Playoff Preview: Central and West begin, while North and South continue
The 2013 North American Hockey League (NAHL) Robertson Cup Playoffs continues this weekend with the Central and West Divisions making their entrances into the arena, while the North Division begins their Semi-Finals after last weekend’s play-in series. In the South, one Semi-Final is already complete, while the other continues this weekend.
Here is a look at this weekend’s action:
#1 Soo Eagles vs. #4 Port Huron Fighting Falcons (Soo won season series, 5-3)
One of the benefits of winning the division like the Eagles did is not only the banner that will hang in the rafters and the home ice advantage throughout the playoffs, but also the rest the Eagles enjoyed last weekend. While the Fighting Falcons were fighting through a three-game series with the Johnstown Tomahawks, the Eagles were at home resting up and preparing for the winner. Port Huron ended up coming from behind in Game 3 and winning in overtime in Johnstown thanks to a goal from Ian Miller to advance to this point. There is no doubt that judging by the regular season, this should be a very competitive series. Six of the eight games between the two were decided by a goal and three of those went to a shootout.
Why Soo could win: The Eagles have the benefit of having the league’s leading scorer in Jared Van Wormer and one of the league’s best goalies in Tyler Marble, who led the NAHL in save percentage this season. If those two are at the top of their game, the Eagles have a great chance to move on. The additions in the second half of the season of Sean Murphy and Brandon Adams were done specifically for this moment, so if the Eagles are firing on all cylinders, they have a great chance of making it to the North Finals and beyond.
Why Port Huron could win: Goaltender Max Milosek is going to have to shine in this series. The Soo offense it potent, but if Milosek puts up the numbers he did in the Johnstown series, then the Fighting Falcons have a good chance to take this series. The Fighting Falcons also have the benefit of playing their best hockey of the season right now and a balanced scoring attack with five different players registering goals in the play-in series.
Game 1 - PHN@SOO Apr 12, 7:30pm
Game 2 - PHN@SOO Apr 13, 7:30pm
Game 3 - SOO@PHN Apr 18, 7:00pm
Game 4 - SOO@PHN Apr 19, 7:00pm*
Game 5 - PHN@SOO Apr 22, 7:00pm*
#2 Jamestown Ironmen vs. #3 Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings (Jamestown won season series, 6-2)
Jamestown dominated the season series and did it with defense. The averaged just three goals a game in the series with Kalamazoo, but only have up just a bit more than two per game. Kalamazoo breezed through their play-in series at home against Springfield, which should have given them some offensive confidence. It appears that head coach Marc Fakler is going with Marcus Due-Boje in goal, who at this point in time is the top goalie in the 2013 Robertson Cup playoffs. The Ironmen will counter with veteran Joe Ballmer in goal. This has all the makings of a classic series with defense being at the forefront and scoring being at a premium.
Why Jamestown could win: The Ironmen had the edge in the season in the series and the veteran presence of Ballmer could pay off. The additions of Ryan Doucet and Tyler Minx were meant to add depth for this very reason, playoff hockey. The Ironmen also have one of the best offensive blueliners in Dylan Zink, so if he can produce along with the likes of Luc Gerdes and Tyler Dunagan, Jamestown has a good chance to advance.
Why Kalamazoo could win: The emergence of Mac McDonnell in the play-in series was a nice surprise for the K-Wings. McDonnell had as many goals in his first two playoff games (4) as he did during the regular season. Kalamazoo will need continued production from Due-Boje in goal and will need the likes of Kyle Gattelaro, Brett Beauvais and Robbie Payne to be their best production players.
