Yes, that was an eventful weekend of North American Hockey League action. Amarillo hung on to our top spot while Kenai River climbs four notches to #5 this week. Let’s run down the list and see if there are any more surprises.
Now for the disclosure… the following is my opinion and not written under the influence of anything or anybody.
#1 Amarillo Bulls (7-1-0-0, .875) – Head Coach Rocky Russo’s Bulls are on a stampede. Winners of seven straight, this team is hot as ever. Saturday night’s 6-0 win over Lone Star was complete. Maybe ever more so than Amarillo’s dress-down of the Rebels at the showcase. Six of the next eight games are all against the Mudbugs starting this weekend at George’s Pond. Ironically enough, the other two are against the Brahmas. Those eight games could absolutely set the tone for the rest of the season. The pressure is on for Russo’s club.
#2 Austin Bruins (5-1-0-1, .786) – Head Coach Steve Howard’s Bruins climb into the co-pilot’s seat after a solid home shutout of Brookings. Look for Austin to remain especially sharp with this weekend’s double roadie to Brookings and Cloquet.
#3 Minot Minotauros (6-2-0-0, .750) – Marty Murray’s ‘Tauros drop a spot after the weekend split with the Bizzie. Look for Minot to be very focused for this week’s roadie at #4 Aberdeen.
#4 Aberdeen Wings (5-2-0-0, .714) – Scott Langer’s Wings climb up four spots after the 6-2 win over Brookings. Minot comes to the Odde this weekend for a pair.
#5 Kenai River Brown Bears (7-3-0-0, .700) – Head Coach Josh Petrich’s Bears move into the Top Five after picking up the home sweep from Chippewa. Kenai River fans packed the Soldotna arena where attendance rolled up and over 1,000 in two straight nights. We could see four in a row with the traditionally powerful Janesville Jets in town this weekend. Janesville has signed a secret weapon that might be delivering more than insight for the series.
#6 Johnstown Tomahawks (7-3-0-0, .700) – Johnstown takes a three-spot dive after Coach Mike Letizia group disappointed a lot of Tomahawk fans in Friday’s 4-1 home opening loss to the Rebels. Saturday’s win was played in front of nearly half the attendance from the home opener. The result will put a lot of pressure on the team’s first ever trip to Maryland’s Piney Orchard Ice Arena to face the Black Bears.
#7 Topeka Pilots (7-4-0-0, .636) – Simon Watson’s Pilots split their weekend set at Springfield and have this weekend off to prepare for Kenai River’s visit October 19-20.
#8 Bismarck Bobcats (5-3-0-0, .625) – Head Coach Layne Sedevie’s Bobcats drop a few spots after the weekend’s home-and-home split with Minot. Bizzie gets this week off to prepare for another dosey doe with the Minotauros October 19-20.
#9 Minnesota Magicians (5-3-0-0, .625) – AJ Bucchino’s Magicians must have had a bad pre-game meal in advance of facing the Wilderness Friday night. It’s hard to believe that was the same team on the ice in Saturday’s home win. This weekend’s home set with Springy will be another big test.
#10 Springfield Blues (4-3-1-0, .563) – Tyler Rettette’s Blues looked good in the weekend home split with Topeka. Saturday’s shutout of the Pilots was the result of an epic effort from goaltender Caleb Hannon (’99, Buffalo, .956 SV%) who stopped all 34 shots faced. Springfield goes to Mini-soda to face the Magicians this weekend.
#11 New Jersey Titans (5-5-0-0, .500) – Craig Doremus and the Titans split the weekend home-and-home set with the rival Knights and get a special treat this weekend. Going to upstate New York is always going to be exciting. There is a good possibility that the Rebels’ game attendance could actually top 1,000 for the first time in team history (as the Rebels).
#12t Northeast Generals (3-3-0-0, .500) – Joe Lovell’s Generals gave away the game on Saturday against the upstart Black Bears but managed to redeem themselves with Sunday’s win. The boys roll to the WB for a trio of games this weekend.
#12t Shreveport Mudbugs (4-4-0-0, .500) – Jason Campbell’s Mudbugs had a full week of fun and relaxation in advance of facing the top-ranked Bulls of Amarillo this weekend. I’m thinking maybe that week off might not have such a vacation after-all. Shreveport can make a huge statement with a successful outing against Rocky Russo’s machine.
