NAHL Weekend Playoff Preview
April 24, 2015
The 2015 NAHL Robertson Cup Playoffs continue this weekend as just eight teams remain in the quest for the Cup. This weekend will mark the start of the Division Finals in all four divisions. All four series will have Games 1 and 2 on Friday and Saturday night, so the action will be front and center for NAHL fans.
To date, the playoffs have pretty much gone according to form. The Soo Eagles, who finished one point out of 2nd place during the regular season, are the lone team that isn’t a #1 or #2 seed that remains in the mix. The Minnesota Wilderness were the lone team that was pushed to the maximum five games in the divisional semi-final round, as they became the first team since the 2009-10 St. Louis Bandits to come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a five-game series.
There are plenty of story lines heading into the Division Finals, so let’s have a look at each one of them:
Central Division Finals (best of five)
#1 Austin Bruins vs. #2 Minot Minotauros
Game 1, 4/24 - Minot at Austin 7:05pm
Game 2, 4/25 - Minot at Austin 7:05pm
Game 3, 5/01 - Austin at Minot 7:35pm
Game 4, 5/02 - Austin at Minot 7:35pm*
Game 5, 5/04 - Minot at Austin 7:05pm*
Each team breezed through their respective division semi-final series with 3-0 sweeps and hasn’t played a game in almost two weeks. So, players should be well rested and like caged lions, who are ready to be let loose for a spot in the Robertson Cup Semis. Despite winning the division in the regular season, Austin had big problems with Minot during the year as the Minotauros won all four games during the regular season. Three of those wins were in a shootout and one was a shutout, which simply tells you that Minot goalie Atte Tolvanen was the difference. Tolvaven, who was just named the Central Division MVP and Goalie of the Year, allowed just four goals in the series with Bismarck and is playing some of his best hockey of the year. However, the Bruins offense clicked in their series sweep over Aberdeen, scoring 16 goals in the three wins. Bruins defenseman Liam Feeney had five points in the three wins to lead the Bruins. James Mathias, who also had five points in the three wins, leads Minot in scoring so far in the playoffs.
Midwest Division Finals (best of five)
#1 Fairbanks Ice Dogs vs. #2 Minnesota Wilderness
Game 1, 4/24 - Fairbanks at Wilderness 7:05pm
Game 2, 4/25 - Fairbanks at Wilderness 7:05pm
Game 3, 5/01 - Wilderness at Fairbanks 7:30pm
Game 4, 5/02 - Wilderness at Fairbanks 7:30pm*
Game 5, 5/03 - Wilderness at Fairbanks 5:00pm*
After Games 1 and 2, the Wilderness were pushed to the brink of elimination in their series with Coulee Region, but in Games 3-5 the Wilderness offense woke up to score 23 goals in three straight wins to claim the series. The four-game season series was split between the two clubs, with both winning on home ice. However, the teams haven’t faced one another since November 1st. Minnesota Wilderness forward Aaron Miller had 10 points in the division semi-final series. Meanwhile, Fairbanks swept their series with the Minnesota Magicians, 3-0 and have been getting some rest and practicing in Minneapolis this past week. Eight different players scored in the series against the Magicians and goalie Patrick Munson played in two of the wins, allowing just a goal. Although it sounds like a broken record, this series may come down to goaltending and who can keep the puck out of the net. Can the Wilderness keep their high-powered offense of the last three games going? If Fairbanks can find a way to win at least one of the two games in Cloquet and head back to Fairbanks with at least a split, then Game 3-5 will be on home ice for the defending champs.
North Division Finals (best of five)
#1 Janesville Jets vs. #3 Soo Eagles
Game 1, 4/24 - Soo at Janesville 7:00pm
Game 2, 4/25 - Soo at Janesville 7:00pm
Game 3, 5/01 - Janesville at Soo 7:30pm
Game 4, 5/02 - Janesville at Soo 7:30pm*
Game 5, 5/04 - Soo at Janesville 7:00pm*
Judging by the semi-final series for both clubs, the North Finals will boil down to a couple things if the Soo Eagles hope to upset the Janesville Jets. First, the Eagles have to prevent the Jets scoring spurts. In their series with Michigan, the Jets had periods in which they scored six goals, five goals and three goals. Quick-strike scoring like that is a momentum-buster and in a five-game series, almost certain doom. The Jets are also 10 for 15 on the power play so far in the playoffs so the Eagles have to stay out of the box. Finally, the Eagles will have to get another outstanding series from goalie Chad Catt. In the series sweep of Keystone, Catt stopped 104 of a possible 106 shots. If those numbers continue in this series, the Eagles stand a good chance of upsetting the Jets. The Jets won 10 of the 12 match-ups during the regular season, but the Eagles claimed a win in Janesville during the last game the team’s played there in early March. The Jets know if they keep winning, they keep hosting series. The usual suspects were awesome for the Jets in their sweep of Michigan as Brandon Schultz, Cullen Munson and Zach LaValle all had six points.
South Division Finals (best of five)
#1 Lone Star Brahmas vs. #2 Topeka RoadRunners
Game 1, 4/24 - Topeka at Lone Star 7:30pm
Game 2, 4/25 - Topeka at Lone Star 7:30pm
Game 3, 5/01 - Lone Star at Topeka 7:05pm
Game 4, 5/02 - Lone Star at Topeka 7:05pm*
Game 5, 5/04 - Topeka at Lone Star 7:00pm*
The Lone Star vs. Topeka series promises to be one full of talent across the board. That talent starts in goal with the display of two NCAA Division I-bound goalies in Matej Tomek for Topeka and Jake Kupsky for Lone Star. Kupsky was the more impressive of the two in the division semi-finals, as he allowed just three goals on 103 shots in a series sweep of Wenatchee. Tomek got the job done against Wichita Falls, and although he did not put up the eye-popping numbers like Kupsky did, he did enough to help the RoadRunners advance, including two big wins on the road in Games 3 and 4. Each team won four games during the eight-game series during the regulation. For the Brahmas, a series win would guarantee a home series for the Robertson Cup Semi-Finals. All the numbers tell us that this series will be a defensive battle, but both teams are loaded with offensive playmakers, which makes one believe the exact opposite could happen. If goaltending isn’t the difference, then special teams may be as Topeka’s power play has been great, but penalty kill has struggled, while Lone Star had the opposite problem in their series with Wenatchee.