The Suffolk Juniors were clinging for their playoff lives with six games remaining on their schedule.
They need no longer worry, as they were set for the playoffs as of March 7.
First up were two must-win games in Buffalo against the Stars. The Juniors fared well in Game 1 of that Feb. 23-24 weekend series, 5-1, but lost the second day, 7-6.
After that series comes a brutal five-game stretch including two games against a tough Frederick Freeze and three against Long Island rival the New York Apple Core. They’d actually lost four of those five, with the last remaining on Saturday (March 9).
Head coach Ed Galiani was not feeling the pressure in the final weeks of the season with his team desperately fighting to keep their position in the playoffs. The new KRACH (Ken’s Ratings for American College Hockey) system, with its extra weight on games against strong opponents, helped the Juniors to clinch their spot.
As of Feb. 28, they were 12th out of the 16 teams that could qualify for the postseason. Shortly thereafter, they clinched the spot.
Nick Mangone and Chris Stemke have been pivotal to the success of the hockey club into the latter part of the season.
Stemke came into camp as a forward and was then asked to play defense for the first time in his career. After a few rocky starts, he has really blossomed into one of the team’s best defenders, using his size and skating ability to his advantage.
Nick Mangone was a guy who missed the cut to make the big team back in August. After some injuries and because of Mangone’s stellar play in the Eastern States Hockey League, he was called up and never looked back.
Since being called up in October, he scored 12 goals in 31 games and his style of play often agitates the opposition.
As of late February, the Juniors hit a little bit of a speed bump since starting 2013 on a three-game winning streak. They went 1-4 in their next five. Granted, these players had to go through two storms, one of which postponed a weekend series against the Freeze.
Suffolk had multiple opportunities to move up in the standings but went backwards after losing back-to-back games to the Hitmen back in mid-January and then losing two more to the Hitmen in mid-February on home ice.
Now, after the Juniors’ late-season struggles, they’ll get a second chance to prove themselves when the playoffs take place March 14-17 at the Ice Vault in Wayne, N.J.
Read past stories about the Suffolk Juniors: