Teams are starting to
gear up for North American Hockey League's Robertson Cup play-offs despite the
fact that the league has yet to announce the format or location for the
league's grand finale. Oh well, Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld has other more
important items on his agenda.
#1 Amarillo Bulls (29-5-6 Last Week #1) - After another split with Topeka, the
Bulls have allowed Tony Curtale to take the division lead (those extra 3-games came in handy). Amarillo certainly could have used some production from leading
scorer TJ Sarcona (13g 32a) over the weekend. The New Yorker was -1 with 12
PIMs, and a single shot in two games. The Bulls host Curtale and his crew this
#2 Texas Tornado (32-10-1 Last Week #2) - Tony's Tornado have over-taken the little
brother in Amarillo for the south division lead. Texas has now won ten in a row
after getting the sweep at Wichita Falls. Curtale's first-class operation takes
a detour this weekend when his group is forced sleep at the Fifth Seasons in
Amarillo. Defenseman Michael Hoy (5g, 13a) has had a decent season (+16) in his
second year with Curtale.
#3 Austin Bruins (31-6-5 Last Week #4) - Bruins' netminder Jason Pawloski (12-0-1, 2.38
GAA, .919 SV%) is on fire after stonewalling Minot with back-to-back shutouts
this past weekend. The young seventeen year-old stopped 58 shots over the two
games. Aside from that one indiscretion last week with Coulee Region (7-1
beat-down), the Bruins have been burning as well, going 7-1 in their last eight
#4 Wenatchee Wild
(28-7-4 Last Week #3) - The
Wild picked up another four-points over the weekend with two wins over Kenai
River. Boss Bliss Littler, and his assistant Chris Clark, might be in a bit of
hot-water with the league when a third-period melee resulted in a barrage of
penalties. The Wild host Fairbanks this weekend, their biggest division rival,
and can't afford a lengthy suspension. In his last year of junior hockey,
Dallas native Robert Nichols (23-6-3, 1.96 GAA, .915 SV%) is carrying the bulk
of the load this season for the Wild, appearing in 31 of Wenatchee's 39 games.
Nothing would make the University of Connecticut prospect happier than to raise
the Robertson Cup in front of his friends and family back in Texas... er, that is
not official yet, right Mr. Frankenfeld?
#5 Fairbanks Ice Dogs (29-11-1 Last Week #8) - Don't
look now, but the Ice Dogs are doing their annual January play-off dance and
have won seven of their last eight games after getting the three win sweep at
Fresno. Next up is the trip to Wenatchee where the Wild might be a bit
#6 Soo Eagles (27-10-4 Last Week #6) - The Eagles picked up three-points in the
weekend split with Johnstown to stay atop the division. Bruno Bragagnolo's
birds close the season series with the Tomahawks Saturday in Johnstown but
first will have to deal with a pair games at Jamestown on Thursday and Friday.
Soo goaltending has been fantastic this season with the tandem of Zach
Naglevoort (9-5-1, 2.37 GAA, .927 SV%) and Tyler Marble (18-5-3, 2.27 GAA, .941
#7 Topeka RoadRunners (25-11-5 Last Week #7) - The RoadRunners are content with the home
split with top-ranked Amarillo and host the IceRays this weekend. Good things
happen when Topeka defenseman Michal Pastor (6g, 18a) is on the ice. The
Slovakian is a team-leading +23 in 40 games for the RoadRunners this season.
#8 Jamestown Ironmen (27-11-3 Last Week #5) - The Ironmen split at Springfield allowed
Kalamazoo to join the Soo Eagles at the top of the division standings. That's
especially interesting considering that the Eagles are back in Jamestown this
week. Ryan Doucet (11g, 18a) scored three of the six Jamestown goals at
#9 Kalamazoo K-Wings (27-13-4 Last Week #9) - The
K-Wings are now 7-0-1 in their last eight games after the weekend sweep at
Janesville. The sweep of the Jets propelled Kalmazoo into a first-place tie
with the Soo Eagles at the top of the division standings. Forest Lake,
Minnesota native Lucas Kohls (11g, 16a) has performed well in his first
six-games with the K-Wings, contributing 3-points (1g, 2a) to the sweep.
#10 Bismarck Bobcats (24-14-3 Last Week #10) - Bismarck's sweep of Aberdeen gives the Bobcats
a slim 3-point lead over Brookings for the second place in the central
division. Bismarck has a home-and-home series with Minot this weekend. Aaron
Nelson is having a good season between the pipes for the Bobcats, going 16-6-6
with a 1.74 goals against average and .938 SV%.
#11 Johnstown Tomahawks (20-14-9 Last Week #11) - The Tomahawks' had lost five straight road
games before Saturday's shoot-out win in Sault Ste. Marie. Johnstown needs to
clamp down and sweep visiting Port Huron this week before Saturday's big one
against the Eagles. Defenseman Mitch Hall (2g, 3a, +8) scored his first goal as
a Tomahawk late in the 2nd period on Saturday. The birthday boy
(Hall turns 20 today) started out the season with Jamestown.
#12 Brookings Blizzard (23-15-2 Last Week #12)
- The Blizzard have now
won four in a row after getting the sweep at Coulee Region. Brookings has a
home-and-home set with division leading Austin this weekend. Nikita Sokolov
(2g, 1a) has been a disappointment for the Blizzard. The '94 forward from St.
Petersburg, Russia is pointless in his last six games.
