NAHL Weekend Playoff Preview
April 3, 2015
The 2015 NAHL Robertson Cup Playoffs continue this weekend with the other South Division Play-In series facing off, as well as, the Central Division Semi-Finals taking to the ice.
Wichita Falls took a 1-0 lead in their best of three series against the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees with a 4-2 win on Thursday night. Game 2 is set for Friday. If the Wildcats win, they would advance to play Topeka in the South Division Semi-Finals. If the Killer Bees win, it would for a decisive Game 3 in Rio Grande Valley on Monday night.
Central Division Semi-Finals (Best of 5)
#1 Austin Bruins vs. #4 Aberdeen Wings
Game 1: 4/03 - Aberdeen at Austin 7:05pm
Game 2: 4/04 - Aberdeen at Austin 7:05pm
Game 3: 4/10 - Austin at Aberdeen 7:15pm
Game 4: 4/11 - Austin at Aberdeen 7:15pm*
Game 5: 4/17 - Aberdeen at Austin 7:05pm*
The Central Division decided to open their series early with Division champion Austin taking on Aberdeen.
The Bruins (38-11-11 overall) went 5-3 against the Wings (27-3-1-2 overall) in the regular season and head coach Chris Tok said they like to attack with their defense and get out on the open ice. “The big part of their game is they like transition and speed,” Tok said. “They like to create turnovers and jump on you. Our guys have to be aware of that.” The Bruins fought all season for home ice advantage and they’ll have it throughout the NAHL Central Division playoffs. With a 2-2-1 format in the five game series against Aberdeen, the first two games are crucial. “It’s not do or die if we lose one, we’ve got a resilient group,” Tok said. “But you like to take care of businesses in front of your fans.”
The Wings will make their second straight and third overall playoff appearance when the team takes the ice to face Austin in the Central Division semifinals. But despite its past prowess in getting into the offseason, the Wings will be looking to do something this year that it hasn’t been able to do in previous playoff appearances — advance. “It’s a new game,” said Wings head coach Francis Anzalone. “It’s a different style of play now. We learned last year that everything is tighter in the playoffs.” The Wings first made the playoffs in 2012 in the program’s second season, then again in 2014. Both times, the team was ousted in the divisional semifinals by Bismarck, including last season’s 3-0 sweep. This year brings a fresh opponent and, the team hopes, a fresh outcome. “There’s experiences and there’s lessons from last year,” Anzalone said.
Central Division Semi-Finals (Best of 5)
#2 Minot Minotauros vs. #3 Bismarck Bobcats
Game 1: 4/03 - Bismarck at Minot 7:35pm
Game 2: 4/04 - Minot at Bismarck 7:15pm
Game 3: 4/10 - Bismarck at Minot 8:05pm
Game 4: 4/11 - Minot at Bismarck 7:15pm*
Game 5: 4/17 - Bismarck at Minot 7:35pm*
The Minotauros and Bobcats rivalry is as heated as they come, but never have the two met in the crucible of the postseason. That will change Friday night when the Tauros welcome the Bobcats to the Maysa Arena at 7:35 p.m. for Game One of the Central Division Semi-Final. The Tauros earned home ice advantage by virtue of finishing with a 37-17-6 record good for second in the Central Division. The Bobcats meanwhile finished 30-26-4 and in third place. The Tauros won the season series going 7-3-2 against the Bobcats and outscoring them 43-30 over the 12 games.
“There has been a strong rivalry with Minot since they came into the league [in 2011-12],” explained Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie, who enters his fifth straight postseason as the Cats’ bench boss, “but this year it’s jumped to another level and that’s because of the success that the Tauros have had this year under [third year head coach] Marty Murray.” Over the course of the regular season, division-leading scorer Evan Giesler did the most damage for the Cats against Minot; the co-captain lodged five goals and five assists against the Tauros in 11 appearances, also contributing a shootout goal. Minot’s Christian Mohs, who finished second in points on the Tauros, was the top skater in crimson and cream against the Bobcats, piling up 14 points (4g, 10a)—including two shorthanded goals—in the 2014-15 Battle of US-83. Goaltender Atte Tolvanen was an X-factor in the season series, as well, going 5-1-2 with two shutouts in eight appearances for Minot. In net for the Cats, Hunter Shepard went 3-2-0 in five season-series starts while Alex Bitsakis bounced back from losses in his first four appearances against the Tauros with a mark of 2-1-0 in his final three bouts with Minot.
South Division Play-In Series (Best of three)
#5 Wenatchee Wild vs. #4 Corpus Christi Ice Rays
Game 1: 4/03 - Wenatchee at Corpus Christi 7:05pm
Game 2: 4/04 - Wenatchee at Corpus Christi 7:05pm
Game 3: 4/06 - Wenatchee at Corpus Christi 7:05pm*
The IceRays won the season series 4-1-0 over their five-game stretch in the 2014-15 season with their lone loss coming on Jan. 16 in Wenatchee in a 4-1 loss. The IceRays are a perfect 3-0-0 in home games against the Wild and are 4-2-0 in their franchise history. Overall, the IceRays are 21-7-0 in games played at the American Bank Center, while the Wild are 15-14-1 in games played away from Town Toyota Center.
The Wild are entering their seventh-straight season in the Robertson Cup Playoffs, making the postseason every season since joining the North American Hockey League in the 2008-09 season. In six years, the Wild have earned a 36-16-10 record in postseason play along with a 6-6-1 record in the Robertson Cup Finals. Overall, Wenatchee has made two appearances in the Robertson Cup Finals, falling 3-2 in overtime to the St. Louis Bandits in the 2009 Finals and dropping 5-0 to the Amarillo Bulls in the 2013 Finals. They have never owned a losing record in playoff games, and over their last two seasons under head coach Bliss Littler, the Wild are 13-9-1 with a 2-2-0 record in the 2013 Robertson Cup Finals.
IceRays head coach John Becanic is making his first trip to the Robertson Cup Playoffs with the IceRays and fourth in the North American Hockey League. His first trip came back in the 2003 Robertson Cup Playoffs with the Pittsburgh Forge, during which Becanic helped lead his team to not only a Robertson Cup but also a USA Hockey Junior A National Championship. His previous two appearances came with the Wenatchee Wild during the 2011 & 2012 Robertson Cup Playoffs, earning a combined 7-2-6 record both ending in the West Divisional Finals. The IceRays are appearing in their second stint in the Robertson Cup Playoffs since joining the NAHL in the 2010-11 season. In their last appearance, the IceRays fell in the South Division Semifinals 3-1 to the Amarillo Bulls in a best-of-five series.