With the calendar having rolled into April and the final regular season games having been played, the NAHL Playoff match-up are set and play will get underway this week. The Divisional Playoffs will culminate with the Robertson Cup National Championship Tournament set for May 10-13 in Frisco, Texas at the Dr Pepper Arena. Below is a look at the first round divisional parings.
NAHL North Division
The eight team North Division Playoffs will kick-off with two, three game Wildcard Series pitting the third seed Kalamazoo K-Wings against sixth seed Springfield Junior Blues and fourth seed Port Huron Fighting Falcons against fifth seed Johnstown. The lower seed advancing out of the Wildcard Series will face the division winning Soo Eagles while the higher seed advancing will face the Jamestown Ironmen.
Kalamazoo – Springfield
Kalamazoo will enter their series with Springfield looking to shake off a bit of a late season slump. The K-Wings closed out the season by going 3-6-1 in their last ten games. Taylor Burden (1G-7A), Robbie Payne (5G-1A) and Kyle Gattelaro (4G-2A) led Kalamazoo in scoring down the stretch. Marcus Due-Boje put up some decent number in net despite his 3-3-0 record. Due-Boje had a 1.84GAA and .947SV% with a shutout in his last six games.
Springfield fared slightly better and finished the season splitting their last ten games with a 5-5-0 record. Brett Skibba (10G-3A) did the bulk of the lifting offensively while Ryan Atkinson pitched in with (5G-5A) along with Terry Leabo (1G-8A). Matt Leon was in net for eight of the Junior Blues last ten going 4-4-0 with two shutouts while posting a 2.63GAA and .916SV%.
Head-to-head this season Kalamazoo racked up a 7-1-0 record against Springfield. The Junior Blues lone win came at home on March 30. Payne and Burden each had 10 points against Springfield on the season while Skibba had 12 points against the K-Wings. Kalamazoo’s power play was 7 of 30 with one short handed goal againstSpringfield. The Junior Blues were 5 of 34 with the man advantage against the Wings.
Port Huron – Johnstown
The Fighting Falcons finished the regular season on a roll winning eight in a row and going 9-1-0 in their last ten, outscoring their opponents 45-22. Max Milosek and Alex Blankenburg split time between the pipes for Port Huron with Milosek going 5-1-0 with a 2.00GAA and .930SV% while Blankenburg was 4-0-0 with a 2.16GAA and .917SV%. Both netminder had a shutout and Blankenburg was perfect in two shootouts turning aside all nine shots he faced. Offensively Tyler Spezia (7G-11A), Easton Powers (7G-9A) and David Parrottino (4G-7A) all scored in double digits over the last ten games.
Johnstown was 5-3-2 down the stretch in spite of the play of Chris Truehl in net. Truehl had a miniscule 1.39GAA and a .948SV% but managed only a 4-2-2 record with one shutout. What offense the Tomahawks managed was spread across the lineup. Brandon Reinholz (2G-4A) led the way with six others registering five points. In total 18 players had at least one point over the last ten.
Head-to-head Port Huron came out on top with a 6-2-0 record. The season series played much closer than the record might indicate with six of the eight games decided by a single goal. Rick DeRosa (2G-6A) was the leading scorer for Port Huron while Alex Archibald, Nick Horne and Matthew Uvodich each contributed three goals against Johnstown. Milosek and Blankenburg put up identical 3-1-0 records against the Tomahawks. For Johnstown Casey Nelson (3G-3A) and Cody Gylling (1G-5A) paced the offense with Jaycob McCombs adding three goals. Neither powerplay was especially productive in the season series, Port Huron was 9 for 46 while Johnstown was 6 for 45.
NAHL Central Division
The Austin Bruins won the Central Division rather handily finishing with 91 points, 12 points ahead of second place Bismarck. Brookings and Minot rounded out the top four spots in the division. Austin split their four games in the season opening Showcase Tournament, then went on a run, winning 9 of their next 10 to take control of the division race. Minot on the other had got off to a horrendous start losing their first seven and 11 of their first 13 before rebounding to chase down the fourth and final playoff spot.
