All but three North American Hockey League teams have turned the corner into the fourth quarter of the 2019-20 season. The interesting part of that reality is the fact that only four teams are “out of it” when we start talking about the playoff picture. Of those four teams, three are from the south division.
Yes, the Central Division leading Aberdeen Wings (31-8-4-2) have cooled down a bit (only seven wins in last ten games) but they continue to play absolutely rock-solid hockey. Bismarck (27-11-4-3) is just seven-points behind Aberdeen and four-points ahead of Minot (25-13-1-6). Both the Bobcats and ‘Tauros have a half-dozen wins in the last ten games. Austin (24-15-2-4) has slowed down a bit (four wins in last ten games). Here’s the thing, if the season ended today, the Bruins are likely the last team the Wings would want to face in the first round of the playoffs. I have to believe that Austin bench boss Steve Howard would like his chances against the Wings. The Minnesota Wilderness (21-21-3-0) are just nine-points behind the Bruins and could make up that ground in a hurry if they got hot. I just don’t see that happening just yet. St Cloud (10-32-4-1) is a single win away from matching last season’s win total and is on pace for a big improvement. I like Moe Mantha’s chances for next season and beyond.
Things are getting crazy in the East Division where they playoff picture is literally wide open. The New Jersey Titans (34-9-0-1) are still on top of the heap but Johnstown (30-13-2-2) has certainly been closing the gap. The Tomahawks have wins in four straight games (and in eight of the last ten) with every intention of knocking New Jersey off the top. While those two teams battle it out for the #1 spot, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (21-21-4-1) is trying to hold off Maryland (18-21-7-0), Maine (19-26-2-0), Jamestown (18-27-1-2) and the Northeast Generals (17-24-1-1). Any of the bottom five teams could nab a playoff spot or find themselves on the outside looking in.
Could things get any stranger in the Midwest Division? The usual suspect sits atop the division. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs (35-9-1-2) is rolling with sixteen wins in their last seventeen games. Currently second-place Kenai River (25-17-3-3) looks like a Corvette with water in the gas. One game they look absolutely awesome and then the next it’s back to the toilet bowl again. The Brown Bears have fooled around and given Chippewa (27-15-0-1) the momentum needed to make a play for second place. Janesville (20-24-1-0) is the second hottest team in the division with seven wins in the last team games while trying to hold off the Minnesota Magicians (15-22-6-3). Could Springfield (14-29-2-2) get hot and make a playoff run? I suppose it’s mathematically possible but also highly unlikely.
Well, we know all the playoff participants from the South Division. Amarillo (36-8-1-3) and Lone Star (37-9-0-1) continue their battle for the regular season division title while Shreveport (31-15-0-0) and Topeka (29-13-2-2) get to jockey for third and fourth place. Corpus Christi (15-27-3-4), New Mexico (12-29-2-3) and Odessa (8-36-1-1) are all in next season mode and hoping that their younger players benefit from the valuable game experiences they are getting in this final segment of the season.
CHEERS & JEERS
Cheers to the NAPHL. When it comes to putting on a hockey event, few on the planet could ever match the expertise of the North American Hockey League. While the 2020 Dixon Cup was taking place in Michigan the league was also preparing for the two Top Prospects events near Boston. Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld and his staff pulled off a great event in Michigan so expectations are even higher for Top Prospects.
Jeers to the Canadian Premier Junior Hockey League for allowing the charade that is Brian Fish to continue as long as it did. Fish has been trying to scam unsuspecting families for the past few years with an endless string of misrepresentations. The league announced the termination of the Muskoka Anglers and Scarborough Wexford Raiders on Saturday, both teams were owned and operated by Fish. Don’t be surprised to hear this fool’s name emerge again in relation to a yet another new team in a certain non-sanctioned league based in the United States…that’s if he can get across the border.
Author: Stephen Heisler
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with Victorious Hockey Company. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.
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