Hard to believe the Beast Tournament Series for the Fall of 2023 is coming to a close this weekend with playoff action. Eight top programs will vie for the U18 title, with two other champions crowned in a Gold and Silver division.
Play begins on Saturday, with playoff action at the New England Sports Village (NESV) in Attleboro, Rodman Arena in Walpole, Babson College, and the Emmons Horrigan O'Neil Rink In Charlestown.
Here are the quarterfinal matchups in the U18 field:
#8 East Coast Militia vs #1 Yale Jr. Bulldogs, 6:00pm at NESV 1
#7 Buffalo Regals vs #2 Avon Regals, 5:30pm at NESV 2
#6 Mid-Fairfield National vs #3 Long Island Gulls, 7:40pm at NESV 1
#5 Neponset River Rats vs #4 New Jersey Rockets, 8:50pm, Rodman Arena
Yale head coach Shawn Conner said his team doesn't feel any added pressure heading in as the #1 seed.
"We set goals at the beginning of the season and each week we keep building to those," he said. "Our players are excited for the challenge of the Beast playoffs against some of the top teams in the country."
The Bulldogs will feature a lineup that includes five Division 1 commits in forwards Alex Pelletier (Cornell), Cooper Snee (Providence), Ryan Flaherty (Holy Cross) and Gio DiGiulian (Colgate), and defenseman Hudson Miller (Yale).
Kyle Ozgun has been more than solid in goal.
"We need to play a team game, use our speed and manage the puck in all zones," Conner said.
The eighth-seeded East Coast Militia will be more than ready to take on Yale in this quarterfinal matchup.
"The group has bought into being tough to play against. They do the simple things well," said Militia coach Garrett Allen. "On the defensive side we take care of our zone first, backcheck hard and forecheck in layers to create difficulty on breakouts. Offensively, we limit blue line turnovers, get pucks behind teams, don't pass up shots and get bodies in front of the net. The remedy to beating a team like Yale is going to be following the things mentioned above."
The Militia boast a pair of solid netminders in Pelle Russo and Caden Pasqualone, and a balanced attack that features 14 double-digit scorers in the team's 18 overall games this fall, led by Tyler Gwatkin (20 pts), Devin Gosciak (16 pts), Curt Heath (15 pts), Luis Valencia (14 pts) and Danny Li (14 pts).
"The balance our team has is extremely important in the team's success," Allen said. "I have trust in all 20 players on my team, to play in any situation during the game. I roll all four lines, all six defensemen and my goalies have both played nine games apiece."
The 2/7 quarterfinal matchup is an interesting one, pitting two teams from the same organization with Kyle Quick's Buffalo Regals facing off against his Avon Regals.
"The kids have been asking to play each other all year and they get to do it now in playoff format," Quick said. "I think it'll be a good game. It'll be a very hard-fought game by both sides with bragging rights on the line. I expect good compete from both sides."
Buffalo has been led this fall by Tanner Duncan (20 pts), Michael Malatino (21 pts), and goalie Cole Pouliot-Porter (1.55 gaa).
For #2 Avon, Lefty Markonidis has had a big fall with 32 pts, while Connor Davis (26 pts), Tom Molson (25 pts), Brendan Tighe (24 pts) and Oliver Morris (24 pts) have chipped in big time as well. Aiden Hopewell and Tyler Spokane hvave been solid in goal.
"For Buffalo to take the win they need to play a simplified game with limited mistakes. It will be a gritty game if they want to get the job done," Quick said. "For Avon, the key is 10 returners from our runner-up national team last year. It takes every kid in that locker room to get the job done and we have contributors on every line on different weekends."
The 3/6 quarterfinal pits a pair of familiar foes. The Long Island Gulls and Mid-Fairfield have played twice this fall in Beast action, each taking a win (Mid-Fairfield won 4-1 in August, and the Gulls responded with a 4-0 win in early October).
Mid-Fairfield also owns a win over the Avon Regals and will be a tough #6 seed.
"This group feels confident playing anyone and no matter the opponent, at this level, you have to bring your best every game," said Mid-Fairfield coach Chris Gragnano.
Sean Gibbons, Blake Burke, Jacob Rothman and Mark Pizzo have had solid falls up front. The team features three Division 1 commits in forward Luke Drury (Brown) and defensemen Luke Calabria (Colgate) and Cooper Cleaves (Dartmouth).
"(We'll) have to commit to doing the little things well and execute," said Gragnano.
For the Long Island Gulls, keys project to be William Tomko, Thomas Zocco, Ryan Wachtel and Joseph Macrina.
The final quarterfinals has the Neponset River Rats taking on the New Jersey Rockets.
The Rockets have lost games to the top two seeds in the Bulldogs and Avon Regals in limited Beast league action, but they will be a tough out.
"We need to play a solid, two-way game," said coach Noel Rubin.
Neponset will need to keep an eye on the likes of Christian Chouha, Max Pendy, Vin Bronzo, Micahel Schmelzer and Porter Byrd-Leitner.
The River Rats come into the playoffs playing some of their best hockey.
Ty Wood leads the team with 23 points in the Rats' 23 overall games. Spencer Hirsch has 17 points and Ethan Skowronek, who has been hot, has 15 points, as does Evan Regan. Keep an eye on D1 commits Ryan Staples (Yale) and Cam Russo (Brown) as well. Peter Luecke, Nico Pasquale and Teddy Mallgrave (St. Lawrence commit) have been solid on the blue line for coach Ross Pasquantonio.
In goal, Ethan Romanetti has won five straight starts, lowering his goals against to 1.73. Ben Skowronek has seen plenty of time in goal as well.
** U18 Semifinals will be held on Sunday, October 22.
Yale/Militia winner vs Neponset/NJ Rockets winner, 10:50am at NESV1
Buffalo/Avon winner vs LI Gulls/Mid-Fairfield winner, 11:00am at NESV 2
Championship Game - 3:50pm at NESV1
Here are the brackets for both the Gold and Silver Divisions.
Quarterfinals - Saturday, October 21
#8 New Hampshire Mountain Kings vs #1 Springfield Thunderbirds, 8:15pm at Babson
#7 Connecticut Chiefs Full vs #2 New Jersey Titans Premier, 6:20pm at Babson
#6 Atlantic Coast Academy vs #3 Neponset River Rats U19, 5:30pm at Rodman
#5 West Haven vs #4 Boston Hockey Academy, 7:20pm at Rodman
Semifinals - Sunday, October 22
1/8 winner vs 4/5 winner, 9:40am at Rodman
2/7 winner vs 3/6 winner, 9:00am at Rodman
Championship - Sunday, October 22, 2:10pm at NESV 2
Play-In Games - Saturday, October 21
New Jersey Titans Elite vs Maine Jr. Mariners, 11:20am at NESV 1
Long Island Gulls American vs Buffalo Regals Showcase, 12:00pm at NESV2
Quarterfinals - Saturday, October 21
Winner Buffalo/LI Gulls vs #1 New Jersey Bears, 5:20pm at Rodman
Winner Titans/Jr. Mariners vs #2 Springfield Jr. Thunderbirds 19U, 7:10pm at Rodman
#3 New Jersey Titans Split vs #6 Connecticut Chiefs Split, 6:30pm at Charlestown
#4 Mid-Fairfield Showcase vs #5 Neponset River Rats Showcase, 8:10pm at Charlestown
Semifinals - Sunday, October 22
1/8 winner vs 4/5 winner, 10:50am at Rodman
2/7 winner vs 3/6 winner, 11:30am at Rodman
Championship - Sunday, October 22, 4:00pm at NESV 2