- Created: 14 February 2017
Just one week remains in the 2016-17 USP3HL regular season... say it ain't so! EGHN's Alex Stimson takes a look at six of the major headlines across the country in the USP3HL, including previewing a wild final weekend ahead in the North Division and an in-depth breakdown of the opening round of the South Division Playoffs.
1. Mayhem In The Midwest
While things are settled at the top (Traverse City clinching top spot, Decatur clinching second) and the bottom (Tri City clinching seventh place, Kalkaska clinching sixth) of the division, things are still very much up for grabs in the middle of the pack as third through fifth place are separated by just four points with each of those teams having three games remaining. Motor City currently hold the advantage sitting on 48 points while Alpena has 45 and Ironwood has 44. Below, find each team's remaining schedule as well as their record against each respective opponent.
|DATE||OPPONENT||RECORD VS. OPP|
|Friday||at Tri City Icehawks||(5-2-1)|
|Saturday||vs. Traverse City North Stars||(2-2-1)|
|Tuesday||vs. Tri City Icehawks||(5-2-1)|
|DATE||OPPONENT||RECORD VS. OPP|
|Friday||at Traverse City North Stars||(1-5-0)|
|Saturday||vs. Ironwood Yoopers||(4-2-0)|
|Sunday||vs. Ironwood Yoopers||(4-2-0)|
|DATE||OPPONENT||RECORD VS. OPP|
|Friday||at Kalkaska Rhinos||(4-2-0)|
|Saturday||at Alpena Flyers||(2-2-2)|
|Sunday||at Alpena Flyers||(2-2-0)|
The Midwest Division Playoffs will feature all seven teams seeded by regular season record. The top seed - the Traverse City North Stars - will have a bye in the opening round while seeds 2-7 will face off in a best-of-three series with the #2 seed playing the #7 seed, the #3 seed playing the #6 seed, and the #4 seed playing the #5 seed. The higher seed in each matchup will retain home ice advantage for every game of the opening round.
Follow all of the action this weekend int he Midwest Division on by watching live via HockeyTV or following live stats at USPHL.com.
2. King Of The North?
What a weekend we have ahead in the North Division. The regular season's final 72 hours will see the division's top two teams - the Jersey Hitmen and the Islanders Hockey Club - each play four games, the final two of which will be against one another.
The Hitmen hold a two-point lead in the standings entering the final weekend, however they're likely still kicking themselves that the margin isn't four after falling to the Jersey Whalers last Saturday when their in-state rivals netted the game-winning goal with just two seconds left in regulation. Nevertheless, Jersey still controls their own destiny.
Jersey will start the weekend with a pair of games against the Boston Junior Bruins while I.H.C. will face the Springfield Pics Friday afternoon and the Jersey Shore Whalers on Saturday morning. The Hitmen and I.H.C. are scheduled to face off Saturday night and again on Sunday afternoon.
If both teams take care of business in their respective first two games of the weekend, Jersey will enter the final two games against I.H.C. needing just one win to clinch the regular season division title while the Islanders Hockey Club will need to win both games.
If it comes down to the final two games, how does one decide who to take? Well, the Hitmen and I.H.C. split four regular season matchups while each scoring sixteen goals across the four contests. Good luck picking a favorite there.
All of the action will unfold in Foxboro, Massachusetts as part of the South Shore Kings President's Day Showcase where live video coverage will be available via HockeyTV and live stats via USPHL.com.
3. South Division Playoff Preview
The always exciting South Division wrapped up their regular season last weekend to accomodate their eight-team playoff which begins this weekend,
|1. Florida Jr. Blades (43-1-0, 86pts)||vs.||8. Florida Eels (19-24-1, 39pts)|
|2. Charlotte Rush (35-8-1, 71pts)||vs.||7. Palm Beach Hawks (20-20-4, 44pts)|
|3. Carolina Eagles (32-11-1, 65pts)||vs.||6. Atlanta Jr. Knights (24-15-5, 53pts)|
|4. Richmond Generals (28-12-4, 60pts)||vs.||5. Hampton Roads Whalers (25-15-4, 54pts)|
#1 Florida Jr. Blades vs. #8 Florida Eels
At first glance, this might seem as if it'll be a cake-walk for the USP3HL's top team as they've dominated nearly every opponent that they've faced and their cross-town rivals have been no exception. In six regular season meetings this season, the Jr. Blades shutout the Eels five times while outscoring them by a 40-3 margin.
However... who am I kidding. The historic season for the Jr. Blades certainly isn't going to end in the opening round of the divisional playoffs. The Eels will put up a fight, but the Blades will be too much to handle.
Prediction: Jr. Blades in TWO
#2 Charlotte Rush vs. #7 Palm Beach Hawks
While the Jr. Blades were busy running away with the league's top regular season record, the Rush were calmly and quietly dominating the rest of the USP3HL as their 71 points are the second best point total (to this point) in the USP3HL this season. The Rush will enter the postseason having lost only twice since the start of December (18 games), however one of those losses came on the regular season's final weekend to the Hampton Roads Whalers. The Rush have only faced off against the Hawks twice this season, both one-goal wins by the Rush, but each of those meetings came way back in the season's first three weeks of play.
