Are you ready for the grand finale? The last weekend of February marks the last turn before the race to the finish line of the North American Hockey League’s regular season. While the league’s South Division have already locked in their participants, only New Jersey and Fairbanks have secured their places. Yes, there’s a heck of a lot of questions to be answered over the next few weeks.
The Central Division leading Aberdeen Wings (32-9-4-2) split their weekend home series with currently fourth-place Austin (25-15-2-5) in a matchup that could easily have been the preview of the first-round playoff matchup. With seven wins in their last ten games, Bismarck (28-12-4-3) is starting to game a little ground on the division leaders. Minot (25-13-1-6) remains in the #3 spot after an idle weekend. The Minnesota Wilderness (23-22-3-0) are not out of the playoff picture just yet and looked like world beaters in their big home win over Bismarck Saturday. St Cloud (10-33-4-1) continues to develop younger players with hopes of a big improvement for next season.
Things are getting real squirrely in the East Division. Remember when it looked like New Jersey (34-11-0-1) were going to run away with it? Not so fast Vato, the Titans have dropped three straight and have gone 5-5 in their last ten games. Johnstown (30-13-2-2) is just five points behind New Jersey and have been closing the gap quickly. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (23-21-4-1) is sitting in third place with an eight-point lead over a pack of contenders for that fourth playoff spot. Maryland (18-23-7-0) and Jamestown (20-27-1-2) are a point ahead of Maine (20-28-2-0) and three ahead of the Northeast Generals (19-25-1-1). Any one of the bottom four can make things difficult for the division winner once the playoffs do get started. Just ask the Titans after getting swept out of Jamestown by the Rebels.
The Midwest Division has been interesting all season with a couple unlikely suspects hovering above the respectability line. While Fairbanks (37-10-1-2) rules the group, Chippewa (28-16-0-1) and Kenai River (25-19-3-3) are jockeying for that #2 spot. Janesville (21-25-1-0) and the Minnesota Magicians (17-22-6-3) are contending for the last playoff spot while Springfield (15-31-2-2) continues to sing the blues with just a pair of wins in their last ten games.
There’s a ton of Texas sized pride being fought for in the South Division. Amarillo (38-8-1-3) has a single point lead over Lone Star (39-9-0-1) while Topeka (31-13-2-2) tries to put a bit of space between themselves and Shreveport (31-17-0-0). Corpus Christi (15-29-3-4) is not happy with just fifteen wins through the first 51 games of the season. New Mexico (12-31-2-3) is doing much better in the second half of the season while Odessa (8-36-1-1) looks like they are going to flush and reset with an entirely different cast of characters for next season.
Imagine a college hockey coach bragging on social media after a 22-0 win. Yea, that happened after one ACHA team pounded an obviously over-matched and much weaker opponent. It took a few days for the coach to realize the error of his ways and he deleted the post. Still, that’s a great way to inspire players to go somewhere else and play. I get it, it’s basically rec league hockey with cooler gear at that level, but the boys have got to start somewhere. I’ll spare the school and team the embarrassment and not name them…this time.
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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