Let this be a warning to you…I’m not in the best of moods this week. Why is that you ask? One of the nastiest predators in junior hockey history has tiptoed back into the game. Let’s put the smile back on for the day before getting into the poop pool tomorrow.
The Central Division leading Aberdeen Wings (23-5-4-2) picked up their first regulation loss since November 11th while splitting the home-and-home set with Bizzie. Here’s the thing; one would assume that going on such a hot streak would create a mountain of separation between the frontrunner and second place. Yea right. Steve Howard’s Austin Bruins (20-9-2-4) have eight wins in the last ten games and sit just six points behind the leaders. The Bobcats (20-8-2-3) are just a point behind Austin (with two less games played) and just three ahead of fourth place Minot (19-11-1-3). The ‘Tauros missed an opportunity to put additional space between themselves and the Wilderness with a 4-3 home loss Saturday night. Things happen, we all know that, but I can’t help but think that Coach Marty Murray is wishing he could get that one back. North American Hockey League Coach of the Year consideration should go to Wilderness (17-17-1-0) boss Jon Vaillancourt. The rookie head coach is pulled of what has to be the Miracle on Ice sequel. Imagine trying to work with (General Manager and coach killer) Dave Boitz on a regular basis with any degree of success. Knowing Boitz’s record, he’ll likely can Vaillancourt this week for even the thought of getting credit for the team’s success. Moe Mantha’s Blizzard (9-22-3-1) are deep into next season mode and we can already see some signs of things to come.
I have to admit, it’s fun seeing the East Division being so giddy about the Jersey Titans (25-6-0-1). Does anybody off the east coast think Jersey has the horses to seriously compete for the Robbie? With five more games played, Johnstown (22-11-2-2) is just a trio of points behind the division leaders but has a ten-point cushion over currently third place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (18-14-2-1). Personally, I feel that Maryland (16-14-6-0) is showing signs that they could be the team that emerges from the East. The goalie tandem of Andrew Takacs (‘01, Dunkirk (MD), 9-10-0-0, .900 SV%) and Cooper Black (’01, Alpena (MI) 7-3-0-1, .919 SV%) will be the driving forces of any playoff successes. Maine (15-22-2-0) continues to struggle a bit but we are confident they will get things figured out soon enough. The Generals (13-18-1-1) remain committed to the development of their prospects while Jamestown (12-23-1-2) looks like they are very focused on April 4th, the last game of the season.
The Fairbanks Ice Dogs (26-9-1-2) are rocking atop the Midwest Division with eight wins in the last ten games. Their Alaskan neighbors on the Kenai Peninsula have not fared as well; the Brown Bears (22-12-1-3) are winless in the last five games after getting swept at New Mexico. Kenai River has been on the road since beating Janesville on December 7th, a span of nine games (3-5-1). Maine visits this weekend. Third place Chippewa (20-11-0-0) has wins in eight of the last ten games. It’s not easy to understand what has happened to the Janesville Jets (13-21-1-0) this season. It is Janesville, so expectations are always going to be elevated. Today the Jets are sitting in a fourth-place tie with the Magicians (10-20-5-2) and are two-points ahead of Springfield (11-23-2-1) so really anything can happen regarding that last playoff spot. I think it’s going to come down to which team secures additions to the roster that can make a difference. Sometimes that’s a hot twineminder, a big bodied crasher, or even a slick defenseman, the reality is that all three of these teams are certainly going to be buyers as the trade deadline approaches.
The top four teams in the South Division are a combined 21-0-0-1 in their last 22 games. Folks, that’s smoking. Amarillo (28-6-1-2) has a two-point lead over Lone Star (28-8-0-1) who is five points ahead of Shreveport (26-11-0-0). Topeka (23-10-1-2) is just three-points out of third place. Any of these teams could win the regular season title before getting cut down in the first round of the playoffs. There are no secrets, no surprises, and no place to hide a weakness. All four coaches come with a high degree of competitiveness and hunger to get over on the other. All that equates into a very entertaining brand of hockey. It also spells trouble for the division’s other three teams. Corpus Christi (13-20-3-3) is winless in their last nine games and just made a coaching change. Nate Weossner took over on an interim basis for Al Rooney before the three-game weekend home series with the Mudbugs. The IceRays were outgunned 18-2 in those three games. Welcome to the NAHL coach. New Mexico (8-25-1-2) played six straight games against division leading Amarillo (December 13-31) and must have learned something along the way. After beating the Bulls in Amarillo on New Year’s Eve, the Ice Wolves swept Kenai River at home this past weekend. New Mexico ventures to Alaska to face Fairbanks this weekend, if we’re still talking about a win streak next Monday I’ll certainly be impressed. That leaves us with the difficult situation in Odessa (7-25-1-1). After getting embarrassed 26-1 in their three-game series at Lone Star January 1-3, it was obvious to all that something had to change for the Jackalopes. Todd Watson stepped down into a scouting role for the club and Adam Phillips assumes head coaching duties in a interim basis. Phillips was quickly tossed into the fire-pit with a three-game series in Amarillo. The new Jacks boss fared only slightly better the Weossner, getting outscored 16-2 in his NAHL welcome party.
I’m loading up for a week of Daily Dish meals designed to take a sexual predator completely out of the junior hockey equation. Yes, this is not going to pretty and those with a weak stomach may want to take a few days off. Needless to say, the intention is to do exactly what our system of justice failed to do. I’ll be making my way to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office tomorrow to dial in on the details for tomorrow’s Dish. Stay tuned and maybe buy some Pepto-Bismol before the morning.