MARLBORO, MA-The Junior Bruins, for the third year in a row, have won the Empire League's regular season championship. They needed a win (or a tie) in their game on Wednesday afternoon and they got just that in an 11-2 route of the Valley Jr. Warriors.
The team has done it with a balanced game and the categories they lead the league in points to just that: best home record, best road record, league leader in wins, power play percentage, penalty kill, goals scored per game, goals allowed per game and fewest penalty minutes.
The win also earns the Bruins a spot at Nationals, also for the third year in a row, to compete for the Silver Cup. The B's will also have home ice throughout the playoffs as a result of winning the regular season title.
The Bruins have done it with a league best offense as well as a league best defense. To date, the Bruins average giving up only 1.97 goals per game. The Bruins' goaltending duo of Clay Witt and Petie von Rosenvinge are among league leaders in all goaltending statistical categories. Witt set a new Empire League record when the Bruins beat Brewster in overtime on Presidents Day with his 23rd win of the year. That mark broke the previous total Connor Knapp (22 wins), also with the Bruins, set in the 2006-2007 season.
The Bruins defense has, at times, made the goalies job a bit easier limiting the amount of shots on net. The defensive core of Tommy Monteiro, Colin Shea, Zach Todd, Steve Ginand, Danny Federico, Jeff Brown and Al Butler have been good in their own end and their biggest strength may be their ability to break the puck out and limit time spent in the Bruins' own end. Monteiro, one of the team's captains, is leading the league in scoring for a defensemen and Shea leads the team in +/- with a +49. Another player who is playing his best hockey of the year is Danny Federico. While only a '92 Federico is among the best in the league at his position. Ginand and Todd have developed into top level defensemen and the newly added Jeff Brown has provided the team some added strength with his physical play.
Those defensemen, along with a large list of forwards who are on the teams penalty kill unit, are killing penalties at a league leading 92.64% rate. They have given up a league low 12 power play goals and have shown to be the most disciplined team in the league as well as their league leading total of only 443 penalty minutes shows. The closest team to that total is Pittsburgh's 683. The B's average only 11.07 penalty minutes per game. The league average is 18.9 pims per game. Some key players to the B's penalty killing unit up front are Sean McLaughlin, Zach Sandonato, Daniel Szerlip, Joe Pendenza, Justin Mansfield, Gunnar Hughes, Cody Learned and Charles Bando.
The Bruins offense has scored a league high 210 goals to date and that is good for a 5.25 goals per game average. The leaders offensively have been Max Barron (65 points lead the team and he leads the league in game winning goals, along with Mansfield, with 7), Joe Pendenza (63 points, leads the team in power play points and is tied for the team lead with Barron for assists) and Mansfield (his 31 goals currently lead the team with seven of those being game winners). Two other forwards who have been making a push up the teams leader board for scoring have been Mike Kerdock and Logan Romano. Both are having strong second halves and have a nice "shot in the arm" to the teams offensive production along with line mate Sandonato.
The Bruins power play has been converting a ridiculous rate of over 30% all season. Through their first 40 league games the B's have a 31.15%. All this with having the fewest amount of power plays. The B's have had 183 power plays through 40 games. That is dead last in the league and 111 fewer power play chances the leader in that category-Pittsburgh.
The Bruins' season has not all been chocolates and roses. The team has been hit by the injury bug and that has had an effect on the team. Mid way through the season the Bruins lost forward Nick Foy. Not only is Foy a captain but also one of the top players on the team. "Losing Nick was a big blow to our team," coach Chris Masters commented. "I feel he is one of the best players in the league and, with his 6'4 frame, physical play and scoring touch it has changed the dynamic of our team. I am, however, proud of the way the team has responded and with the players who have filled the void left by his absence."
Another player who was lost for a substantial amount of time has been forward Matt Manzella who has been out of the lineup for a month with a shoulder injury. He is due back in time for playoffs. Foy, lost to a concussion, was not the only Bruins player to have been lost to that injury. Defensemen Ryan Brothers was expected to join the team at some point during the year but was also lost for the season with post concussion problems. The team was also thrown a curveball a few months into the season when USA Hockey informed the Bruins that Frankie Vatrano was ineligible to play due to his age ('94 birth year). In the games he did play with the team he fit right in so, losing him, was like losing a player due to injury for the year.
The Bruins, with an average age of 16.04 years old, are also the youngest team in the league by a wide margin. The closest team to the B's is Syracuse (16.5 year average). The average age for a player in the Empire league is 17.34 years old so the Bruins are, on average, giving up 1.3 years per player. "There are games when we are giving up a lot in size, strength and age," coach Andy Powers commented. "So, those teams are not only older and stronger but they are talented as well and it forces our players to play a near perfect game so it is really a credit to our players' skill level, commitment and work ethic that they were able accomplish what they did this year."
"The regular season title is only one of a handful of preseason goals we set," Masters continued. "We are proud of the players for the work and effort that goes in to being the top team over six months. The players did the work, put the time in and deserve the credit. The league gets stronger every year and there are some great teams we had to beat out so we are fortunate for that. We need to quickly turn our focus to finish the regular season on a strong note and carry that momentum into the playoffs which will be tougher than it has the previous two years."
2007-2008 Empire Jr. Hockey League Regular Season Champs