One postseason berth still up for grabs
by By Brian McDonough | NAHL.com
Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, all but two postseason fates have been decided.
That’s in the North Division, where the Alpena IceDiggers and Marquette Rangers are vying for the NAHL’s final Robertson Cup Playoffs bid.
With a three-point lead and two games in hand over Marquette, the IceDiggers are sitting in an enviable position, but aren’t making any April plans just yet.
“We’re breaking it down to playing our game one shift at a time and staying focused on doing things right,” said IceDiggers head coach Jack Fritsche, whose team helped its cause last weekend with a two-game sweep over the Motor City Machine.
Alpena is staring at a daunting schedule to close the season, with three games against the U.S. National Team, two with division-leading Mahoning Valley and one against second-place Traverse City.
“We have some big games ahead,” Fritsche added. “We just need to stay motivated, stay healthy, give a 110 percent and let the chips fall where they may.”
With the deck stacked against the Rangers, who finish with four home games - two against Motor City followed by a pair with Traverse City – Marquette’s focus is solely on what it can control.
“We understand that in order to get in, we need to win out and get some help, but, with that said, we haven’t stopped playing,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller.
“The guys have been competing in practice and every person in that dressing room thinks we still have a shot at getting in, even though we’re not where we want to be in the standings. Our guys haven’t quit; they’re very optimistic.”
Also still up for grabs is the NAHL’s regular-season championship, in which South Division powerhouses Topeka and St. Louis have been battling back and forth all season.
With 85 points, the RoadRunners hold a one-point edge over the two-time defending Robertson Cup champion Bandits with four games to play, including two the final weekend of the season in St. Louis. Both teams have secured home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
“The regular-season championship is something we've been working towards since training camp, and we’re on track,” said RoadRunners head coach Scott Langer. “St. Louis has been right on our heels, which has forced us to stay sharp."
A league championship brings with it home ice throughout the playoffs. With Topeka playing in front of an average crowd of 1,690 a night at the Kansas Expocentre, that incentive isn’t lost on the RoadRunners.
“Obviously, the home ice is important for any team, and with the support we get at home, it maybe even more so here,” Langer added.
The Bandits, who won last year’s regular-season championship, host Mahoning Valley for two games this weekend before welcoming Topeka to town to close out the regular season.
“There’s a good chance that it’ll go down to the last weekend between us and Topeka,” said Bandits head coach Jeff Brown. “This is something that we expected all season long considering how close our two hockey clubs have been all season.”
A division winner has yet to be determined in the Central, either, where the Bismarck Bobcats hold a commanding six-point lead over the second-place North Iowa Outlaws.
The Bobcats have six games remaining matched against the Outlaws’ four, and both teams have locked down home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The only postseason race signed and sealed is in the West, where the Fairbanks Ice Dogs wrapped up the division’s regular-season title last weekend with two wins over the Alaska Avalanche.
Fairbanks will host the Kenai River Brown Bears in the first round of the playoffs, with the second-place Wenatchee Wild matching up against the Avs.
“It’s a big boost of confidence to know we’ll be playing at home, because we’ve had a lot of success there this year,” said Ice Dogs head coach Josh Hauge, whose team is 19-2-4 at the Big Dipper.
It doesn’t hurt that the community support in Fairbanks continues to be one of the league’s best. The Ice Dogs are averaging 1,984 in attendance a game, second only to Wenatchee in the entire NAHL.
“It’s an unbelievable arena and our fans are so loyal and dedicated that they deserve the opportunity to watch us,” Hauge added.
“As much as winning the regular season is nice, our ultimate goal is to advance to the Robertson Cup Championship Tournament (April 28-May 3 in Mason City, Iowa). Hopefully, having home ice will help us get there.”
AROUND THE NAHL
ALASKA AVALANCHE: Dylan Jones and Jake Parenteau scored for the Avalanche as it dropped a pair of games to Fairbanks.
ALBERT LEA THUNDER: BJ McLellan and Nikita Feoktistov connected for goals in the Thunder’s 10-2 loss to Bismarck on Saturday.
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Taylor Vichorek struck for two goals, including the game-winner, as Alexandria snapped a 10-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over Marquette on Saturday.
ALPENA ICEDIGGERS: Richard Manley rang up a goal and three assists, as well as the only goal in Saturday’s 2-1 shootout win, as the IceDiggers skated to a two-game sweep over Motor City.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Goaltender David Bosner, an Air Force recruit, picked up his sixth shutout of the season in a 3-0 victory over Albert Lea on Friday (15 saves).
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: Mike Juola recorded two goals and three assists as the Ice Dogs skated to a two-game sweep over Alaska. “Mike’s been great for us and his vision and hand skills are some of the best in the entire NAHL,” said head coach Josh Hauge. “He’ll be a big part of our run in the playoffs.”
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Californian Chris Annunziato rang up two goals and an assist as the Brown Bears lost three games to Wenatchee.
MAHONING VALLEY PHANTOMS: Robert Morris recruit Stefan Salituro was the Phantoms’ high scorer in their 9-2 victory over Traverse City on Friday, connecting for a goal and three assists.
MARQUETTE RANGERS: Collin Saint-Onge put home a goal and two assists, including one on Kevin Gravel's game-winner, in the Rangers' 5-2 triumph over Alexandria on Friday.
MOTOR CITY MACHINE: Ryan Misiak and Cody Holzworth collected goals for the Machine as it finished with a 0-1-1 mark against Alpena last weekend.
NORTH IOWA OUTLAWS: Brandon Brodhag racked up his 28th and 29th goals of the season in the Outlaws’ 4-2 triumph over Owatonna on Friday.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Virginia native Chris Darnell tallied two goals and three assists as the Express fashioned a 2-1 mark against North Iowa.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: Brandon Bahnemann collected three assists, including one on Jon Gaffney’s game-winning goal, in the Jr. Blues’ 4-1 triumph over Topeka on Friday.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: Goaltender Erick Cinotti, from New Jersey, picked up his second shutout of the season in the Bandits’ 4-0 victory over Wichita Falls on Saturday (10 saves).
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: Head coach Scott Langer likes his team’s chances as the league-leading RoadRunners close in on the regular-season championship. “Good teams get to this position, great teams win,” he said. “We control our own destiny, and you can’t ask for more than that.”
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: With a 2-1 record at Mahoning Valley last weekend, the North Stars clinched a playoff berth for the first time in the team’s four-year history.
TEAM USA: Idle last weekend, the U.S. National Team still has 10 games remaining on its NAHL schedule starting Tuesday against Mahoning Valley (U18) and Motor City (U17).
WENATCHEE WILD: Goaltender Mac Carruth, a University of Minnesota Duluth recruit, won all three of his starts last week against Alaska and Kenai River, turning aside 73 of 80 shots. “Mac continues to excel and improve,” said Wild head coach Paul Baxter. “As a 1992-born, he’s playing a major role in our success and has certainly proven that UMD made an excellent choice in their commitment to him.”
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: Sean McKenzie and Matt Kenline tallied for the Wildcats as they went 0-1-1 against St. Louis last weekend.