The rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Not so
fast for teams in the North American Hockey League. Aside from Odessa, Aberdeen
and Coulee Region, everybody is gearing up for the play-off run.
#1 Amarillo Bulls (28-4-6 Last Week #1) - After two consecutive home series
splits, the Bulls have now lost four of their last six games. While still
entrenched at the top of this writer's rankings, the separation between the
Bulls and Tony Curtale is shrinking. Amarillo goes back to Topeka this weekend.
I'm sure that the welcome will be warm and embracing.
#2 Texas Tornado (30-10-1 Last Week #3) - The Tornado are now 13-1 since November 30th
after getting another dominating performance at home against Odessa. Curtale and the crew are at suddenly serious
Wichita Falls this weekend.
#3 Wenatchee Wild
(26-6-4 Last Week #2) - The
Wild have won just two of their last seven home games after being swept by
Fresno, something Bliss Littler has serious concerns about. Kenai River is back
in Wenatchee this weekend and something tells me the Wild are going to be on
top of their game.
#4 Austin Bruins (28-6-5 Last Week #4) - The Bruins got one heck of a reality check on
Friday night when Coulee Region opened them up early and often in a 7-1 rout of
the division leaders. Austin hosts the Chill again on Wednesday night before
travelling to Minot this weekend.
#5 Jamestown Ironmen (26-10-3 Last Week #6) - The Ironmen split at Kalamazoo and
travel to a focused Springfield Blues team that is coming off a strong showing
in Alaska. Newcomer Ryan Doucet (2g, 4a for Ironmen) has been productive in his
first five games for Jamestown.
#6 Soo Eagles (26-10-3 Last Week #7) - The Eagles enjoyed the sunny Sault Ste. Marie
weather during the off week and look forward to this weekend's festivities with
the Tomahawks in for two. Hellertown, PA. native Pat Thompson has 6-points (3g,
3a) for the Eagles since coming over from Odessa.
#7 Topeka RoadRunners (24-10-5 Last Week #8) - The RoadRunners got their first sweep since
October with their strong performance against Wichita Falls. Topeka would like
to duplicate that result with division leading Amarillo back in town this
weekend. Sources are reporting that Topeka has secured a second host property especially
for the Bulls this weekend.
#8 Fairbanks Ice Dogs (26-11-1 Last Week #5) - The Big Dipper Arena in Fairbanks is
generally not a fun place to visit for opposing teams, especially early in a
new year. The Ice Dogs allowed Springfield to escape Alaska with seven of a
possible eight points. Fairbanks is back in California this weekend to face a
Monsters team that just swept division leading Wenatchee on the road. The Ice
Dogs' Garret Clemment (16g, 17a) lit the lamp twice against the Blues after
scoring just a single goal in the previous nine games.
#9 Kalamazoo K-Wings (24-13-3 Last Week #9) - The
K-Wings got three of four possible points at home against a Jamestown team that
is sharing the division lead with the Soo Eagles. Kalamazoo sits just 3-points
back with a chance to close that gap to one if they can find success Wednesday
night at Port Huron. The K-Wings travel to Janesville to battle with the Jets
on Friday and Saturday. Kalamazoo points leader Robbie Payne (20g, 22a) has not
been able to find the back of the net in his last five games since getting the
hattie at the Soo on January 5th.
#10 Bismarck Bobcats (22-13-3 Last Week #10) - Bismarck is now 7-1-1 in their last nine games
after getting three of four points at home against Brookings. The Bobcats visit
Brookings on Wednesday before hoping over to Aberdeen for Friday and Saturday.
Adam Knochenmus (17g, 21a) and Patrick Moore (13g, 24a) are the Bobcats'
point-a-game men and are both expected to have big games again this week.
#11 Johnstown Tomahawks (19-13-9 Last Week #12) - The Tomahawks have won just two of their last
nine (2-4-3) after splitting at home with Michigan. If Johnstown can get a big
weekend out of goalie Chris Truehl (2.39 GAA .924 SV%) they can have a degree
of success at Sault Ste. Marie. Mitch Kontny (16g, 9a) is the leading
lamplighter for the Tomahawks despite having a plus/minus rating of -13.
#12 Brookings Blizzard (20-15-2 Last Week #11)
- The Blizzard got the
split at Bismarck and get another shot at the Bobcats on Wednesday night. The
Blizzard travel to suddenly relevant Coulee Region for Friday and Saturday.
Thomas Williams (21g, 17a) and Justin Moody (12g, 21a) lead the Blizzard in
scoring through the first 37 games of the season.
#13 Minot Minotauros (21-16-3 Last Week #13) - The Minotauros sweep of Aberdeen is just
another sign that the boys from Minot are taking things more seriously.
Division leading Austin is in Minot this weekend and provides an excellent
opportunity to show the league that the team's success is no Cinderella story.
Tyler Parks (2.62 GAA, .922 SV%) continues to be the big story for Minot in
goal but '94 birth-year Ryan Ruck (2.70 GAA, .904 SV%) of Coto de Caza, Ca. has
produced four straight wins in his last four starts.
#14 Springfield Blues (18-21-3 Last Week #17) - The Blues may go ahead and book an annual mid-winter
trip to Alaska if it means getting another shot at getting seven of eight
points in those four games. The Blues burned Fairbanks on Friday before going
down in a shootout on Saturday. Springfield has a huge opportunity to make a
statement with Jamestown in town this weekend. The Blues will need to get a lot
more production out of forward Mike Fazio (11g, 15a) who has earned points in
only one of his last ten games.
