Soo Eagles (1st place tie, 21-8-3, 45 pts.) – After a slow start the first-year Eagles have surged as of late. Success with the Eagles so far this season has started with one of the strongest goaltending tandems in the league with veterans Tyler Marble and Zach Nagelvoort. The two are #1 and #2 respectively in the NAHL in save percentage. With that in mind, the Soo have won with defense this season as they have allowed the 3rd fewest goals and have the 2nd best penalty kill in the league. Offensively, the Eagles are no slouch either. Eric Rivard and Jared Van Wormer are tied for the team scoring lead with 36 points each, which ranks tied for 5th in the NAHL and Rivard leads the league in game-winning goals. 16 of Soo’s remaining 28 games are at home so the schedule sets up favorably for the second half of the season.
Jamestown Ironmen (1st place tie, 21-8-3, 45 pts.) – Head coach Dan Daikawa has a veteran team and it has showed the first half of the season as the Ironmen have been in 1st place in the North Division for the majority of the first half of the season. Luc Gerdes has led the charge offensively, as the 19-year-old leads the team in points with 27 and ranks tied for 2nd in the NAHL with six game-winning goals. The trade with Port Huron for Nico Sierra has worked out well as he has scored 10 points in his 10 games with the team and dman Dylan Zink is in the top five in defensive scoring in the NAHL. Veteran goalie Reid Mimmack will end his NAHL career at the end of December and head to Bemidji State University in the spring, so the majority of the games will fall upon Tim Shaughnessy and Blake Wojtala, who was recently acquired from Odessa. Of their 28 games remaining, 15 of them are on the road.
Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings (3rd place, 19-10-3, 41 pts.) – The Jr. K-Wings have steadily rolled along to 3rd place in the North Division. They are actually a win better at this point this season than they were last season. Forward Robbie Payne is leading the charge again this season with 30 points after accumulating 55 points last season. Luc Boby and Josh Dangel, who both played last season for the St. Louis Bandits, have been excellent additions to the team, as they are in the top four in team scoring. Defenseman Brett Beauvais has been his usual steady and productive self, which has led to an NCAA Division I college commitment to Bemidji State. In goal, Alex Okicki has played the majority of the games and has played very well as of late, not having lost a game in regulation since November 10th. The schedule sets up very favorably for Kalamazoo as they play 12 of their final 15 games at home, but they are currently in the middle of a 10-game road trip.
Johnstown Tomahawks (4th place, 16-9-6, 38 pts.) – For as good as the Tomahawks have been lately, they can take solace in the fact that their record could be even better with the amount of overtime/shootout losses they have had. It is all part of a team that is starting to learn and get better by the game, particularly on the road. In November and early December, the Tomahawks rattled off a stretch of eight wins in nine games, including a successful trip out west. The home crowds have responded and so have the players. The Tomahawks have developed a very balanced scoring attack with 10 players in double digit scoring, led by Cody Gylling’s 25 points. Casey Nelson is a former NAHL Defenseman of the Month, who is one the NAHL’s top scoring defenseman and forward Andrew McDonald has been a great addition since arriving from Fresno, as he averaging almost a point per game. However, the biggest battle down the stretch may be in goal because both Chris Truehl and Collin Brennan have been worthy of being the #1 goaltender.
Port Huron Fighting Falcons (5th place, 16-13-2, 34 pts.) – As one of only two teams to make a coaching change already this season, the Fighting Falcons are trying to repeat last year’s success and have put themselves in pretty good position to do so after the first half. The Falcons got off to a fast start, but struggled in November. However, they have won three of their last four games. They have a seasoned veteran goalie that is playing well in Max Milosek. The offense is a balanced attack with close to a dozen players in double digits in scoring lead by Ian Miller’s 20 points and Kody Polin’s 10 goals. Defenseman Ryan Nick is leading the blue line core, but the Falcons will have to find the way to fill the shoes of the departed Mark Evan Auk, who was the NAHL Defenseman of the Month back in September. The key for the Fighting Falcons will be playing well on the road as the second half of the season is filled with difficult road games including two series at Soo, two at Janesville and other series in Jamestown and Johnstown.
Janesville Jets (6th place, 13-14-6, 32 points) – The Jets have been looking for consistency this season, but that tends to happen with a younger line-up like the Jets have this season. The Jets do have a consistent goaltender duo in Brock Kautz and Austin Priebe, who both rank in the Top 7 in the NAHL in save percentage. Along the blueline, defenseman and Bemidji State recruit Ruslan Pedan is one of the league’s best defenseman. However, in order for Janesville to have success the remainder of the season and perhaps into the playoffs, they will have to find a way to score more goals. Forward and fellow Bemidji State recruit Jason Ford leads the way with 20 points, but after that only four more players are in double digit scoring. The Jets have bounced back nicely from an eight-game winless streak in October and November. The remaining schedule the Jets is packed full of tough games including a road trip to Alaska to take on both Fairbanks and Kenai River in back-to-back series in January.
Springfield Jr. Blues (7th place, 12-18-2, 26 points) – Another one of the younger teams in the league, the Springfield Jr. Blues, have also been searching for consistency. Their peaks and valleys have come in bunches. After winning just one of their first 10 games to start the season, the Jr. Blues rebounded nicely in October and November when they won a stretch of nine of the next 11 games, which included wins against the likes of Port Huron, Topeka and Johnstown. Then they went through another rough stretch in November and early December as they lost seven of their next eight. Forward Brett Skibba is having a career season so far, leading the team with 29 points and a +8 rating. Mike Fazio and Nate Chasteen also have over 20 points and rookie defenseman Alex Baskakov is having a nice season along the blueline. In goal, Matt Leon and Ryan Kellenberger have both played well in stretches, but neither has emerged as the clear #1 starter. The Jr. Blues face a very tough challenge coming off the break with roadtrips to Topeka, Port Huron, Kenai River and Fairbanks in a five-week stretch. If they can survive that and play well, the playoffs are a distinctive possibility.
