Eight weekends remain on the 2013-2014 regular-season schedule in the North American Hockey League.
Eight weekends to determine which four teams in each of the four divisions will make it to the playoffs in pursuit of the Robertson Cup.
With precious playoff positions at stake, there is much to gain and much to lose.
It’s make or break time.
It is particularly frantic and feverish in the Midwest and North divisions. In both the Midwest and North, five of the six teams in each division have records over the .500 mark.
Meanwhile, in the five-team Central, the last-place Brookings Blizzard remains within range of fourth-seeded Minot Minotauros.
And in the seven-team South, while the sixth-place Lone Star Brahmas and last-place Odessa Jackalopes are out of it, fifth-place Corpus Christi IceRays still have a shot at the fourth-and-final playoff spot, which is held by Wichita Falls Wildcats.
As the Austin Bruins and Bismarck Bobcats battle it out for first place in the Central Division, the Aberdeen Wings lurk in third spot ahead of Minot and Brookings, a playoff spot all but secured after just missing the post-season in 2012-2013.
Led by the boy wonder coaching tandem of Travis Winter and Francis Anzalone, I have been told by more than one outsider looking in that Aberdeen is one of the most-disciplined and better-prepared teams in the NAHL.
Winter, to be sure, likes the feeling of what he said the final eight weeks of the regular season will bring.
“We are excited about the stretch run of the season,” Winter told me. “We have put ourselves in a good position and look forward to the challenge of improving that and taking the next step as an organization. We still take a day by day approach and try to improve our team each day. It is an exciting and tough division and the last eight weeks will be no different.”
Among the pluses the Wings have are goalies Chad Catt and Henry Dill.
While the veteran Catt is the no. 1 guy, it was Dill who came on in relief on Thursday after the Wings fell behind 3-0 to Minot after the first period.
Dill promptly pickled the Minotauros the rest of the way and the Wings flew to a 6-3 come-from-behind victory.
Over in the Midwest, the Coulee Region Chill is in third spot and trying to make it to the post-season after winning only 16 of 60 games in 2012-2013 and missing the playoffs.
With 26 wins in 43 games thus far this season, Coulee Region represents a turnaround team from 2012-2013 to 2013-2014.
Chill coach A.J. Degenhardt, in his first full season as Coulee Region’s headmaster, realizes that while his team is in third place and only four points out of second, it is also only three points removed from fifth.
“Our team is focusing on the little details of the game and playing a full 60 minutes every night, regardless of the score,” Degenhardt told me. “Continuing to work every day and keeping the end goal in mind over these next couple of months will be huge for us.”
As Aberdeen has a good 1-2 goaltending duo in Catt and Dill, so does Coulee Region have net worth with Blake Cates and Adam Carlson.
PHOTO: Coulee Region goaltender Blake Cates. (NAHL Photo.)