NAHL Mid-Season Report: Central and South
December 29, 2014
The midway point of the NAHL 2014-15 regular season is here. The NAHL Mid-Season reports goes division-by-division and team-by-team to take a look at how each team has fared to date and the potential for success during the second half of the season. There are some surprises as both ends of the spectrum and also some teams who continue their track record of success from season to season.
Minot Minotauros (1st place, 20-8-3, 43 pts.)
A year ago, the Minotauros were towards the bottom of the division because they had trouble finding the back of the net. This season, they have a top 8 offense and even a better defense to match. They are one of only four teams in the NAHL with 20 wins to date. Serious consideration for Coach of the Year should be given to Marty Murray given the Minotauros turnaround. Their special teams are much better and they have a potential Rookie of the Year in forward Blake Lizotte. Goalie Atte Tolvanen has played well and ranks tied for 2nd in the NAHL with 15 wins. Minot needs to keep doing the same exact thing they have been doing to try and secure a division title and at least home ice in the 1st round of the playoffs. They are the league’s best team on the road, something that made bode well for the remainder of the season and playoff success.
Austin Bruins (2nd place, 17-7-8, 42 pts.)
A Robertson Cup finalist from a year ago, this year has been anything but a rebuilding year for the Bruins, who jumped out to a fast start. That good play has continued recently with the Bruins posting a 7-0-1 record in their last eight games. Austin is tied for the second fewest regulation losses in the NAHL with seven, but leads the league in overtime/shootout losses with eight. Forward Trevor Boyd is having a breakout season and ranks in the Top 10 in NAHL goals with 14. Tony Uglum has been a nice mid-season addition to the line-up and defenseman Ian Scheid ranks 2nd among NAHL defensemen in goals with nine so far this season. The key for the Bruins has been their penalty kill, which is currently best in the NAHL. Jake Kielly is now the main man in goal and if the Bruins can secure home ice for the playoffs and keep playing strong defense, then their chances of repeating as Central Division Champions looks good.
Bismarck Bobcats (3rd place, 16-15-1, 33 pts.)
The Bobcats are a top 10 team in the league offensively and have had no problem scoring, but in order to climb the standings, they need to improve in a couple of areas. Bismarck ranks 18th in goals against per game at 3.22 and they are also under .500 at home, a place they normally are very good. Alex Bitsakis, who was the NAHL Goalie of the Month in October, has played very well for the most part, but has given up 25 goals in his last seven games. Forward Cullen Willox has been everything and more offensively for Bismarck, as he leads the team in scoring with 31 points and has had a very good month of December. Third-year forward Evan Gielser ranks tied for 2nd in the NAHL with 18 goals to date. Defensemen Tony German and Tanner Salsberry have been a solid 1-2 punch along the blueline. The Bobcats start the second half nine points back of Austin for 2nd place, but are also in firm playoff position. The Bobcats can never be counted out when it comes to contending for the Central crown, but their success at home has to improve.
Aberdeen Wings (4th place, 14-16-2, 30 pts.)
The Wings jumped out to a 6-2 record, but have recently gone ice-cold, having dropped eight of their last nine games. Statistically, one can point to a lack of offense as the reason why, as the Wings rank 21st in the NAHL with just 2.44 goals for per game. In their last 11 games heading into the break, the Wings have just 26 goals scored. Third-year NAHL forward Kyle Haak leads the team in scoring with 26 points and Bemidji State recruit Michael Soucier leads the club with 10 goals. Contributions from the blue line have been hard to come by, as Tanner Okeson is the only defensemen on the team in double-digits with 13 points. Both goalies Andrew Shortridge and Chat Catt have sub 3.00 goals against averages, but also have sub 91% save percentages. The Wings are the least penalized team in the NAHL. In the second half, the Wings have to improve at home, as their four wins at the Odde Ice Center to date is the lowest home total in the NAHL.
Brookings Blizzard (5th place, 10-14-5, 25 pts.)
Despite it being mostly a rebuilding year under new head coach Dan Daikawa, the Blizzard remain in striking distance for a playoff spot in the Central Division. The Blizzard are towards the middle of the pack in both goals for and goals against and forward Beau Michaud has been a bright spot as he is among the NAHL leaders in scoring with 33 points in 28 games. Second-year NAHL forward Zach Glienke has been a nice addition from Topeka and former NA3HL forward Joe Anderson is also having a solid season. Defensemen Alex Copa and Joe Nathe have both contributed from the blueline. The addition of 16-year-old goalie Ryan Kubic has given the Blizzard good depth in goal along with Eric Hancock. Kubic has posted a sparking 92.6% save percentage to date. With just five wins at home, the Blizzard have to become a better home team in the second half. The key for the Blizzard making the playoffs will be having success in their 11 combined games remaining against Aberdeen and Bismarck, including four straight against the Bobcats in January.
