Road to the Robertson Cup, Vol. 1
As the NAHL gets set for the final week of the regular season, it’s time to take a look at the Robertson Cup playoff picture. 28 teams will turn into 20, eventually getting whittled down to the six who will play for the Robertson Cup national championship. All 12 games of the tournament will be held at Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco, Tex., home of the Texas Tornado. The Tornado have their bid secured as the host team, while the winner of each division’s playoffs will also play for title. Should the Tornado win the South, the second-place team will join them in the Robertson Cup. Three divisions already have their playoff picture set, while it will take the final weekend of the season for the South and West divisions to be decided.
The Bismarck Bobcats have already clinched the top spot in the Central division, ensuring that they will have home-ice advantage through both rounds of the divisional playoffs. With 88 points, they have the second-best record in the entire league, but were swept for the first time all season this weekend. They’ll be matched up against the Aberdeen Wings in the first round of the playoffs. Led by Jacob Meyers, who has been named the Brian’s/NAHL Goaltender of the Month twice this season, Alexandria will finish the season as the Central’s #2 seed and will take on Austin in the first round. In Sunday’s preview of the first round matchup, the Blizzard handed the Bruins a 5-3 loss.
With 35 goals and 44 assists, St. Louis’ Joe Kalisz is fourth in the league in both departments while his 79 points leave him second in the NAHL. He and the rest of the Bandits have clinched the top spot in the Midwest and will be looking for their first Robertson Cup Championship since they won three straight from 2007-2009. Their first-round series features a matchup with the Coulee Region Chill. The Janesville Jets had the weekend off and, though they’ve already clinched the #2 spot in the Midwest, are currently sitting on a three-game losing streak. Janesville will take on the Springfield Jr. Blues in the first round, who currently have three of the league’s ten 60-point scorers (Kyle Cook, Chris Sitler, and Josef Pontasch).
Last season, the Port Huron Fighting Falcons won just six games. Under the leadership of head coach Bill Warren (and his brother Matt, who is an assistant), the Fighting Falcons have orchestrated quite the turnaround and are first in the North this year with 77 points. In order to clinch home-ice advantage throughout the divisional playoffs, they’ll need to fend off Kalamazoo, who is just one point back. The two teams play a home-and-home series this weekend, with the Jr. K-Wings needing regulation victories in both games to overtake Port Huron. Traverse City is locked into the #3 seed while last year’s runners-up, the Michigan Warriors, will face the eventual North division winners.
At 44-7-7, the Amarillo Bulls were wire-to-wire winners of the South this season. After winning their first game of the season in Blaine, Minn. at the NAHL Showcase Tournament back in September, they did not cede the top spot in the division the entire year. Who they’ll play in the first round, though, remains a bit of a mystery. At 57 points, both the Odessa Jackalopes and Corpus Christi IceRays are tied for the fourth and final playoff spot in the South. The Jackalopes have a game in hand on the IceRays, however, and will play Wichita Falls on Friday before a two-game weekend series against Topeka on Saturday and Sunday. Corpus Christi, meanwhile, has a pair of games against the Texas Tornado remaining on their schedule. Both teams have utilized stellar play out of their rookie goaltenders, Anthony Stolarz (COR) and Connor Hellebuyck (ODE). Topeka and Texas are in a battle of their own as it pertains to the playoffs. Though they know that their first round matchup is against each other, both teams are tied with 76 points and two games to play. Topeka holds the tiebreaker over Texas, meaning Texas will need to outpoint the Roadrunners to overtake Topeka for home-ice advantage in the first round.
With two of the league’s top three point-getters in Gabe Levin and JT Osborn, the Fairbanks IceDogs will continue their quest for a Robertson Cup repeat as they enter the playoffs as the #1 seed in the West. That’s the only thing that’s certain in that division. Wenatchee currently sits in second place with 75 points, but Alaska is three points behind them and also has two games in hand in another battle for first round home-ice. The Avalanche will play four games in five days to close out their season. The fourth spot currently belongs to Fresno, though Kenai River trails them by two points and holds the tiebreaker over the Monsters. The Brown Bears will faceoff twice against Alaska this weekend while the Monsters have a pair of games against Wenatchee.