Breaking down the 2015 Silver Cup field
March 17, 2015
The 2015 NA3HL Silver Cup Tournament field is set and it is shaping up to be one of the most memorable and most competitive fields to date.
All five regular season divisional champions (West Michigan, Metro, Great Falls, Nashville and North Iowa) made their way through the playoffs to also win their divisional playoff championships, marking one of the few times in NA3HL history that all divisional regular season champions and #1 seeds in their division have all advanced to the Silver Cup Tournament.
The sixth team at the event and wildcard entry will be the Granite City Lumberjacks, who qualified for the event because they had the best regular season record of the five teams that lost in the division finals.
The 2015 NA3HL Silver Cup Tournament will be held at Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, Illinois, from March 19-22.
Here is a look at the teams and how they got here:
Central Division: West Michigan Wolves
How they got here: The Wolves are the feel good story of the season in the NA3HL. The team ended up winning the Central during the regular season via wins tie-breaker with Wisconsin and they needed the home ice as they won Games 2 and 3 of the Central Finals on home ice against the Whalers to advance. During the last four years, the franchise had a total of eight wins. After rebranding over the summer and hiring former NAHL and NCAA coach Marc Fakler, the team totally turned things around in just one season, posting 31 wins. They have two players, Michael Tratar and Dakota Ulmer, in the Top 10 in NA3HL scoring, one of the best defensive pairs in the league with Corey Siwula and Kyle Keeder and goaltender Hunter Vorva, who led the league in save percentage this season.
East Division: Metro Jets
How they got here: Like West Michigan, Metro won their division thanks to a wins tie-breaker over the Pittsburgh Vengeance, who they met in the division finals. The third and deciding game would be played on Metro ice and it was to the Jets benefit as they edged the Vengeance 2-1 in Game 3. All five of the Jets playoff games through the East Division Semi-Finals and Finals have been decided by a goal and two of those went to overtime. The Jets, who are led for former NAHL coach Justin Quenneville, are a team that can win in tight games and are one of the best offensive teams in the league. Players like Pearce Vance and Ryan Bloom provide plenty of offensive firepower, while defensemen David Chavis and Tyler Layle provide a very good tandem along the blueline. The Jets also have a very good 1-2 punch in goal with both Kameron Limburg and Jake Stephan, who split time during the season. The Jets are one of the three teams in the field who stakes claim to a league playoff championship, having won the title three times in 1990, 2001 and 2002.
Frontier Division: Great Falls Americans
How they got here: One point is all it took for the Americans to capture the Frontier Division regular season title over the Helena Bighorns and it would pay off in the playoffs as the Americans fired on all cylinders, sweeping both Billings in the Semi-Finals and Helena in the Finals. They are the lone team entering the Silver Cup Tournament that has yet to lose a playoff game this season. Head coach Jeff Heimel has his team dialed and the Americans may be the most dangerous offensive team heading into the tournament. They have the top two scorers in the playoffs right now in forwards Josh Larson and Lucas Lomax, who not only lead the NA3HL playoffs in scoring, but have done it in just four games. The Americans are lesson in team success as they did not have a top 25 scorer during the regular season, but had 19 players reach double digits in points. In goal, the Americans are riding Jordan Moran, who is among the league leaders in playoff goaltending.
South Division: Nashville Jr. Predators
How they got here: With their advancement to the South Finals, the Jr. Predators were assured a spot in the Silver Cup Tournament, but for good measure, they swept Texas and secured the #1 overall seed at the event thanks to their sparkling 42-4-1 record during the regular season. Since December 8th, the Jr. Predators have lost a total of two games, which stretches a span of their last 29 games, including playoffs. Three players to watch out for up front are leading scorer and rookie Trent Kulczyk, Jon Severson and captain Jabob Lainesse. Nashville also has one of the best and most effective defenseman in the league in Matiss Gelazis. However, the key to Nashville’s success in the tournament may hinge on their goaltending, where they have a tough choice to make between rookie Justin Ball and veteran Nathan Klebe. They were 1-2 respectively during the regular season in the NA3HL goaltending statistics, but Nashville has relied on Ball during the playoffs. Regardless of who they play, they will need to be at their best, but it is hard not to considered Nashville one of the favorites in the event having lost just five games in regulation to date in their 52 combined games this season.
West Division: North Iowa Bulls
How they got here: The Bulls make their third straight appearance in the Silver Cup Tournament, having won the coveted trophy the past two seasons. The last team to win three straight playoff titles was the Dubuque Thunderbirds from 2007-09. Under the direction of former NAHL head coach and 2011-12 NA3HL Coach of the Year and 2013-14 NA3HL GM of the Year Todd Sanden, the Bulls put together another run late in the season and won another West Division title. Their paths crossed yet again with Granite City in the finals and home ice proved to be valuable as the Bulls won the 3rd and deciding game on Sunday. North Iowa will have a great chance to repeat because of their talent and depth. One of the league’s top defenseman Joe Kleven achors the defense, but it is their offensive depth that makes them a favorite to repeat. The Bulls had seven different players with 40 points or more and forwards Johnny Panvica, Brett Gravelle and Joe Burgmeier are as good as they come in the league. In goal, the Bulls are deep, but will likely rely on Chris Amsden to backstop them to another title, as he did last season. Having won the Silver Cup the last two years, it is hard not to consider the Bulls the favorite until someone knocks them off.
Wildcard: Granite City Lumberjacks
How they got here: Each NA3HL team plays 47 games during the regular season and it is hard to say that one game or one point in an overtime/shootout loss can make or break a season, but the Lumberjacks are living proof that one point makes a difference. With 71 points in the regular season, the Lumberjacks were lumped together with five other teams who lost in the division finals to see who would be the wildcard. The Helena Bighorns had a very comparable record and even one more win, but they with 70 points, it was one less than Granite City, so the Lumberjacks get a second chance at redemption. For a long period of time during the regular season, Granite City led the West Division, but six losses in their last 10 games allowed North Iowa to slide past them and claim the top spot. That top spot would prove vital in the West Finals as Granite City lost the deciding game 4-2 on road ice. The common thought is that if the Lumberjacks can summon the type of play they exhibited the first half of the season, then they have as good of a chance to win as anyone. Tanner Skaja has been the leader in the playoffs for the Lumberjacks and for success in the Silver Cup other forwards like Travis Kothenbuetel, Dallas Marvin and Jared Sprink will have to produce. They key to winning may lie with goalie Jesse Garcia, who has the talent and the regular season credentials to put together a 3-4 game run to lead the wildcard Lumberjacks to the title. Granite City is also a past Silver Cup Champion, having won the title in 2012.