Topeka RoadRunners (1st place, 24-6-3, 51 pts.)
The timing of Topeka’s sweep this past weekend against Wichita Falls, couldn’t have come at a better time for the RoadRunners, who lead the NAHL with 24 wins and 51 points. The RoadRunners have followed a very simple and effective formula of playing good defense first, which then translates into a high-scoring offense. The RoadRunners are 2nd in the NAHL in goals against at 2.09, thanks in part to their rising star in goalie Matej Tomek, who leads the league in goals against average and shutouts. Up front, Jasen Fernsler, Daniel Rzavsky and Sly Sutter all are in double digits in goals and MSU-Mankato recruit Daniel Brickley is tied for 2nd among NAHL defensemen in scoring with 24 points. However, the biggest reason behind Topeka’s success is that they have the league’s best power play and with a 17-1-1 at Landon Arena, they are have the most home wins of anyone in the league. With their division lead now at nine points, if the RoadRunners continue to win at home and boast the league’s best power play, they are the favorite to win the South and make a deep run towards the Robertson Cup because all the pieces are there.
Wichita Falls Wildcats (2nd place-tie, 21-7-0, 42 points)
Despite having been swept in Topeka this past weekend, the Wildcats remain one of the league’s best teams so far this season. Like many of their South Division counterparts who are towards the top of the standings, the Wildcats have done it thanks to success at home. With a 13-2 record at the Kay Yeager Coliseum and a South Division-high eight wins on the road so far, it is easy to see why the Wildcats are one of the league’s best teams. The Wildcats have done all this under new head coach John LaFontaine, who has made the Wildcats the #1 offensive team in the NAHL. The Wildcats lead the league with 4.14 goals per game thanks to the likes of a balanced offensive attack from forwards Austin Beaulieu, Colin Staub, Kevin Charyszyn and Max Reisinger, just to name a few. The Wildcats have also gotten significant contributions along the blueline from Matt Koch, Cam Knight and Jake Townsend. Like so many of the successful teams in the NAHL they also have a good 1-2 punch in net with Austin Shaw and David Zevnik, who have almost identical statistics. 12 of their next 16 games are at home and with only 28 games played to date, the Wildcats still have their sights set on the top spot in the South.
Lone Star Brahmas (2nd place-tie, 20-8-2, 42 points)
What a difference a year makes for the Lone Star Brahmas. A season ago, the Brahmas got off to a late start in building their team and ended up missing the playoffs. This season, there is reason to believe that not only will Lone Star make the playoffs, but they are a contender for the South title. Head coach Dan Wildfong has turned the club into one of one of the most explosive in the league thanks to some top-notch talent on the roster. That includes forward Sebastian Vidmar, who leads the NAHL in goals with 20 and is tied for the scoring lead with 43 points. It is also a testament to the talent that is on the Brahmas roster this season. A year ago, the Brahmas had no NCAA DI commitments, but this season they already have five including forwards Vidmar (Union), AJ Vanderbeck (Colorado College), Ludvig Larsson (Merrimack) and goalie Jake Kupsky (Union). Statistically, the Brahmas 16-1 home record is the best in the NAHL and they rank 3rd in least goals allowed per game at just 2.10. Seven of Lone Star’s next 10 games will be at home, with a key road series in Topeka sandwiched in the middle. The key for the Brahmas will be trying secure both a bye and home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
Corpus Christi IceRays (4th place, 16-10-4, 36 points)
With 36 points, the IceRays are firmly entrenched in the 4th spot in the South, both six points behind 2nd/3rd place and six points ahead of 5th place. The IceRays have been an anomaly so far this season. Like their South counterparts head of them (Topeka, Wichita Falls and Lone Star), the IceRays have been great at home, posting a 16-2 record so far this season on home ice. However, the real point of wonderment is the fact that the IceRays are winless on the road so far this season, having lost all 12 of their road games. The 30 games remaining in the schedule, and 18 of those on the road, it is a point of concern for the IceRays moving forward. The IceRays have had many bright spots so far this season. The have five players with 10 goals or more, including forward We Michaud, who is 3rd in NAHL scoring with 38 points to date. Defenseman Anthony Cortese leads all NAHL defensemen in scoring with 29 points and a league-high 10 goals. Forwards Tanner Tomsnes, Ryan Cusin and Nic Laburn all have scored at least 10 goals this season. Both goalies have save percentages under 91% and one has to think that in order for the IceRays to climb the standings and have playoff success, that number will have to improve. The IceRays have multiple series against both Lone Star and Wichita Falls, which will provide an opportunity to gain ground on 2nd/3rd place.