#13 Minot Minotauros (21-18-3 Last Week #13) - The Minotauros were shut-out twice while being
swept under the rug by Austin. This weekend's home-and-home battle with
Bismarck could easily be a play-off preview. The Minotauros have already
tripled their win-total from last year and are all but a lock to make the
play-offs. They will need to move up a place in the standings to avoid a
first-round run into Austin. Forward Jake O'Borsky (10g, 19a) was scoreless
when he played the first six games of the season for Wenatchee but has been the
go-to guy for Minot.
#14 Kenai River Brown Bears (16-19-6 Last Week
#18) - The Brown Bears are
starving for some kind of edge and they might have found something after
picking up four-points from the three-game series at Wenatchee. The Brown Bears
will try and channel that success this week at Fresno. After this weekend, 12
of their last 16 games are at home. That's the good news. The bad news is that
10 of those 16 games are against Fairbanks. Pittsburgh native Vincent Stefan
(4g, 12a) has doubled his point-total from last season. The defenseman also has
a stellar plus/minus rating of +7 after playing in 47 games last year at even.
#15 Springfield Blues (19-22-3 Last Week #14) - The Blues were simply out-played by Jamestown on
Friday night, losing a 4-1 to a team they should have beat. On Saturday,
Springfield proved that point by out-working the blue-collared Ironmen to get
the win. Moe Mantha brings his Warriors back to Springfield this weekend and I
have just one question. Which Blues' team is going to show up? Nineteen
year-old Brett Skibba (21g, 21a) was pointless (and -3) in Friday's night loss
but in on all three Blue goals on Saturday (2g, 1a).
#16 Corpus Christi IceRays (17-19-6 Last Week #15) - Corpus Christi salvaged a split in Odessa
after losing to the hapless Jackalopes on Friday. The IceRays travel to Topeka
this weekend for what promises to be an epic battle with one of the division's
big three. Rudy Sulmonte (19g, 22a) and Perry DArrisso (17g, 23a) lead the team
in scoring while Charles "Chucky Slick" Baldwin (6g, 7a) keeps the team loose.
Wichita Falls has played two less games than the IceRays and is only
seven-points back in the race for the fourth play-off spot. The Wildcats can really close that gap with
their 3-game series at Odessa this week. Needless to say, Corpus Christi needs
to stop messing around and win the games they are supposed to... or find
themselves on the outside looking in when the play-offs begin.
#17 Port Huron Fighting Falcons (19-21-3 Last Week #16) - The Fighting Falcons are one of four teams that are
still in a battle for the fifth and sixth north division play-off spots. Nine
of their remaining seventeen games are against these same teams. It's
crunch-time for Port Huron and Michael Gershon's boys need to step up their game.
The team lives and dies with the goaltending play of Max Milosek (14-14-2, 2.77
GAA, .914 SV%). The veteran's numbers were just slightly better last season but
I feel that the Lapeer, Michigan native is going to have a strong finish.
#18 Janesville Jets (16-19-8 Last Week #17) - Yes, the Jets are still in the
play-off picture going into the last seventeen games of the season. Winners of
just a single game in their last eight, the Jets are in a bit of a nose-dive.
Can bench boss Joe Dibble pull Janesville out of the wash? Janesville has this
weekend off before hosting Johnstown February 8-9.
#19 Michigan Warriors (14-21-5 Last Week #19) - The Warriors have picked up thirteen
points in the last ten games but will have to hit the gas a little harder if
they want to seriously contend for a play-off spot. A sweep this weekend at
Springfield would be a great start. New Michigan forward, and another
Pittsburgh native, Heinz Koster (7g, 5a) lit the lamp in his first Warriors
game after moving over from Aberdeen.
#20 Wichita Falls Wildcats (15-22-3 Last Week #21) - Paul
Baxter's Wildcats completed the season
series with Curtale's Tornado in Saturday night's shoot-out loss. Only ten of
Wichita Falls' final twenty games are against the division's other big dogs,
Amarillo and Topeka. The Wildcats are just seven points behind Corpus Christi
with two less games played. This weekend's three-game dance at Odessa provides
an excellent opportunity to close that gap. Rookie defenseman Marshall Tema
(1g, 1a) has struggled to find a grove so far this season, he has a plus/minus
rating of -15 in just 20 games played. Baxter must have faith that the St.
Louis Park High School blueliner will be able to capitalize on this years'
#21 Fresno Monsters (12-21-5 Last Week #20) - The Monsters was swept out of their own
buildings by the Fairbanks Ice Dogs this week, something that must not be going
down well for Fresno's Eric Ballard and his staff. Kenai River is making the
trip down to California this week after getting four-points up in Wenatchee.
#22 Coulee Region Chill (11-25-5 Last Week #22) - It is going to be all but impossible for the
Chill to catch Minot to earn the division's final play-off spot. So, with that
in mind, what course of action should coach AJ Degenhardt take? I'd be rolling
all the 92's out for 94's and 95's to begin building the team for next-year.
That means players like Garrett Hendrickson (7g, 15a), Cory Lushanko (7g, 11a),
Matt Williams (8g, 9a) and defenseman Brady Riesgraf (0g, 10a) could all be
#23 Aberdeen Wings (8-26-6 Last Week #23) - Losers
of eighteen straight, the Wings new bench boss, Travis Winter, has to be
looking for players that can turn this team around for 2013-2014. Forward
Justin Parizek (12g, 21a) needs to be traded to a team that can utilize his
abilities and is willing to give up a younger prospect.
#24 Odessa Jackalopes (6-32-2 Last Week #24) - The IceRays became a footnote Friday night when they allowed
Lawrence Cornellier (23g, 23a) to singlehandedly end Odessa's nightmare
eleven-game losing streak with a big four-point night (2g, 2a). Now that
Cornellier's stock has risen, maybe Jackalopes boss Paul Gillis should do the
right thing and move the Illinois native to a contending team.
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