The scenario is quite simple for the Marquette Rangers.
Win and the chances of catching the Alpena IceDiggers for the fourth and final North Division playoff spot are a distinct possibility. Lose, and making the playoffs becomes out of the question.
“We have our last six at home, which is key,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller. “If we can continue to play like we did last weekend, where we took three out of four points on the road (against the Motor City Machine), then I like our chances.
The Mahoning Valley Phantoms have already locked up one of the division’s four playoff berths, with the U.S. National Team and the Traverse City North Stars on the verge of clinching the No. 2 and 3 positions.
“The key for this club is to play the full 60 minutes,” said Miller. “When we do that, we can beat anyone in our division; when we don’t, anyone can beat us.”
Up first this weekend is the Alexandria Blizzard. The Blizzard swept three games from the Rangers in October, but Alexandria is currently riding a nine-game losing streak coming into Lakeview Arena.
The Blizzard also spent the last three weekends on the road before making the trek to the Upper Peninsula.
“Don’t let that number of losses fool you,” Miller said of Alexandria. “They’re big on defense and have the ability to score goals and be fairly opportunistic.
“But our focus these next three weekends has to be on what we do. When you’ve already played 52 games of your schedule, it’s really not about X’s and O’s anymore, it’s about attitude and wanting to get the job done.”
With 52 points, Marquette trails Alpena by a single point for the last playoff spot in the North Division. However the IceDiggers have two games in hand on Marquette.
Complicating things for Alpena, though, is the fact that only one of those eight remaining games is at home. Alpena has three against the U.S. National Team in Ann Arbor, a two-game series at division-leading Mahoning Valley, as well as a pair in Wyandotte against the Machine. Included in the IceDiggers’ schedule is a single game at Traverse City in two weeks.
For the Rangers, they play two with Alexandria this weekend before hosting Motor City on March 20-21 and wrapping up the regular season with Traverse City on March 27-28.
All remaining Rangers games are at Lakeview Arena, a fact that hasn’t been lost on the head coach.
“We need some help,” Miller said. “If we’re going to catch them (Alpena), we need to take care of business in our own building, and then hope for the best when we look at the scoreboard after we’re done every night.
“We can’t worry about Alpena until after we’ve taken care of our own situation each night first.”
The Rangers continue to be led in scoring by Chad Pietila’s 50 points (20 goals) and James Gallagher, who has 46 points on 22 goals. In all, 14 players have scored in double-digits this season for Marquette.
Alexandria has been led all season in scoring by Jerry Freismuth, who has 53 points on 15 goals in 49 games.