As we approach the first weekend of October, North American Hockey League teams are starting to see just what kind of tools they have in the shed. Like every season, the chemistry of each team depends on how the new guys are meshing with the establish veterans in the room, that’s if the team has any at all.
Let’s jump right into this week’s grades and team-by-team rundown.
Springfield Blues 5-1-0-0 (.833) Tyler Rennette and the Blues have given Springfield hockey fans a good reason to head to the Nelson Center for the home opening weekend. The Blues are well rested and more than ready to face off against the Magicians.
Amarillo Wranglers 5-1-0-0 (.833) Harry Mahood may not be someone I’d want my own children (or wife) to hang out with, but the old guy can still coach a hockey team. The Wranglers ran over El Paso Saturday night to pick up their fifth win of the season and third in a row. Will that streak continue Friday and Saturday down the road in Wichita Falls?
St. Cloud Norsemen 3-1-0-0 (.750) Corey Millen’s Norsemen are for real. While the big win over the USNTDP at the showcase does not count in the standings, it certainly gave this team the confidence that they can play with any team in the league. Rewind 12 months and the Norsemen were struggling just to practice due to government overreaction. This weekend’s trip to Aberdeen will be the ultimate test to tell the league just how far this group has come.
Austin Bruins 4-1-1-0 (.750) Steve Howard’s team is at a point where Saturday’s regulation home loss to Minot had to sting a bit. And that’s a good thing. Look for plenty of hard work this week as the team prepares for their first battle with the North Iowa Bulls.
New Mexico Ice Wolves 3-1-0-0 (.750) Phil Fox and company will have a full two weeks of rest and relaxation before traveling to Ft. Worth to face the Brahmas October 8-9. Fox is likely cracking up after seeing this. No, seriously, look for New Mexico to be in top form for their battle at Lone Star.
Fairbanks Ice Dogs 5-2-0-1 (.688) Trevor Stewart could have been the first head coach in Anchorage, but he declined the consideration to stay with the Ice Dogs. That’s a big statement of confidence in the Fairbanks organization. Let’s be realistic, this is a United States Hockey League level team operating in the NAHL. Like Anchorage and Kenai River, Fairbanks have been on the road since the start of the season and that fact may have played into the split at Janesville. The Brown Bears visit Big Dipper Ice Arena this weekend for the Ice Dogs’ home opener. It’s going to be a mad house.
North Iowa Bulls 4-2-0-0 (.667) Seriously, I did not think Todd Sanden could do this. He’s been able to take the success he had from the 3HL and put it into play with the NAHL Bulls. Saturday’s win over Aberdeen was for the textbooks. Having former NAHL head coach Kevin Murdock as an associate coach must be paying off as well and we’ll be able to see just how much when the Bulls battle with Austin this week.
Chippewa Steel 4-2-0-0 (.667) If head coach Casey Mignone can keep the Steel on current track, he’s our early season favorite for coach of the year. A road weary Anchorage team comes to town this week to play a trio of games. The Steel are rested and ready.
Aberdeen Wings 4-2-0-0 (.750) I’m not sure what to think of the Wings’ split with the (no longer in Amarillo) North Iowa Bulls. Steve Jennings’ team played well enough to win both games. I have to go back to the Showcase win over Springfield to take Aberdeen seriously and am looking forward to the Norsemen visit to Odde Ice Center this weekend. I’m certain everyone remembers what happened in St Cloud’s first visit last season.
Northeast Generals 5-3-0-0 (.625) They come from Boston. Kenny Chesney wrote a song about that town and Bryan Erikson’s Generals are doing better than the Patriots. If you think the weekend’s home sweep of Johnstown was important, wait until Jamestown visits Friday and Saturday.
Minnesota Magicians 5-3-0-0 (.625) Nick Bydal is going to lose all his hair if the Magicians can’t figure out how to get an easy win. All five of his team’s victories have been by a goal (same with two of the losses) including Friday night’s 6-5 barnburner over Anchorage. It’s clear that getting any positive result would be a great thing this week when the Magicians visit top-ranked Springfield.
Anchorage Wolverines 3-2-1-0 (.583) Mike Aikens’ Wolverines have played in six straight single-goal games to start the season, including last week’s split with the Magicians. There’s a three-game series at Chippewa this weekend (Thursday-Saturday) before Anchorage’s NAHL team finally returns to Alaska.
Minnesota Wilderness 3-2-1 (.583) Dave Boitz should get a screen shot of this list today. If history repeats itself, this will be the pinnacle of success this season for the Wilderness. Now if Boitz steps down now, he can do so with a winning record. OK, that’s not going to happen (unless the players revolt, again) so let’s see how this weekend goes against the Jets.
