It was a very good last seven days for the teams in the top eight playoff positions in the National Collegiate Development Conference. It was not nearly as good a week for the four teams who were still pushing for one of those spots, and the gap between eighth and ninth widened to five points.
With less than 30 days remaining to the regular season, and most teams with less than 10 games remaining, the gap is becoming a chasm that will be ever harder to clear.
The Syracuse Stars and New Jersey Hitmen were two teams that swept their weekends and are now on matching 5-0 runs. The Islanders Hockey Club, who tore their way through the 2017-18 season in historic fashion before struggling for much of the first half this year, are now in fifth place on the strength of a four-game winning streak.
The New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs, Junior Bruins and Connecticut Jr. Rangers also swept their weekends.
Stars continue to climb
For so long this season, Syracuse was hovering between eighth and ninth place in the league. The Stars have not lost in February, sweeping back-to-back weekends against the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders and Boston Bandits. The Stars are 9-2 since the start of 2019, and that .818 winning percentage is second only to the league-leading Hitmen (11-1, .917). They are just ahead of the Islanders Hockey Club (10-3, .769) in that category.
The Stars beat the Bandits, 4-2 and 2-1, this weekend.
With their fifth straight win, they set a team record for straight victories in NCDC play. They won all four of their games in December, but that streak was snapped with a loss in their first Winter Showcase game vs. Connecticut. Their 2017-18 best streak was 3-0 Sept. 23-25, all of those games played at the 2017 Junior Bruins Shootout.
Buster Larsson extended his team-leading point streak to 14 games, scoring 25 points in that span. However, he is still behind the New Jersey Hitmen’s Philip Elgstam, who extended his active streak to 16 games, scoring 26 points.
Zero letup by Hitmen
The New Jersey Hitmen have lost only once since the start of November, and despite the many sweeps across the league this week, they remained the only NCDC team with a playoff berth officially clinched.
The Hitmen swept the Northern Cyclones on the road, winning 5-1 and 5-2. They had also defeated the Connecticut Jr. Rangers, 5-2, on Feb. 2. This is far from the first time that the Hitmen have scored five or more goals in three straight games - they last did it in each of their three Winter Showcase games, scoring 24 goals in three games, 7-7-10.
They scored five or more in five straight games between Nov. 10 and Dec. 1, and their first three games of that set were their first instance this season of scoring five or better in three games. They only scored better than five goals twice before Nov. 10, in consecutive games at their own Hitmen Classic Oct. 4-5.
The Hitmen have now outscored opponents by a total of 106 goals this season, based on goal differential (188-82).
Islanders Hockey Club on the rise
It’s almost hard to believe the Islanders Hockey Club were a sub-.500 team as recently as mid-December. They were 11-12-3-0 going into their final game of 2018, a victory against the South Shore Kings that put them at .500.
They were again .500 after two Winter Showcase games, but are 11-3 since their last dip below the even mark. The Islanders, winners of the 2018 Founders Cup (regular season) and Dineen Cup (playoff) championships, were never fully out of the playoff conversation this year. However, heading into the Winter Showcase, they were situated as low as eighth place.
Their remarkable turnaround since then - including this past weekend’s home sweep of Rochester - has them tied for fourth in points and in fifth place after tiebreakers with Connecticut.
Their 11 goals on Feb. 10 were a season high and their first time above the 10-goal mark in any game this season. That actually matches an NCDC high for them, which they ironically reached last February in a Feb. 3 game, also their only time last season hitting above 10 goals.
N.H. Monarchs squeak by Rockets twice
The New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs extended their points streak to four games with a weekend sweep of the New Jersey Rockets. They won both games by scores of 2-1, with the Friday win being an overtime affair ended by Chris Lee, who joined midseason from the South Shore Kings.
Lee is one of just 10 players league-wide with four or more game-winners, though this is his first OT marker. The Cyclones’ Zach Rehbaum leads the league with two OT goals.
The win helped the Monarchs to become the third team to cross the 50-point milestone, and go into the South Shore Kings showcase holding a four-point lead on the fourth-place Rangers and fifth-place Islanders Hockey Club.
Connecticut and the IHC could both threaten for third, as they both have three games in hand on the Monarchs.
One-goal games are no problem for the Monarchs - they eat them for lunch, and are 3-0-1-2 in their last six one-goal games, undefeated in regulation over that stretch going back to Jan. 13. Overall, they are 8-2-2-3 in one-goal games this year.
They are 2-1 against the Rockets in games with 2-1 scores, with that Friday OT game seeing the only extra session between the two teams. They meet again on Saturday to close the South Shore Kings Showcase.
How sweep it is for Junior Bruins
The Junior Bruins defeated the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders, 5-3 and 8-3. It was their first sweep of a common opponent over two straight games in three tries, and first since back-to-back wins against South Shore Jan. 13 and 19.
They have swept straight games against opponents five times this year, with back-to-back wins against the Islanders Hockey Club in December, South Shore in October and the Northern Cyclones in September.
On Saturday, they will push for the season sweep against P.A.L. at the South Shore Kings Showcase, one of only two teams against whom the Junir Bruins are undefeated. The other team is the Northern Cyclones. The Junior Bruins and Cyclones will play twice more on the final weekend of the NCDC regular season, March 8-9. If the playoffs ended today, the Junior Bruins would host the Cyclones in the first round.
Rangers re-energized after pair of wins
The Connecticut Jr. Rangers bounced back from consecutive losses to win both of their weekend games against South Shore and maintain their fourth place seed, albeit in a new tie with the Islanders Hockey Club.
There have been only three instances this season when Connecticut took consecutive losses - two were two-game skids, and there was one five-game skid between Oct. 21 and Nov. 2. After both of their two-game skids, they bounced back with two straight wins.
The Rangers hope to finish with a 3-1 record in their season series with the Kings. The two teams play at the Kings Showcase on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Goalie Tate Brandon had his best start of the season, stopping 42 of 43 shots for the win. He now has three wins in a row.