Welcome to the 2019 USPHL Midwest-West Division playoff race.
Game results are important from the beginning of the season, of course, but when USPHL teams return from the Christmas Break each season the regular season finish line is just over a month away.
Prelude to the New Year
As the only division in the league that sees eight postseason qualifiers, the battle for the last and next to last spots can be as fierce as the race to the top. But recent results may have seen that position all but settled.
The Kasson Vipers and Minnesota Blue Ox enjoyed the shortest break of all as the Blue Ox took both ends of a home and home pair with the Vipers Dec. 29-30. The two were the only pair in the league in action on that last 2018 weekend. The Blue Ox grabbed a 10-3 win at Kasson Dec. 29 and finishing the seek the following night on home ice 6-1.
However, the following night the Vipers hit the ice again at home, grabbing a big win on home ice at the Dodge County Ice Arena 5-2 against the Steele County Blades. The win gave the Vipers a 3-1 edge in the season series and widened the gap between the eight place Vipers and ninth place Blades to nine points.
The Blades still have 14 games to play but have also dropped nine in a row and with no head-to-head matches against the Vipers left, the team would need to get hot and get some help as well down the stretch.
Havoc create a buffer
There are position changes in the Midwest Division standings almost every weekend, but one position that has remained constant since the early days of the season is the point position.
The Hudson Havoc has never exactly been comfortably in front, but the squad returned from the break with about as perfect a weekend as it could have hoped for.
After doubling the Blue Ox 6-3 on Friday (Jan. 4), on the road the Havoc returned home for a pair of satisfying wins against the Dells Ducks Saturday (4-1) and Sunday (4-2), the Havoc collected six points on the weekend, while the second place Minnesota came away empty from a trip to Wisconsin Rapids with a 4-1 loss Friday and 6-5 heartbreaker Saturday at the South Wood County Recreation Center against the host Riverkings.
Dylan Marty (‘00/New Richmond, Wis.) enjoyed a huge offensive weekend to lead the Havoc, scoring three goals in the opener against the Blue Ox, then adding a goal and two assists in the middle game before wrapping up the weekend with another pair Sunday afternoon against the Ducks.
Wyatt Knipfer (‘98/Cottage Grove, Wis.) set up three in the first game and Cal Ambrose (‘99/Wayzata, Minn.) handled all but one of the 23 shots he faced in goal on Saturday.
Nick Spolec (‘99/Kansas City, Mo.) scored two of his team’s three goals in the lone goal of the weekend for the Blue Ox and it was Jeffrey Rebmann (‘01/Libertyville, Ill.) notching the lone Ducks goal Saturday spoiling the shutout bid of Ambrose with less than seven minutes to play, ironically with a shorthanded marker.
The weekend wins boosted a current string of wins to 10 straight for the Havoc and the team has picked up at least a point in 12 straight dating back to mid-November.
Riverkings stay hot
The sweep of the Moose not only helped the Havoc widen its gap atop the group to six points (with a couple games in hand) on the second play squad, but also extended the host team’s winning streak to six games while getting them to with three points of the runners up spot, with one fewer game played.
The Riverkings never trailed in the first game against the Moose but didn’t have much breathing room until a goal by defenseman Haralds Jirgens (‘00/Riga Latvia) with just seven minutes to play opened up three goal cushion.
Jesse Edwards (‘98/Rochester, N.Y.) fired two of the other goals and Drake Bradshaw (‘99/Lapeer, Mich.) stopped 19 of 20 shots faced to grab the win in goal.
The following night the Moose scored in the first two minutes and owned a 2-1 lead later in the first period but trailed 3-2 after the opening 20.
The Riverkings widened the gap to 5-3 by the end of the second but Preston Larson (‘00/Andover, Minn.) fired two goals in 32 seconds to pull the Moose back into it just past the hallway mark of the final period.
The game didn’t stay tied long though, Edwards sinking the game winner just 17 seconds later.
Adam Peterson (‘98/Chicago, Ill.) fired two goals an added an assist in the win for the Riverkings and Tyler Jensen (‘98/Beloit, Wis.) also scored twice for the Moose.
Mallards slide into top half
If the Rum River Mallards move through ranks was quiet earlier, a 4-0 showing at the Midwest Showcase heading into the Christmas Break had everyone’s attention.
The expansion club out of Isanti, Minn., carried a five-game winning streak into the Christmas Break, but saw it snapped immediately 5-3 on Friday against the host Minnesota Mullets at the Forest Lake Recreation Center.
The following night, the Mallards battled back with a 3-2 shootout win against the same Mullets at the Isanti Ice Arena and vaulted past the idle Blue Ox into fourth spot overall in the division.
That’s a key move as the top four squads will garner home ice advantage through the opening round of the playoffs. The Blue Ox do have three games in hand on the Mallards and there are no more head to head battles for these two teams.
In the first game, teams played through a scoreless opening period, the Mullets firing the lone pair of the second and pulling away from a narrow 3-2 lead with two goals five minutes apart late in the contest.
The Mullets had five different goal scorers in the contest, Tyler Morrison (‘01/Wakefield, Mich.) and Jacob Lindblom (‘99/Pine City, Minn.) pacing the squad with an assist as well while Jack Bostedt (‘99/Janesville, Wis.) turned aside 36 shots to lead his team to the win despite being outshot 39-23).
The following night the Mallards grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first and 2-1 in the third with the Mullets responding to tie it before the end of both periods.
That set the stage for the shootout where Peter Meyer (‘00/Waseca, Minn.) scored the only goal. Bostedt faced another tough challenge in goal as the home team racked up 51 shots including a lopsided 25-7 edge through the first period.
Weekend results tightened the mid-pack with just seven points separating second from sixth place.