NAHL Central Division semifinal preview

Bismarck Bobcats 2011-12 Central Division Champions

Will the Bismarck Bobcats win their fifth-straight Central Division championship and advance again to the Robertson Cup?

After seven long, hard-fought months of the North American Hockey League regular season, it’s finally here: the playoffs!

The North and South divisions have already started their series, but the Central and West divisions get underway on Friday.

The focus here will be on the Central Division, as it’s the division located in this area. The division consists of two teams in North Dakota, two in South Dakota, one in Minnesota, and one in Wisconsin. Four of the teams have advanced to the playoffs: the Austin Bruins, the Bismarck Bobcats, the Brookings Blizzard, and the Minot Minotauros.

The divisional playoffs begin with two best-of-five series: #1 Austin vs. #4 Minot and #2 Bismarck vs. #3 Brookings. The winners of the series will play in another best-of-five series to determine the Central Division champion and punch a ticket to the Robertson Cup national championship.

NAHL Central Division playoff bracket

NAHL Central Division playoff bracket

One thing to note is that unlike the regular season, the shootout does not exist in the playoffs. Instead, 20-minute five-on-five overtime periods are played until a goal is scored.

Let’s preview first the Austin vs. Minot series.

#1 Austin vs. #4 Minot

Playoff Schedule

    • Game 1: April 12 at 7:05 p.m. in Austin
    • Game 2: April 13 at 7:05 p.m. in Austin
    • Game 3: April 19 at 7:35 p.m. in Minot
    • Game 4: April 20 at 7:35 p.m. in Minot (if necessary)
    • Game 5: April 22 at 7:05 p.m. in Austin (if necessary)

Season Series

    • Wins: Tied at 5
    • Points: 14-11 in favor of Austin
    • Record in Austin: 3-1 in favor of Minot (wins); 7-5 in favor of Minot (points)
    • Record in Minot: 4-2 in favor of Austin (wins); 9-4 in favor of Austin (points)
    • Goals Scored: 27-18 in favor of Austin
    • Game Results:
      • 11/9/12 – in Austin – 5-4 Minot win in a shootout
      • 11/30/12 – in Minot – 2-1 Minot win in a shootout
      • 12/1/12 – in Minot – 1-0 Minot win
      • 1/4/13 – in Austin – 2-1 Minot win in a shootout
      • 1/5/13 – in Austin – 4-3 Austin win in a shootout
      • 1/25/13 – in Minot – 5-0 Austin win
      • 1/26/13 – in Minot – 3-0 Austin win
      • 2/15/13 – in Austin – 3-2 Minot win in a shootout
      • 3/15/13 – in Minot – 3-2 Austin win
      • 3/16/13 – in Minot – 4-0 Austin win

Overall, the season series between Austin and Minot was fairly even, with both teams winning five games and Austin having a slight edge in points.

However, looking at the series more closely, Austin has a clear edge going into the playoffs. Minot won the first four games of the series and then only won one more time in the last six games. Three of Austin’s wins were shutouts with at least a three-goal advantage.

In addition, Austin appears to be helped by the fact that shootouts don’t exist in the NAHL playoffs. Five of the ten games went to a shootout; Minot won four of them.

Interesting to note is how well each team did on the road. Austin took four of six games in Minot, while Minot took three of four in Austin (all three were shootout wins, however). If those trends hold, it could make for some interesting scenarios in the playoffs.

Team Comparisons

Austin Minot
Overall Record 42-11-7, 91 pts. (1st Central) 26-30-4, 56 pts. (4th Central)
Home Record 20-4-4, 44 pts. 15-11-2, 32 pts.
Away Record 20-5-3, 43 pts. 11-16-1, 23 pts.
Neutral-Site Record 2-2-0, 4 pts. 0-3-1, 1 pt.
Goals For/Against 223-155 151-186
Last Ten Games 6-3-1, 13 pts. 2-8-0, 4 pts.
Second Half of Season Record 21-6-3, 45 pts. 11-17-2, 24 pts.
Leading Scorers Brandon Wahlin (20 G, 49 A), AJ Reid (24 G, 40 A), CJ Smith (30 G, 29 A), John Simonson (27 G, 30 A), Jay Dickman (23 G, 32 A) Jake O’Borsky (13 G, 27 A), Jadin Martin (10 G, 19 A), Cameron Rowat (12 G, 15 A), Lucas Oliver (12 G, 15 A), Mason Morelli (12 G, 15 A)
Goaltending Nicholas Lehr (25-8-1, 2.39 GAA, .914 SV%), Jason Pawloski (17-3-2, 2.52 GAA, .919 SV%) Tyler Parks (18-17-3, 2.79 GAA, .917 SV%), Ryan Ruck (8-11-1, 2.94 GAA, .910 SV%)

This is a series of two teams going in opposite directions. Austin is tied for the third-hottest team in the NAHL in the final 30 games of the regular season with 45 points in those games. Minot, meanwhile, enters the playoffs with a 2-8-0 record in its last ten games.