#15 Corpus Christi IceRays (16-18-6 Last Week #15) - The IceRays dumped their fifth straight game
Friday night at Amarillo before rebounding for a huge 4-3 shootout win over the
Bulls on Saturday. Corpus Christi has an excellent chance of turning that win
into a three game streak while visiting Odessa this weekend. Goalie Ben Myers
(7-6-0, 3.06 GAA, .912 SV%) has stopped 91 of the last 95 shots he has faced in
#16 Port Huron Fighting Falcons (18-20-3 Last Week #14) - The Fighting Falcons were seen at head coach Mike
Gershon's barber on Saturday getting shined up for Wednesday night's dance with
Robbie Payne and the Kalamazoo K-Wings. Port Huron is at Michigan Friday. Ian
Miller (11g, 14a) and Rick DeRosa (5g, 19a) lead the team in scoring but DeRosa
has been the bigger asset with a plus/minus rating of +7. Miller sits at the
other end of that spectrum at -8.
Defensemen Mick Bruce (2g,5a,+8) comes to Port Huron from Topeka and is
expected to make an immediate positive impact on the blueline crew.
#17 Janesville Jets (16-18-7 Last Week #16) - Janesville pulled three of four
points out of Kenai River to somewhat salvage their Alaska trip. The Jets host
Kalamazoo this weekend. Hometown hero Conor Lemirande (6g, 8a, 95 PIMs) is an
imposing presence at 6-5 225 lbs, but the big 19 year-old is averaging just
over two minutes a game in penalties over the course of his 93 game NAHL career
(176 PIM). If head coach Joe Dibble could get a more physical game out of his
forward, I feel the Lemirande could have a much greater impact for the Jets
down the stretch.
#18 Kenai River Brown Bears (15-19-4 Last Week
#18) - The only thing consistent
about the Kenai River Brown Bears is that coach Oliver David is unable to get
any kind of consistency from his teams. The Brown Bears are loaded with talent
on the ice; it's that California fruitcake on the bench that keeps letting down
the team. Kenai River has won just two of their last nine games before heading
down to face division leading Wenatchee this weekend. If that trend continues
and the Brownies are unable to get any points out of the Wild, or Monsters the
following week, I'd say it will be high-time for the team depart California
#19 Michigan Warriors (14-21-5 Last Week #19) - The Warriors got a huge 47-save performance
(48 shots) from goalie shot Trevor Gorsuch (2.67 GAA, .920 SV%) to beat
Johnstown for the fourth straight time on Friday night. The Tomahawks got the best
of Gorsuch on Saturday, 3-2. The Warriors host Port Huron on Friday.
#20 Fresno Monsters (12-19-5 Last Week #21) - Monsters'
boss Eric Ballard has been telling us all year that he wanted to peak towards
the end of the season and was not too concerned with his team's slow start.
After an unsuspected road sweep at division leader Wenatchee, Ballard now has
everyone's attention. Winners of six of their last ten games, Ballard has the
team heading in the right direction. Fairbanks comes to California this weekend
in what promises to be an epic battle with the Monsters.
#21 Wichita Falls Wildcats (15-21-2 Last Week #20) - Paul
Baxter's Wildcats were riding a
five-game win streak into Topeka Friday after sweeping Corpus Christi Tuesday
and Wednesday night in Wichita Falls. All that changed when the weary Wildcats
ran into a trap set by Scott Langer's RoadRunners. The Wildcats held Topeka to
just 48 shots in two games despite being swept by the RoadRunners.
#22 Coulee Region Chill (11-22-5 Last Week #22) - The Chill got a huge boost on Friday night
when they throttled the division leader Bruins 7-1 in Austin. Things did not go as
well on Saturday as Austin rebounded to salvage a split. The Chill return to
Austin on Wednesday before hosting Brookings on Friday and Saturday. New boss
AJ Degenhardt has his team believing in themselves and the play of goaltender
Blake Cates (3.14 GAA, .918 SV%) has
been impressive going 3-2 in his last five games.
#23 Aberdeen Wings (8-25-5 Last Week #23) - Losing
for the sixteenth time in a row in a lost weekend at Minot, the Wings new bench
boss, Travis Winter, is grasping at straws to find a positive sign of any
sorts. Earning the single point in Saturday night's shoot-out loss is a start.
Watching young Chad Catt (2.90 GAA, .897 SV%) force Minot into a eleven-round
shootout is another. Now that Winter has found a reason to drop a few goalies
from the roster, look for the new coach to be shopping for a few new youngsters
to use the rest of the season as a preparation for 2013-2014.
#24 Odessa Jackalopes (5-31-2 Last
Week #24) - Paul Gillis is now 1-29-1 since October 6th after getting
roasted by the Tornado in Frisco. Odessa has given up 30 goals in the last four
games and has been outshot 184-74 in that same span of games. The positives?
Odessa has re-committed to the league for 2013-2014 and has to replace just six
players (and a coach?) for next season. For the record, the Ice Rays are in
Odessa this weekend, good seats are still available. For Jackalopes players,
the best seat in town is on the Greyhound to whatever new team will take them.
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Stephen Heisler resides in Puerto Penasco, Mexico with his wife,
Maria, and their two children, Sonia and Tomas. Tune in to his Mexico based
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