By Jim DenHollander/USPHL.com, 01/18/19, 3:00PM EST
Top 10 matchups to watch in the USPHL Premier Division this weekend
Much of the attention this weekend in the USPHL will certainly be focused to the South as both the Florida and Southeast Divisions will see late season battles that will have a bearing on those divisions’ regular season championship.
As usual though, all three Regions have key matches heading into the weekend.
NOTE: Some of the Northeastern U.S. games may be at risk of being postponed due to a major winter storm coming through the area on Saturday into Sunday.
Below is a brief look at 10 match-ups you must pay attention to this weekend:
DME Swamp Rabbits vs. Florida Eels
This is about as big a game as you can have in the regular season. The Swamp Rabbits have dominated the season series so far, taking four out of the five previous encounters, but the Eels are hot, rolling into this game on home ice and riding a six-game winning streak.
It’s a single encounter this time around – puck drops at 4 p.m. Saturday (EST) at the Fort Myers Skatium.
Charlotte Rush at Hampton Roads Whalers
The Whalers opened the regular season with a 5-4 edge on home ice against the Charlotte Rush in a rematch of the 2018 League National championship game and that triggered an 18-game season-opening winning streak for the Whalers.
They met the Rush again, in Charlotte in the game after its streak ended and promptly began a new streak with 5-0 and 5-2 wins.
In order to stay in the hunt for a regular season title, the Rush – who trail by seven points – need to sweep this weekend.
If there is ever a right time though, this could be it, as the Whalers have looked human recently with a 2-2 record in their last four games. Both teams are coming off splits last weekend.
Teams will face off on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (EST) and finish it off at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
Minnesota Mullets at Steele County Blades
On paper this game appears to be somewhat of a mismatch as the Mullets are currently 27 points clear of the Blades.
However, the Blades have wins in both games against the Mullets this season – both on the road. That was some time ago though, the first win a 3-2 decision on Sept. 29 and the other a 4-1 win Nov. 1. The Blades, however, have struggled mightily since then.
The Mullets enter the weekend sixth in the division with sights set as high as third or possibly even second place in its final month.
Teams will wrap up their season series at the Four Seasons Center in Owatonna with a game at 7 p.m. (CST) Saturday and a wrap up at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Philadelphia Hockey Club at Niagara Falls Thunder
This is an interesting cross-division contest as the Philadelphia Hockey Club is coming off its biggest win of the season – giving the Mid-Atlantic Division-leading New York Aviators their
third regulation loss in 33 games. They take on the Niagara Falls Thunder, who are battling to hang on to home ice advantage through the opening round. Both teams enter the contest with 28 points heading into a weekend pair at the Hyde Park Ice Pavilion where the teams will face off at 7:30 p.m. (EST) Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday.
MJDP @ Detroit Fighting Irish
One team is trying to hold onto its final playoff spot while the other is looking at the possibility of home ice.
MJDP has the fourth and final post-season spot in the Great Lakes Division and has had success against teams from the Midwest East Division, taking nine of 10 decisions against the group so far, including two earlier wins against the Fighting Irish.
This will be the lone game of the weekend for both teams, starting at 8:30 p.m. (EST) at the Brownstown Sports Center.
Syracuse Stars at Connecticut Jr. Rangers
This Northeast Division series pits a pair of teams in position battles against each other.
The Stars enter the weekend riding a 6-3-1 record in its past 10 which has helped it move to within a win of second spot in the division and an opening round bye in the playoffs.
The Junior Rangers have fallen off a bit in its past 10, winning just three, but it is also fifth, just one point behind Niagara in the fourth spot, which carries home ice through the opening playoff round as the incentive.
The Rangers could find themselves in a better playoff position or find itself looking over its shoulder at Rochester and Hartford teams – depending on weekend results.
The opening game of this two-game weekend set will be played, weather-permitting, at 5:30 p.m. (EST) Saturday with another, weather-permitting, at 4:15 p.m. on Sunday. Both games are at Chelsea Piers in Connecticut.
Boston Bandits at Springfield Pics
The five-team battle royale for top positions in the New England division features important games every weekend and the division-leading Boston Bandits will be involved in a pair this weekend, if they can get to the rink.
The first is a cross-division match as the New England leading Bandits hitting the road to play the Pics, currently second in the Northeast, also clinging to a two-point margin.
This game will wrap up the season series which has seen the home teams prevail in each of the three previous games – Bandits winning the season opener 5-2 and taking a 2-1 decision Oct. 10 before the Pics held off the Bandits on home ice 3-2 Nov. 30.
Lansing Wolves at Toledo Cherokee
Here’s a pair of teams that need to get wins under their belt in the final month.
The Wolves have been in the runners up spot since the early days of the season, but have hit a rough patch, winning just four of its past 10 while the Pittsburgh Vengeance have gained some ground, getting within a point despite some so/so results of late themselves.
The Cherokee open the weekend on the outside looking in and therefore, will be desperate to grab two points on Saturday night, after opening the weekend on home ice as well, against the Metro Jets on Friday.
Cherokee is five behind MJDP entering the weekend, currently fifth and out of the post-season picture.
Game time at the Team Toledo Ice House on Saturday will be 7 p.m. (EST).
Minnesota Blue Ox at Hudson Havoc
After back-to-back three-game weekends, the Havoc will play a pair this weekend on home ice at the Hudson Havoc Civic Center.
The second game will be an interesting battle Sunday as the Minnesota Blue Ox come to town.
The Havoc have been in control of this division almost the entire season but needs to close it out strong as its seems everyone in the top half is hot down the stretch.
This will wrap up season series and the first three have all been won by the guests, the Havoc grabbing a 3-2 win Sept. 29 and a 6-3 margin Jan. 4 at Coon River while the most recent game, played this past Sunday, saw the Havoc falling 4-3 on home ice.
Both teams will be looking to take advantage of an off weekend for the Minnesota Moose this weekend. The Havoc enters play six points up and the Blue Ox is just three points behind the Moose in third spot.
Game time for this one is 2:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon and both teams will be involved in earlier games as well.
Boston Bandits at New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs
While the Bandits are looking to keep pace with the second place Cyclones in the New England Division, the third place Monarchs enter the weekend six points behind the Cyclones in third spot.
Earlier matches both went to the Bandits by the narrowest of margins. The host Bandits grabbed a 3-2 win on home ice Oct. 21 and in their previous meeting at Tri-Town Arena, teams were scoreless after 65 minutes, the Bandits claiming victory with a 1-0 shootout win.
Weather-permitting, game time at Tri-Town Ice Arena on Sunday is 11:40 a.m. (EST) and teams will wrap up the season series back at Bridgewater on Feb. 13.