Breaking down the four teams at the Silver Cup
March 25, 2014
The Silver Cup is just moments away and we are down to the final four teams that will have a shot to win the title. There is a little bit more at stake at this year’s Silver Cup because the two teams that make it to the Championship Game will also be the two representatives from the NA3HL to travel to Simsbury, Connecticut for the 2014 USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championships from April 3-7.
The Silver Cup begins on Thursday, March 27th and will be held at the Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, Illinois. For more information on the event, click here.
Here is a look at the field:
#1 North Iowa Bulls (West Division Champions)
Head Coach: Todd Sanden
Record: 45-3-0, 90 pts.
How they got here: Defeated Twin City 2-0 in the West Division Semi-Finals, then defeated Granite City 2-1 in the West Division Finals.
Breakdown: The Bulls enter the event as the defending Silver Cup and USA Hockey Tier III National Champions. All indications are is that when the team is clicking on all cylinders, they are as tough to beat as any team in the country. Head Coach Todd Sanden has said on numerous occasions that he believes this year’s club may be better than last year’s. The numbers don’t lie… the Bulls had three players shatter the single-season scoring records that stood for over 25 years in the NA3HL/CSHL. Matt Kroska led the league with 122 points, followed by linemates Tim Santopoalo (118 pts.) and Rihards Marenis (113 points). Both Marenis and Santopoalo had 50 goals or more. Late addition Dominik Florian is another player to watch and the Bulls are backstopped by NAHL tender Chris Amsden. The Bulls were taken to the limit by Granite City in the West Finals, but exploded for nine goals in the deciding game. It will take a perfect effort for someone to beat the Bulls, but in a one-game scenario, anything is possible.
#2 Flint Junior Generals (East Division Champions)
Head Coach: Steve Howard
Record: 42-4-2, 86 pts.
How they got here: Defeated Metro 2-0 in the East Division Semi-Finals, then defeated Cleveland 2-0 in the East Division Finals.
Breakdown: If defense wins Championships, the Flint Junior Generals may be well on their way. The NA3HL’s top defensive team had 42 wins this season thanks to a stingy defense, great goaltending and timely and balanced scoring. Including their playoff sweeps over Metro and Cleveland, the Junior Generals have won 19 of their last 20 games played. Not even the North Iowa Bulls can say that. Flint is led by goaltender Anders Franke, who statistically is the league’s best active netminder. Of active goalies, he ranked 1st in wins, goals against average and tied for the league lead in shutouts. Flint also had six players with 30 points or more and five players with 20 goals or more. Those numbers are actually similar to the Bulls, but without the eye-popping totals. The Junior Generals also had the league’s best penalty kill and stayed out of the box. Veteran players like Franke, Nick Gnagni and Austin Fletcher will have to perform big for Flint to take home the cup.
#3 St. Louis Jr. Blues (Central Division Champions)
Head Coach: Chris Flaugher
Record: 30-15-3, 63 pts.
How they got here: Defeated Wisconsin 2-0 in the Central Division Semi-Finals, then defeated Peoria 2-1 in the Central Division Finals.
Breakdown: It should come as no surprise that the St. Louis Jr. Blues are back in the Silver Cup Tournament for the third straight season. Their Central Finals win over Peoria was hardly an ‘upset’ as they only finished two points back of the Mustangs during the regular season. The Jr. Blues took the momentum from a great regular season finish of winning their last eight games and carried it right into the playoffs where they have won 11 of their last 12 outings. The Jr. Blues also have some familiarity with a few of the teams in the Silver Cup, having played North Iowa four times this season and Dallas once. The key for the Jr. Blues success has been their veteran leadership. Four of their top five scorers were all with the club last season and now that Tyler Opilka has returned to the blueline, he and Kyle Meeh made up perhaps one of the best defensive pairings in the league. Goaltender has been by committee this season with Cooper Cothran and Billy Hindle, so either one could get the start at the Silver Cup.
#4 Dallas Jr. Stars (South Division Champions)
Head Coach: Jason Deitsch
Record: 16-22-2, 34 pts.
How they got here: Defeated Sugar Land 2-0 in the South Division Semi-Finals, then defeated Topeka 2-1 in the South Division Finals.
Breakdown: Every tournament seems to have an underdog and this year that is the Dallas Jr. Stars, who despite putting up just 16 wins during the regular season, have won four in the last two weeks to get to this point. They are the only team to be making their first appearance at the Silver Cup Tournament, as the other three were part of the event last season. Head Coach Jason Deitsch is familiar with Championship Tournaments at Fox Valley Ice Arena, having played for the Junior A National Championship at the same arena back in 2001. Dallas is led by NCAA recruit Raurie Petrich and Tommy Stock, who both went over the 40-point plateau this season. Other players to keep an eye on are forwards Blake McIntyre and Jake Gevaart, who have been red-hot in the playoffs. Defenseman Cam Choate has a bomb from the blueline and has the size to handle players in front. However, the Jr. Stars success may lie with goaltender Chris Mallon, who is likely to get the start in the Silver Cup.