Jamestown Rebels 3-2-0-1 (.583) Joe “Cool” Coombs held his composure while picking up a single point from the home series with New Jersey. Let’s see if all that patience pays off in the weekend trip to Boston to face off against the Generals.
Maryland Black Bears 4-3-1-0 (.563) Clint Mylymok’s Bears were unable to find the back of the net Saturday, suffering their first shutout loss of the season. Look for the boys to get plenty of shooting drills this week as they prepare to visit New Jersey Friday before hitting Johnstown Saturday.
Maine Nordiques 3-3-0-0 (.500) Nolan Howe is certainly one of the league’s “good guys” but with a bit of a spicy edge. He might of got some of that in the bloodline and maybe that’s to be expected. The bus ride back to Maine after Saturday’s shutout win at Maryland must have been more enjoyable than the trip back from Minnesota. Danbury’s visit this weekend should be a party at the Colisee.
Odessa Jackalopes 3-3-0-0 (.500) Scott Deur’s Jackalopes picked up the split at Wichita Falls and prepares this week to visit Shreveport. Odessa will end up playing nine straight road games to open south Division play this season. Their first home game is not until October 28th. Picking up a pair of points in each trip would be an accomplishment. Does Deur have the players needed to get that job done? This weekend will be a great test.
Shreveport Mudbugs 2-2-0-0 (.500) Jason Campbell and the ‘Bugs are getting their house in order for next weekend’s home opener verses the Odessa Jackalopes. The expectation is for George’s Pond to be absolutely rockin’ with buggers. It won’t be fun and games if those crazy fans get something to be excited about early in the contests.
Corpus Christi IceRays 3-3-0-0 (.250) Mike Lysyj and the Rays shocked Lone Star at home while picking up their second and third win in four games. The coach will get an extra week to balance out his roster before Wichita Falls visits October 8-9.
El Paso Rhinos 3-3-0-0 (.500) Anthony Bohn and the Rhinos might not have expected such a hostile welcome in Amarillo. Getting swept by a fellow expansion team is never going to be easy. Welcome the South coach. It’s starting to look like there will be no easy nights in this division this season. If you think the panhandlers are rough, wait until you see Shreveport.
Lone Star Brahmas 2-2-2-0 (.500) Dan Wildfong’s Brahmas were stunned at Corpus Christi over the weekend. Getting swept by the IceRays is not something the veteran coach will ever grow accustomed to. Lone Star gets an extra week to gather their wits before New Mexico visits October 8-9.
New Jersey Titans 4-4-0-0 (.500) Craig Doremus and the Jets bring themselves back to .500 the hard way; picking up a road sweep at Jamestown. Will there be anything left in the tank for Friday’s home opener against Maryland?
Minot Minotauros 2-3-1 (.417) Cody Campbell’s ‘Tauros looked really good in the home split with Austin. Will they be able to maintain that intensity against a hungry Bismarck team this weekend?
Wichita Falls Warriors 2-3-1 (.417) Garrett Roth’s Warriors split the home opening weekend with Odessa and are getting ready for the Wranglers first ever visit to Kay Yeager this week. Look for Roth’s group to try and get under the skin of Wranglers head coach Harry Mahood, ir won’t take much.
Janesville Jets 2-3-0-1 (.417) Parker Burgess Jets picked up three of a possible four points in the weekend split with the powerhouse Ice Dogs from Alaska. That’s a huge result and further proves that this crew is already ahead of the curve. Look for something special in this weekend’s trip to visit the Wilderness.
Johnstown Tomahawks 2-4-0-0 (.333) Mike Letizia’s Tommies got pounded by the Generals in Boston, something that was not expected. Look for the boys to be more than ready for the home opener against Maryland in Johnstown’s only game of the week.
Danbury Hat Tricks 1-4-1-0 (.250) Billy McCreary’s Tricks should have enough of cobwebs cleaned out just in time for the quick roadie to The Colisee in Lewiston to face to Maine Nordiques. Picking up any points in this trip would be a bonus. Goaltending could be the biggest issue.
Kenai River Brown Bears 1-7-0-0 (.125) Josh Dubinsky’s Bears return to the great state of Alaska (until December 16) for an important weekend series at Fairbanks. That might not go so well.
Bismarck Bobcats 0-6-0-0 (.000) Layne Sedevie and the Bobcats remain at the bottom of the deep end after losing both games at St Cloud. This weekend’s home-and-home set with Minot should produce the first points of the season, and maybe more.
SCALE: A 725+, B 600-724, C 475-599, D 350-474, F 0-349