As the final games of the 2017-18 North American Hockey League season are completed, today we’ll take a look at the final rankings and grades of the season. I can only hope that readers will find this to be an interesting diversion from the otherwise very sad event that rocked the hockey world this past weekend.
Now for the disclosure… the following is my opinion and not written under the influence of anything or anybody. The actual grade scale is based on winning percentage and nothing else. That scale has been established for four seasons.
#1 Fairbanks Ice Dogs (45-8-4-3, .808) – Are the Fairbanks Ice Dogs really the best team in the league? They did finish with the best record during the regular season; nobody can take that from the Alaskan powerhouse. Again, are they the best in the league? That remains to be seen. Of the four division champions, the Ice Dogs look like they will be able to emerge to advance to the Robertson Cup Finals…but what happens there will be anyone’s guess.
#2 Shreveport Mudbugs (41-12-3-4, .742) – Can you feel it? The pressure cooker that is the Shreveport Mudbugs is already building steam in anticipation of the playoffs. Considering what happened last year, and the fact that the Bugs are facing that same team again, has Mudbug Nation has concerns. And they should.
#3 Philadelphia Rebels (41-15-3-1, .717) – Rebels owner Ken Dennis is shopping his team to markets across the map while head coach Joe Coombs tries to keep the boys focused. Yea, we knew any team branded as the “REBELS” would be a tough sell in Philly. Coombs’ crew has home-ice advantage where they have had success in 75% of their home games this season.
#4 Lone Star Brahmas (38-12-6-4, .717) – Dan Wildfong’s Brahmas are the hottest team in the league right now and their timing could not be more perfect. The south division playoffs are going to be a war and the Brahmas are more than ready.
#5 Janesville Jets (38-13-6-3, .708) –Gary Shuchuk’s Jets could have finished higher on this list if a mattered to the seasoned coach. JuniorHockey.com’s rankings is not the focus for any team when it’s possible to preserve for the playoffs. The Jets are ready for that next phase.
#6 Aberdeen Wings (39-16-4-1, .692) –Head Coach Scott Langer’s Wings were playing hot hockey all season and finished that way as well with wins in eight of the last ten games. The favorite to represent the division at the Robertson Cup will have to fight off well-known opponents to get there. Nothing is going to be easy along the way.
#7 Austin Bruins (33-19-4-4, .617) – Head Coach Steve Howard’s rookie season has delivered the kind of success that the Bruins’ ownership had hoped for. As a result, the product on the ice is such that everybody in the region is excited to see. The Bruins could easily get hot and make a run in the playoffs.
#8 Minnesota Wilderness (33-21-3-3, .600) – Tim Madsen is exactly the kind of coach that nobody wants to have a battle of hockey wits with. That fact makes the Wilderness very dangerous in the playoffs. That success is going to require some consistency from the boys guarding the pipes.
#9 Springfield Blues (33-21-5-1, .600) –Head Coach Tyler Rennette has guided the Blues into the playoffs for the first time in years, something that owner Dan Ferguson has to be worried about. Rennette’s name is already popping up in regards to jobs at higher levels of play. The Blues have played well while fighting off some inconsistency along the way. If Springfield can dial their bright eyes into focus, this is a team that can surprise someone.
#10 Odessa Jackalopes (33-22-3-2, .592) – Odessa bench boss Greg Gatto has figured out the whole college hockey prospects thingee and has turned in one heck of a 4th season. The Jacks are playing the kind of hockey that keeps scouts wanting to book plane tickets to West Texas. Look for the fans to go nuts for playoff hockey again.
#11 New Jersey Titans (29-22-7-2, .558) – I wonder how teams like the Titans manage to stay in the league. There are so many factors against this team that could easily sink other programs. It’s obvious that the community around the home rink could not care less about the Titans so maybe finding another home makes more sense. These kids can really play and it’s a shame that nobody seems to care. The playoffs are going to be interesting and it would be very ironic if the Titans can emerge as the east champions.
