The Connecticut Jr. Rangers go into the Dineen Cup Finals this weekend with a particularly big honor - they are the only team in all of the NCDC playoffs to remain unbeaten.
Even their opponent, the Boston Junior Bruins, took a Game 1 loss to the surprise of the playoffs, the No. 8 seed Northern Cyclones, before rebounding to win the next two. The Rangers, however, powered past the Syracuse Stars in two games in their opening series and the defending champion Islanders Hockey Club.
The Rangers earned the No. 3 seed this year due to a 30-17-1-2 record. They had to muck and grind to get to No. 3, and a late season 8-2 run helped them clinch that spot four points ahead of the No. 4 Islanders.
During the bulk of the season, the Rangers were a bit of a mystery. At the Thanksgiving break, they were down in seventh, even after a strong 5-1-1-1 start. A month later, when the Christmas break came, they had moved themselves up to fourth. They sank down to sixth in early February, but rebounded back to fourth by the middle of that month, before their run to third.
So, you might ask, who are the young men who helped to forge this roller-coaster run that is pulling into its most thrilling portion, the Dineen Cup Finals? Here are your 2018-19 Connecticut Jr. Rangers, with comments from head coach Jim Henkel on each:
Colten Lancaster #30 (‘98/Charlie Lake, B.C.)
After spending several years of Midget and junior hockey in his native Canada, Lancaster is in his first U.S. season, and it’s been a smashing success. He had some growing pains with the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs early, but after moving to the Rangers, he worked himself into an All-Star selection by the end of the fall and kept that pace since.
“Colten is a solid goaltender, a steadying force in net. He’s a great kid on and off the ice. This early-season acquisition has been very productive with us.”
Tate Brandon #32 (‘00/Irvington, N.Y.)
Brandon, who also came from another NCDC squad this year, won each of his last six starts from Dec. 16 to March 2.
“Tate is an aggressive, upbeat, hard-working Goaltender. He competes hard and makes other teams work hard to beat him.”
Ole Andersen #3 (‘99/Hamar, Norway)
An import player, but Andersen is actually in his third year of North American hockey, having played two years at the Rothesay Netherwood School near Saint John, N.B. The Rangers’ leading scorer among defensemen, he was eighth in points (24) and assists (18) among all NCDC defensemen. He was also fourth in a six-way tie for power play assists (8).
“Ole is a very smooth-skating defenseman. He has very good puck moving skills with a quality shot.”
Reid Miller #6 (‘00/Gilbert, Ariz.)
Miller joined the Jr. Rangers in November. He also played two games this past season with the USPHL Premier’s Pittsburgh Vengeance.
“Reid is a defenseman that battles hard every day. He makes his opponents work extremely hard to get chances.”
Kevin Lassman #7 (‘00/Parkland, Fla.)
Lassman has some familiarity with one of his Junior Bruins opponents, having been a teammate of their defenseman Jacob King at the Midget level, along with current teammate Sam Milnes. He was also a multi-year teammate of Milnes’ at Williston Northampton School.
“Kevin is a smooth-skating offensive defenseman. He has very good puck moving skills and reads the play well.”
Eduard Malakyan #8 (‘00/Moscow, Russia)
Malakyan, like Andersen, is a European who already cut his teeth in North American hockey elsewhere before joining the Rangers. He joined the Rangers in a mid-January trade with the Northern Cyclones.
“He is a big, strong, physical defenseman. Eduard is good at reading the play and makes his opponents battle to get chances.”
Cam Cokinos #12 (‘00/Cambridge, Mass.)
Like Lassman, Cokinos also previously played with one of the Junior Bruins, teaming up with Nik Allain at the Taft School as recently as last season. Cokinos joined the Rangers in February.
“Cam is a strong and mean defenseman. Cam came to us late and has steadily improved each week. He enjoys the corner and net front battles.”
Alex Sheehy #14 (‘98/North Salem, N.Y.)
Sheehy is in his second year with the Rangers, after joining from the Jersey Hitmen in 2017-18. Sheehy’s 22 regular season assists ranked him sixth among NCDC defensemen in that category.
“A steady two-way defenseman, Sheehy is very mobile and reads the play extremely well. He plays in all situations for us.”
Richard Zemanek #18 (‘99/Moravska Trebova, Czech Republic)
Yet another European well versed in North American hockey, Zemanek has played in 97 combined regular season and playoff NCDC games, all with the Jr. Rangers. If it’s necessary, Game 3 of the Dineen Cup Finals would be Game No. 100 for him.
“Richard is a steady two-way defenseman, very mobile with a high compete. He plays in all situations.”
Lucas Wong #65 (‘99/Vancouver, B.C.)
Wong and forward Brad Ong played together previously on the Burnaby Winter Club team in their native British Columbia.
“Lucas is a strong, physical defenseman. He loves to battle and compete, and makes his opponents work for their opportunities.”
Colin Slyne #26 (‘98/Greenwich, Conn.)
No one in the Rangers organization has been more loyal or important to the Jr. Rangers since the first year of the USPHL in 2013, back when they were the Connecticut Jr. Yankees.
Slyne, the team’s captain, played for that team’s USPHL 16U squad, and has stuck with the organization through 16U, 18U, USPHL Premier and both years with the NCDC team. The captain has played in 151 games for the Jr. Rangers’ top team the last three years.
His 50 regular season points tied him with teammate Noah Strawn and the Hitmen’s Antoine Belisle for ninth in the league. He tied the league’s scoring champion Philip Elgstam for the league lead in power play assists with 18.
