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Robertson Cup Semi-Finals Preview

May 8, 2015
The 2015 NAHL Robertson Cup Playoffs continue this weekend with the culmination of the league’s final four teams in the National Semi-Finals. Three of four teams represented (Janesville, Lone Star, Austin) in the Semi-Finals won their divisions during both the regular season and the playoffs and the Bruins are the only team that is making a return trip to the Semi’s for the second straight season.
 
All the action this weekend can be seen live on FASTHockey
 
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Robertson Cup Semi-Final (best of three)
#4 Minnesota Wilderness @ #1 Janesville Jets
Game 1: 5/08 - Wilderness at Janesville, 7:00pm
Game 2: 5/09 - Wilderness at Janesville, 7:00pm
Game 3: 5/11 - Wilderness at Janesville, 7:00pm*
*if necessary
 
The first Semi-Final series in Janesville has plenty of intrigue for a variety of reasons, but first and foremost, it is because of the recent play of the Minnesota Wilderness.  Since falling down 0-2 in their divisional semi-final series against Coulee Region, the Wilderness have won six straight games.  That included three straight against the Chill to win the series, 3-2 and then a sweep of defending champion Fairbanks, which included a Game 3 win in Fairbanks last Friday. The series with Janesville is also intriguing because the Wilderness come into the series with a high-scoring offense. Darian Romanko leads the playoffs with 17 points, Aaron Miller is tied for 2nd with 13 points and Dan Litchke is tied with the most goals with seven. On the other hand, there are the top-ranked Jets, who are at home and also feature three of the top six scorers in the playoffs in Mitch Fossier, Dan Kucerovy and Drew Calling.  So with all this offense, the series is bound to be an offensive shootout, right?  Maybe not, because the series also features two hot goalies in Wilderness netminder Brock Kautz and Jets netminder Matt Jurusik. The series. Kautz has been in goal for the six straight wins and in a twist of irony, is going back to his former home of Janesville, where he played for the Jets for the better part of three seasons from 2011-14. In the stretch of six straight wins, Kautz has allowed just 11 goals. Jurusik was the league’s top netminder during the regular season and has carried that play into the playoffs. The Jets Game 3 loss to the Soo was the first time that Kautz actually lost a game since November 22nd, a remarkable stat. So, this weekend could also be a battle of two hot goalies and the series could turn defensive. The Jets know if they win, the will host the Robertson Cup next weekend. As the lowest seed of the four teams remaining, the Wilderness know they are on the road from here on out. Something will have to give, but in a three-game series, anything is possible because a player stealing a game (and maybe the series) is entirely possible.
 
Robertson Cup Semi-Final (best of three)
#3 Austin Bruins @ #2 Lone Star Brahmas
Game 1: 5/08 - Austin at Lone Star, 7:30pm
Game 2: 5/09 - Austin at Lone Star, 7:30pm
Game 3: 5/10 - Austin at Lone Star, 5:30pm*
*if necessary
 
The Bruins are the only team returning to the semi-finals for a second straight season, so this is not unfamiliar territory, although this year’s group is mostly players who weren’t a part of last year’s run.  Last season, the Bruins went into the South champion’s home (Topeka) and won on the road, so they have done it before.  But, the Brahmas will have the NYTEX Centre rocking with fans and it is a tough place to win, as Lone Star boasted the best home record in the league. The Bruins are coming off a hard Game 5 win over Minot to win the Central, while the Brahmas dispatched Topeka to win the South in four games. Scoring has been hard to come by for the Brahmas in the playoffs, who have just 19 goals in seven games. The Brahmas have won with defense and goaltending, particularly that of Jake Kupsky. Conversely, the Bruins have gotten to this point with offense, scoring 33 goals in eight games. 16 players have scored at least a goal in the playoffs, meaning that the offense is incredibly balanced and strikes could come from anywhere. A big question for the Bruins is who they will start in goal. Jake Kielly got the start in Game 5 against Minot and played well, holding the fort in a late game surge by the Minotauros to preserve the win. Evan Smith has also seen stretches of playoff time, so Chris Tok has a decision to make and since it is only a three-game series, goaltending will be key in this series.  The Brahmas are also waiting for some of their top offensive guns to get going. However, there is little doubt that for as much offense as the other series may provide, this series with Austin and Lone Star will be a good, old-fashioned physical war.  Each team loves to play physical and had more than 1,000 penalty minutes during the regular season. The Brahmas are going to need to stay out of the box because Austin’s power play has been deadly in the post-season. Both teams also know that winning the series combined with a Wilderness win in the other series would mean a chance to host the Robertson Cup next weekend.
 
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