It’s playoff time, however. The second season. Anything can happen.

Now, switching to the other series…

#2 Bismarck vs. #3 Brookings

Playoff Schedule

    • Game 1: April 12 at 7:15 p.m. in Bismarck
    • Game 2: April 13 at 7:15 p.m. in Bismarck
    • Game 3: April 19 at 7:30 p.m. in Brookings
    • Game 4: April 20 at 7:30 p.m. in¬†Brookings (if necessary)
    • Game 5: April 22 at 7:15 p.m. in¬†Bismarck (if necessary)

Season Series

    • Wins: Tied at 5
    • Points: 12-10 in favor of Bismarck
    • Record in Bismarck: Tied at 3 (wins); 8-6 in favor of Bismarck (points)
    • Record in Brookings: Tied at 2 (wins); tied at 4 (points)
    • Goals Scored: 26-19 in favor of Bismarck
    • Game Results:
      • 11/9/12 – in Brookings – 4-3 Brookings win
      • 11/23/12 – in Brookings – 2-1 Bismarck win
      • 11/24/12 – in Bismarck – 3-0 Bismarck win
      • 1/5/13 – in Bismarck – 1-0 Brookings win
      • 1/18/13 – in Bismarck – 2-1 Bismarck win
      • 1/19/13 – in Bismarck – 4-3 Brookings win in a shootout
      • 1/23/13 – in Brookings – 3-2 Brookings win
      • 2/27/13 – in Bismarck – 5-1 Bismarck win
      • 3/2/13 – in Brookings – 6-3 Bismarck win
      • 3/8/13 – in Bismarck – 1-0 Brookings win in a shootout

The season series between Bismarck and Brookings was also quite even, more so than the Austin-Minot season series. The teams each had five wins against each other, but Bismarck edged out Brookings 12-10 in points because two of its losses were in shootouts.

Of the ten regular-season matchups between the two teams, seven were decided by one goal. The three games that weren’t decided by one goal were decisive wins for the Bobcats with scores of 3-0, 5-1, and 6-3.

During the regular season, home-ice advantage was almost a non-factor. The teams split in each other’s buildings, but Bismarck had a two-point edge at home, again because of those shootout losses.

In the playoffs, however, the Bobcats will want to make sure they take advantage of home ice. The way the playoffs are set up, if the team with home-ice advantage drops one of the first two games at home, that team has to steal at least one game back on the road or else be eliminated. Last season, the Bobcats were faced with that challenge in each of their Central Division playoff series, and both times they swept the two road games.

Team Comparisons

Bismarck Brookings
Overall Record 35-16-9, 79 pts. (2nd Central) 32-23-5, 69 pts. (3rd Central)
Home Record 18-4-6, 42 pts. 19-8-1, 39 pts.
Away Record 16-9-3, 35 pts. 10-14-4, 24 pts.
Neutral-Site Record 1-3-0, 2 pts. 3-1-0, 6 pts.
Goals For/Against 183-140 175-179
Last Ten Games 7-0-3, 17 pts. 5-5-0, 10 pts.
Second Half of Season Record 19-4-7, 45 pts. 16-11-3, 35 pts.
Leading Scorers Adam Knochenmus (19 G, 32 A), Patrick Moore (21 G, 29 A), Joe Giordano (13 G, 31 A), Bob Kinne (9 G, 19 A), Nate Repensky (6 G, 21 A) Thomas Williams (28 G, 25 A), Justin Moody (17 G, 35 A), Eric Brenk (22 G, 22 A), Evan Hesse (15 G, 22 A), Drew Brevig (10 G, 24 A)
Goaltending Aaron Nelson (24-7-6, 1.88 GAA, .931 SV%), Bryan Nies (11-7-3, 2.48 GAA, .910 SV%) Drew Weigman (23-17-5, 2.82 GAA, .912 SV%), Chase Wilson (2-1-0, 2.95 GAA, .888 SV%)

Though the season series between Bismarck and Brookings was almost tied, Bismarck has an edge on Brookings. Bismarck is tied with Austin as the third-hottest team in the NAHL in the second half of the regular season. Meanwhile, Brookings split the final ten games of the regular season.

Two things about the playoff format also help Bismarck.

First, since the North Division has two more teams in its playoffs than the other divisions do, the Bobcats got a much-needed week off. Injured players Adam Knochenmus (knee), Shane Omdahl (shoulder), Seth Blair (foot) and Chris Diver (ribs) should be good to go for the series.

Second, Bismarck should benefit by the elimination of the shootout for the playoffs. In ten shootouts this season, Bismarck lost seven of them. Of Bismarck’s 11 total losses (regulation, overtime, or shootout) in the team’s hot second half, seven came in the shootout.