This week in the NA3HL
It is just one week away until the NA3HL Showcase and all of the NA3HL teams are now in a furious scramble to get in playoff position with just one month remaining in the regular season. In some cases, playoff spots have already been clinched, and in others teams are on the outside looking in and trying to string together wins and valuable points. With the top four teams in each division making the playoffs, anything can happen from there. The NA3HL Silver Cup Championship format features six teams this year (two remaining in each division after the 1st round), so the Cup is really up for grabs this season. The 6-7 games each team will play in the next 10-12 days will determine a lot of who is going to be in and who is going to be out. Here is a look, by division, of how the teams stand to date:
North Iowa Bulls (1st place): The Bulls have won nine games in a row, including last weekend’s home sweep of the Quad City Jr. Flames. Defenseman Ron Lindgren had five points and was named the league’s #3 star of the week. The Bulls not only have locked up a playoff spot, but are close to securing the division title. The Bulls face Minnesota this weekend before heading to the Showcase for four games.
Granite City Lumberjacks (2nd place): The defending Champion Lumberjacks have also secured their spot in the playoffs. This past weekend, Granite City beat Breezy Point, but lost at home to a suddenly surging Twin City team. It was just the 5th loss in regulation for Granite City this season. This weekend, the Lumberjacks have two games on the road at Alexandria and at Minnesota before four games in Troy.
Alexandria Blizzard (3rd place): The Blizzard are just a few wins away from securing their playoff berth and still have a chance to catch Granite City for home ice advantage in the 1st round. This past week, the Blizzard fell to Twin City, but then beat Minnesota. Alexandria has a favorable schedule the next two weeks, which they need to take advantage of because their last five games are all on the road.
Twin City Steel (4th place): Despite a change on the bench, the suddenly surging Steel haven’t missed a beat as they have now won their last three games. Last week, the Steel beat Alexandria and Granite City thanks to the efforts of the league’s #1 star Tom Bartel. Two of the next three games for the Steel are in Alexandria along with a game at Breezy Point, before the Showcase where they will have four games.
Minnesota Flying Aces (5th place): The Flying Aces are on the outside looking in of the playoffs, as they sit three points behind Twin City. The Flying Aces have lost their last three games, including their lone game last weekend to Alexandria. Minnesota has a tall task at home this weekend as they host Granite City and North Iowa, before facing four games in Troy next weekend.
Breezy Point North Stars (6th place): Just eight games remain in the inaugural season for the Breezy Point North Stars and the year has been a learning experience. The North Stars will miss the playoffs, but still can play spoiler the rest of the year. After a loss to Granite City last weekend, the North Stars face Twin City in a single game this weekend before playing three games at the Showcase in Troy.
St. Louis Jr. Blues (1st place): The Jr. Blues were the first team in the NA3HL to clinch a playoff spot and their division. Winners of their last nine games, the Jr. Blues are in a race with the North Iowa Bulls to see who ends up with the league’s best record. After a sweep of Queen City last weekend, the Jr. Blues host Peoria this weekend before heading to the Showcase for four games.
Peoria Mustangs (2nd place): Although Peoria can’t catch St. Louis, the Mustangs appear to be a good bet for the #2 seed in the Central. After taking last weekend off, the Mustangs get back into action as they travel to 1st place St. Louis for a pair of games. The one major thing that makes Peoria a threat down the stretch is a tandem of good goaltenders. Peoria does also have a favorable schedule down the stretch.
Queen City Steam (3rd place): The Steam are a few wins away from securing a playoff spot and will likely face Peoria in the opening round of the NA3HL playoffs. They showed well despite getting swept in St. Louis this past weekend, and after an off weekend this weekend, they will face four challenging games at the Showcase. The Steam also face potential playoff foe Peoria in four of their final six games of the regular season.
Quad City Jr. Flames (4th place): Quad City had a tall task the past two weekends of facing the North Iowa Bulls and things didn’t go too well. However, the Flames still occupy the 4th and final playoff spot and play six of their final 11 games at home. However, the Showcase schedule for Quad City is one of the more difficult ones, so the Flames will have to earn their way in where they face a likely 1st round match-up with St. Louis.
Battle Creek Revolution (5th place): The Revs can still catch Quad City for the 4th and final playoff spot, but the schedule is a challenge. After two close losses to Toledo last weekend, the Revs now prepare for weekend home series against the 1st place Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks. Working against Battle Creek the rest of the way is a very tough Showcase schedule and their last nine game are away from home.
Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks (1st place): The Lumberjacks have clinched a playoff spot and are in the driver’s seat for the division title with 12 games remaining. Last weekend, the Jacks split a home series with 2nd place Three Rivers. After a pair of games in Battle Creek this weekend, the Jacks will have a tough task in Troy facing the likes of North Iowa and St. Louis in a battle of division leaders.
Three Rivers Vengeance (2nd place): The Vengeance still have an outside chance to win the East Division and thanks to their weekend split with 1st place Cleveland this past weekend, those chances remain alive. The one thing that will be a major challenge to the Vengeance is their schedule at the Showcase, which may be the toughest out there with games against St. Louis, North Iowa, Granite City and Peoria.
Toledo Cherokee (3rd place): Thanks to their weekend sweep of the Revolution in Battle Creek last weekend, the Cherokee moved into 3rd place in the East, one point ahead of Flint. Forward Brandon Layman’s five point effort earned his #2 star of the week honors in the NA3HL. This weekend, the Cherokee face a key series at Three Rivers, followed by four tough games at the NA3HL Showcase.
Flint Jr. Generals (4th place): The Jr. Generals are sitting comfortably in the 4th and final playoff spot in the East, 11 points ahead of the 5th place team. They picked up a 3-2 win over Metro last weekend and this weekend they face a home and home series against the Michigan Mountain Cats. The Jr. Generals have their schedule in their favor as five of the last six games of the season are played at home.
Michigan Mountain Cats (5th place): The Mountain Cats are 11 points out of a playoff spot with 11 games to play, so they are going to have to put it in overdrive to make the playoffs. This past weekend, the Cats split a home and home series with the Jets, but from here on out wins have to come almost every game. There is no better time than the present as this weekend, the Cats have two big games against Flint.
Metro Jets (6th place): The Jets, who are point behind Michigan for 5th place, find themselves on the outside looking in the playoff race. It still doesn’t mean that they are out of it as they have several games moving forward the are ‘winnable.’ The Jets only play three games at the NA3HL Showcase and if they can win their three games prior to the event against Quad City and Michigan, they still may have a shot.