All Games At Cyclones Arena
Friday, March 3, 4 p.m. EST
Saturday, March 4, 4 p.m. EST
Sunday, March 5, 4 p.m. EST (if necessary)
There exists the possibility that, by Saturday evening, we may know our first USPHL Nationals participant. The Springfield Pics will travel to face the Northern Cyclones for a best-of-three that starts on Friday, and the winner of one of the eight USPHL Elite playoff series will also be one of the eight Elite Nationals-qualifying teams. A lot is at stake right off the bat in each series.
The host Cyclones know very well what it takes to go far at the Nationals. They went to the Final at their home rink last March, falling in a track meet of a game against eventual champions the Richmond Generals, 8-4. All they needed was that taste, and now the No. 2 overall team in the Elite have the handle on what is needed. They very quickly exorcised their playoff demons last October by defeating the Richmond Generals in a shootout at the Rockets Hockey Club Showcase.
“I think my team’s strength is their willingness to compete at all times,” said Cyclones Head Coach Tim Plummer. “They have worked all season pushing each other every day on and off the ice to be the best hockey players they can be, and they are ready for the task ahead of them.”
The Cyclones played a lot of hockey – in fact, among the most of all Elite teams during the regular season. They tied the Jersey Hitmen with nine games going beyond regulation, and came up with a 4-1 OT record and a 4-0 shutout stand for a league-best 17 points. Defense has won games, however, as well. The Cyclones are No. 2 in team defense (2.02) and No. 2 in fewest shots against (27.02).
With 68 points in 42 games, Josh Bruno ranks among the top 10 scorers, and goaltender Maximilian Pierce was No. 1 in save percentage at .936.
“I expect the Cyclones to be a tough, hard-nosed team especially in their home building where it’s tough to play,” said Springfield Head Coach Chris Beaudoin. “I expect them to be physical and fast-paced through the whole game. As far as the regular season goes, we had a couple close games and then we had some games where we were out-matched. But in the playoffs, the series gets reset and we will see what happens.”
The Cyclones did indeed win all eight regular season games, but like Beaudoin, Plummer flings that number out the window ahead of Friday’s game.
“I think that you can expect any team in the postseason to compete extremely hard to get to the next round,” said Plummer. “It will be on us to manage our own compete level and make sure we are raising the bar each shift.”
The Pics had some hard times this year, going 11-29-1-3, but they had some bright spots over the year, including wins against all other North Division teams, including the playoff-bound Islanders and Bandits, and they defeated the non-playoff Junior Bruins for six of their 11 wins. Goaltender Chase Ebeyer was a top 20 goaltender in save percentage as well, sporting a .915 save percentage by season’s end.
“I think our strengths will be put to the test against the Cyclones,” said Beaudoin. “Our strengths are different each game that we play, and it will be something that is going to be interesting to see if we can put them together all in one game.”