The New Jersey Renegades are one of 13 junior hockey teams in the newly revamped Eastern Hockey League Premier Division.
In the new two-tiered league: the Eastern Hockey League and the Eastern Hockey League Premier Division, teams from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont in close proximity to each other play regularly from New England on down I-95 thru Philadelphia.
The EHL, the leader in NCAA D-II and D-III commitments, develops players and prepares them to take the next step whether it’s the College Hockey route in the United States or the Major Junior ladder in Canada.
The Renegades, which skate out of Flemington Ice Arena, are one of three EHLP teams from the Garden State including the Jersey Wildcats (Randolph) and New Jersey 87’s (Middletown). They are led behind the bench by co-Head Coaches Cliff Graziano and Pete Rossi.
With the introduction of the Premier Division, the league’s commitment to development continues. In the first of regular EHL updates, Hockey Clan recently spoke with Graziano about his squad.
HockeyClan: How long do players generally stay with a team at this level?
Graziano: “They may stay with an organization for one year. They may stay with them for three, four, five years, depending on how fast they develop, how quickly they want to go to college. Some kids will go to college at 18, some will wait to go to college after their last year of juniors at age 20. It depends on the player.
“It’s not only where kids may go to school in the future, though, that has an affect on the league. With the ages ranging from 16-20, players attend school during the week. This has to be taken into account when scheduling, and for that reason, most off the games are on the weekend.”
There are a few exceptions, however, as Graziano explained.
“Every once in a while we’ll do showcases on Monday where they have to miss school,” Graziano, the Owner and General Manager of the Renegades, said. “Because Mondays are the days that college coaches usually give their teams off, they go out and do their scouting.”
HockeyClan: What affect does the team’s proximity have on the schedule as a whole?
Graziano: “Traditionally what happens is, you’ll have a North Conference and a South Conference for scheduling purposes. We’re in the South, so we’ll predominantly play the other two teams in New Jersey, the three teams in Philadelphia, and so on. And then they try to arrange it so that when you play in the showcases, you play the teams from the North Conference and upper New England so that it limits the travel.”
With game number 22 of a 44-game EHLP regular season coming up on Saturday, November 25, the Renegades are now halfway thru their schedule. The Renegades currently hold a record of 9-12-0 and hold a six-point lead for the fifth and final playoff spot in the South. Under the current format, the top five teams in the conference make the playoffs. Seeds #4 and #5 embark on a play-in game for the right to advance to the semifinals. The Renegades, like any team, will need their best players to perform well if they are to reach their full potential.
HockeyClan: What does the coaching staff look for on the stat sheet? Who have been the top performers in the first half of the year?
Graziano: “What a lot of coaches will look at is games played, points and then points-per-game. So in this case,
Alec Dugan has, I believe, 20 games played and 22 points, which comes out to be 1.10 (points-per-game). And then you have Scott Schnell who has 20 points in 20 games (1.00 PPG average), and you have Nick Graziano who missed a bunch of games due to injury and he has 18 points in 17 games (1.06 PPG). So if you take those three guys, they’re our top three scorers, and they literally go back and forth with who’s leading on a week-by-week basis.”
In the Eastern Hockey League, Junior Hockey is a five-year window from age 16 (born in 2001) thru age 20 (born in 1997).
HockeyClan: How do the players age affect how you look at the stats from a scouting perspective?
Graziano: “Dugan is a 1997, so realistically he should be up there. Schnell is a 2000, and Graziano, a 2001. So if you’re looking at it from a scouting point of view, they’d rather scout the younger kids because they have more time to advance and improve.”
HockeyClan: There is a lot more to hockey than just offense and scoring. It’s hard to win if you can’t defend and play goal. What about the defensive side of the Renegades?
Graziano: “As far as defensemen go, you have certain guys. Brian Frister, probably doesn’t have a lot of points but he is arguably one of our top defensemen right now. He is on the ice in every situation. Josh Davis, same thing. I would say those two D are playing the best right now. Our top goaltender would be Jake Lakatos due to his experience, but Tom Fornabia is starting to really play well. Jordan Elisee is a 2001 and the future.”
Through 21 games the Renegades have scored 67 goals while yielding 69, each in the middle of the pack in the EHLP South. If the Renegades can get one or both to improve, they can make a run at climbing the standings. Seven points currently separate them from the Little Flyers in fourth place. They are 10 points from the third-place Philadelphia Revolution, which would avoid the play-in game to reach the semifinals.
The Renegades are next in action this weekend, with a home-and-home against the Jersey Wildcats. Saturday’s game will be at home inside Flemington Ice Arena with face-off set for 5:15 p.m. The Renegades are then Aspen Ice in Randolph on Sunday for the return match at 12 p.m.
Get out to the rink and support the Renegades this weekend. They appreciate your support — and you will appreciate the play on the ice! Look for more EHL and EHLP reports and for the latest, up-to-date standings and league leaders visit ehlpremier.org
Main Image: Nick Graziano. (Photo courtesy of Cliff Graziano)
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