Six North American Hockey League (NAHL) teams - the Bismarck Bobcats, Fairbanks Ice Dogs, Motor City Metal Jackets, Texas Tornado, Traverse City North Stars and Wenatchee Wild - jumped out to 2-0 leads in their respective best-of-five Robertson Cup Playoffs divisional semifinal series with victories on Saturday (April 3).
Forward Anthony Coles struck for his second game-winning goal in as many nights as the No. 4-seeded Motor City Metal Jackets downed the North Division regular-season champion Marquette Rangers, 2-1. Forward John Scorcia notched the other Motor City goal, and netminder Jason Torf turned aside 44 shots.
Goaltender Drew Strandberg stopped all 18 shots he faced and forward Doug Clifford connected for two goals, including the game-winner, as the Traverse City North Stars (No. 2) blanked the Janesville Jets (No. 3) in the other North Division semis, 4-0.
Strandberg has allowed just one goal in the first two games of the series, boasting a miniscule 0.50 goals-against average and robust .977 save percentage.
“Hey, it’s the playoffs, and you need to have a guy making those big saves,” North Stars head coach Anthony Palumbo said. “Any team that has experienced playoff success has done so getting solid goaltending, and Drew’s making those big saves for us right now.”
In the South, the Texas Tornado, the No. 3 seed in the division, took a 2-0 series lead over the No. 2-seeded St. Louis Bandits after its 3-1 triumph. Forwards James Howard, Shane Sooth (game-winner) and Jack Prince put home the Tornado goals, and goaltender Dan Sullivan steered aside 30 shots.
Forwards Aaron Quick and Ryan Jacobson - both Air Force Academy (Atlantic Hockey) recruits - each rang up a pair of goals as the Central Division regular-season champion Bismarck Bobcats took a 2-0 series lead over the No. 4-seeded Albert Lea Thunder with an 8-2 win. In goal for Bismarck, Jake Williams stopped 17 shots.
“We weren’t happy at all with how we played in the first period, despite the (2-1) lead,” said Quick. “We didn’t match their intensity out of the gate, but when we did, things really took off for us.”
Air Force recruit Ryan Timar, a forward, rang up the game-winning goal and an assist as the NAHL regular-season champion Wild skated to a 5-2 win over the No. 4-seeded Kenai River Brown Bears in Game 2 of their West Division semis. Goaltender Brandon Jaeger made 15 saves for the Wild.
In the other West semis, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs (No. 3) opened up a 2-0 series lead with a 6-4 victory over the Alaska Avalanche (No. 2). Six different players scored for the Ice Dogs, with forward Mark Pustin, a University of Alaska-Anchorage (WCHA) recruit, picking up a goal and an assist. Between the pipes, Joe Phillippi turned back 30 shots.
Forward Bryce Johnson and defenseman Jeff Burke each put home a goal and an assist as the South Division regular-season champion Topeka RoadRunners downed the Springfield Jr. Blues, the No. 4 seed, 7-2, to even their series at one game apiece. Goaltender Eric Rohrkemper made 16 saves for Topeka.
The Alexandria Blizzard (No. 3) evened its Central Division semifinals series with the Owatonna Express (No. 2) at one game apiece with a 3-2 victory. Defenseman Billy Miller connected for the game-winning marker in the third period, and goaltender Robert Tadazak made 23 saves.