#USPHLPlayoffs: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights vs. Jersey Hitmen

Atlantic Division 

Jersey Hitmen (7) at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights (2)

All Games To Be Played At Revolution Ice Centre, Pittston, PA

Friday, March 1, 7:30 p.m. EST

Saturday, March 2, 4 p.m. EST

Sunday, March 3, 12:30 p.m. EST (If Necessary) 


By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com 


The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights join the Metro Jets and Utah Outliers as the only teams not in the original USPHL Premier alignment of 2017-18 to have qualified for every Nationals so far since entering the league (the Outliers have since moved on to the NCDC). The Knights joined the USPHL in 2021-22.

That year, they also joined the Jets in becoming the second non-original league member to win the regular season championship in their first season. 

So, after two straight Nationals appearances, the Knights (30-7-3-4) certainly believe they have earned their place as “Nationals staples.” Now it’s time to prove that, as they start what they hope is a long postseason a 2v7 match-up against the Jersey Hitmen (12-28-3-1). 

For their part, the Hitmen also have a Nationals history, making the first two tournaments in 2018 and 2019. After a few tough seasons of missing the playoffs or earning a quick exit, the Hitmen are excited to return to the postseason for the first time since 2021. 

“Heading into our series against Wilkes-Barre, we know we are facing a top end opponent that will be a big challenge. However, having taken a game from them earlier in the season gives our group confidence that if we play the game the right way and pay attention to detail we will give ourselves a chance,” said Head Coach Chris Barling. “We have confidence in both of our goaltenders (Liam Rice and Ian Tumm) to give our team an opportunity to win regardless of who is in net. Overall, we are looking forward to starting the postseason. Once you’re in, anything can happen.”

“We are very eager for the puck drop this weekend,” added WBS Knights GM Dominick Manochio. “Our group is determined to display the hard work that earned us home ice advantage in our first round matchup. We are coming into this series as prepared as possible, as every game in the Atlantic Division is a battle. We have seen the Hitmen a few times this year, but regardless of who we play, the expectations remain the same. A disciplined, fast, well structured machine is what you can expect to see the ‘Wilkes Wagon’ bringing in the playoffs.” 

The Knights went 4-1-0-0 during the season series against the Hitmen. The first three games were WBS wins decided by between three and seven goals before the Hitmen captured a 3-2 regulation win on Jan. 19. Two days later, however, the Knights defeated the Hitmen in a shutout by the largest differential in the season series, eight goals. 

Zackary Chouinard was the Knights’ top offensive performer from start to finish, scoring 57 points in 42 games, and defenseman A.J. Saadeh ended up ranking second on the team in scoring with 37 points in 39 games. The team had a great late season pickup as Owen House joined the Premier team from the NCDC squad (and he also played Tier II in the CCHL in Canada this year) – House scored eight points in his seven games down the stretch to the end of the season. Teito Ishigaki was a pre-roster-deadline acquisition from Utica and has a total of 65 points in 48 games, including seven points in seven WBS games. The team also added former Tier II defenseman Noah Therrien (seven points in eight games) and WBS Knights 18U player Connor Lawrence (seven points in seven games). 

Saadeh led the team in plus-minus at +35 and third-year WBS blueliner Ryan Cunningham led in blocked shots with 69. Jared Showen, a member of the National runner-up Elite Knights last year, was the Premier team’s best faceoff man with 453 wins (65 percent). Galvin Reagan (10-5-1-4) was the Knights’ leading goalie, and he’ll be joined by Iannico Amaranto, who has split this season between Premier and NCDC, and Jon Schirmer, who split between the 18U and Premier Knights. 

Hitmen goaltender Tumm was picked up from the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings late in the season, and he had an impressive first win with Jersey in stopping 39 of 42 Hershey shots on Feb. 24. Rice was in net for the Jan. 19 victory against WBS, stopping 46 of 48. 

Ethan Tatomir (‘07) was one of four defensemen league-wide to lead his team in scoring, putting up 46 points in 40 games. He’s been so impressive that he was named to the NCDC Young Guns All-Star Game, featuring some of the top prospects both in the NCDC and those working their way towards that level. Tatomir also led the Hitmen Premier in blocked shots with 72 this year. 

Defenseman Mikhail Anikin put up 38 points in 40 games to give the Hitmen a large bulk of their offense from the point. Anikin also led in plus-minus with a +3 mark and hits with 97. Trent Barker, with 34 points in 42 games, led Hitmen forwards in scoring.