By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com
Rockets Hockey Club (4) vs. Connecticut Jr. Rangers (5)
Saturday, March 4, 2:50 pm
Sunday, March 5, 4:50 pm
Monday, March 6, 11:30 am (if necessary)
It’s always a test when you enter the playoffs as the reigning National Champion. Everyone else wants you have had, and the Rockets also want to get back to that territory.
This year’s Rockets team is a very different squad than that which took the ice late last March and won it all in Hudson, N.H. So many members of that squad have aged out and moved on to college hockey. With few returning players, the Rockets still were able to pull together a strong 29-10-4-1 season to finish fourth in the Mid-Atlantic.
They take on the Jr. Rangers who were 23-17-2-1 on the season and finished fifth.
Don’t expect special teams to play a huge role in this series. The Jr. Rangers were third in fewest penalty minutes at 8.91 and Rockets were fifth with 9.53 per game.
The Rockets are a strong team in Bridgewater, winning four times more than losing on home ice at 16-4-2-0, so they hope home ice is truly the advantage.
The Rockets went 3-0-1-0 during the season against Connecticut so there’s some confidence in the recent history.
The Rockets also bring the confidence of having Yakov Yakzhin up front. He posted 22-31-53, and then they have another 50-point producer in returning champion Jack Quigley at 26-25-53. Spencer Hecklinger gives the Rockets a third 20-goal threat.
The Rockets brought back title-winning goalie Liam Gross, who was a strong complement to Carson Frye (.925 save percentage).
On the CJR side, veteran forward Elias Holunga had 52 points, and Joona Juntunen gives them two 20-goal scorers.
Connecticut also has multiple goaltenders who can string wins together in Ryuto Nakamoto, Jacob Tinson and Kaden Hladunewich.