NAHL Robertson Cup Playoff Preview
April 3, 2014
The time has come. The time when all the hard work through the summer workouts, pre-season, long daily practices, off-ice workouts and 60 regular season games is about to pay off it what is known as the NAHL Robertson Cup Playoffs. 16 teams remain for a shot at the oldest junior hockey trophy in the United States, the Robertson Cup.
16 team remain standing for a shot at the Robertson Cup, which is awarded to the national playoff champion of the NAHL. The oldest junior hockey trophy in the United States, the Robertson Cup is named in honor of Chuck Robertson, a pioneer of junior hockey in the NAHL and youth hockey in the state of Michigan. Chuck Robertson was the owner of the Paddock Pools Saints when they won a record seven straight NAHL championships from 1976-83.
All Robertson Cup games can be view live on FASTHockey
With that said, here is a look at the match-ups in the divisional semi-final round (best of 5 series):
#1 Austin Bruins vs. #4 Minot Minotauros – It is a rematch of the Central Division Semi-Finals one year ago when Austin took the best of 5 series, 3-1. The Bruins held a 6-2 edge in the eight games played against one another this season. The two clubs split a weekend series in Minot back on March 7-8. In order to win three games, Minot is going to have to ramp up their offense, as they ranked 22 out of 24 teams in scoring.
#2 Aberdeen Wings vs. #3 Bismarck Bobcats – The Wings finished just one point out of the top spot in the Central and are riding an 11-game winning streak coming into the series and thanks to their 8-3-1 record against the Bobcats this season, everything points to them. However, do not forget that the Bobcats have many veterans who have been here before and that they have won five straight Central Division playoff titles.
#1 Fairbanks Ice Dogs vs. #4 Kenai River Brown Bears – Despite getting swept in Fairbanks during the final regular season weekend of the year, the Brown Bears were one point better than the Coulee Region Chill, and thus made it into the playoffs. Fairbanks, who had 45 wins and the top record in the NAHL during the regular season, owned the Brown Bears during the regular season, beating them 13 out of 16 times. The Ice Dogs also know that if they keep winning, thanks to the new format, the Robertson Cup has to go through Fairbanks
#2 Minnesota Wilderness vs. #3 Wenatchee Wild – The NHL scouts will be flocking to this series to see the match-up between two of the NAHL’s highly-touted goaltenders in Minnesota’s Kasimir Kaskisuo and Wenatchee’s Chase Perry. The Wilderness come into the series one of the hottest teams in the league, having lost only once in regulation in their final 16 games. Despite being the same division, the two teams played one another just once, which was a 2-1 win by the Wild in the second game at the NAHL Showcase in September. At over 1,500 miles apart, it is the longest distance between two clubs matched-up in the division semi-finals.
#1 Port Huron Fighting Falcons vs. #4 Johnstown Tomahawks – Despite being separated in the standings by 19 points, the series between Port Huron and Johnstown couldn’t have been more even, with each club winning six of the 12 games played against one another. Johnstown hits the playoffs on a little bit of a skid, having lost 10 of their last 12 games. The Fighting Falcons have lost just once in regulation in their last nine games. The key to this series may be who each coach decided to go with between the pipes as both clubs had been platooning their goaltenders at the end of the regular seasion
#2 Michigan Warriors vs. #3 Janesville Jets – In what should be one of the better match-ups of the divisional semi-final round, Michigan and Janesville clash with both clubs having played some good hockey in their final five games of the regular season. Janesville won five of the eight games in the series during the regular season. Michigan was one of the best home teams in the league and one of only five clubs to win 20 or more games on home ice. The other question mark for both is who will get the start in goal. While Trevor Gorsuch is the likely candidate for Michigan, the Jets will have a tougher decision between rookie sensation Logan Halladay and veteran Brock Kautz.
#1 Amarillo Bulls vs. #4 Wichita Falls Wildcats – If the series in Amarillo two weeks ago was any indication, fans are in for a treat with the divisional semi-final between the Bulls and Wildcats. Although the Wildcats had just three wins in eight tries against the Bulls during the regular season, all three wins came in Amarillo. And, since winning on the road is key to any successful playoff team, the Wildcats enter the series feeling they have a chance. With the spotlight intensified on the goalies in the playoffs, both teams enter this series with similar situations of having split their goaltending duties all season long. While Bulls goalie Paul Berrafato led Amarillo to the Robertson Cup last season, other goalie Collin Delia has the better stats. On the Wildcats side, both David Zevnik and Chase Munroe have won championships in the years previous to playing in the NAHL.
#2 Topeka RoadRunners vs. #3 Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees – Although they played just four games against one another during the regular season, the numbers favored the RoadRunners who won three of the four contests. Two of the key players for Topeka, forward Tyler Poulsen and goalie PJ Bridges, have been dominant in the series. Topeka enters the series having won five of their last six games and finished just two points out of the top spot in the South. The Killer Bees have won seven of their last nine and have been paced by the emergence of goalie Nick Schmit, who was lights out in the month of March. The series is likely to be low-scoring with an attention to special teams and defense.