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2024 ECEL Playoffs Recap

02/20/2024, 1:30pm EST
By Kevin Conway

18U Mavericks, 16U Fire capture crowns

OHA, Atlanta overcome difficult roads on way to 2023-24 ECEL championships
By Kevin Conway
SIMSBURY, Conn. – One division crowned a predictable champion but in an
unpredictable fashion, while the other featured a somewhat surprising repeat
champ capturing the title in a double-overtime thriller.
Championship Sunday of the 10th annual East Coast Elite League playoffs proved
to be a struggle for both eventual champions. But both agree it was well worth it.
In the semifinal round, undefeated 18U Ontario Hockey Academy shockingly
needed to rally from behind with four consecutive goals late in the second half to
outlast the upset-minded New York Saints, 7-5, to advance to the title game. In
the finale, the Mavericks built a three-goal halftime lead only to see Tomorrow’s
Ice use a pair of power-play goals to put the pressure on OHA with less than five
minutes remaining in regulation. But forward Jett Jock’s unassisted goal with 3:31
left plus an empty-netter were enough for the OHA to stem the Tomorrow’s Ice
late comeback attempt for a 4-2 title tilt victory.
Meanwhile, in the 16U Division, the Atlanta Fire earned the top seed for the
semifinals after the three-game preliminary round despite, according to head
coach Curtis Morrison, playing nowhere close to their best hockey of the season.
Their up-and-down play continued Sunday as the Fire required a last-minute,
power-play goal from David Zavulunov to snap a 2-2 tie and eventually hold off
Tomorrow’s Ice, 4-2, and move on the finale against Ontario Hockey Academy,
the regular-season division champs.
In the 16U finale, neither club led by more than a single goal as both Atlanta
goalie Sean Murray (38 saves) and OHA netminder Ivan Petrov (42 saves) were
outstanding in their respective creases. Following the scoreless 5-on-5 first
overtime, the Fire keenly used the additional open ice during the 3-on-3 double
OT period to work the puck deep into the Mavericks zone before forward
Coleman Bates managed to beat Petrov with a quick short-side shot from the
right circle with just 1:37 left on the clock before the clubs were to begin a
decisive shootout session.


Ontario Hockey Academy dominated regular-season play, compiling a perfect 12-
0-0-0 record while giving up less than 10 goals against and outscoring its ECEL
opponents by an impressive 54 goals. OHA’s domineering all-around game
continued during the 18U preliminary playoff round as the Mavericks handily
dispatched the Northern Cyclones (8-2), New York Saints (5-0) and Tomorrow’s
Ice (7-2). But the semifinal round proved to be a completely different story.
OHA held a 3-2 lead at the break thanks to a power-play goal from Jock with just
over a minute left in the first half. However, the Saints came storming out of the
locker room to start the second half, scoring three consecutive goals in a 7:41
span, including a pair from forward Oliver Berenbroick, to take a stunning 5-3
lead with 14:05 remaining.
Seven more minutes elapsed before OHA began its comeback, starting with a
Nandor Polonyi goal with just under 9:00 to play. However, the decisive blow for
the Mavericks came when Odd Henrik Hyttebakk and Bocephus Daillboust
netted goals just 33 seconds apart to recapture the lead for good with 2:30 left.
Jeremy Deschambault-Perron added an empty-netter in the final minute for an
insurance goal to ensure OHA’s much-anticipated championship game
In the final, the Mavericks built their 3-0 halftime advantage over Tomorrow’s Ice
on a pair of Deschambault-Perron tallies and the eventual game-winner from Max
Lewis just 50 seconds before halftime. Goaltender Hakon Eskeland turned aside
22 shots in a title-clinching performance to complete his seventh victory in as
many starts, finishing the season with an impressive 1.29 goals-against average
and spectacular .952 save percentage.
Despite posting a convincing 8-1 win over the New Hampshire Monarchs, Atlanta
played on the edge nearly the entire weekend, needing a three-goal comeback to
in the preliminary round to edge Tomorrow’s Ice in overtime after doing just
enough to get past the 95 Giants, 4-3, in the playoff opener.
Sunday proved no different for the Fire. Atlanta required the nail-biting, last-
minute rally against TI in the semifinal rematch in order to advance, but then lost
a pair of one-goal leads during the second half against Ontario Hockey Academy
in the championship that forced overtime, which included surrendering a
shorthanded tally to Mavericks forward Alex Charbonneau that tied the score at
2-2 for the next 30:27 of action.

Murray was stellar in the Fire net, stopping the next 23 shots he faced after OHA
scored the equalizer, including a combined 16 saves in the two overtime sessions.
His counterpart, Petrov, wasn’t as busy in the waning minutes of regulation nor
overtime but still finished with an impressive 46 saves.
The title game victory over OHA was the first in three attempts this season for
Atlanta, having fallen to the Mavericks in September’s Fall Classic, 5-2, and again
in January’s Winter Classic, 4-1. The back-to-back East Coast Elite League crowns
for the Fire are the league’s first since the 18U Boston Advantage produced
championship seasons in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns.

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