The United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL) could not have planned a better finish to its inaugural National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC) campaign.
The Islanders Hockey Club capped a wire to wire run as the dominant force winning its second straight Dineen Cup Championship with a decisive 6-1 win against the Jersey Hitmen on Easter Sunday (April 1) at the Lawler Arena in North Andover, MA.
The win followed an equally decisive 6-1 defeat to the same Hitmen team on the same ice about 20 hours earlier, pushing the series to its three-game limit.
The defending Dineen Cup Champion Islanders Hockey Club entered the Championship series looking for the cherry on top of an unreal season, following up a 47-3 regular season with four straight playoff wins.
But in the way was the Hitmen who made a post-Christmas break move from well back in the standings to third overall, winning 12 of its final 13 regular season contests as well as earlier playoff series wins against the Northern Cyclones and Boston Jr. Bruins – both going the three-game distance as well.
Islanders 6 Hitmen 1
Both teams had some good chances early in this one with the Islanders carrying the edge through the first period with an 11-3 edge in shots but still even at 0-0 on the scoreboard as they rolled past the halfway mark of the period. The first success for the home team came as a direct response to the best chance of the period for the Hitmen.
After a couple of stops by goaltender Justin Ferguson, a native of Hudson, NH heading to Dartmouth College in the fall on a goalmouth scramble, a clearing attempt by JJ Layton, from Peabody, NJ ended up on the stick of Sam Nestor from Burlington, VT and sent him out of the zone on a three-on-one chance.
As he crossed the blueline, Nestor sent a pass across to Jeremie Lavallee, a Montreal, QC native who beat Hitmen goaltender Kristofer Carlson, from Centreville, VA on the glove side with 6:13 to go in the opening period.
That goal opened the floodgates for the Isles who poured in two more before the end of the opening period.
Defenseman Matt Dillon, a native of Shrewsbury, MA doubled the margin just 1:42 later when he moved up from the blue line to the high slot and fired a snap shot that dipped under the glove of Carlson. Justin Pearson, from Nashua, NH and heading to Yale University collected an assist on the goal.
The third goal came with 2:10 to go in the frame as Nick Parody from Harrisburg, PA found the puck on his stick the by the faceoff dot as a rebound on a great chance in close for Mark Cheremeta of Parkland FL. Parody put the puck right back at the net through a crowd and past Carlson, still on his knees from his point blank stop against Cheremeta.
The Isles carried an 18-7 edge in shots out of the first period, but the intermission buzzer gave the Hitmen a chance to regroup and refocus.
Through the middle 20 minutes, the Hitmen carried the edge in shots, 16-10, but couldn’t find a way past Islanders’ goaltender, Justin Ferguson, a Hudson, NH native heading to Dartmouth College until Collin Heinold finally got the Hitmen on the board with just over two minutes to play in the period.
Heinold, from Charleston, SC converted a feed from Martan Yelle, from Geneva, IL who will be attending the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
The Hitmen might have carried some momentum onto the ice for the final frame, but the Isles snatched it back as JJ Layton from Peabody, MA found Mark Gallant with a long feed, sending the Concord, MA native in alone and he buried the fourth Islanders’ goal 15 seconds into the new period.
Lucas Michaud, from Portland, ME took over from there, firing a fifth Islanders goal at the 5:01 mark and one more just before the halfway mark of the period.
The Islanders then just needed to hold off the Hitmen and watch the clock count down before the celebration could start. After handshakes, the Islander captains were presented with the Dineen Cup along with both regular season and playoff championship pennants.
Ferguson picked up his sixth playoff victory turning aside 28 of 29 shots for the Isles while Carlson, who has played every minute of the post season for the Hitmen stopped 28 shots as well.
The Islanders finish off the 2017-18 season with a historic 53-4 record, capturing both the Founders Cup and Dineen Cup Championships along the way.