In the other three divisions in the NAHL, 11 of the 12 playoff spots have already been claimed, but it’s not that way in the Central Division. Just one of the four playoff spot has been clinched in the Central, all six teams are still alive and even have realistic paths into the postseason. But it’s going to come down to the final weekend with six Central Division games left on the docket; St. Cloud for a pair in Aberdeen, Minot playing two games in Austin and North Iowa traveling to Bismarck for a two game series.
There’s good news and bad news for Norsemen fans. The bad news is, St. Cloud has still not punched their ticket for the 2023 Robertson Cup Playoffs. The good news is the Norsemen’s magic number to clinch the playoffs is also the same magic number to wrap up the #2 seed in the postseason. With two points being awarded for a win, one for an overtime or shootout loss, and zero for a regulation loss, that means that St. Cloud with a win in either game this weekend, or if both games in Aberdeen reach overtime, would begin the playoffs at home at the MAC.
The Central Division was won by Austin and with St. Cloud picking up a point this past Saturday the Norsemen have a five-point lead over Bismarck, meaning Norsemen fans don’t need to concern themselves with any points gained by the Bruins or Bobcats this weekend. That uncomplicates the rooting interests for St. Cloud fans; central Minnesota will be scoreboard watching and cheering on Austin and Bismarck. Hopefully the Bruins and Bobcats can steal a couple points from Minot and North Iowa this weekend, and luckily both Austin and Bismarck will have home-ice working in their favor.
St. Cloud currently sits in second place with 65 points, there is a three-way logjam for third through fifth place with Minot, North Iowa and Aberdeen all with 62 points in the bank, and Bismarck pulls up the rear with 60 points. A St. Cloud victory, or two overtime games, would get the Norsemen to at least 67, a number that none of the bottom four teams can reach and would leave the Norsemen to host whoever emerges as the #3 seed to begin the playoffs. St. Cloud could also back into a playoff spot if they fail to gain two points in Aberdeen but either Minot or North Iowa get just two points or less on the weekend. Simply put: a Minot or North Iowa regulation loss at all this weekend would get the Norsemen into the postseason, as would either of those teams failing to to pick up a win in either of their games.
Here are the various clinching scenarios Friday:
- St. Cloud :
- Clinches the #2 seed with a win.
- Clinches at least the #3 seed with a Minot regulation loss AND a North Iowa regulation loss (avoiding Austin in the first round).
- Clinches a playoff spot with a Minot regulation loss OR a North Iowa regulation loss OR a St. Cloud overtime/shootout loss AND a Minot or North Iowa loss of any kind.
- Clinches at least the #3 seed with a win AND a North Iowa regulation loss AND an Aberdeen regulation loss.
- Clinches a playoff spot with a win AND a North Iowa regulation loss OR a win AND an Aberdeen regulation loss.
- North Iowa:
- Clinches a playoff spot with a win AND an Aberdeen regulation loss.
- Aberdeen and Bismarck:
- Cannot clinch a playoff spot Friday.
St. Cloud, Minot and North Iowa also cannot be eliminated on Friday but either Bismarck or Bismarck and Aberdeen could be. For Aberdeen to be eliminated Friday it would require a St. Cloud regulation win and Minot and North Iowa to both win. Bismarck would be eliminated with a regulation loss or a Bismarck loss and Minot or Aberdeen picking up at least a point. However, if Bismarck wins Friday then no one can be eliminated and at least one playoff spot would be up for grabs going into the last night of the regular season.
Four of the five teams still vying for a postseason berth control their own destiny. While St. Cloud can get themselves in with just a win, Minot and North Iowa would secure themselves a spot if their teams sweep while Aberdeen needs just a sweep as long as at least one of their wins is in regulation. Bismarck is the only team that needs help to get in; they’ll need at least a Minot or Aberdeen loss. St. Cloud, Minot, North Iowa and Aberdeen all have the ability to finish as high as second and get home-ice advantage in the first round. On the other side of the spectrum, St. Cloud can finish as low as fifth and Minot, North Iowa, Aberdeen and Bismarck all have the ability to finish at the bottom in sixth.
It all shapes up for a wild and crazy finish and the games get underway with Minot in Austin at 7:05 Friday night while St. Cloud at Aberdeen and North Iowa in Bismarck getting underway ten minutes later at 7:15. The same matchups will have the same start times on Saturday and all six games can be found on the home of NAHL hockey, hockeytv.com.
We’ll have an update on the playoff picture and scenarios after Friday’s games have gone final; to keep up to date follow the St. Cloud Norsemen social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and your home for Norsemen news, stcloudnorsemen.com.