#14 Janesville Jets (5-5-0-0, .500) – Gary Shuchuk’s Jets split the weekend set at Fairbanks, but the series took a toll. Goaltender Garrett Nieto (’98, Yorba Linda CA, .899SV%) went down in Friday’s game and his return is undetermined at this time. Canadian youngster Cole Brady (’01, Toronto, .901 SV%) stepped in and stopped all seven shots he faced to close Friday’s win. Things did not go as well on Saturday when the twineminder stopped just 12 of 17 Ice Dogs’ shots in the loss. This weekend Janesville travels to Kenai River to face the Brown Bears. The Jets may have picked up a secret weapon in Alaskan goalie Kevin Lake (’98, Anchorage, .947 SV%). Lake high-tailed it up to Fairbanks Saturday night to serve as the emergency back-up for the Jets. He could be called into action this weekend against his former team.
#15 Jamestown Rebels (4-4-0-0, .500) –Joe Coombs’ Rebels spoiled the Tomahawks’ home opener, costing the deep pockets owner half the gate for Saturday’s sequel. Getting that split at Johnstown sets the tone for the Rebels’ big home opener of their own at Northwest Arena. Do you think that New Jersey will be rolling over for the Rebs? Now, that’s funny.
#16 Maryland Black Bears (3-4-3-0, .450) – Clint Mylymok’s Bears split their weekend set in Boston and get to host the Tomahawks at Piney Orchard this weekend. The Black Bears are a game under .500 with ten games played; that’s impressive considering they started from scratch. Mylymok simply gives this team a level of understanding that most others simply can’t relate to. Look for the Black Bears to continue to improve as the season moves forward.
#17 Minnesota Wilderness (3-4-1-0, .438) – Let me get this out of the way before anything else. Any success that this team has in the first half of the season is in direct relation to the perseverance of the boys on the ice and not anything to do with the guy wearing the suit that happens to be standing on the bench. We have been hearing about the players’ discontent regarding Davey Boitz, and his lack of connection to today’s game and players, since the beginning of the season. Look for Austin head coach Steve Howard to deliver another in-game coaching lesson on Saturday.
#18 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights (3-4-1-0, .438) – Despite sitting at #18, Head Coach Tom Kowal’s Knights have exceeded our on-ice expectations. The WB has gone 3-1 since the showcase with that one loss being at New Jersey Saturday. Generals visit for three games this weekend in a series that is huge for both clubs and could set the tone for the remainder of the season series.
#19 Odessa Jackalopes (3-5-0-1, .389) – Greg Gatto’s Jackalopes go back to the metro-plex to face Lone Star October 19-20. Until then, Gatto’s group will be fine-tuning their game and watching a ton of film.
#20 Corpus Christi IceRays (3-5-0-0, .375) – Ryan Cruthers’ IceRays got an extra week off to prepare for Lone Star. I’m thinking they really needed it because the Brahmas will come in looking to make a statement. It’s also a really good time for Corpus to make one of their own.
#21 Fairbanks Ice Dogs (3-6-0-1, .350) –Trevor Stewart’s Ice Dogs have emerged from their extended nap. Saturday’s 5-0 shutout win over Janesville was tide-turning for the historically powerful club. Chippewa better bring their big-boy game to Fairbanks this weekend, things could get messy in a hurry.
#22 Lone Star Brahmas (2-5-0-1, .313) – Dan Wildfong’s Brahmas are in for a difficult week of practice. I believe Saturday’s 6-0 loss at Amarillo was one of the most lopsided defeats in the team’s history within the NAHL. It may be the worst ever in Widfong’s coaching career. I can promise this; the weekend at the beach in Corpus Christi won’t include too many sneak peeks at the bikinis.
#23 Chippewa Steel (3-7-0-0, .300) – Al Rooney’s Steel fall two spots after getting swept at Kenai River. Going to Alaska is more difficult than ever with the Brownies kicking it up a few levels. This weekend’s trek to Fairbanks may look easy on paper (‘Dogs at #21) but the Steel should know better than to ever make that assumption. The Big Dipper can be a very intimidating venue for any opponent.
#24 Brookings Blizzard (1-5-1-1, .333) – Moe Mantha’s Blizzard have hit the bottom of the pool. That’s going to happen when a team comes out on the short end of the stick in six straight games. This coach knows how to develop his group as well as any coach in the business, so the expectation is to see the boys rise to the occasion. Will we get to see some of that this weekend? Look for Brookings to give it all they got when Austin visits Friday.
THE FINE PRINT
We have moved to a pure mathematical ranking system based entirely on the team’s winning percentage before going to goal differential in the event of ties. Yes, sometimes simple is best. In the last few years we’ve added a letter grade to NAHL rankings and created a bit of discontent for doing that. As a result, that practice has discontinued.