PROVIDENCE, RI -- The Boston Jr. Rangers are officially a development machine.
After all, their EHL Premier team won its second championship in three years, since the league was formed back in 2015. The Jr. Rangers came from behind on March 25th to defeat the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers for a 3-2 victory at Providence College.
A year before the Rangers’ developmental team joined the EHL brand, the Rangers won the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League championship. From there, they won the first EHL 19U Elite title in 2016, and appeared in the Championship Series this past year.
The primary job of this team is to work with typically younger players not quite ready to play at the higher-level Eastern Hockey League, and put them in a position by the end of a season to make the jump that next year.
To win a championship along the way is gravy for the organization, and it also helps to breed players used to a winning culture – a trait that college coaches love to find when recruiting for the future.
“This is an unbelievable group of guys who battled all year,” said head coach Ryan Blair, named the EHL Premier Coach of the Year before the Frozen Finals. “It was a pleasure to be around them every day. It was an honor to come to the rink with them – they laid everything out there every day. They really developed well over the season.”
The Boston Jr. Rangers pride themselves on offering EHL Premier players both in-season and future season movement. In fact, this season’s EHL team featured 12 former and current EHL Premier players. This included the Premier team’s leading forwards Danila Larionovs, Steve Wesley, Kyle Welch, Nolan Shaw, and Will Roberts, as well as defenseman Cameron Roberts.
“That’s something that, as a group, we try to promote, and it’s something in which we take great pride,” added Blair. “We’ll probably have seven or eight guys off this team we just won with moving up to the next level, which is the next step in their development, and then from there it’s on to college.”
Larionovs, a 2000-born player and the leading scorer with 69 points this year, is looking to move up to the Tier-2 level, the North American Hockey League, either this next year or the year after.
The Rangers’ EHL Premier program and its success attracted players from all corners of the U.S. – from right within Tewksbury, home of the Rangers’ home Breakaway Ice Center, outward to Connecticut, New York, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Colorado. The success of the Rangers’ brand has also brought players in from Israel, Great Britain, and Latvia.
“I care about the team. It’s a really good team, with good coaches and a good group of guys,” said the Latvian product Larionovs, who led the team in regular season scoring and popped in the game-and title-winning goal in the championship game. “Our practices, with all the different skills, forechecking, everything, I feel like I’m getting better every practice and it shows in the games. I thank the coaches, Rich [DeCaprio], Ryan and Bob Wesley.”
The Rangers finished the EHL Premier regular season in first place, beating the Junior Flyers by four points for that honor. In the single-game first round, the Rangers defeated the New England Wolves, drawing the Vermont Lumberjacks in the North Conference final.
After a fairly convincing 5-1 win in the conference finals opener, the Rangers found themselves tied after two games following a 3-0 loss to the Lumberjacks. In the winner-take-all Game 3, the Rangers bounced back quickly for a 4-1 victory and a berth in the championship final.
“Any time you’re in the playoffs, it’s a tough grind,” said Blair. “Guys have to be ready. They’re playing back-to-back nights a lot of the time, but the guys really responded to that.”
They also responded to the challenge of being down in the championship game. The Junior Flyers led 2-0 after the first period, off goals by William Smith and D.J. Sucher.
“We’ve definitely had some good games with the Junior Flyers,” said Blair. “We played them twice during the regular season and both were close games that went into OT. I knew it would be tight game. It’s a championship game, everyone’s laying it out there.”
Wesley opened the scoring for the Jr. Rangers in the second, but within 36 seconds, Sucher answered to put the Jr. Flyers up 3-1.
Welch, who assisted on Wesley’s goal, then popped in two in a row to leave the game tied at 3-3 following 40 minutes.
At the 11:43 mark of the third period, Larionovs sent home what turned out to be the game-winner, assisted by Welch.
“I took the puck to open space, moving my feet, get in the middle, shot, that’s it,” said Larionovs. “Unbelievable. We did a really good job, every guy working every day. This is why we won the championship.”
“It was a really tight game. I give the Junior Flyers credit. That’s an awesome team, with a great coaching staff and great players,” said Blair. “They jumped on us early, but our guys stayed the course and battled hard. We were able to come back and we were fortunate to get a victory.
“It’s great. I’m fortunate to be a coach in this organization. Our owner Mike Sorabella and [EHL head coach and junior program GM] Rich DeCaprio put their trust in me every day,” Blair added. “We’re lucky we made it this far. I’m really happy for the guys in the room right now.”
Photo Credit - Alexis Thompson (Photos By Lex)