Austin – Minot
In the Austin Bruins last ten regular season games they got some offensive firepower from Jay Dickman (6G-7A), AJ Reid (7G-4A) and CJ Smith (6G-4A) to go along with decent goal tending to post a 6-3-1 record. Nicholas Lehr and Jason Pawloski each played five games in net with both logging 3 wins. Pawloski had the better numbers of the two with a 1.80GAA and .944SV% compared to Lehr’s 2.41GAA and .904SV%.
The Minot Minotauros stumbled again late going just 2-8-0 to close out the season. Minot managed to hold off Aberdeen who made a late season 9-1-0 run at the fourth playoff spot. Minot scored 18 goals over the last ten games while allowing 38. Lucas Oliver (4G-1A), Jake McCann (3G-1A) and Matt Audette (2G-2A) were the only multi goal scorers. Ryan Ruck picked up both wins over the last ten posting a 2-4-0 record to go along with a 3.45GAA and .909SV%.
Head-to-head this was a very tight match up all season. Austin came out on top of the battle finishing 5-1-4 against Minot with a total of five games decided in a shootout, and the Minotauros prevailing in 4 of those 5 games. Austin’s Smith with 10 points was the only double digit scorer in the series. Minot was led by Steven Sherman’s (2G-4A) six points. On the season Pawloski was 4-0-0 against Minot with three shutouts, a 0.73GAA and an unheard of .973SV%. Lehr put up some impressive numbers himself despite his 1-1-4 record. Lehr finished with a 1.74GAA and a .930SV%. Tyler Parks played the majority of minutes for the Minotauros against Austin finishing at 4-2-1 with a shutout and a 2.46GAA on a .921SV%. Austin nearly double up Minot’s output on the powerplay netting eight goals on 41 opportunities for 19.5% while Minot only managed five goals on 48 attempts for 10.4%
Bismarck – Brookings
Bismarck finished strong pulling points out of each of their final ten games going 7-0-3. The Bobcats averaged 4.1 goals a game while holding their opponents to 2 goals per game. Aaron Nelson used a 2.25GAA and .907SV% to go 4-0-2 while Bryan Nies was 3-0-1 with a 1.00GAA and .958SV%. Offensively, Bismarck had a fairly balanced attack with eight players scoring eight or more points. Nate Repensky (4G-12A) and Filip Starzynski (1G-10A) led in points while Matt Pohlkamp and Evan Giesler had six goals apiece.
Brookings’ final ten games saw them go 5-5-0. Drew Weigman recorded the decision in all ten games playing all but 71 minutes in net. Weigman compiled a 3.49GAA and .899SV% while Chase Wilson put up 1.69GAA and .920SV% in his limited time. Aidan Cavallini (4G-1A) led the Blizzard in goals scored over the final ten games and Justin Moody (2G-7A) headed up the offense with his 9 points. Brookings was 20-9-1 at home this season, but their road record was 12-14-4.
Head-to-head match up saw Bismarck go 5-3-2 against Brookings due in great part to strong goal tender play as the offense generated only 26 goals in the ten meetings. Nelson was 4-2-2 with two shutouts while Nies was 1-1-0. The two combined for a 1.90GAA and .942SV% against the Blizzard. Bismarck had five players register three goals apiece against Brookings. Weigman was in net for Brookings in 8 of the 10 games against Bismarck generating a 5-1-0 record with two shutouts, a 2.02GAA and a .941SV%. Weigman received little support from an offense that scored only 19 goals. Eric Brenk (3G-3A) and Moody (1G-5A) were the only players with more than five points against the Bobcats. The special teams numbers were nearly identical in the series with Bismarck converting 7 of 47 opportunities while Brookings was 7 for 46.
NAHL South Division
Arguably the toughest division in the league, the South Division produced the regular season champions for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Amarillo once again grabbed the honor with 99 points from a 46-7-7 record. Topeka as they did last season came in as the second seed in the division and the defending National Champion Texas Tornado qualified for their 12th straight trip to the post season. Texas has made the playoffs every season that they have been a member of the league. Corpus Christi who saw their playoff hopes melt away on the final day of the season last year, held off a game Wichita Falls for the fourth and final playoff spot this season.
