Mount Academy, Atlanta Fire emerge from Holiday Classic atop divisions Close race to the finish shaping up within both the 18U, 16U ECEL ranks.
By Kevin Conway
CANTON, Mass. – The playoff picture for the 18U and 16U divisions became clearer during the 2022 East Coast Elite League Holiday Classic showcase. All league members and two special guest clubs squared off Nov. 4-6 at the Canton Ice House and New England Sports Village in southeastern Massachusetts with only one squad emerging without a blemish on its record at the halfway point of
Still undefeated through eight contests, Mount Academy cemented its place atop the 18U standings with four more victories, including back-to-back shutouts from goaltenders Ethan Clark (0.38 goals-against average, .963 save percentage) and Adam Lecours (0.46 GAA, .966 save %) before surrendering single goals in convincing wins over the guest Anaheim Mad Dogs and league foe Monument Hockey Academy. In addition to outstanding net-minding, the Saints outscored their Holiday Classic opponents, 24-2, on the strength of the play of Branfdon Gauthier (4 goals, 5 assists) and Loic Luder (2 G, 4 A). Both the Philadelphia Blazers and King’s-Edgehill School suffered their first defeats of the season—Blazers during a 1-0 thriller against Mount and KES to Philadelphia, 5-2. KES forward Kaden Smith (13-8-21) moved to the top of the division scoring ranks with five Holiday Classic goals and three assists, which included his second hat trick of the season in a 5-2 win over the Atlanta Fire.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia forward Brady Baehser netted four goals in a single game for the second time this season on his way to a 7-3-10 weekend, positioning him just one point behind Smith for the division points lead. Ontario Hockey Academy is poised to make it a four-team battle at the top of the 18U division, going 3-1-0-0 for the second straight showcase. Goaltender Jessie Nuccio posted shutout victories in both his Holiday Classic starts, while forward Kristof Molnar extended his goal streak to all eight ECEL contests this season, giving him 13 tallies and 18 points.
In the 16U ranks, the Atlanta Fire suffered their first loss of the season to start the Holiday Classic on Friday, 4-2 against Mount Academy, but closed out the weekend with three straight wins to secure its spot at the top of the division standings. Meanwhile, Tomorrow’s Ice also posted a 3-1-0-0 record during the season’s second showcase to move into sole possession of second place, one point ahead of Mount. Saints standout Noah Cziment’s two goals and assist against Atlanta were key in Mount’s victory over the Fire and helped the forward take over the division scoring lead with 12 points. New York Saints forward James Massimi, who has played one less game than Cziment but has posted the same number of goals (6), is just a single point behind. In the crease, Atlanta goalie Conor O’Brien won both his Holiday Classic starts, surrendering just one goal in each to lower his goals-against average to 0.95 in four games with a division-best .958 save percentage. Teammate Evan Pritchard’s 18-save shutout of Philadelphia helped him keep pace with O’Brien, lowering the Fire netminder’s goal-against to 1.23 with a .941 save percentage.
As the East Coast Elite League turns the page to the Jan. 6-8 Winter Classic in Hooksett, N.H., all team officials are preparing for the annual ECEL All-Star Games draft selection process. Each team will nominate players from its roster based on its position in the standings following the Holiday Classic, and the appointed bench coaches will draft players for their respective squads from the
nomination lists. Both the 18U and 16U all-star spectaculars will take place at St. Anselm College’s superb Sullivan Arena to kick off the 2022-23 ECEL third showcase. The season will conclude with the playoffs weekend Feb. 10-11 in Simsbury, Conn.