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Playoff Fields Narrow in USHL and NAHL

04/26/2017, 3:30pm MDT
By Tom Robinson

It’s crunch time in the Clark Cup and Robertson Cup playoffs

With one round of playoffs complete, the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League will take the next steps to crowning their champions on Friday.

The USHL is down to its four semifinalists as it prepares for the conference final series in the Clark Cup playoffs.

The NAHL is down to eight teams in the Robertson Cup playoffs with the four division championship series ready to be decided.

All series in each league will be best-of-five.

COMING UP: The Clark Cup has the top four regular season teams in the Clark Cup semifinals for the first time since 2003 after all four higher-seeded teams won opening round games.

The Western Conference had not advanced the top two teams since 2013, and the Eastern had not done so since 2012.

The Dubuque Fighting Saints will face the top-seeded Chicago Steel in the Eastern Conference. The Waterloo Black Hawks will face the regular-season champion Sioux City Musketeers out west.

Three of the four regular-season division champions are still playing in the NAHL.

The exception is the Central Division, where the Aberdeen Wings will face the second-place Minnesota Wilderness after knocking out the Minot Minotauros.

The other division finals are the New Jersey Titans and first-place Aston Rebels in the East Division, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs and first-place Janesville Jets in the Midwest Division and the Corpus Christi IceRays and Lone Star Brahmas in the South Division.

CLARK CUP: Ales Stetzka made 40 saves Tuesday when the Chicago Steel won Game 5 from the Youngstown Phantoms, 2-0.

Jack Badini’s goal in the second period broke the scoreless tie and Derek Daschke added the second goal with 2:51 left.

Youngstown had won Games 3 and 4, 4-1 and 3-2 respectively, to force the deciding game.

Sioux City completed a three-game sweep with a 2-1 road win over the Des Moines Buccaneers Friday.

Kristian Pospisil scored the game-winning goal, breaking a tie midway through the second period.

Dubuque recovered from a 3-0 loss in Muskegon to win the four-game series with the Lumberjacks in a 7-2 rout Friday.

The Fighting Saints reached the Eastern Conference final for the seventh straight year when Jacob Hamacher scored two goals and Cole Guttman added a goal and two assists in the clincher.

Muskegon’s Adam Brizgala had made 33 saves in Thursday’s shutout.

ROBERTSON CUP: Zach Mills scored two goals Monday when the Minnesota Wilderness defeated the visiting Brookings Blizzard, 6-3, in the fifth and deciding game of the Robertson Cup Central Division semifinal.

The Blizzard had forced Game 5 with Saturday’s 4-1 victory after the Wilderness won Game 3, 4-2, on Friday.

Connor Koviak scored twice in the Brookings win.

Luke Kania made 28 saves for Minnesota in Game 3.

Aberdeen finished off Minot with Saturday’s 3-2, double-overtime victory to take the series in four games.

Carson Dimoff scored at 8:53 of the second overtime and Forbes Ploszaj made 34 saves.

Minot’s only win in the series was 7-1 in Friday’s Game 3 with the help of two goals each by Tyler Jeanson and Spencer Zweiner.

Five series ended Friday in three-game sweeps, including three where the final game went overtime.

Fairbanks finished off the Minnesota Magicians, 7-2, on the strength of a Cayden Cahill hat trick. Janesville edged the Coulee Region Chill, 4-3, in overtime, with Cole Paskus scoring at 5:07 of the extra period. Lone Star got past the Wichita Falls Wildcats, 4-3, in overtime, with Austin O’Rourke netting the game-winner.

Aston rallied past the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights with five third-period goals to pull out a 7-5 win. New Jersey nipped the Johnstown Tomahawks, 3-2, in overtime. After Johnstown rallied from two goals down, New Jersey needed just 1:51 overtime to win on Jordan Kaplan’s goal.

Corpus Christi completed its three-game sweep April 19 with a 2-1 victory over the Shreveport Mudbugs.

COACHING CHANGES: Tyler Rennette has been named head coach and general manager of the NAHL’s Springfield Junior Blues.

Rennette had a 55-31-8 record in two seasons as head coach of the North American 3 Hockey League’s Peoria Mustangs, and spent last season as assistant coach with the Junior Blues.

Andrew Kolb moves up from assistant to become head coach with the New Ulm Steel of the NA3HL.

Joakim Falt will be the new general manager/head coach of the Steamboat Wranglers, who reached the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League championship series in their first season.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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