Amarillo – Corpus Christi
Amarillo was strong all season and their final ten games was no exception. The Bulls pulled 19 of a possible 20 points out of their last ten games. Amarillo combined a prolific offense with a stingy defense to outscore their opponents 50 to 16 down the stretch. Paul Berrafato was in net for 6 of the 9 victories with Collin Delia registering the other three. Combined the two had a 1.60GAA and .936SV%. Mike Davis (8G-10A), Tyler Deresky (7G-5A) and Gage Christianson (3G-7A) paced the offense. Defensively the Bulls had seven players who held a +/- rating at of above +10 over their final ten games.
The Corpus Christi Icerays avoided last year’s collapse by going 6-4-0 to close out the season. The Icerays were better on the road this season with a 15-10-5 record than they were at the American Bank Center where they were 13-16-1. That may serve them well as they will open the playoffs on the road in Amarillo. Rudy Sulmonte (6G-13A), Emil Romig (5G-7A), Michael Economos (5G-6A) led a group of five player who scored in the double digits to finish the season. Stewart Hayden and Ben Myers shared net minding duties with Hayden posting a 3-3-0 record while Myers went 3-1-0. Over the last ten the Icerays had a 3.40GAA and a .906SV%.
Head-to-head the Bulls were 7-3-2 against the Icerays accounting for five of their 14 total losses. Corpus Christi managed to split with the Bulls on the road in Amarillo. The Bulls goal tending slipped to a 2.50GAA and .898SV% against Corpus Christi. Matt Sieckhaus (4G-9A), Deresky (2G-9A) and TJ Sarcona (4G-6A) scored in double figures against the Icerays. The Icerays’ Sulmonte (5G-6A) was the only player to break the double digits scoring mark against the Bulls. In goal Corpus Christi played to a 3.67GAA and .909SV% in the series. The Icerays special teams converted at a 14.8% clip on 8 of 54 plus a shorty, while Amarillo finished at 12.1% converting 8 of 66 with 3 short handed goals.
Topeka – Texas
The Roadrunners were 7-2-1 over the last ten games including a three game win streak to close out the regular season. Spencer Viele who took the loss in last season’s National Championship game, used a 2.49GAA and .916SV% to build a 6-2-1 record. Mackenzie Sawyer picked up a win in his only decision. On the offensive side, Kyle Sharkey (6G-7A), Tyler Andrew (4G-7A) and Tyler Poulsen (5G-2A) were responsible for the majority of the offense.
The season was one of streaks for the Texas Tornado. They had the two longest winning streaks of the season at 10 and 9 games which were offset by the fourth longest losing streak of the season at 8 games. The Tornado managed only a 4-5-1 record to close regular season play. Hunter Leisner slipped to 2-4-1 with a 3.66GAA and a .860SV%. Late season addition Aaron Davis put up a 2.33GAA and .910SV% on the way to a 2-1-0 record. Nick Neville (2G-9A) led all scorers while Jackson Leef (5G-5A) and Andrew Mayer (3G-7A) were the others to score in double digits. Texas had four players score more than 50 points on the season with Rookie Brandon Hawkins (35G-23A) leading the league in goals scored. Leef (17G-41A), Justin Greenberg (25G-32A) who scored the overtime game winner to wrap up the Robertson Cup for Texas last season and rookie Scott Conway (18G-36A) were the other three.
Head-to-head the Roadrunners dominated the season series with a 9-1-2 record, outscoring the Tornado 40-26 in the process. Viele had a 7-1-1 mark against Texas with a 2.12GAA and .928SV%. MacKenzie had impressive numbers in his limited appearances with a 1.60GAA and a .946SV%. Sharkey (8G-7A), Andrew (3G-9A) and Sean Gaffney (4G-6A) provided the offensive punch. Greenberg (4G-6A) was the lone Tornado to generate double digit scoring against Topeka. The Tornado netminders numbers slipped to a 3.33GAA and .875SV% against Topeka, Leisner logged all three of the Tornado wins in 10 decisions. The only real bright spot for Texas in the series was the strong play of their special teams. Texas scored on 10 of their 45 power plays for 22.2% efficiency while Topeka was held to a dismal 8.9% with only 4 goals on 45 power plays.
