The St. Louis Bandits advanced to the North Division finals of the Robertson Cup Playoffs after their three-game sweep of the U.S. Under-17 Team last weekend.
“It doesn't matter what level you’re competing, you have to be playing well to beat a team three times in one weekend,” said Bandits coach-GM Jon Cooper.
In Game 1 on Friday, Josh Rabbani struck for two goals, including the game-winner, as the Bandits doubled up the U.S. team, 4-2. Ben Warda added a goal and an assist, while goaltender Cal Heeter turned back 30 shots.
The next night, Warda connected for two more goals, including the game-winner, and an assist in St. Louis’ 7-2 triumph. Jeff Ceccacci, Mike Leone and Mike Merrifield each recorded a goal and an assist, and netminder Mike Johnson made 29 saves.
The Bandits closed out the series with a 6-2 win in Sunday. Merrifield tallied two goals and an assist in the series-clincher, and Warda added three assists. In goal, Heeter stopped 27 shots.
The line of Merrifield, Warda and Rabbani was clicking on all cylinders, combining for nine goals and 11 assists in the series.
“To win in the playoffs you need everyone to contribute,” said Cooper. “We’ve had different lines step up for this team all year, it just happened to be their turn.”
The Bandits will play the winner of the Mahoning Valley Phantoms-Alpena IceDiggers series in the North Division finals. The Phantoms lead that series, 2 games to 0, with Game 3 slated for Thursday night in Alpena.
“Anytime you can end a series early and watch the other teams continue to battle is OK by me,” said Cooper. “This is good timing for us because we’re banged up right now and need the time to get healthy.”
And the Bandits, the NAHL’s regular-season champions and defending Robertson Cup champions, don’t plan on taking their foot of the pedal on their quest for a repeat.
“Our guys are pretty focused right now,” said Cooper. “They have every reason to lay down and accept a host invitation to Nationals, but they won't; they want to get in through the front door.”
In the Central Division, the underdogs aren’t rolling over either. The No. 4-seeded Springfield Jr. Blues have taken a 2-games-to-0 lead over the No. 1-seeded North Iowa Outlaws, while the No. 3-seeded Alexandria Blizzard holds a 2-games-to-0 edge over the No. 2-seeded Southern Minnesota Express.
The Topeka RoadRunners, the regular-season champions of the South Division, has a 2-games-to-0 lead over the Texas Tornado in its divisional semifinals series, while the Fairbanks Ice Dogs-Wichita Falls Wildcats series is knotted at one game apiece in the other South semis.
The Bandits will host this year’s Robertson Cup Championship, which crowns the NAHL’s playoff champion (USA Hockey Tier II Junior A national champion).
For more information on the Robertson Cup Championship, visit robertsoncup.com.