Where does the season go?
After a batch full of games this past weekend, the North American Hockey League is at the halfway point, with more than half of the teams playing at least 30 games so far, and what a season its been thus far, let’s get you caught up on where things stand around each division, along with some pretend awards!
Central Division (W-L-OTL-SOL)
Aberdeen 20-5-1-1-42pts, +50 Goal Differential
Austin Bruins 19-6-0-3, 41pts, +35
Minot Minotauros 17-11-1-0, 35pts, +13
Bismarck Bobcats 16-10-1-0, 33pts, +21
Minnesota Wilderness 15-12-1-0, 31pts, +15
Brookings Blizzard 3-24-1-1, 8pts, -78
The Central is the only division in the league that hasn’t had a team play 30 games, so the “second half” of the season should be a fascinating one with a few extra games for each team and extra chances to try to gain ground in the standings.
To me, the most facsinating thing about this division is that Aberdeen has scored the second-most goals in the league, given up the third-fewest goals in the league for the second-best goal differential in the league…and leads the division by just one point. And the Wings have just two players in the Top-20 in league scoring, which shows how much of a team effort this has been.
Division MVP: Dante Sheriff, Austin Bruins
Sheriff leads the division in scoring with 36 points in 27 games, and also tops the division with 15 goals, his much-needed offense has helped the Bruins get just enough offense (currently tied for 4th in goals for in the Central) to try and keep pace with Aberdeen.
Top Goalie: Matt Vernon, Aberdeen Wings
This was an insanely hard one to pick, because Vernon has been a workhorse for the Wings, leading the league in wins (18), while appearing in the second most games (24), and posting strong numbers with a 2.19 GAA and .931 Sv%. His workload and wins gives him the nod over Kyle McClellan of Austin, who leads the league in GAA and Sv%. Insanely tough choice here.
Is there a playoff race?
Eh. This one is OK at best. Because Brookings is so bad this year, they are pretty much eliminated already, leaving Minot, Bismarck, and Minnesota fighting for two spots. The teams are separated by just four points, but when two of the three are getting in, it does take a little drama out of it. Still, it will be interesting to see which of those three gets left out of the playoff dance.
Johnstown Tomahawks 27-5-0-0, 54pts, +58
Jamestown Rebels 19-9-2-1, 41pts, +21
New Jersey Titans 18-15-0-0, 36pts, -4
Maryland Black Bears 10-18-3-2, 25pts, -42
Northeast Generals 9-16-2-3, 23pts, -28
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights 11-19-1-0, 23pts, -20
Get ready for lots of Johnstown talk in the next bit.
The Tomahawks basically ran away and hid from the rest of division thanks to an amazing 17-game winning streak at one point this year. That’s right, they went more than half the season without a loss and now have a 13-point lead in the division, and lead the league with a +58 goal differential. They also have four of the Top-10 scorers in the league, including numbers one, two, and three. They’re good.
Division MVP: Samuel Solensky, Johnstown
Really, you could have thrown Solensky and teammates Carson Brier and Cameron Hebert into a hat, pulled one out, said they were the division MVP and not been wrong. But we went with Solensky because he leads the league in scoring with 50 points in 32 games, and tops the league with 33 assists, he’s also tops among he, Brier, and Hebert at a +13.
Top Goalie: Carter McPhail, Johnstown
Another really tough decision between McPhail and Jamestown’s Ryan Keane. McPhail, obviously, leads the division with 16 wins, and has posted a 2.14 GAA and .930 Sv% in 19 appearances this season. His combination of wins and Sv% gives him the slight nod over Keane in our book, who is right behind at 14 wins, and tops the division with a 1.94 GAA. That said, Keane may also have a case for MVP because without him, who knows where Jamestown might be in the standings.
Is there a playoff race?
Yes! And it could be an exciting one. There are three teams fighting for the fourth, and final spot, and most exciting, those teams are separated by just two points in the standings! Of that trio, Wilkes-Barrre/Scranton has the best goal differential, but struggles to score, while Northeast and Maryland can’t keep the puck out of their net. Whoever earns that last spot will likely have a daunting challenge in Johnstown waiting in the first round.