#12 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights (30-24-5-1, .550) – The Knights are a strange bunch. Very talented but also suffer from inconsistency. I think that’s more of a reflection on the coach than anything else. The Knights could easily sweep, or get swept, in the first round of the playoffs.
#13 Corpus Christi IceRays (27-23-5-5, .533) – Head Coach Brad Flynn’s IceRays are scary confidence going into the playoffs. The young coach is one of the game’s brightest coaching prospects and knows exactly how to get the most from his crew. That’s not good news for playoff opponents. Well, most of them already know.
#14 Minnesota Magicians (28-24-5-3, .533) – The Magicians made a ton of mid-season changes for the better that also changed the entire culture of the program. There is no reason that a team based in this market can’t be a dynasty. Look for that plan to be on the agenda for next season and beyond.
#15 Northeast Generals (29-26-4-1, .525) – The Generals started the season on a number of highs, took a bit of nose-dive before pulling out to finish above .500. There’s nobody in their division they can’t beat, or that they are afraid of. The Generals are certainly a team that could cause a ruckus in the playoffs.
#16 Minot Minotauros (28-26-4-2, .517) – There are few coaches in the game that I respect more than Marty Murray. He also has the absolute respect of his players, both past and future.
#17 Amarillo Bulls (23-26-8-3, .475) – Head Coach Rocky Russo is the poster child for the word class. What can I say about the Bulls' organization? From the owner down to the ticket takers, and especially the General Manager and Russo; this is easily the Organization of the Year. I feel like it would be a sin for Russo to not be named the ESPN Sportsman of the Year as he is a fine example for his players and others to emulate.
#18 Bismarck Bobcats (24-30-4-2, .450) – Head Coach Layne Sedevie has enough winning seasons behind the bench for the Bobcats that he gets an occasional mulligan. With that said, the coach is going to have to step up his game when it comes to recruiting while the owner comes out of pocket with more incentives to get players to want to be Bobcats. This division demands nothing but the best effort in order to be successful.
#19 Brookings Blizzard (23-30-2-5, .442) – Moe Mantha’s Blizzard dropped from the top of this list early in the season to just four rungs from the bottom. Yes, there are questions that need to be addressed in the off-season.
#20 Johnstown Tomahawks (23-33-2-2, .417) – Coach Mike Letizia’s Tomahawks finished ten games under .500 and could have been the league’s biggest disappointment. This team had the talent to do so much more.
#21 Coulee Region Chill (17-34-4-5, .358) –Ryan Egan’s Chill ran into a number of issues that drove his team out of playoff contention. Egan is not one to make a pile of excuses and will use the experience to his advantage for next season. The key to that success is going to be getting key returners back and recruiting…something Egan is excited to get to.
#22 Kenai River Brown Bears (18-38-1-3, .333) –Coach Josh Petrich’s Brown Bears came out on the short end of the stick in two/thirds of their games. There is really no way to sugarcoat that fact. Yes, it was much better than what Jeff Worlton was able to accomplish, but last place is still last place. The fact remains, the curse of Nate Kiel will continue as long as the absentee general manager is still trying to run the team from Arizona.
#23 Topeka RoadRunners (17-39-2-2, .333) – To say Topeka’s season has been a disappointment is a dramatic understatement. Lofty expectations to start the season led to a lot of discouraging results. What happened in between is irrelevant. As the page transitions from the ownership of Don Stone to the Lamar Hunt family we are expecting a tremendous change of course for this club.
PHOTO: The hockey community unites to overcome tragedies like this. From Alaska to Florida and BC to the Maritimes, everybody is #Praying4Humboldt From Jackalopes Facebook
SCALE: A 725+, B 600-724, C 475-599, D 350-474, F 0-349
* Disclaimer: This site may contain advice, opinions and statements from various authors and information providers. Views expressed in this article reflect the personal opinion of the author, Stephen Heisler, and not necessarily the views of JuniorHockey.ca. JuniorHockey.ca does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other info provided in the article, or from any other member of this site.