Game 1 - KZO@JAM Apr 12, 7:00pm
Game 2 - KZO@JAM Apr 13, 5:00pm
Game 3 - JAM@KZO Apr 17, 7:00pm
Game 4 - JAM@KZO Apr 18, 7:00pm*
Game 5 - KZO@JAM Apr 21, 5:00pm*
#1 Austin Bruins vs. #4 Minot Minotauros (Season series tied, 5-5)
Despite the fact they finished 35 points in front of them in the standings, the Austin Bruins had their challenges with the Minot Minotauros during the regular season. Minot won the first four match-ups of the season against the Bruins, but the Bruins took four of the last five meetings. Five of the 10 games were also decided in a shootout. Minot had its challenges scoring against the Bruins and particularly against rookie goalie Jason Pawloski, who was 4-0 against the Minotauros this season. That may present a tough coaching decision for the Bruins because while Pawloski went 4-0 against Minot, other goalie Nick Lehr was just 1-1-4. The Bruins are loaded with offensive talent and will want a short series. Meanwhile, the Minotauros hope to get back on track having lost eight of the their last nine games entering their first post-season in team history.
Why Austin could win: Austin could win because at stretches this season, they were the best team in the league. They are one of only two teams in the league that has five players who scored 50 points or more during the regular season. If forwards like Brandon Wahlin, AJ Reid, CJ Smith, John Simonson and Jay Dickman are all playing well and producing it could be a short series.
Why Minot could win: Goaltending. Whether it’s Tyler Parks or Ryan Ruck in goal, someone is going to have to play big and potentially steal a game or two. Minot does not score a lot of goals, as they ranked 20th in the NAHL during the regular season, so they are going to have to win games with defense and goaltending, but their success in the regular season against the Bruins should tell everyone that they have a good chance for success.
Game 1 - MNT@AUS Apr 12, 7:05pm
Game 2 - MNT@AUS Apr 13, 7:05pm
Game 3 - AUS@MNT Apr 19, 7:35pm
Game 4 - AUS@MNT Apr 20, 7:35pm*
Game 5 - MNT@AUS Apr 22, 7:05pm*
#2 Bismarck Bobcats vs. #3 Brookings Blizzard (Season series tied, 5-5)
This is another series that has the makings of a classic because of the competitiveness of the series between the two during the regular season. Bismarck does not allow a lot of goals and are very tough when it comes to the playoffs. The Bobcats have won their Divisional playoff championship four years in a row and have the team to do it again this season. The Blizzard have some offensive weapons to threaten the Bobcats, but will have to take advantage of the opportunities given to them. In the season series, no team ever went more than winning two games in the row before the other came back to win and one should probably expect the same in this series. It is likely to be low scoring with the focus being on both goaltenders.
Why Bismarck could win: Bismarck has Aaron Nelson in goal and he has experience. They also have history on their side, having been to the last four Robertson Cup Tournaments thanks to winning their divisional playoff titles. Finally, they have two very exciting and still somewhat unknown offensive talents in Matt Pohlkamp and Stanislav Dzakhov, who can take over games with their abilities. If defenseman Nate Repensky continues his hot play and success on the power play, Bismarck should be in good hands.
Why Brookings could win: Their best player will have to be goalie Drew Weigman, who has started 19 of the last 20 games heading into the playoffs. This is the last go around for veteran players like captain Thomas Williams, Justin Moody, Cody Marooney, Drew Brevig and Aidan Cavallini, so you know they would like to go out as at least divisional Champions and make a run at the Robertson Cup. Brookings won three times in Bismarck this season, so winning on the road is possible.
Game 1 - BRK@BIS Apr 12, 7:15pm
Game 2 - BRK@BIS Apr 13, 7:15pm
Game 3 - BIS@BRK Apr 19, 7:30pm
Game 4 - BIS@BRK Apr 20, 7:30pm*
Game 5 - BRK@BIS Apr 22, 7:15pm*
#1 Wenatchee Wild vs. #4 Fresno Monsters (Wenatchee won season series, 12-4)
If playing one another 16 times weren’t enough during the regular season, Wenatchee and Fresno get to play one another at least three more times in the playoffs. Three of the four wins for Fresno came in Wenatchee, which gives them a chance in the series despite the fact the teams finished 41 points apart in the standings. The Wild are trying to end a two-year drought of being absent at the Robertson Cup. In both cases, they have made it to the West Finals, only to lose to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. At times, the Wild have played like the best team in the league, but heading into the playoffs Wenatchee has won just four of their last 14 games. They have had a lot of success this season against the Monsters, which includes a 7-1 in Fresno this season.
