LOWELL, MASS. – The dazzling Tsongas Center in the center of downtown proved the ideal setting for shining the spotlight on the best the East Coast Elite League has to offer during the fifth annual league All-Star Games extravaganza held January 9-10, 2020, as part of the Winter Classic showcase weekend.
The Tsongas Center is the home facility of the Division 1 University of Massachusetts-Lowell hockey and basketball programs. The venue, which is adorn by several luxury suites and a high-definition video scoreboard while lined with vibrant LED ribbon boards, seats approximately 6,000 for hockey and 7,000 for concerts and other events.
Each All-Star Game began with contemporary jazz saxophonist and Billboard chart artist Elan Trotman expertly performing the Canadian and U.S. national anthems following a ceremonial puck drop between the captains.
With squads consisting of 9 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 3 goaltenders, the 16U age group kicked off the all-star festivities with the White American contest Thursday evening, needing overtime to crown a winner. That thriller was followed Friday morning by both the 16U Blue National and 18U all-star showdowns, which featured 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 3 goaltenders on each squad.
The coaching staffs for the six all-star teams were selected from the top three teams in the regular-season standings following the ECEL Holiday Classic for the 16U and 18U Showcase and Premier divisions.
16U White American Division – River Hawks 4, Huskies 3 (OT)
Thanks to a pair of goals from forward Stepan Linka (Seacoast Spartans), it appeared the River Hawks were going to cruise to a comfortable two-goal victory with under two minutes to play in regulation. However, the Huskies would not go quietly, scoring twice in an 18-second span off the sticks of Justin Solovey (New Jersey Titans) and A.J. Parrillo (95 Giants) to force a 4-on-4 overtime.
But Linka wasn’t done yet either, redirecting a centering pass from defenseman Ethan Gelman (New Jersey Titans) for the clinching goal less than a minute into the extra stanza to complete the hat trick and earn the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
With his squad already trailing, 1-0, in the second period, goaltender Tyler Lambert (Monument Hockey Academy) proved key in allowing the Huskies to mount its third-period comeback with an outstanding 12-save performance.
16U Blue Division – Huskies 2, River Hawks 0
Goaltenders Cal Welch (New Hampshire Avalanche), Brooks McLean (Elite Hockey Program), and Carson Mielnik (95 Giants) combined to turn aside 24 shots to post the combined shutout, leading Huskies to victory.
Josh Zillotto netted an unassisted goal early in the first period, which proved to be all the Huskies would need and securing MVP honors for the Hill Academy forward. Matt Lewis (Boston Advantage) provided an insurance goal for the winners midway through the second off a nifty pass from Brayden Deschamps (95 Giants).
The River Hawks attempted to rally in the third, firing a game-high 10 shots Mielnik, as their defensive corps limited the Huskies to just three shots on net over the final 15 minutes after surrendering 25 during the first two periods.
18U Division – River Hawks 4, Huskies 0
MVP Theo Haley (Westlake Volts) helped the River Hawks dominate puck possession while relying on the man-advantage and standout goaltending to blank the Huskies.
After Aiden Coupe (Elite Hockey Program) gave the victors the lead in the first period on the power play, Haley netted an even-strength goal for the Hawks in the second. Forward Billy Hartnett (East Coast Spartans) scored unassisted 31 seconds before the second intermission to extend their lead to 3-0 before Cade Scheifelbein (Tahoe Prep Academy) converted on another power play late in the third to cap the scoring.
Goalies Dylan Ringhaiser (Mercer Chiefs), Aidan Foley (Ontario Hockey Academy), and Daniel Niewiarowicz (Elite Hockey Program) combined to make 25 saves to earn the shutout victory for the River Hawks.