#USPHLPlayoffs: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights vs. Jersey Hitmen

Atlantic Division 

Jersey Hitmen (4) at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights (1)

All Games to Be Played At Revolution Ice Centre, Pittston, PA

Friday, March 8, 7:30 p.m. EST

Saturday, March 9, 3:45 p.m. EST

Sunday, March 10, 3:45 p.m. EST (If Necessary) 


By Joshua Boyd / USPHLElite.com 


The Knights have some unfinished business, to say the least. They went all the way to the Elite National Championship Game, and nothing was decided after 60 minutes. Or 80 minutes. 

The Carolina Jr. Hurricanes eventually ended the game 29 seconds into the second overtime, but the Knights had fully arrived as a league power to be reckoned with. 

Joining the Knights at the 2023 Nationals were the Jersey Hitmen, who reached the semifinal where they were defeated by WBS, 3-2. But that was after the Hitmen defeated the higher-seeded Florida Eels and Charlotte Rush in the round robin portion of the Nationals. And that was also after the Hitmen survived being on the verge of elimination in the division playoffs, defeating the former New York Aviators, two games to one.

So it all comes down to this weekend, where only one of last year’s Elite Atlantic Division representatives will be moving on to Nationals. 

“We are excited at the opportunity our team earned,” said Knights First-Year Head Coach Jason Zaleski. “Having home ice for playoffs is something we are proud of. We have worked all season to prepare for the playoffs!” 

Veteran Hitmen Head Coach Jim Raymond talked about how his team should be in a good position to make life especially tough for the Knights, having improved over the year. 

“We had a rough start. It took us some time to come together as a group. Wins were tough to come by early on, but in late December/early January we went on a 9-1-1-0 heater that helped secure a playoff position,” said Raymond. “During that time we were fortunate enough to beat all of the top teams from our division and others from the southern divisions while at the USPHL Tampa Showcase.”

One big mountain for the Hitmen to climb is seen in the Knights themselves, as WBS nearly swept the season series by finishing at 6-1-0-0. The Hitmen won their lone game in a breakout 7-4 victory on Dec. 17, part of that 9-1-1-0 run that bridged 2023 and 2024. 

“WBS is a very good team, well coached and well managed. You don’t finish in first place in the division by not being ready and prepared,” Raymond said. “I anticipate the series will be hard-fought, and the Nationals berth well-earned. We’re the underdogs for sure, but if we stick to the plan and get some puck luck you never know what could happen. I wouldn’t be surprised if the series went all three games.”

Knights GM Dominick Manochio also knows that with the stakes of the series raised, his team will also have to raise its level of play to push past an always feisty Hitmen team. 

“Our team has continued to grow throughout the season. Winning our third division title in three years [of existence], we feel we are hitting our stride at the right time,” said Manochio. “Every game in our division is a battle, and that was evident as playoff seeding came down to the final few games. We know the Hitmen will be prepared, but our group is determined, and regardless of who we play, the ‘Wilkes Wagon’ will be going full steam ahead.”

Offensive leaders for the Knights include one of last year’s prime movers in Jason DiMatteo. He rejoined the Knights in January and posted a 13-10-23 line in 12 games to close out the regular season. Tyler Hamlin was the wire-to-wire offensive leader this year, with 42 points in 42 games, while William Prange was always strong with 36 points in 37 games. In goal, the Knights got a great year out of Elite veteran Chase Ebeyer (10-4-0-1, .917 save percentage), while Andrew Zang has been spectacular in his nine games with a 7-1-0-0 record and a .949 save percentage. 

The Hitmen are led offensively by Patrick Devaney (58 points in 42 games) and Aleksandr Gorbushin (40 points in 36 games), along with a later infusion of offense from December signee Lucas Infusino (23 points in 12 games). Christopher Kobayashi led the defense with 28 points in 40 games. In net, Jonathan Hager (11 wins) and Thomas Tedeschi (eight wins) mostly split the starts on the year.