Michigan Warriors (8th place, 8-18-5, 21 pts.) – The Warriors, who were a Robertson Cup finalist in 2011, were plagued by a slow start to begin the season, winning just three of their first 18 games. They picked it up with five wins in nine games in November and December, but are still trying to find consistency and offensive production. If the Warriors are to make a run for the top six in the North, their scoring has to pick up and their power play has to produce. They average the second fewest goals scored per game and their power play ranks last in the NAHL. Most of the production to date has come from the forwards, with the exception being from Western Michigan recruit Corey Schueneman along the blueline. Up front, Martin Gruse and Zack Szajner lead the way, but the Warriors do not have a player who has scored in double digit goals yet this season. Connor Lyons leads the team in goals with eight. In goal, Trevor Gorsuch has played the majority of minutes and Dillon Kelley, who came from Corpus Christi, has played solid as of late. The Warriors do have a manageable schedule the remainder of the season, but their final six games are all on the road, so the wins need to come right away in order to get back into the playoff race.
Wenatchee Wild (1st place, 21-3-2, 44 pts.) – At the break, the Wild own the NAHL’s best record. They have done it with a high-tempo offense and stingy defense and the goaltender of reigning league Rookie and Goalie of the Year Robbie Nichols. However, a big part of the Wild’s game is toughness and grit, as evidence by their 27+ penalty minutes per game, which also leads the league. Wenatchee also has the league’s best penalty kill, which is usually a recipe for success. Forward and University of Nebraska-Omaha recruit Jono Davis has been one of the better forwards in the league so far this season with 32 points and his 19 goals ranks tied for 2nd in the NAHL. Josh Hartley, who played last season in Dawson Creek in the NAHL, has come to Wenatchee and been one of the best in the league on the blue with 21 points to date. Four other players besides Davis and Hartley have 20 points or more including Blake Roubos, Chris Kerr, Jacob Barber and Max McHugh. However, over the past two years the biggest constant has been Nichols, who again is on pace for another record breaking season. His five shutouts leads the league and his 17 wins and 1.80 goals against average both rank second. The Wild, who have played an NAHL-low 26 games, have a busy second half with 14 of their next 16 games at home.
Fairbanks Ice Dogs (2nd place, 20-8-0, 40 pts.) – With just a handful of returners on the team to start this season, the Ice Dogs have fared very well the first half the season with a 20-8 record. The Ice Dogs who just seem to reload each season with Division I prospects are in the top six in league scoring and league goals against per game. Lake Superior State recruit Garret Clemment leads the team in scoring with 28 points. Defenseman Doug Rose has been one of the more steady and productive defenseman in the league this season with 20 points to date. Devin Loe has also been a breath a fresh air with 13 goals and 24 points. Ice Dogs veteran goalie Steve Perry has been hurt since early November and rookie Kevin Aldridge has come in and filled in admirably with a 12-4 record and a 92% save percentage. The Ice Dogs thrived in their trip to Texas and have 14 home games the second half of the season in one of the toughest arena’s to play in. They also have two trips to Wenatchee which may be a good indicator at who will bring home the West Division regular season crown.
Kenai River Brown Bears (3rd place, 12-12-4, 28 pts.) – The Brown Bears have steadily found their way to the .500 mark towards the halfway point of the season. They haven’t gotten too high or too low. Kenai River hasn’t lost more than two games in the row in regulation and conversely, they haven’t won more than two games in a row. Goaltender Gustaf Johansson has appeared in 22 games thus far, which ranks tied for 4th in the NAHL and it can be argued that he has been the MVP of the first half for Kenai River. Up front Matt Seidel and Lucas Kohls are tied for the team lead with 23 points each. Rookies Brad LeLievre and Niagara recruit Albin Karlsson have been a breath of fresh air up front. Second year defenseman Vincent Stefan is leading the way from the blueline. The Brown Bears have a very favorable schedule in the second half of the season, particularly in the final two months. In their final 16 games, they don’t play outside of the state of Alaska and 12 of the 16 games are at home. If Kenai River plays well and above .500 in the second half of the season, one of the top two spots in the first round of the playoffs is a possibility.
Fresno Monsters (4th place, 6-16-4, 16 pts.) – Like the Wild, the Monsters have played a season-low 26 games this season and it has been a tough stretch for Fresno. Heading into the holiday break the Monsters have lost 15 of their last 16 games. The Monsters got a lift a couple weeks into the season as goaltender Tomas Sholl returned to the team and his save percentage is hovering around 91% despite the fact that he only has one win to show for it. The Monsters struggles have mostly been offensive in nature as they are only scoring 2.23 goals per game (3rd to last in the league) and only getting just over 25 shots on goal per game (2nd to last in the league). Since coming over from Janesville, forward Matt Salituro had averaged a point per game and Mitchell Snyder and San Sherer are also in double digit scoring, but that’s where it ends. If Fresno looks to increase their offensive production, help will have to come on the back end and they are light in scoring and output from their defensive corps. 16 of Fresno’s next 18 games are at home. At this point, it looks like they may be one of the bottom two seeds in the playoffs, but they key will be trying to get better to the point where they are playing their best hockey of the season right around the start of the playoffs so they may be able to steal a game or two on the road in the first round.