SIMSBURY, Conn. – The East Coast Elite League capped its eighth season by crowning a pair of champions who both manufactured impressive playoff runs at the International Skating Center of Connecticut on the way to their respective titles.
In the 18U division, second-seeded Mount Academy overpowered No. 1 King’s-Edgehill School in their first and only league matchup of the season, 5-1, to raise the coveted ECEL Cup. Meanwhile, the first-place Atlanta Fire rode an early first- half goal all the way to the title, holding off the Saints from Mount Academy, 1-0, in the 16U championship.
Entering the ECEL playoffs, King’s-Edgehill earned the top spot in the seven-team field with an 11-1-0-0 regular-season record, its lone defeat coming during the November showcase against the Philadelphia Blazers, who were unable to take part in the postseason event due to a scheduling issue. Meanwhile, second place Mount Academy entered the final 2022-23 weekend owning a 10-2-0-0 mark with its only losses coming to a pair of guest clubs during the January showcase.
Even though they had yet to face off on East Coast Elite League ice this season, the Canadian heavyweights had split a pair of contests this winter played north of the border. So the pair seemed destined to clash in a series tiebreaker with the ECEL Cup at stake and didn’t disappoint.
KES cruised through a perfect preliminary round, ripping off three straight victories with an average winning margin of six goals, outscoring opponents, 20-2, including a pair of shutouts for goaltenders Tadeas Bezdek (20 saves vs. Monument) and Simon Beaudry (9 saves vs. 95 Giants). Meanwhile, Mount was nearly as impressive on its way to advancing to the semifinals, netting an identical 20 goals while surrendering just three and posting two shutout wins for netminders Ethan Clark (21 saves vs. Monument) and Adam Lecours (9 saves vs. 95 Giants).
The semifinals are where the two clubs drastically differed. KES racked up nearly double-digit goals in a rematch against Monument on the ISCC NHL Rink, rolling to a decisive 9-2 victory, powered by forward Kaden Smith’s four goals. However, over on the Olympic sheet, forward Loic Luder’s unassisted sixth goal of the playoffs 4:25 into the game managed to hold up for the remaining 45-plus minutes of play, as Lecour turned aside all 27 Ontario Hockey Academy shots to backstop Mount to a thrilling 1-0 win and setting up the No. 1 vs. No. 2 final.
In the 18U championship, the Saints surprisingly scored the first five goals of the contest, including one each from forwards Landon Trethway and Jack Flanagan in both halves, to overpower the Highlanders on the way to the 5-1 title tilt victory. KES outshot Mount, 33-29, but Lecours, who posted a .986 save percentage in
three playoff starts, couldn’t be beaten until Smith scored his playoffs-best ninth goal with 10:33 remaining, but that was as close as the Highlanders would get.
With 68 saves on 69 shots faced, Lecours, who finished the ECEL campaign with a 0.78 goals-against average, including a league high five shutouts, was a serious contender for the 18U Most Valuable Player Award. But that honor ultimately wound up going to Luder, who led the Saints with 10 points in the five playoff contests, giving the Swiss native a season total of 12-19—31 in 17 ECEL games.
Similar to the older age group, the top two 16U seeds rolled through the confidential advanced to the semifinals behind 20-plus total goal differentials in their three convincing victories.
Coincidentally, both clubs also generated seven goals in the semifinal round as well. The Fire dispatched Tomorrow’s Ice, 7-2, with the tallies coming off the sticks of seven different players. Meanwhile, the Saints blanked the Philadelphia Blazers behind a 21-save performance from goaltender Scott LeBlanc as well as two goals and an assist from forward Derek Andrews.
Prior to meeting in the championship, Atlanta and Mount split their two regular- season ECEL clashes by identical scores of 4-2. So the title game was expected to be a nail-biter, and it more than lived up to its advanced billing.
Less than six minutes into the game, forward Zachary Huettl set up Gabriel Valente for what resulted in the game’s lone goal, somehow evading the all-out effort of Saints netminder LeBlanc (22 saves). At the other end of the ice, Fire goaltender Conor O’Brien turned aside 18 Mount attempts for his second shutout of the playoffs and division-leading fourth of the season, lowering his goal-against average for the 2022-23 ECEL season to 0.86 in nine appearances coupled with a .959 save percentage.
The Saints pull LeBlanc for an extra attacker for more than two minutes in the waning moments of the contest but were denied the equalizer by the Fire, whose overall team defense for the season allowed only 20 goals against in 17 games (1.18 per game average).
Despite being held off the scoresheet for the only time in the playoffs during the championship game, Atlanta forward Kyle Wallace earned 16U MVP honors on the strength of eight goals and nine postseason points, including a four-goal performance in the playoff opener against Monument.