NAHL Playoff Preview: North and South Divisions
The 2013 North American Hockey League (NAHL) Robertson Cup Playoffs begin today with the two North Division Play-In series taking center stage, followed by the South Division beginning their Divisional Semi-Finals this weekend. The Central and West Divisions each begin their Semi-Final series next weekend. Here is a look at this weekend’s action:
While the #1 Soo Eagles and the #2 Jamestown Ironmen have a bye this weekend, seeds 3-6 will play one another in a three game series to determine who moves onto play in the North Division Semi-Finals beginning next weekend.
#3 Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings vs. #6 Springfield Jr. Blues (Kalamazoo won season series, 7-1)
The Jr. K-Wings dominated the season series, winning seven of eight games, however, Springfield’s lone win came last weekend on the final day of the regular season to get them into the playoffs. Matt Leon will likely be the go-to guy in goal for the Jr. Blues, but Kalamazoo will have a tougher decision whether or not to start veteran Alex Okicki and rookie Marcus Due-Boje in goal. Due-Boje has the better numbers against the Jr. Blues, but Okicki has the experience.
Why Kalamazoo could win: Kalamazoo has a lot of offensive threats and if players like Robbie Payne and Taylor Burden play well, it could bode well for the Jr. K-Wings. Kalamazoo also has playoff experience with several players returning to the post-season after their run to the North Finals last season.
Why Springfield could win: Kalamazoo has won just two of their last nine games. Brett Skibba, Ryan Atkinson and Matt Leon will all have to step to the forefront to win two of three games in this series. If Springfield can take at least one game in Kalamazoo, the decisive Game 3 would be in Springfield.
Game 1: Thursday, April 4th, 7:00pm @ Kalamazoo
Game 2: Saturday, April 6th, 2:00pm @ Kalamazoo
Game 3: Sunday, April 7th, 5:00pm @ Springfield*
#4 Port Huron Fighting Falcons vs. #5 Johnstown Tomahawks (Port Huron won series series, 6-2)
Winners of their last eight straight games, the Fighting Falcons come into their three-game series with the Tomahawks as the hottest team in the NAHL. However, the favorable record against Johnstown wasn’t without its close battles during the regular season. All eight games between the two were decided by two goals or less including six one-goal games. Johnstown finished just two points behind the Fighting Falcons in the standings, but had 12 losses in overtime or a shootout, which led the NAHL. Overtimes in the playoffs are simply 20-minute periods until someone wins, so that could benefit the Tomahawks.
Why Port Huron could win: Port Huron is playing really well going into the playoffs and their best players are performing. The Fighting Falcons have gotten a big lift from the addition of forward Tyler Spezia and the continued good play from players like Easton Powers, Brett D’Andrea and Rick DeRosa. There are enough players on this team that were at the Robertson Cup last year to give them the experience edge.
Why Johnstown could win: If this series ends up to a deciding third game, it would be played in Johnstown in what would be in front of a very partisan crowd. The x-factor for Johnstown will be goalie Chris Truehl. Truehl was phenomenal in the month of March as he stopped 170 of a total 179 shots and he will have to be sharp against a Fighting Falcons offense that is clicking.
Game 1: Thursday, April 4th, 7:00pm @ Port Huron
Game 2: Friday, April 5th, 7:00pm @ Port Huron
Game 3: Sunday, April 7th, 3:00pm @ Johnstown*
#1 Amarillo Bulls vs. #4 Corpus Christi IceRays (Bulls won season series 7-5)
The first of two South Division Semi-Finals shapes up to be a good one on paper. Despite the fact the two teams were separated by 39 points and 18 wins in the regular season, no team in the South Division gave the Bulls more trouble in the regular season than the IceRays. However, the Bulls, who finished with 99 points and best regular season record in the NAHL, won their last three games against the IceRays, which all came on the road in Corpus Christi. As a matter of fact, the last time the Bulls lost a game in regulation, it came against the IceRays way back on February 26th. Since that loss, the Bulls are 10-0-1 heading into the playoffs. In that same stretch, the IceRays are 6-5.
Why Amarillo could win: Balance and depth. The Bulls had the rare combination of having the #1 offense and the #1 defense in the NAHL during the regular season. Why? They can roll four lines with ease up front and have a talented and experienced defensive corps. The Bulls pressure their opponents until they crack and in the rare instance they give up something, they statistically have the best goalie in the NAHL in Paul Berrafato.
Why Corpus Christi could win: Defense and goaltending. If the IceRays can handle the Bulls pressure and get some timely saves, they have enough talent on offense with the likes of Rudy Sulmonte, Emil Romig, Perry D’Arrisso and Mike Economos to make this a series. The IceRays will likely go with Hayden Stewart in goal, who will have to be at the top of his game. The defense is young and will have to do a good job protecting their own end.
Game 1: Friday, April 5th, 7:00pm @ Amarillo
Game 2: Saturday, April 6th, 7:00pm @ Amarillo
Game 3: Tuesday, April 9th, 7:05pm @ Corpus Christi
Game 4: Wednesday, April 10th, 7:05pm @ Corpus Christi*
Game 5: Saturday, April 13th, 7:00pm @ Amarillo*
#2 Topeka RoadRunners vs. #3 Texas Tornado (Topeka won season series, 9-3)
Topeka went 6-0-1 in their last seven games of the regular season, which included a 2-0-1 mark against the Tornado in Topeka two weeks ago. Topeka dominated the season series, but the games were close, with seven of the 12 being decided by a goal. After going 8-0 in February, Texas has won just four of their last 17 regular season games. The Tornado are the defending Robertson Cup Champions and have enough players on their roster who went through that experience last season to give them some idea of what it is going to take to win again. However, Topeka has been in the Division Finals the past five seasons. That included a sweep last season of the Tornado in this very same Semi-Final round.
Why Topeka could win: History and Experience. The RoadRunners have the benefit of having success against the Tornado during the regular season and last year’s South Division Semi-Final, where they swept Texas. They also have 10 players on the roster that were born in 1992, including all-time leading scorer Kyle Sharkey and goaltender Spencer Viele, who has to have revenge on his mind after playing for St. Louis last season and falling to the Tornado in overtime of the National Championship game last year.
Why Texas could win: If the Tornado top players come to play like they did in September, October and February, they can be as good as anyone in the league. Brandon Hawkins, who led the NAHL this season with 35 goals, has just five goals in his last 20 games. Goaltender Hunter Leisner, who was January’s NAHL Goaltender of the Month, will have to show some of the magic he did in last year’s National Semi-Finals and Finals in order for the Tornado to win the series.
Game 1: Saturday, April 6th, 7:00pm @ Topeka
Game 2: Sunday, April 7th, 6:00pm @ Topeka
Game 3: Friday, April 12th, 7:30pm @ Texas
Game 4: Saturday, April 13th, 7:30pm @ Texas*
Game 5: Friday, April 19th, 7:00pm @ Topeka*