Minnesota Magicians 22-9-0-0, 44pts, +19
Janesville Jets 17-9-2-1, 37pts, -5
Fairbanks Ice Dogs 16-10-2-2, 36pts, +16
Springfield Jr. Blues 12-14-2-1, 27pts, -12
Kenai River Brown Bears 11-16-2-2, 26pts, -14
Chippewa Steel 8-22-1-1, 18pts, -50
The Magicians have a solid seven-point lead, but the two teams chasing them do have games in hand, so a title is by no means a lock for Minnesota. That said, their combination of being the highest scoring, best goaltending, AND most penalized team in the division means they are playing some entertaining hockey. But Janesville and Fairbanks have each found their stride of late, each getting 15 points over their last 10 games to keep the division title race alive.
Division MVP: Cameron Buhl, Minnesota
This was a tough pick for a few reasons, one because there really haven’t been a ton of stand-out offensive performers in this division (Minnesota leads with 91 goals, only 9th best in the NAHL), and because the Magicians’ goalie, who we’ll get to in a minute, has stood on his head, but we want to reward multiple people here, so Buhl gets the nod. Buhl leads the division with 33 points, is also tops in the Midwest with 23 assists, and sits at a +17. Springfield’s Brandon Puricelli also deserves a nod, sitting at 31 points and topping the division with 19 goals.
Top Goalie: Jack Robbel, Minnesota
Robbel was our runaway winner in the Midwsst, posting 10 wins, good for second in the division, but post a division best 1.74 GAA (3rd in the NAHL), and league-leading .947 Sv% to go with three shutouts on the season. Janesville’s Cole Brady deserves mention for posting a division-best 14 wins.
Is there a playoff race?
Kind of? The first three spots in the division seem pretty secure, which leaves Springfield and Kenai River, who are just one point apart, fighting for the last playoff spot, with the Blues both holding the lead and two games in hand. Maybe Chippewa finds a way to get hot in the second half to add a third team to the mix, but this is looking like a two-team battle, that could turn into one.
Amarillo Bulls 20-3-2-2, 44pts, +46
Corpus Christi IceRays 17-11-1-0, 35pts, +15
Shreveport Mudbugs 15-12-1-4, 35pts, -2
Topeka Pilots 15-13-2-2, 34pts, -14
Lone Star Brahmas 12-14-2-4, 30pts, -17
Odessa Jackalopes 12-17-0-1, 25pts, -23
Kind of like Johnstown, the Amarillo Bulls, thanks to an ongoing hot streak, have started to pull away from the rest of the division. The Bulls have a nine-point lead, are on a 15-game regulation unbeaten streak, going 12-0-2-1 over the past two months, and have the fewest regulation losses, going just three games this year where they didn’t register a point. Oh, and in addition to that division lead, they have two games in-hand over second-place Corpus Christ, and FIVE games in hand over Shreveport, Topeka, and Lone Star. They have a great chance to bank a big lead and lock-up a playoff spot early.
But, don’t sleep on Corpus, after a slow start the IceRays have caught fire and have won eight-straight games, vaulting from the bottom of the division into a tie for second with three games in-hand on Shreveport and Topeka.
Division MVP: Logan Jenuwine, Amarillo
Jenuwine was a late cut from the USHL, and has been a huge boost for the Bulls, leading the division with 38 points in 26 games, including a league-leading 23 goals. Making that even more amazing: Just three of those goals have come on the power play, meaning Jenuwine is dominating play at 5-on-5, a very tough thing to do. He also has six game-winning goals, second in the league.
Top Goalie: Jason Grande, Amarillo
Grande, after a slow start to the year where he gave up 14 goals over four of his first five starts of the year, has dominated over his next 11 appearances, not giving up more than two in any of those games, and posting three shutouts to bring his total to four on the year, tied for the league lead. Grande is tied for the division lead in wins with 11, and tops the South with a 1.72 GAA and a .928 GAA. Honestly, the runaway winner for this spot.
Is there a playoff race?
Yes, and it could be the most fascinating in the league. Second to fifth are separated by just five points, so there could be A LOT of movement down the stretch, and on a nightly basis too. A good or bad weekend could send a team from second to fourth, or vice versa. And even the last-place team in Odessa, who is nine points back of the last playoff spot, has two games in-hand on the three teams in front of them, so this race could get even tighter.