The 37th regular season of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) comes to a close this weekend. With playoff spots, and in one case, a division title still at stake, it should make for an exciting an entertaining weekend. As always, all games across the NAHL can be viewed live on FASTHockey.
Here is a look at each division and what is known so far concerning the 2013 Robertson Cup Playoffs:
The Central Division has the fortune of being the only division in the NAHL that knows exactly what the playoffs will look like. The Austin Bruins have won the division and will face the Minot Minotauros in the Division Semi-Finals. The Minotauros clinched their playoff spot last weekend with a win over Brookings. The Aberdeen Wings, who have won their last eight games in the row and who are one of the hottest teams in the league, will barely miss out on the playoffs, but had a lot of success under new head coach Travis Winter. In the other Semi-Final, Bismarck has earned the #2 seed and will have home ice against the #3 seed Brookings Blizzard. All six teams are in action this weekend, however none of the match-ups provide a first round preview. It will be interesting to see what teams decide to perhaps rest some key players, knowing that their playoff spots are set.
With six teams making the playoffs in the North Division, it makes for a little bit different and more complex situation. The Soo Eagles have won the division and will be the #1 seed and receive a bye in the opening round. The Jamestown Ironmen have the inside track on the #2 seed and the other bye. They need one win this weekend to secure that right. Kalamazoo is in 3rd place and has to win both games this weekend in order for them to have a chance at the #2 seed and a bye in the 1st round. Otherwise, the Jr. K-Wings would be the #3 seed and have home ice in their 1st round, three-game series against the #6 seed. There is a logjam for the #4 and #5 seed between the Johnstown Tomahawks and the Port Huron Fighting Falcons. What we do know is that they will be playing one another in the 1st round. What we don’t know is where those games will be and who will have home ice. The battle for a 6th and final seed is going to be a good one. The Janesville Jets are one point up on Springfield for the spot with a game in hand. The Jets travel to Port Huron for that extra game on Thursday before heading up to the Soo on Friday and Saturday. Meanwhile, Springfield hosts Kalamazoo in what could potentially be a first round playoff preview if the Jr. Blues can manage to pull out a few wins.
The battle in the South Division is for the 4th and final seed. With two games remaining Corpus Christi is two points ahead of Wichita Falls and both teams have 26 wins. Corpus Christi hosts Odessa for a pair of games, while the Wildcats host the Topeka RoadRunners. Topeka is the #2 seed and knows they will face the #3 Texas Tornado in the South Division Semi-Finals, with Topeka enjoying home ice. Meanwhile in Frisco, the Tornado will play host to the NAHL and South Division regular season champion #1 Amarillo Bulls this weekend. With both teams locked into their respective seeds it will be interesting to see what type of personnel decisions are made with the playoffs looming in the distance.
All four teams have had the knowledge that they will be in the playoffs since the start of the season. However, the quest for the division title may come down to the final game of the season. Both the Wenatchee Wild and Fairbanks Ice Dogs have 38 wins, but Wenatchee is two points up on Fairbanks. The Wild take a trip to Fresno for a pair of games against the Monsters. The Wild are a perfect 6-0 in Fresno this season, so two more wins and the division title is well within Wenatchee’s grasp. If Wenatchee does win the West title, they would face the Monsters in the Semi-Finals as they are locked in as the #4 seed. In the other series, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs host the Kenai River Brown Bears. Having played one another 14 times so far, each team has won seven times. The Brown Bears swept the Ice Dogs in Kenai River last weekend, so revenge will be on the mind of the Ice Dogs. However, the Ice Dogs need to win twice and hope for a Wenatchee loss in order to claim the division. If Fairbanks ends up as the #2 seed, the will face the #3 Brown Bears in the Semi-Final round.
Want to know more about the NAHL playoff format and dates? Click here