Why Wenatchee could win: Experience and Desire. The Wild have enough players on the roster, who have the necessary experience to thrive in situations like the Robertson Cup playoffs. Of their top six scorers, five of them age out after this season, so it will be the last shot at glory for players like Jono Davis, Chris Kerr, Jacob Barber, as well as goaltender Robert Nichols. The Wild won when it counted in order to secure the West’s top spot in the regular season, which should pay benefits in this series.
Why Fresno could win: Fresno has nothing to lose. The Monsters won just 18 games during the regular season, but three of those came in Wenatchee. Three more wins could erase what was a disappointing regular season by most standards. There is no doubt goaltender Tomas Sholl will have to shine in the series and outplay Nichols. Matt Salituro and Trevor Husch played well at the end of the regular season and will have to keep that going.
Game 1 - FRE@WEN Apr 12, 7:05pm
Game 2 - FRE@WEN Apr 13, 7:05pm
Game 3 - WEN@FRE Apr 17, 7:45pm
Game 4 - WEN@FRE Apr 18, 7:00pm*
Game 5 - FRE@WEN Apr 21, 5:05pm*
#2 Fairbanks Ice Dogs vs. #3 Kenai River Brown Bears (Season series tied, 8-8)
On paper and on the ice, this series may be the most competitive and even of any of the playoff series in the league. Each team won eight games against one another in the regular season and each team proved they could win on the road. In the 16 games, Fairbanks scored 46 goals while the Brown Bears had 42. The Ice Dogs made a valiant run at the West Division title at the end of the regular season, but that was thwarted by the Brown Bears, who won three of their last four games of the season against Fairbanks. The Brown Bears enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league having gone 8-2 in their last 10 games. Fairbanks has been in the Robertson Cup Tournament the last three years, while the Brown Bears have never won a playoff series in their NAHL history.
Why Fairbanks could win: The Ice Dogs won 39 games during the regular season, so only three other teams in the NAHL had more this season. Steve Perry will have to lean on his veteran experience in goal to make sure the Ice Dogs advance. Other than the regular producers like Jayson Angus, Garret Clemment and Devin Loe, the Ice Dogs went out and got Lawrence Cornellier at the trading deadline for times exactly like this.
Why Kenai River could win: The Brown Bears could win this season because their due and they are playing very well right now. The Brown Bears have had two stretches in the last two months where they have put together six-game winning streaks. Brad Duwe, Vincent Stefan and Alex Jackstadt have been on fire recently and goalie Marcus Zelzer is back and is healthy and could be the difference in the series as he has been lights out against Fairbanks this season.
Game 1 - KNR@FAI Apr 12, 7:30pm
Game 2 - KNR@FAI Apr 13, 7:30pm
Game 3 - FAI@KNR Apr 19, 7:30pm
Game 4 - FAI@KNR Apr 20, 7:30pm*
Game 5 - KNR@FAI Apr 22, 7:00pm*
#1 Amarillo Bulls vs. #4 Corpus Christi IceRays (Bulls win series, 3-1)
The Bulls won the last three games of the series, including Tuesday and Wednesday in Corpus Christi to move into the South Division Finals for the third time in the last three years.
Game 1: Corpus Christi 2 @ Amarillo 1
Game 2: Corpus Christi 3 @ Amarillo 6
Game 3: Amarillo 5 @ Corpus Christi 3
Game 4: Amarillo 5 @ Corpus Christi 3
#2 Topeka RoadRunners vs. #3 Texas Tornado (Texas leads series, 2-0)
Texas took the first two games in Topeka last weekend by identical 2-1 scores. Goaltender Hunter Leisner ranks 2nd in NAHL playoff goalie leaders as he has stopped 59 of a total 61 shots in the first two games and Texas forward CJ Reuschlein has goals in both games.
Game 1: Texas 2 @ Topeka 1
Game 2: Texas 2 @ Topeka 1
Game 3 - TOP@TEX Apr 12, 7:30pm
Game 4 - TOP@TEX Apr 13, 7:30pm*
Game 5 - TEX@TOP Apr 19, 7:00pm*