the net. That opened up the spacing for Haight to send the long pass ahead to Nathan Young, springing him on a breakaway.
“I hit him on this tape and he finished it with a beautiful backhand move,” Haight said.
The late-game execution allowed the winning streak to continue.
“This group of guys is super motivated and very serious,” Haight said. “We prepare the right way, night in and night out.
“We’ve kind of just been riding this wave. We’ve had some pretty good scoring for us and our D is playing really tight, not allowing a whole lot.”
DeCaprio said he believes that, in Haight, he has the league’s top defenseman and, in Billy Girard, the team has the EHL’s best goalie.
Connor Bizal, Haight, Brent Rickett and Connor Doherty all ranked among the top scorers during showcases. Bizal had nine showcase goals, which led all players going into the last event of the season. Haight had two goals and 12 assists in the 10 games.
The EHL showcases were created to display talent within the league, and the Boston Junior Rangers were on full display.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.