Tightly Contested NA3HL Season Gearing Up For Epic Finish
The NA3HL Fraser Cup playoff picture is taking shape as the league enters the final two weeks of the regular season.
The Rochester Grizzlies clinched the top spot in the Central Division on Saturday night with an 11-0 win over the Coulee Region Chill, who currently hold the second spot in the Central, one point ahead of the St. Louis Jr. Blues.
The Peoria Mustangs hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central with 50 points. The Chill, Jr. Blues and Mustangs all have four games remaining while the Grizzlies have five. As it stands, the Grizzlies will have home ice advantage against the Mustangs. The Chill currently have the home ice advantage over the Jr. Blues but with eight points possible for both teams, the battle for home ice in this series could come down to the final game of the regular season. The Milwaukee Power and Wausau River Wolves have been eliminated from playoff contention.
In the Coastal Division the Northeast Generals are sitting comfortably in the driver’s seat with 73 points and have the first seed locked up. The L/A Nordiques hold the second spot with 67 points and just two games left on their schedule. The New England Stars have the third playoff spot locked up as the New England Knights with 32 points and the Maine Wild with 28 points are still fighting for that fourth and final playoff spot. The Knights have four games remaining while the Wild have three games remaining. The Generals will start the playoffs with home ice advantage against the Knights or the Wild while the Nordiques will have home ice advantage over the Stars in the first round.
In the Northeast Division the Elmira Soaring Eagles currently sit in the top spot with 46 points and just three games remaining. The Skyland Kings are just three points back with two games in hand on Elmira. The Danbury Colonials are also within striking distance with one game in hand on the Kings, three games in hand on the Soaring Eagles and a potential to collect 12 points in the final two weeks. The Long Beach Sharks are locked into the fourth and final spot in the division with just eight points. This is a rare case where every team in the division qualifies for post season play as the division only has four teams. If the playoffs were held today the Eagles would host the Sharks while the Kings would host the Colonials.
In the South Division the Texas Brahmas, who are the reigning NA3HL champions, have easily clinched the first spot with 72 points with five games remaining on the season. The number two spot currently belongs to the Atlanta Capitals with 48 points and three games remaining. The Louisiana Drillers are within striking distance of the Capitals with 45 points but just two games remaining. The Midland Jr. Stars have six games remaining on the season and nearly have the fourth and final spot locked up. Mathematically the Texas Roadrunners are still in contention but with just 27 points and six games remaining it would take a miracle. As it stands now the Brahmas will hold home ice advantage against Atlanta while the Drillers would host the Jr. Stars.
In the West Division the race is heating up and the perennial powerhouse clubs are setting things up for an epic final two weeks. The North Iowa Bulls and the Granite City Lumberjacks are currently tied at the top of the standings. Both teams have 66 points and are tied for the top spot, but North Iowa has six games remaining. Granite City has four games remaining and will close out the season playing two games against the Bulls at the Armadillo Deck Sports Arena in Sauk Rapids, Minn., on March 6th and 7th. New Ulm sits in the third spot and with five games remaining could potentially catch the Bulls and Lumberjacks, but this scenario is highly unlikely. The Alexandria Blizzard are currently holding the fourth and final spot in the West with six games remaining and 43 points. The Willmar War Hawks sit within striking distance of the Blizzard with 38 points but just four games remaining. The Breezy Point North Stars have been eliminated from contention.
The Frontier Division is very tight this season. The Bozeman Ice Dogs are sitting atop the division with 75 points and two games remaining. The Sheridan Hawks also have two games remaining and sit just three points behind the Ice Dogs. Great Falls is holding down the third spot with 67 points and with only two games left are not capable of moving into second place. The Yellowstone Quake are currently in the fourth spot with 39 points and two games remaining and are in danger of being knocked out of that spot by Gillette who is only one point back in the fifth spot. Currently Missoula and Helena are in tight battle for the sixth and final playoff spot. Missoula has 35 points with two games remaining. Helena is just one point back with two games remaining as well. Butte has been eliminated form post season consideration. If the playoffs were to start today, Bozeman and Sheridan would both have byes while Great Falls would host Missoula and Yellowstone would Host Gillette.
While the Central, Coastal, Northeast, South and West Division qualify the top four teams in their division for post season play and play a #1 versus #4 and #2 versus #3 best of three format followed by a best of three format for the remaining two teams, the Frontier division handles things differently. In the Frontier Division the top six teams qualify for post season play and compete in a #3 versus #6 and a #4 versus #5 best of three series with the top two teams getting a bye in the first round. In the second round the top seed gets the lowest remaining seed while the second seed hosts the remaining team. All six divisions send the last team standing to the Frasier Cup Championship Tournament where the six teams play in a two-game round robin format. This season’s Championship Tournament will be held at the Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville, Ill., from March 26th through March 29th.