NAHL West Division
With only four teams in the division, the playoff race was limited to seeding only as all four teams went into the season knowing they were locked into the playoffs. The only real drama came down to the race for the division crown with Wenatchee taking the number one seed by virtue of two more OTL’s than Fairbanks.
Wenatchee – Fresno
Wenatchee struggled to a 3-7-0 record to end the season and still won the division crown finishing two points ahead of Fairbanks. Chris Kerr (5G-6A) and Max McHugh (5G-5A) were responsible for 21 of the Wild’s 51 points in the final ten. Robert Nichols who was second in the league in wins with 31 on the season, managed just a 2-6-0 record. Nick Schmit had the other two decisions. The Wild had a 3.40GAA and a .871SV% combined.
Fresno played out the schedule to a 3-6-1 record, but ironically were only outscored 34-32 over their last 10 games. Tomas Sholl 3-3-1 and McCauley Haight 0-3-0 combined for a 3.40GAA and a respectable .920SV%. Matt Salituro (4G-3A) and Trevor Husch (3G-4A) led the scoring for the Monsters.
Head-to-Head the series was dominated by Wenatchee as they ran up a record of 12-2-2 against Fresno. The Wild nearly double up the Monsters on the season scoring 63 goals to Fresno’s 32. There were seven Wenatchee players who registered double digit scoring efforts against Fresno led by McHugh (9G-9A), Kerr (7G-11A) and Jono Davis (8G-9A). Between the pipes Nichols was 8-1-1 while Schmit was 4-1-1, each goalie had a shutout against Fresno. For the Monsters, Husch (5G-6A) and Salituro (6G-4A) accounted for more than one third of Fresno’s goals against Wenatchee. The Wild powerplay finished the series at 18.8% on 12 goals in 64 opportunities. Fresno on the other had had 7 goals on 62 powerplays for 11.3%.
Fairbanks – KenaiRiver
Fairbanks finished their last ten with a record on 6-3-1 as they made a run at Wenatchee for the top spot in the division. Kevin Aldridge and Steve Perry each logged three wins and the pair had a 2.50GAA with a .915SV%. Garret Clemment (6G-6A) was the only Icedogs player to hit double digits in scoring down the stretch as Fairbanks had a fairly balanced attack. Every player on the Fairbanks roster notched at least one point over the last ten with the exception of two defensemen.
Kenai River closed strong at 8-2-0. Evan McCarthy was in net for eight of the decisions running up a 7-1-0 record with one shutout. Three Brown Bear goal tenders combined for a 2.60GAA and .913SV%. The Kenai River offense was as deep as that of their Alaska rivals with scoring from everyone on the roster except for two defensemen. Brad Duwe (4G-6A) and Vincent Stefan (1G-9A) led the scoring and Matt Seidel (6G-2A) led the team in goals scored.
Head-to-head the two Alaska teams saw a lot of each other over the course of the season. Fairbanks 8-6-2 held the slight advantage pulling two more points out of the series than did Kenai River by virtue of the two overtime losses. The goaltender statistics were also very similar, as Fairbanks put up a 2.63GAA with a .907SV% while Kenai River was at a 2.88GAA and a .908SV%. Clemment (8G-6A), Colton Wolter (6G-5A), Kyle Lee (5G-6A) and Devin Loe (5G-6A) were the horsepower behind theFairbanks offense. Conversely, the Brown Bears had 13 skaters who posted five or more points against the Icedogs. Zac Lazzaro (7G-3A) led the way with Ryan Walker (4G-4A) and Siedel (5G-2A) making significant contributions. Even the special teams seemed to be closely matched during the regular season. Fairbanks again held the slight advantage with 11.7% scoring 7 times on 60 times with the man advantage compared to Kenai River at 10.7% on a 6 of 56 performance.
All in all the first round of the NAHL post season is shaping up to be an interesting run. Some of the matchups have proven to be ripe for upsets based on the regular season meetings. Look for further analysis as we move into the second round and Robertson Cup Tournament.