“Colin is a strong-skating power forward. He plays a fast North-South game that is hard to defend. An all situations player with a great shot.”
Max Kouznetsov #85 (‘00/Voorhees, N.J.)
Kouznetsov has been a scoring machine in the playoffs, scoring in each of the four games to rack up a goal and seven assists for eight points thus far. He played two games with the Jr. Rangers in 2017-18, scoring two points, with this being his first full season. Scored 36 goals in 16 high school games with Eastern High School in his hometown in 2016-17.
“He is a highly skilled centerman and a good skater with a high hockey IQ. He also has good skills with the puck.”
Philip Ekberg #71 (‘99/Goteborg, Sweden)
Unlike many of his European teammates, this has been Ekberg’s first North American season. He’s also been a goal-per-game performer in the playoffs, on average. Two are both game-and series-winning goals, as well.
“Philip is a strong power forward. He competes hard and is always a presence around the net.”
Noah Strawn #4 (‘98/Wareham, Mass.)
Like Slyne, he jumped into USPHL hockey in its first season, 2013-14, but unlike the captain, this is Strawn’s second season with the Jr. Rangers. He has 91 points in 104 NCDC games. Strawn, as aforementioned, tied for ninth in league scoring with 50 points. Strawn’s 33 assists in the regular season were good for a tie for 10th in the league.
“Noah is a fast, hard-working forward. He has a high motor and loves to compete. Very aggressive and effective on the ice.”
Bradley Ong #91 (‘99/West Vancouver, B.C.)
Ong led the Rangers in the regular season with 53 points, good for seventh overall in the NCDC. His 23 regular season goals were tied with three others for third in the league, and seven of those were game-winners, good for second overall in the NCDC. Played last year with Lancaster for Alberni Valley (BCHL) and, as aforementioned, with Wong at Burnaby Winter Club.
“Bradley is a hard-working 200-foot centerman. He competes in all zones and makes life difficult for opponents.”
Takato Cox #10 (‘98/Redondo Beach, Calif.)
Cox finished the regular season hot, with 13 points over each of his final seven games. That helped him climb to within one point of 100 combined regular season and playoff points for his two-season NCDC career, both seasons played in Connecticut. Cox’s 35 regular season assists placed him seventh overall in the league, and he tied with many others for fourth in game-winning goals with five.
“Takato is a very patient, highly-skilled forward. He has very good puck skills and is very creative when he has the puck.”
Sam Timonen #21 (‘99/Haddonfield, N.J.)
Son of former NHL All-Star defenseman Kimmo Timonen, he first played in the USPHL in 2014-15 on a Midget team that also included the sons of ex-NHLers Daniel Briere and Derian Hatcher (his coach), as well as current teammate Demetrios Stefanou. This is his second trip to the Dineen Cup Finals, having played for the finalist New Jersey Hitmen last year - he came over to the Rangers from the Hitmen early this season.
“A two-way winger, he was brought in to improve our PK and has done a fantastic job with that. He has flourished into a PP role.”
Demtrios Stefanou #53 (‘98/Tabernacle, N.J.)
A two-year Ranger, he has played in 82 combined regular season and playoff games for the NCDC squad. He was on the same USPHL 16U team with Timonen in 2014-15.
“Demetrios is a fast, smart two-way centerman, one of our top PK forwards and has played a significant role in the playoffs.”
Kirill Tarasov #29 (‘00/Belgorod, Russia)
Continues the theme of Jr. Rangers out of Europe with a lot of North American experience, having played on this side of the pond since 2014. Came over to the Rangers in early November.
“Kirill is a hard-working forward, with a high motor and an amazing work ethic. He has become a great mid-season addition to our forward group.”
Jin Lee #17 (‘00/Pearl River, N.Y.)
Lee has been a Midget teammate of Tate Brandon and a junior teammate of Cam Cokinos at different times in his career working up to his joining the Rangers in late January.
“Jin is a fast, smart and skilled forward. A late season addition, he has paid huge dividends so far in the first two rounds of the playoffs.”
Jack Hannan #28 (‘99/Kent, Conn.)
A four-year USPHL player, including two years with the Rangers and two prior with South Kent Selects Academy, Hannan helped Selects win the 2015-16 USPHL 16U title. He scored 23 points in 26 games on a team led by Hockey East Rookie Of The Year and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Joel Farabee. Hannan has played 69 games in a Jr. Rangers jersey.
“He is a hard-nosed 200-foot centerman that brings a physical element. Jack skates well and is very good on faceoffs. His return from injury has improved our team significantly.”
Ben Kuzma #92 (‘00/Robinson, Pa.)
Kuzma joined the Rangers in October after starting with Rochester in the NCDC. He scored 14 of his 17 regular season points in his final 15 games stretching from December to March. He missed scoring a point in all but two of those 15 games, and he has two playoff assists, as well.
“Ben is a slick skating power forward with a quality shot. He has improved all season and continues to find ways to make a difference in every game.”
Sam Milnes #27 (‘99/Middletown, R.I.) Wentworth Institute of Technology commit.
Milnes joined the Rangers in mid-February, from the South Shore Kings, and he scored five points in 10 regular season games to close that portion of 2018-19. As aforementioned, Milnes was a multi-year teammate of defenseman Kevin Lassman at both the prep and Midget levels.
“Sam is a late-season trade addition that has added depth and size to our forward group. His compete level and physical presence have been a nice addition.”