The stage is set for the Central Division finals of the Robertson Cup Playoffs, as the Coulee Region Chill and defending Robertson Cup champion Bismarck Bobcats won their respective semifinals series.
For the Bobcats, it took all five games to take down the division’s regular-season champion Alexandria Blizzard - a team it went a meager 2-8-2 against during the regular season.
After dropping Game 1 of the series, the Bobcats rebounded with a critical win in Game 2 on the road, followed by victories in Game 3 and Game 5.
“The big thing for us was being able to rebound (in Game 2) in Alexandria,” said Bobcats head coach Layne Sedevie. “I think it gave the guys a lot of confidence taking the series back home tied 1-1.”
He might have flown under the radar for much of the regular season, but Danny Ray stepped to the forefront in the Alexandria series. The defenseman led the Bobcats in scoring, notching five points on four assists in the four games.
“Danny’s quietly been one of our best defensemen all year long,” said Sedevie. “He’s very skilled and has really stepped up his play lately.”
Matthew Gates, the team’s scoring leader in the regular season, carried his solid play into the playoffs with three goals and an assist, while goaltender Tommy Burke impressed to the tune of two wins while fashioning a stingy 1.71 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage for the series.
“Matt’s been very good for us all year long, and Tommy was awesome for us; both goaltenders (along with St. Cloud State University recruit Ryan Faragher, who delivered a clutch 45-save performance in Game 5) were a big part of our success in the series,” said Sedevie.
Even though the Chill wrapped up its semifinals series against the Owatonna Express in four games, it was also tightly contested with three of those games decided by one goal, including two overtime victories by the Chill.
After losing Game 1, 2-1, Coulee Region rebounded to win the next three games of the series.
“We played well in our defensive zone, limited quality shots and got solid goaltending from both (Air Force Academy recruit Paul) Moberg and (Aaron) Davis,” said Chill head coach Garrett Strot. “I thought our guys were quick on the puck in every zone and did a good job getting back and limiting Owatonna’s chances off the rush, which is where they’re very dangerous.”
Forward Zac Frischmon, a recent Mercyhurst College recruit, picked up right where he left off in the regular season scoring four goals, including both overtime game-winners, and two assists in the four games.
“Zac played his game, and it was no surprise he got the two OT winners,” said Strot. “He’s the ultimate competitor and the type of player who never gives up on a shift. His teammates feed off of his work ethic and determination.”
Berkley Scott also impressed against the Express. Not only did the forward strike for a goal and two assists, he also contributed a number of intangibles.
“He played some of his best hockey,” said Strot. “He was an influence at both ends of the ice with his physical play and by blocking shots.”
Davis led the charge between the pipes, winning all three of his starts to put an explanation point on his dominance over Owatonna this season with a 6-0 mark.
“Aaron really stepped up for us,” said Strot. “He controlled his rebounds and played with confidence.”
And although Coulee Region held a 4-2-1 record over Bismarck in the regular season, both coaches are expecting another competitive series.
“Coulee Region has a very solid hockey team,” said Sedevie. “They have very skilled forwards along with good defense and good goaltending. I think it’ll be a very good series and a great battle.”
“Bismarck, again, will be a tough series,” added Strot. “They’re very tough defensively with very good goaltending. I expect it to be a lot like the Owatonna series with every game going down to the last minute.”