The Marquette Rangers set a goal for themselves earlier this week, and that was to win all three games on their schedule this weekend and win the North American Hockey League’s (NAHL) North Division title.
The team did just that, ending with Saturday night’s 3-0 shutout over the Janesville Jets to claim its championship at Lakeview Arena.
“It doesn’t even feel real right now,” team captain and forward Garrett Ladd said afterward. “We set this goal at the (NAHL Showcase Tournament) in Blaine (Minn.) and worked all year to make this happen. I was here when we reached bottom two years ago (when the Rangers finished in last place) so to get the title is just an unbelievable feeling.
“I love these guys, I can’t think of a better group to be playing with right now; but we still have a long road to go so we’ll enjoy this tonight and then look forward to next weekend.”
Ladd scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal in the first period, his 23rd of the year on an unassisted effort past Janesville goaltender Matt Wichorek.
Bobby Bodette and Brent Bain added goals in the second and third periods respectively to compliment a 34-save shutout by goaltender Lukas Hafner.
Rangers head coach Kenny Miller said he got exactly what he expected from his No. 2 goalie this weekend after Hafner was called in action for the injured Kevin Kissaw.
“Luke is No. 2 just because of a numbers situation,” the coach said. “We knew he could play at this level all along; the guys believe in him and supported him and he really took advantage of this situation and the opportunity he was presented with.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am for this group of guys,” Miller added. “They’ve worked hard all year, survived some bumps in the road, but, when it came time to get it done, they really stepped up and earned the right to be No. 1 going into the playoffs.”
The Rangers will host the Motor City Metal Jackets this coming weekend at Lakeview Arena, while Janesville will travel to face the No. 2-seed Traverse City at Centre Ice Arena.
Marquette (35-22-1, 71 points) and Traverse City (33-20-5) finished the season tied in overall points, but Marquette won the title the first tie-breaker with more regular-season wins.
ALBERT LEA IN:Despite two losses to the Bismarck Bobcats over the weekend, the Albert Lea Thunder still clinched the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division. The team chasing the Thunder, the North Iowa Outlaws, lost all three of their games over their games over the weekend.
TOPEKA WINS SOUTH: With their two-game sweep over the Springfield Jr. Blues last week, the Topeka RoadRunners won the South Division regular-season title with 93 points, two more than the second-place St. Louis Bandits.