Michigan Warriors are headed to the North American Hockey League playoffs.
Soo Eagles are not.
The I-75 highway rivals will be going in opposite directions when the playoffs begin in the North Division of the NAHL on the first weekend of April.
Having missed the playoffs in 2012-2013 after making it in each of their first two NAHL campaigns, the Flint-based Warriors are back in the post-season picture.
Having finished atop the North Division in their first NAHL season in 2012-2013, the Eagles will be spectators this playoff term.
Led by hard-boiled coach Moe Mantha, the Warriors have driven the experience of their veteran forwards en route to the playoffs.
With forward lines a mix of big boys and grinders who win their share of puck-possession battles, Colin Larkin is the Warriors 20-goal scorer and Tyler Groat, TJ Stuntz and Jake Hopfner are not far behind in the lamp-lighting department.
Put leading point-getters Zack Szajner and Jon Farkas and top shutdown forward Connor Lyons out there with Larkin, Groat, Stuntz, Hopfner et al and Mantha has no shortage of front-liners to tap on the shoulder.
To be sure, the Warriors do need to score as most observers point to their defensive corps as average at best and to the goaltending as hot-and-cold.
It’s been stated and repeated that Mantha can be a terse, testy coach to play for and that his peppery, prickly personality is not for the faint of heart.
Bottom line is though that Mantha has got a flawed team into the playoffs from what is a difficult North Division.
A roller-coaster season of highs and lows will not result in a playoff landing for the Soo squad.
Simply put, the Soo did not get enough secondary goal-scoring and with four goalies who played in between 11 and 20 games, the inability to define a no. 1 puckstopper became a lot for the Eagles to try to overcome.
As he looks ahead to the two home games that will officially end the Soo season this weekend, Eagles coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo can take some solace in the fact that his team can return 18 players for 2014-2015.
Not that they will all be back.
Still, there is a foundation of Eagles to build around for 2014-2015 that includes forwards Mike Sabatini, Nick Belger, Trevor Boyd, Chase Matson, Matt Menta and Denver Pierce and defencemen Darren Brady and Michael Caruso.
As well, the Eagles have three Latvian-born skaters — forwards Bruno Birzitis and Sandis Zolmanis and defenceman Kristofers Bindlulis — who can all return in 2014-1025 though as imports, their status is less than certain.
PHOTO: Michigan Warriors leading goal-scorer Colin Larkin. (NAHL photo.)