Wenatchee Wild (5th place, 12-15-5, 29 points)
The Wild got off to a poor start, winning four of their first 16 games, but thanks to a good stretch in November and early December, the Wild have moved into 5th place. Wenatchee was two games above .500 on December 7th, but have since dropped their last five games heading into the holiday break. They key for the Wild entering the second half will be how they navigate their first few weekends in January, which are stocked full of difficult games, including road weekends at Topeka, at Lone Star and at Fairbanks. Although Wenatchee is in the middle of the pack in terms of goals for and goals against, they have struggled on the power play, ranking 22nd in the league at just 12.8%. Forward Jake Ahlgren leads the team in scoring with 21 points and 10 goals. Brendan Harris and Stevie Bryant haven’t played in all of Wenatchee’s games, but have both had solid season’s to date. Thanks to the addition of Chris Jones, the Wild got some much need scoring along their blueline and goalie Zach Quinn has put up some very good numbers since coming over from Kenai River. With six teams making the playoffs in the South, the Wild’s chances are good to be in the post-season, but the key will be trying to secure the 3rd or 4th seed in order not to be on the road during the first series.
Amarillo Bulls (6th place-tie, 11-15-3, 25 pts.)
It hasn’t been the type of season that the Bulls and new head coach Jon Rogger have expected thus far. The Bulls, who have won at least 36 games in each of their four seasons to date in the NAHL, have just 11 wins to date. However, a 4-1-1 record in their last six games heading into the break has the Bulls optimistic about the second half of the season. Arizona State recruit Cody Gylling leads the team with 12 goals and 20 points and defenseman Kasper Emanuelsson has been a bright spot along the blueline with 16 points, which ranks 2nd on the team. Will Harrison has been almost a point-per-game producer since his addition in late October and the more recent additions of Luke Novak, Joe Leonidas and Trent Dillinger have also paid off. However, defensively, the Bulls have to get better in the second half. They are allowing 3.76 goals per game, which ranks 22nd in the NAHL and both goalies Anton Martinsson and Jacob Weatherly have sub 90% save percentages. At this point, the Bulls just want to get into the playoffs, but they will be tested right off the bat in the second half with two series against Wichita Falls and a key series in Rio Grande Valley.
Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees (6th place-tie, 10-15-5, 25 pts.)
The Killer Bees opened the season with a very respectable 7-5-3 record through the first two months of the season, but it has been more of a struggle recently. In the 15 games since, the Killer Bees have just three wins. That has dropped them to a tie for 6th place in the standings, with the playoffs now in question. The mid-season acquisition of defenseman Wayland Williams from Amarillo has been a shot in the arm for blueline production for the Killer Bees because it has been sparse this season. Other than Williams, the seven top scorers are all forwards. Kyle Stephan, Parker Wood and Anthony Croston have all crossed the 20-point barrier, but Rio Grande Valley still does not have a player in double-digits in goals. They are one of only three teams in the NAHL who has such a statistic. The Killer Bees have five wins on the road this season, which ranks 3rd in the South Division. The special teams needs to improve for the second half as the team is ranked 21st on the power play and 22nd on the penalty kill. The opportunity to climb the standings will present itself right away as 10 of the team’s next 16 games are at home.
Odessa Jackalopes (8th place, 8-21-4, 20 pts.)
Maybe no team has had a more topsy-turvy first half of the season than the Odessa Jackalopes. After posting 15 wins a season ago, optimism was high for this year under head coach Greg Gatto, who took the full-time reigns. A 4-4 start was favorable for the Jackalopes, who have been one of the better offensive teams in the league this season. Odessa is stacked with NCAA-bound talent with seven players in the line-up that have Division I commitments. Offensively, Kenny Hausinger (Sacred Heart), Derek Brown (Niagara), Razmuz Waxin-Engback and Alex Alger (Miami) all have at least 22 points and 10 goals or more and the Jackalopes have three defensemen Christian Hausinger (Sacred Heart), Andrew McLean and Lane Valimont all with 13 points or more. So what is the problem? Team defense. The Jackalopes are last in the NAHL is goals against per game at 4.34. They are also on their fourth goalie of the season, but they may have found the solution in Tanner Creel, who last played for Army in the NCAA. The bottom line for Odessa is, because six teams make the playoffs in the South, the post-season is well within reach, but wins have to come now. Getting through the next three weeks of all road games will be crucial because after that, Odessa is home for 17 of the next 19 games.