The Minnesota Junior Hockey League is nearing the pinnacle of its six month season, with four teams still alive in the chase for the Bush Cup.
The league will host each of its two semifinal series this weekend, setting a stage that a week from now will be taken by two national tournament entrants.
Top-seeded and MnJHL regular season champion Twin Cities makes it's postseason debut, taking ice the for a best-of-three with the Hudson Crusaders.
On the other end of the playoff bracket, Rochester and Minnesota will duel in a best-of-three for the right to play either Twin Cities or Hudson in the Bush Cup Playoff finals.
Here's a look at what each of the two semifinals series could offer:
No. 1 Twin Cities Northern Lights (42-5-1) vs. No. 4 Hudson Crusaders (26-22-2)
Game 1: 7 p.m. Friday, March 9 at Wakota Arena.
Game 2: 7:10 p.m. Saturday, March 10 at Hudson Civic Arena
Game 3: (if necessary) 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 11 at Wakota Arena
F Gleb Kulikov (Dmitrov, Russia) 23 goals, 32 assists
F Gordon Wells (Novi, Mich.) 28 goals, 27 assists
F Jace Childs (Burnsville, Minn.) 23 goals, 19 assists
F Lukas Sumerauer (Velesin, Czech Republic) 18 goals, 19 assists
D Eric Shand (San Dimas, Calif.) 28 goals, 18 assists
G Will Schluneger (Webster, Minn.) 21-3, 2.56 goals against average
F Jake Bruhn (Chippewa Falls, Wis.) 28 goals, 40 assists
F Cody Rich (Bellingham, Wash.) 31 goals, 28 assists
F Derek Terrian (McFarland, Wis.) 23 goals, 22 assists
F Matthew Lindquist (Thief River Falls, Minn.) 13 games, 6 goals, 13 assists
G Cody Biship (Pierre, S.D.), 14-13 3.48 goals against average
Hudson head coach Ted Urschel said his team was hoping for a chance to play Twin Cities in this series. In theory, the request has some legitimacy. Hudson did hand the Northern Lights one of their five losses this winter (3-1 Oct. 9) and also forced Twin Cities into overtime in mid-January. But the Crusaders should be careful what they wish for. Twin Cities tore through the MnJHL this year, winning 42 of 48 regular season games while averaging over six goals scored per night as a team. They put up eight on Hudson twice this season, and owned the season series, winning seven of the eight meetings between the two teams.
No. 2 Rochester Ice Hawks (37-11-2) vs. No. 3 Minnesota Owls (28-20-3)
Game 1: 7:05 p.m. Friday, March 9 at the Rochester Recreation Center
Game 2: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 10 at the David Johnson Civic Arena
Game 3: (if necessary) 5:35 p.m. Sunday, March 11 at the Rochester Recreation Center
F Tyler Beasley (Indianapolis, Minn.) 28 goals, 62 assists
F Rob Turner (Georgetown, Ontario) 40 goals, 41 assists
F Charles Gallagher (Albany, N.Y.) 28 goals, 34 assists
F Jake Zarzycki (Clinton, Mich.) 19 goals, 33 assists
D Derek Rahme (Hatfield, Pa.) 12 goals, 21 assists
F Robert Erickson (Coon Rapids, Minn.) 40 goals, 35 assists
F Sheldon Kihle (Wiliston, N.D.) 20 goals, 40 assists
F Kolton Kahoot (Ear Falls, Ontario) 19 goals, 28 assists
F T.J. Belisle (Andover, Minn.) 16 games, 13 goals, 11 assists
D Nick Ernst (Mokena, Ill.) 14 goals, 29 assists
G Brad Jerzewski (Madison, Wis.) 14-9, 3.58 goals against average
Rochester's road to what would be a ninth straight national tournament will have to go through a team that has played them even for the better part of the season. Minnesota enters with wins in two of its last three games against the Ice Hawks, which included a 5-4 victory in Rochester Jan. 13. That win ended a four-game Ice Hawk win-streak over the Owls, as Rochester bounced back from a shootout loss to Minnesota Sept. 23 to win the next four. The Ice Hawks also won the final meeting of the year, taking a 5-2 decision Feb. 24. Both clubs played last weekend. Minnesota needed three games to dispatch of Edina, while Rochester had its way in a two-game sweep of Maple Grove.