The Anchorage Wolverines playoff season in the North American Hockey League will officially get underway Thursday when they travel to Springfield, Illinois, to take on the Jr. Blues.
But to get to the playoffs, the Wolverines have been in playoff mode for the better part of the last month, battling to stay in qualifying position by finishing in the top half of the Midwest Division. Anchorage went 7-1-2 in the final month to secure the playoff berth.
“I’m hoping that’s going to help,” Wolverines head coach Mike Aikens said. “Guys are used to having every point matter. We found ourselves playing good hockey down the stretch when we needed to to get into the playoffs. I think guys are ready. We didn’t back into the playoffs, we earned our way in. That’s got to give you some confidence and the guys are feeling good about where we are right now.”
The first-year franchise enters as a fairly well-rounded team.
Talon Sigurdson (59), Cameron Morris (55) and Aiden Westin (51) all notched over 50 points, with Westin taking player of the week honors for the last week of the regular season in the Midwest Division.
Raythan Robbins was among the NAHL’s top goalies, finishing 5th in save percentage (.922) and 6th in goals against average (2.27).
Aikens said despite being an inexperienced franchise filled with first-year NAHL players, the team has developed depth over the season by playing four lines and trying to get everyone on the roster ice time.
“I think we’re in a good position,” he said. “We’ve created a lot of depth on this team because we’ve played a lot of players in different positions. The 23 that are going to be active, we have confidence in all those guys.”
Springfield has an explosive offense as well, paced by Cole Dubicki, whose 74 points tied him for 6th in the NAHL. He was especially productive on the power play, notching 27 points.
“If you look at their forwards, there are a lot of guys with a lot of points,” Aikens said. “They can score and they’re dangerous and very opportunistic. The games we played down there when I thought we outplayed them we didn’t bury our chances and the few chances they got, they did. Their power play is very good. We’re going to have to try to limit their power play opportunities. We’ll have to play a very structured, physical game and be sound with our defense.”
The playoff schedule is a little variable for the first-round best-of-5 series. The first two games are Thursday and Friday in Springfield at 4:05 ADT. The series will stay in Springfield and play Game 3 on Sunday in Springfield if the series is tied or Anchorage is up 2-0. If Anchorage is down 2-0, the series will return to Anchorage for Game 3, which would be played April 29. Game 4 and Game 5 (if necessary) would be on April 30 and May 2, respectively, at 7 p.m. at Ben Boeke.
“Obviously we’d like to sweep down there but we would love to come back home and reward our fans and season ticket holders and billet families and sponsors with a home game in the playoffs,” Aikens said.