BY: COLLIN SCHUCK
Starting on Friday night, the IceRays head into their South Division Quarterfinals matchup against the Wenatchee Wild from the American Bank Center. To get you prepared for the best-of-three series, here are five things to keep in mind going into this playoff series:
18 teams from the North American Hockey League qualified for the 2015 Robertson Cup Playoffs, four from the Central, Midwest, and North and six from the South. As in past seasons with six teams qualifying in one division, the first two teams in the South Division receive a first-round bye into the South Division Semifinals, while the other four teams will play a best-of-three series to determine the top teams' opponents in the next round. The three-seed and six-seed play one another as does the four-seed and five-seed. If two teams are within 300 miles, the teams will play a home-road-home series with the higher seed gaining two home games. If two teams are beyond 300 miles, the higher seed hosts the first two games with the lower seed hosting game three, if necessary. If travel costs and distance are too large for two teams to make, then the higher seed hosts all-three games.
For the second time in junior franchise history, the IceRays have qualified for the Robertson Cup Playoffs. They enter the playoff with their best record in franchise history at 31-24-5 and best position in fourth in the South Division. In their lone trip to the postseason, the IceRays fell 3-1 to the Amarillo Bulls in a best-of-five series in the 2013 South Division Semifinals. Head coach John Becanic is making his first trip to the Robertson Cup Playoffs with the IceRays and fourth in the North American Hockey League. His first trip came back in the 2013 Robertson Cup Playoffs with the Pittsburgh Forge, during which Becanic helped lead his team to not only a Robertson Cup but also a USA Hockey Junior A National Championship. His previous two appearances came with the Wenatchee Wild during the 2011 & 2012 Robertson Cup Playoffs, earning a combined 7-2-6 record both ending in the West Divisional Finals.
The Wenatchee Wild are entering their seventh-straight season in the Robertson Cup Playoffs, making the postseason every season since joining the North American Hockey League in the 2008-09 season. In six years, the Wild have earned a 36-16-10 record in postseason play along with a 6-6-1 record in the Robertson Cup Finals and their lone Robertson Cup in the 2010 season, taking down the St. Louis Bandits 5-4 in overtime from Town Toyota Center. Overall, Wenatchee has made three appearances in the Robertson Cup Finals, falling 3-2 in overtime to the St. Louis Bandits in the 2009 Finals and dropping 5-0 to the Amarillo Bulls in the 2013 Finals. They have never owned a losing record in playoff games, and over their last two seasons under head coach Bliss Littler, the Wild are 13-9-1 with a 2-2-0 record in the 2013 Robertson Cup Finals.
Forward Westin Michaud has been the strongest asset for the IceRays throughout the 2014-15 regular season. In 58 games, the Colorado College commit has earned a team-high 30 goals and 43 assists for 73 points, all of which set single-season records for an IceRays skater. He finishes third in the NAHL in scoring as one of three players with 70+ points, tied for third in the NAHL in goals, and tied for fourth in assists. He leads all IceRays players with 28 power play points (10 goals, 18 assists), which also ranks third in the NAHL behind Chandler Madry (Fairbanks) and Ludvig Larsson (Lone Star). Michaud comes into the postseason wtih 12 goals and 8 assists for 20 points over his last 13 games while retrieving points in 11 of 13 and recording a hat-trick on Mar. 11 against the Lone Star Brahmas in a 4-3 overtime victory. Michaud is as close to the complete package as one can find, combining speed, skating ability, puck handling, ice vision, and scoring to create a true offensive threat.
Forward Jake Ahlgren is one of a few players that can say he's played in every game for a single team this season. In 60 games, the Fergus Falls, Minn., native leads the Wild in scoring with 20 goals and 25 assists for 45 points with a +6 rating and four power play goals. The left-winger has combined with co-liners Brendan Harris and Kyle Stephan, who sit second and third, respectively, in scoring on the Wild, to produce a strong top line to power into the postseason. Ahlgren's speed and scoring ability work well with the skill set brought by Harris and Stephan, and all three become strong scoring threats when left wide open. Ahlgren represented the Wild this season at the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament, recording one assist in Team South's 9-2 loss to Team USA U18. This is his second-straight trip to the postseason, owning three goals and one assist for four points in 10 games during the 2014 Robertson Cup Playoffs.
Collin Schuck is the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations for the Corpus Christi IceRays. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CollinDSchuck.