The North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) regular season has come to a close and the 2013 NA3HL Silver Cup Playoffs are set to begin on Friday, March 15th as all six Division Semi-Finals face-off. The clubs are seeded within their own division based upon their finish in the NA3HL regular-season standings. The top four clubs from each division qualify for the playoffs.
The Club seeded first in each division will compete in a best-of-five series with the fourth seeded Club in the same division. The Club seeded second in each division will compete in a best-of-five-series against the Club seeded third in the same division. The #1 and #2 seeds will have home ice advantage in the first round. The two Clubs in each division that win a divisional playoff series will advance on to the Silver Cup Championship. The Divisional Semi-Final round begins on March 15th and concludes no later than March 24th.
The NA3HL Silver Cup Championship will feature six teams and be played at the Fox Valley Ice Arena, Geneva, Illinois, from March 27-30. The six divisional semi-final playoff series winners will be placed in two, three-team pools. Teams will be seeded according to their finish in the NA3HL regular season standings. A round-robin format will be used, with the teams playing the other two teams within their pool. The top team in each pool after round robin competition will advance on to play for the Championship. The bottom four teams at the conclusion of round robin play will be eliminated from the tournament. In the event of a tie after round-robin play, a tiebreaking procedure adopted in the rules and regulations shall be used to break the tie.
The winner of the NA3HL Silver Cup will then advance to play in the USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championship being held in Rochester, Minnesota from April 4-8.
Here is a look the NA3HL Divisional Semi-Final playoff match-ups:
#4 Quad City Jr. Flames (8-38-2, 18 pts.) vs. #1 St. Louis Jr. Blues (43-3-2, 88 pts.)
Breakdown: It is a rematch of the Division Semi-Finals from last season as the league’s #1 team in the regular season, St. Louis, faces Quad City. It is truly a David vs. Goliath match-up on paper. These teams were separated by 70 points during the regular season and St. Louis posted a perfect 8-0 record against Quad City during the regular season, outscoring them 43-10 in the process. If there is a silver lining for Quad City, it is that five of their eight wins this season were against playoff teams, including Granite City.
#3 Queen City Steam (17-27-4, 38 pts.) vs. #2 Peoria Mustangs (26-18-4, 56 pts.)
Breakdown: During the regular season, these two teams played one another eight times and it was a very balanced series. Peoria had the edge with a 5-3 record. Interestingly enough, these two teams played one another just two weeks ago in a series in Queen City and the Mustangs rolled to a sweep, winning by four goals in each of the weekend games. Queen City’s edge may actually be playing the first three games of the series in Peoria, where they went 2-1-1 during the regular season. The biggest goal for the Steam will be trying to forget the weekend sweep two weeks ago and also how to solve one of the NA3HL’s best goaltenders in Peoria’s Michael Parda.
#4 Toledo Cherokee (26-21-1, 53 pts.) vs. #1 Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks (38-10-0, 76 pts.)
Breakdown: This should be a fun series to watch as these Ohio rivals renew their rivalry in the playoffs. Surprisingly, they only played five times during the regular season. Cleveland dominated much of the series with a 4-1 edge and outscored Toledo 27-13 in the process. Travel won’t be a factor as the two teams are separated by less than two hours. What will be a factor is the Cleveland offense. The Cherokee will have to figure out how to stop the NA3HL’s leading scorer Scott Cuthrell and teammate Cameron Dimmitt, who was 3rd in NA3HL scoring.
#3 Flint Jr. Generals (27-17-4, 58 pts.) vs. #2 Three Rivers Vengeance (28-18-2, 58 pts.)
Breakdown: The series has the makings of a knock-down,drag-out, good old fashioned playoff series that could easily go five games. The two teams tied in the regular season standings with 58 points, with the Vengeance earning one more win and thus earning home ice in this series. Each game in the six game regular season series was decided by two goals or less, but Flint held the edge with a 4-1-1 record. These two teams played two weeks ago in Flint, with the Jr. Generals coming away with a pair of one goal wins. However, the key factor in this series may be discipline and staying out of the penalty box as Flint was the league’s most penalized team in the regular season. Three Rivers forward Nico Vecchio needs to be a factor for the Vengeance to advance.
#4 Minnesota Flying Aces (21-24-3, 45 pts.) vs. #1 North Iowa Bulls (41-4-3, 85 pts.)
Breakdown: The Flying Aces secured their playoff spot on the last day of the regular season with a win over Breezy Point, while the Bulls have had the division title in their grasp for almost two months. The Bulls, who had the #1 offense in the NA3HL in the regular season scoring more than six goals per game, went 8-0 against Minnesota during the regular season, outscoring them 41-12 in the process. Although there have been some blowouts by North Iowa in the series during the regular season, Minnesota only lost by a goal in the two teams last meeting in North Iowa back on March 1st.
#3 Alexandria Blizzard (31-15-2, 64 pts.) vs. #2 Granite City Lumberjacks (36-8-4, 76 pts.)
Breakdown: Despite playing one another eight times during the regular season and only being separated by eight goals in those eight games, the Lumberjacks dominated the regular season against Alexandria, going 7-1-0 against the Blizzard. Six of the eight games were decided by two goals or less. Any team that wins over 30+ games and has the league’s best penalty kill is going to be dangerous in the playoffs and that’s exactly what the Blizzard have going for them. Blizzard forward Ian Ecklund is going to have to have a big series. Meanwhile Granite City is the defending Silver Cup Champions with experience on their side and their hopes that their regular season success against the Blizzard continues in the playoffs.