The first weekend of the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) playoffs are in the books and two teams have already advanced to the Silver Cup Championship Tournament, while four others enjoy 2-0 series leads after the first two games.
#1 St. Louis Jr. Blues vs. #4 Quad City Jr. Flames (St. Louis wins series, 3-0)
The #1 seeded Jr. Blues made quick work of the Jr. Flames over the weekend, outscoring them 21-4 in the three wins. Victor Gortz led the way with seven points in the three games for the Jr. Blues and Cody Guidorzi also chipped in with six points in the sweep. St. Louis won 8-1 on Friday, 4-1 on Saturday and 9-2 in the series clincher on Sunday. St. Louis goaltenders faced just 58 shots in the three games and Clint Steinmeyer picked up two of the wins. With the series sweep, St. Louis now moved onto the NA3HL Silver Cup Championship Tournament, where they will be the #1 overall seed. The Jr. Blues lost in last year’s Silver Cup Championship game to Granite City.
#2 Peoria Mustangs vs. #3 Queen City Steam (Peoria wins series, 3-0)
Peoria was relying on a tough defense and good goaltending to get them through the Silver Cup Tournament and that’s exactly what they got in their series sweep of Queen City. Peoria goaltender Michael Parda was the difference in the series as he stopped 106 of a combined 108 shots in the three wins. Peoria won 3-1 on Friday, 3-0 on Saturday and 4-1 on Sunday. Defenseman Nikolas Sakellaropoulos led the Mustangs with four points over the weekend. Cory Kettler and Cody Lichtenvoort each had a pair of goals including game-winners for each.
#1 Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks vs. #4 Toledo Cherokee (Cleveland leads best of five series, 2-0)
Toledo has failed to slow down the high-powered Cleveland offense, which was going to be one of the factors in this series. Jacks forward Scott Cuthrell has picked up right where he left off in the regular season with two big and productive games. Cuthrell scored six points in the first two games to lead Cleveland. The Jacks also elected to start Joe Moza over David Heflin in goal and Moza played well in the first two wins for Cleveland. Cleveland took Game 1 on Friday, 8-3 and Game 2 in Toledo on Sunday, 5-3. Toledo will now have to win three straight games in order to advance, with Game 3 coming this Tuesday, March 19th in Cleveland.
#2 Three Rivers Vengeance vs. #3 Flint Jr. Generals (Flint leads best of five series, 2-0)
The surprise in this series isn’t that Flint took the first two games, or even took them on the road for that matter. Both teams had the same number of points in the regular season. However, the story through the first two games, both Flint wins, is that they have shut down the Vengeance offense. Other than Alex Berardinelli, who has three goals, the Vengeance offense found it hard to produce goals. Flint goalie Anders Franke was stellar in goal, picking up both wins and stopping 73 of 78 shots through the first two games. Flint won Game 1 on Friday, 4-3 in overtime and won Game 2 on Saturday, 3-2. Game 3 is slated for Friday, March 22nd in Flint.
#1 North Iowa Bulls vs. #4 Minnesota Flying Aces (North Iowa leads best of five series, 2-0)
The Flying Aces have kept the scores respectable through the first two games, but that hasn’t led to wins as the Bulls picked up wins in the first two games of the series. On Friday, the Bulls offense had problems finding the back of the net, but eventually wore down Minnesota with a 3-1 win despite 41 saves from Minnesota’s Jared Stearns. On Saturday, despite a large shots advantage again, the Bulls found themselves trailing at one point in the 2nd period 2-1 before erupting for five straight goals in a 6-2 win. Matt Kroska, who led the Bulls in scoring in the regular season, picked up right where he left off as he led the Bulls through the first two games with four points. Matt Bartels played well in the two Bulls wins, but only had to face 39 shots in the two games. Game 3 and a chance to clinch for the Bulls comes in Minnesota on Thursday, March 21st.
#2 Granite City Lumberjacks vs. #3 Alexandria Blizzard (Granite City leads best of five series, 2-0)
Despite being outshot in both games, the first two games of the series between Granite City and Alexandria can be summed up in two words… Drew Otto. The Granite City forward picked up points in seven of the Lumberjacks eight total goals this past weekend, including five goals of his own as the Lumberjacks took the first two games of the series. Granite City Lumberjacks goaltender Scott Murray also played well, stopping 54 of 58 shots in the two games. Alexandria’s top two scorers in the regular season, Ian Ecklund and Garrett Skinner, were shut down in the opening two games, something Granite City looks to keep going in Game 3, which will be in Alexandria on Friday, March 22nd.