The puck is set to drop on the South Division playoffs on Thursday night when the Amarillo Bulls and Texas Tornado play in game one of their best-of-five series in the Texas panhandle.
Although the IceRays fell short of their playoff aspirations, broadcaster Ryan Holt, along with some members of the organization, put on their prognostication hats to determine who will represent the South Division at the Robertson Cup. Topeka is already guaranteed a spot in the Robertson Cup as the host, but there is the possibility that if another team from the South wins the division, there could be two teams from the South in the “Final Four.”
Below are Ryan’s thoughts on the divisional series and how he sees the South unfolding followed by the picks of some IceRays.
#1 TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS v. #4 WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS
Wichita Falls has made dramatic changes to their lineup since the IceRays last saw them in December including trading away, in my mind, their best overall player in Sean Keane who now suits up for the Amarillo Bulls.
Topeka was tremendous during the second half of the season and proved they are the class of the South Division on the ice. Their depth of scoring, strong defensive play, and two-headed goalie rotation makes them very difficult to beat.
The RoadRunners will win this series; it is just a matter of how many games it will take. The Wildcats have had third period leads and have an extra session with the RoadRunners, so there is the potential there for the black and red to steal a game. However, Topeka will have their brooms handy.
TOPEKA IN THREE GAMES
#2 AMARILLO BULLS v. #3 TEXAS TORNADO
I really like this matchup, because of the contrasting styles. In Amarillo, you have a team that is tremendously disciplined, skilled in all three zones, and physical. On the Texas side, the Tornado love to turn games into offensive shootouts. They have the speed and size up front to frustrate most teams and the great tradition of winning hockey in Frisco. The line of Jack Prince-Jackson Leef-Nathan Sliwinski is as good as there is in the NAHL. But do they have the depth in scoring that is so crucial to winning playoff games at any level? If they are popped in the mouth by the Bulls, will they have an answer? My guess is no.
AMARILLO IN FOUR GAMES
SOUTH FINAL: #1 TOPEKA v. #2 AMARILLO
These teams hate each other and I’m not using the term “hate” here loosely. Michael Hill cross-checks Derek Hills, breaks bones in his face, serves a lengthy suspension, comes back, is cross checked by Brooks Behling, breaks his jaw, is potentially done for the year, need I say more? They’re not spending Easter dinner together.
If Hill plays, that would be a huge boost for Scott Langer’s club, but if he’s being held out of the Wichita Falls series with his injury, I cannot see the ‘Runners bringing him back for a finals series against the team that sent him to the hospital in the first place.
Which team will keep their composure and recognize that there is a hockey series at stake? My money is on Amarillo. Topeka already has the Robertson Cup berth in the bag. Amarillo, should they win the south, would more-than-likely have to play in the play-in series to get to the Robertson Cup, but I think they would win that series as well.
AMARILLO IN FIVE GAMES
BRENT HUGHES: TOPEKA v. TEXAS = TOPEKA
JUSTIN QUENNEVILLE:TOPEKA v. TEXAS = TOPEKA
MICHAEL BENEDICT: TOPEKA v. AMARILLO = AMARILLO
COLTON SAUCERMAN:TOPEKA v. AMARILLO = TOPEKA