The Alexandria Blizzard, St. Louis Bandits and Topeka RoadRunners advanced to the divisional finals of the North American Hockey League’s (NAHL) Robertson Cup Playoffs with victories in their respective semifinals series on Saturday night.
Down 0-2 in their South Division semifinals series with the Texas Tornado, the Bandits rallied to win three straight games, including the decisive Game 5 in overtime, 3-2.
“Texas deserves a ton of credit for the effort they put forth the entire series,” said Bandits assistant coach Rocky Russo. “(Tornado head coach) Tony (Curtale) did an excellent job of preparing his team.”
Defenseman Grant Gettinger scored for St. Louis in the extra session, with forwards Chris Ciotti and Jordan Bourgonje notching the other two Bandits goals. Between the pipes, goaltender Tyler Bruggeman made 17 saves.
“Our staff is extremely proud of our team’s effort, and we’re looking forward to a great division final series,” Russo added.
The Bandits will take on Topeka in the South Division finals after the RoadRunners ended the Springfield Jr. Blues’ season with a 4-3 win in Game 4 of their semifinals series.
"Springfield is a dangerous team and they forced us to play our best hockey in order to advance," said RoadRunners head coach Scott Langer. "Our guys responded well to the challenge after losing Game 1."
Cole Schneider, a University of Connecticut (Atlantic Hockey) recruit, recorded his second hat trick in as many nights, including the game-winning goal, and Air Force Academy (Atlantic Hockey)-bound Tony Thomas chipped in a goal and an assist in the victory. Evan Karambelas stopped 35 shots in goal for Topeka.
"There's no question the road to the Robertson Cup goes through St. Louis," Langer added. "They're a well-coached and skilled team. We'll need to maintain a high level of of focus and execution to advance to the finals."
In the Central, the Alexandria Blizzard advanced to the divisional finals with a 5-2 win over the Owatonna Express in Game 4 of their series.
Forward Simon Cederborg-Nilsson connected for a goal and three assists in the victory, and forwards Alex Altenbernd (game-winning goal, two assists) and Steve Zierke (two goals, assists) each delivered three-points nights. In goal, Robert Tadazak turned back 24 shots.
"We're very proud of the guys and what they've done so far," said Blizzard assistant coach Jeff Crouse. "With the slow start and climbing back up the standings in the Central and now winning the first round-series, we couldn't be happier with our progress."
The Blizzard will face off against the Bismarck Bobcats, who swept the Albert Lea Thunder in their semifinals series, in the Central Division finals.
"We're going into Bismarck with confidence and we know that we're going to have to put our best hockey together for this series," said Crouse. "We know it's 0-0 right now and our guys have the right mindset and attitude to get it done."