From the Hawks' perspective, it's been a roller coaster season that's seen its fair share of ups (sweeping Atlanta, twice; two wins vs. Hampton Roads) and downs (four separate losing streaks of at least three games). Lucky for them, the Hawks are currently enjoying one of their "ups" as they'll be heading into the postseason having won six straight, including each of the last three by just one goal. Speaking of one-goal games... Despite the pair of one-goal losses to the Rush at the beginning of the season, the Hawks are 14-3-3 in one-goal games this season. That success in close games could prove to be a recipe for an upset, but the Rush have just been too good to pick against.
Prediction: RUSH in TWO
#3 Carolina Eagles vs. #6 Atlanta Junior Knights
While the next series on the list might be the most anticipated, this matchup might be the hardest one to predict. Carolina, who spent most of the season challenging Charlotte for the South Division's #2 seed, sputtered down the stretch as they lost four of their final six games of the regular season. On the other hand, the Knights have been consistently inconsistent as they have posted winning streaks of four (twice) and five (twice) as well as losing streaks of five (once) and seven (once).
Carolina won three of the four meetings between these two teams - all of which came within the past month - however Atlanta's lone win was the most recent game between the two teams as the Junior Knights earned a 3-2 victory over the Eagles in the two teams' regular season finale. Despite the loss, the Eagles will likely enter the matchup feeling confident about their odds as each of their three wins over the Junior Knights this season came by three goals or more.
Prediction: CAROLINA in TWO
#4 Richmond Generals vs. #5 Hampton Roads Whalers
This is the matchup that everyone across the USP3HL will be watching this weekend, and the winner of this series could easily make a run to the South Division Championship Series. The two teams faced off six times this season - four of which came during the final month of the season - with the Generals winning four of those meetings, including each of the last three. The Generals can also boast that they are the only team to have successfully gone toe-to-toe with the Jr. Blades as they handed Florida their only loss of the season back on December 16th (3-2).
Despite those numbers, Hampton Roads enters as the reigning USP3 South Division champs and they've proven time and time again that they can hang with the division's best, as evidenced by the multiple wins they've claimed against Charlotte (3) and Carolina (2) this season. Goaltender Everett Yasinski (15-6-3, 2.53 GAA, .915 SV%) and forward Gary Eastlack (34 Goals, 29 Assists, 63 Points) have been two of the USP3HL's best this season, and they'll likely be leaned on heavily to help "The Whale" get past a formidable and battle-tested Generals squad. It'll be an epic series between these two, no doubt about it, but it feels like fate is on Richmond's side to set up a rematch between the Generals and Blades in the semis.
Prediction: RICHMOND in THREE
4. Can Cody Do It?
Death, taxes, and Cody Arbelovsky.
There's nothing more reliable than those three as Arbelovsky has been on a tear in his second season with the Generals. Through 40 games played this season, the Alaskan has been at-or-near the top of the USP3HL in nearly every major offensive category, and now he's closing in on franchise records that have stood for nearly a decade.
After taylling four points in last weekend's two-game series against Seattle - all goals - Arbelovsky is now just one goal behind Michael Frei's single-season franchise record for goals scored, 46, which was set during the 2008-09 season. His 81 points on the season are also two behind Brad Main for fourth most in franchise history. Arbelovsky trails Main (83), Frei (89), Kranzky (90), and Justin Adams (106) for most points in a single season in Generals history.
Will he do it? The odds are certianly on his side. Arbelovsky and the Generals still have two games left in the regular season, a two-game series at The Rink Exchange in Eugene, Oregon this weekend (TICKETS). Arbelovsky has scored 15 goals against the Warriors this season while scoring in seven of eight meetings.
5. Sparks Has Serious Star Power
Earlier this week, Generals defenseman Brett Sparks was named as a USP3HL Star of the Week after his performance this past weekend against the Seattle Ravens, a two-game series that was swept by the Generals.
The Portland native netted his tenth power play goal of the season on Friday, the most among all USP3HL defensemen and the fourth most among all skaters, while also tallying an assist. The following day, Sparks dished out a season-high four assists in the team's thrilling 7-6 win over Seattle.
This was the second time this season that Sparks received the weekly honor from the USPHL after previously being named a USP3HL Star of the Week on December 12th, 2016.
Currently in his final junior-eligible season, Sparks has 23 goals and 31 assists for 54 overall points, fourth most on the team. His 23 goals are tied with teammate Logan Sanders for the most among all USP3HL defensemen.
6. Monday Headlines
How will the headlines look around the USP3HL on Monday? Find out below:
Generals Cross 70-Point Threshold - The Generals will finish the season with 71 points after taking all four possible points this weekend against the West Sound Warriors. To date, the Florida Jr. Blades (86) and the Charlotte Rush (71) are the only teams to have already surpassed the same mark and the Traverse City North Stars still have a chance to do the same (66 points with three games to go). The Generals have only reached 70 points in a season twice before (76: 2008-09, 76: 2009-10).
Hitmen Hold On For Division Title - It'll come down to the last day of the season after the Islanders Hockey Club defeats the Hitmen on Saturday, but Jersey will bounce back on Sunday in dramatic fashion to clinch the regular season title on the final day.
Richmond Gets Rematch With One-Loss Blades - The hockey gods will grant the public the matchup that they want as the Richmond Generals and the Florida Jr. Blades will each win their respective matchups in the opening round of the South Division Playoffs to set up a rematch between the USP3HL's top team and the only team to have beaten them this season.
Looking for a wider look around the USPHL? Check "Kleiner's Seven Things" from the USPHL's Mike Klein every Wednesday evening at USPHL.com.