The battle for top spot in the Florida Division is officially settled in and the Florida Eels have clinched the pennant.
All five spots in the Southeast Division are still up for grabs after some exciting battles this past weekend.
For a second straight weekend, the Charlotte Rush and Hampton Roads Whalers went at it and once again, home ice proved to be a solid advantage. Also, the Patriots are battling for their playoff lives and a split with the Richmond Generals helped keep the glimmer of hope alive for the Pats.
In Florida, the top two enjoyed a weekend off and the Atlanta MadHatters collected a couple wins to keep themselves in the playoff hunt.
Charlotte Rush 1 @ Hampton Roads Whalers 2
Charlotte Rush 3 @ Hampton Roads Whalers 0
After coming up short in a pair in Charlotte the previous weekend, the Whalers kept their hopes of a regular season division title alive with a 4-1 win at the Chilled Ponds Sentara Healthcare Rink on Saturday, but the Rush avoided a four game (Elite and Premier teams) sweep with a 3-0 shutout win against the Whalers in the final game of the weekend.
The Rush carried a 1-0 cushion out of the opening period Saturday before the Whalers struck for three unanswered middle period goals and one more into an empty net in the final minute. Thomas McGuire (‘99/Massapequa Park, N.Y.) scored twice for the Whalers, including the game-winner and Greg Moon (‘99/Franklin, Mass.) stopped 31 of 32 shots to grab the win in goal.
The following day, Jack Riedell (‘99/Greensboro, N.C.) stopped all 26 shots he faced to grab the Rush shutout and Owen Gallagher (‘99/Chicago, Ill.) fired the first of three first period goals for the Rush.
Ahead: The Rush and Whalers are done with each other but have some tough games ahead of them. The Rush will entertain the Carolina Junior Hurricanes for a pair of games this weekend while the Whalers will entertain the Generals.
It is a three-horse race for first in the Southeast, with five points separating the first place Rush from the third-place Whalers. Both teams have two games in hand on the Generals, who are just six games away from the end of their regular season, while the other two teams have eight apiece remaining. Carolina, seven points back of the Whalers, still has an outside chance to catch up to the top three. Moreover, they may have to look over their shoulder.
Potomac Patriots 5 @ Richmond Generals 3
Richmond Generals 8 @ Potomac Patriots 0
Ironically, both teams won on the road this past weekend, the Patriots getting two goals from Brian Kerrigan (‘00/Warrenton, Va.) and Michael Kramer (‘01/Woodbridge, Va.), breaking a 3-3 deadlock early in the final period to clinch the win for a desperate Patriots team.
Sunday wall all Generals though, Ryan Creenan (‘99/Colonial, N.J.) picking up a 21-save shutout in goal and Charles Massey (‘00/Temiscouata, Que.) firing a pair of goals. The game winner was fired by Brendan Meyer (‘99/Greeley, Colo.).
Ahead: As aforementioned, the Generals have just six games to play beginning this weekend with a pair at Hampton Roads. The Patriots need to make up five points on the fourth-place Jr. Canes to reach the postseason. They draw a tough assignment, making the trip to New York to play the red-hot Aviators this weekend.
Tampa Bay Juniors 6 @ Atlanta MadHatters 7
Tampa Bay Juniors 7 @ Atlanta MadHatters 6
Goaltenders will be haunted following a wild weekend that saw both teams pick up a win in back-to-back 13-goal contests.
On Saturday, both teams scored two in the first and final periods, Atlanta scoring the extra one in a 3-2 middle frame. The following day the Mad Hatters carried a 3-2 edge out of the opening 20, before the Juniors took over with a 2-1 edge in the second and 3-2 down the stretch.
Dylan Florit (‘01/Orange County, Calif.) scored four times on the weekend for the MadHatters and Jakob Holley (‘02/Tulsa, Okla.) added three. The Juniors had 10 different goal scorers, led by Hampus Magnusson (‘00/Stockholm, Sweden), Paul Flidr (‘00/Prague, Czech Republic) and Derek Walker (‘00/Tampa, Fla.) with two each.
Ahead: The MadHatters will play its next four against the Charleston Colonials beginning in South Carolina this weekend. The Juniors - at third place - will play a home and home set Friday and Sunday with the Florida Division champion Eels.
The MadHatters may be in fifth, but they are just five points out of the last playoff position, fourth, occupied by the Blades, who are idle this weekend.
The MadHatters also have what may turn out to be an extremely valuable game in hand on the Blades. That will be an intense race to the end. The Tampa Bay Juniors also need to win most of their final games down the stretch to avoid being dragged into the battle for the last playoff spot.