North Iowa wins Central Division crown
In only their third season in the NAHL, the North Iowa Outlaws can make room for their first banner in the North Iowa Ice Arena as they pinned down the Central Division’s regular-season title last weekend with two wins over the Springfield Jr. Blues.
“It’s been a process,” said Outlaws coach Dave Boitz. “We’ve gotten better and better over the years and we feel good about where we’re at. In three years, to win the division is great and, as a organization, we’re thrilled.”
The Outlaws got their weekend started with a 3-1 triumph on Friday. Bryant Skarda tallied two goals in the win, with Joe Harcharik netting the game-winner. Between the pipes, Robby Moss turned back 36 shots.
Alex Carlson’s third-period goal lifted North Iowa to a 2-1 victory over the Jr. Blues on Saturday. Krystian Dziubinski struck for the other Outlaws tally, while Moss made 32 saves.
“This season has been right on track with what we expected,” said Boitz, whose team improved to 35-13-4 on the season. “With the talent we had coming back and our successful tender and draft class, we knew we could compete, but we aren't done yet; our ultimate goal is to win the (Robertson) Cup and we feel we’re on track to do that.”
The Outlaws, who have been hampered by injuries for the better part of the season, have finally been given a clean bill of health at the most important time of the year.
“That makes a big difference,” said Boitz. “We’ve had key guys out since Christmas and now we’re back to our normal selves.”
One important piece of the puzzle who spent some time on the shelf was Moss. Despite the minor setbacks, the second-year keeper still leads the league with a 1.91 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage.
“Robby is no question the premier goaltender in the division and I’m sure most of the coaches would agree,” said Boitz. “He’s consistent and plays well in big games. He’s been a real asset to the team.”
In addition to the usual suspects upfront - Harcharik, Skarda, Max Mobley and Shea Walters among them - the Outlaws were happy to see Dziubinski and Carlson deliver big goals last weekend.
Derek Donohue and Bobby Moe made some key contributions away from the scoresheet, with Ross Ring-Jarvi and Trevor Doden stepping up lately as well.
Defensively, Reed Rushing and Jon Crouse have been making steady progress.
“They’ve really come on strong,” said Boitz.
The Outlaws also received good news on the college front recently with the commitment of Jundt, the leader on North Iowa’s blue line, to Bemidji State University. He’s the third player from this year’s team to decide on a Division I program, joining Walters (Bemidji State) and Skarda (Army).
“We have a lot of guys receiving offers and weighting their options right now,” said Boitz. “I think there will be several players between now and the end of the season who will make commitments.”
With a stingy 125 goals against - the fewest in the entire NAHL - Boitz would like his team light the lamp with more regularity as the postseason nears.
“We need our offense to be more consistent,” said the coach. “Our power play sometimes takes a night off and we need to get more pucks to the net and not be picky with our shot selection and add a few garbage goals.”
The Outlaws have six games remaining on the regular-season slate and know that keeping their winning momentum is a must for morale.
“We want to stay sharp,” said Boitz. “Every team we play in the final weeks we could see in the playoffs, so want to play hard and win those games so we have confidence.”
“Coming off of this sweep of Springfield, which is just as good as any team in the division, make me feel pretty good.”
AROUND THE NAHL
PLAYOFF DATES, FORMAT ANNOUNCED: The NAHL announced the dates and format for this year’s Robertson Cup National Championship Playoffs, which determines the champion of the NAHL (USA Hockey’s Tier II national champion). For more details, visit nahl.com.
TORNADO LOCKS DOWN PLAYOFF SPOT: Despite two losses to Topeka last weekend, Texas secured the fourth and final playoff spot in the South Division.
ICE DOGS TRIO COMMITS: Three Fairbanks players have made commitments to Division I schools: forward Ryan Kayfes (Bentley College), 20, and defensemen Brock Shelgren (Michigan State University), 20, and Austin Block (Air Force Academy), 18.
JUNDT TO BEMIDJI STATE: North Iowa defenseman Tyler Jundt, 20, has committed to Bemidji State University (CHA) for next season. This year, the Williston, N.D., native has seven goals for 18 points after 46 games.
POOL BACK WITH BOBCATS: Bismarck announced that interim head coach Byron Pool will serve the team’s head coach for the 2008-09 season. Pool, in his first year with the Bobcats, took over the head-coaching duties midway through this season after the resignation of Dane Litke.
BALDASSARI RETURNS TO ICE: After suffering complications during surgery in Texas over Thanksgiving, Fairbanks captain and Holy Cross recruit Gianni Baldassari, 20, is back practicing with the team. “We couldn’t be happier,” said Ice Dogs assistant coach Josh Hauge. “We’re still unsure if he’ll get to play again, but it’s still nice to have him around.”
BAILEY BACK WITH A BANG: In his first game back from an injury, Mahoning Valley forward Kyle Bailey, 20, scored the first two goals of the game in the Phantoms’ 4-3 loss to Marquette on Saturday. “Kyle obviously had a big impact on our lineup, and we plan on him being an impact player here down the stretch for us every night,” said Phantoms coach-GM Bob Mainhardt.
WILLMS LEADS EXPRESS: Southern Minnesota completed a two-game sweep of Bismarck last weekend, thanks in part to C.J. Willms’ one-goal, four-assist effort. “I expect C.J. to put his teammates on his shoulders as we get ready for the playoffs,” said Express coach-GM Matt Romaniski of the 20-year-old. “He has one thing on his mind: to make it to Nationals for the third time in his three years with this team.”
MCCABE FINDING HIS GROOVE: After missing over 20 games with a broken leg, Fairbanks forward Andrew McCabe, 20, is regaining his scoring touch, recording a goal and four assists last weekend in a two-game sweep over Kenai River. “Andrew is a leader for our hockey club and just having him on the bench is a huge boost for us,” said Ice Dogs assistant coach Josh Hauge. “There aren’t a lot of skilled players who play as hard as he does night in and night out.”