The 2017 CCM High Performance Tier I Leagues, presented by Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine, will host League Playoffs at the Girls 14U, Youth 14U and Youth 15 classifications this weekend at Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, MN. The playoffs will begin Friday, September 29 with League Champions being determined on Sunday, October 1.
For the second consecutive year, League Champions will be awarded the Taconite Trophy. The original Taconite Trophy was instituted in the early 1960’s when the University of Minnesota Duluth and University of Minnesota were the only teams in Minnesota at the NCAA Division I level. The arch-rivals played a four game season series with the trophy serving as the ultimate prize.
The original trophy has since been lost, but Minnesota Hockey is excited to honor this piece of Minnesota hockey tradition by naming the League Championship trophy for each of its Tier I Leagues after it.
In addition, the top three teams from Youth 14U and top four teams from Girls 14U and Youth 15 will advance to the USA Hockey Minnesota District Playoffs in Plymouth, MN on October 7-8. The winner of the District Playoffs will advance to the 2018 USA Hockey National Championships.
Now that we know what’s on the line, let’s take a closer look at the first-round pairings and playoff brackets.
With nine players returning from last year’s team that won the inaugural Girls 14U League Championship, including each of the team’s five top scorers, it wouldn’t have taken a crystal ball to know the Green Giants would be good this fall. They’ve been as good as expected, earning the top seed and a first round bye in League Playoffs with a 10-1-1 record.
Much of the same could be said about the Lakers, who won the first ever bid to USA Hockey Nationals last season. The Lakers returned five players from last year, including three of their top five scorers, and finished the season 9-2-1 with both losses coming against the Green Giants. The Lakers will also receive a first round bye and await the winner of the Polars and Loons.
The third ranked Polars had a strong season as well but finished slightly behind the Lakers in the standings. The Polars will host the Loons in their first-round matchup. The Loons got off to a slow start but showed improvement throughout the season with each of their final three games being decided by two goals or less. They’ll look to catch the Polars sleeping and try to pull off the tournament’s first upset.
The final first round match up will feature the fourth seeded Moose hosting the number five ranked Blue Ox. Only one point separated the Moose and the Blue Ox in the final standings, and the two teams split their regular season meetings, setting up what may end up being one of the best games of the tournament. The winner will advance to take on the Green Giants in the semifinals.
In the first game of Youth 14U playoffs, the top seeded Green Giants will host the Blue Ox. The Green Giants led the Youth 14U League in scoring with 68 goals and enter playoffs with three of the League's top six scorers. The Blue Ox have proved they have the ability to compete with top teams though and will look to show the playoff favorites how much they’ve improved since the two teams met in the first game of the season.
The Lakers and Polars will face-off in game two. These two teams finished the season with the same amount of points, posted similar records and split the season series. For the Polars, the key will be keeping the game a tight, low scoring affair. Meanwhile, the Lakers will look to use their speed and skill to strike quickly, like when they used four goals in a ten-minute span to hand the Green Giants their only loss of the season.
The second seeded Moose will look to continue their hot streak against the Loons in their quarterfinal matchup. The Moose struggled (0-2-1) in the League’s first weekend but have gone 8-1-1 since then. The Loons won’t be an easy out though as they’ve posted ties against third ranked Walleye and North Dakota over the course of the season.
The final matchup of the Youth 14U quarterfinals will pit the Walleye against the sixth seeded Voyageurs. The Walleye will lean on their defense and goaltending which allowed the fewest goals in the League to lead them into the semifinals. The Voyageurs should provide a stiff test as they seem to be peaking at the right time, after this past weekend’s performances against New Jersey and North Dakota.
With only four points separating the number one seeded Walleye, who receive a bye in the first round, from the fifth ranked Green Giants in the final League standings, the Youth 15 classification should provide for great games from start to finish in League Playoffs.
The first matchup will pit the fourth seeded Lakers against the Green Giants. These two teams each finished the year with seven wins and have nearly identical scoring differentials. The Lakers came out on top during their only regular season showdown, but this game should be a close one.
The second seeded Moose, who actually enter the playoffs with the most wins in League play this season, will take on the Polars in their first game. The Moose tied for the league lead in goals scored and fewest goals allowed making them a complete team that will be tough to beat. Don’t count the Polars out though. They have a goalie who’s shown he can steal games in the past and half of the team’s goals have come in the first period. If the Polars can get off to a quick start, they could pull off the upset of the weekend.
The final game of the first round will feature the third ranked Blue Ox against the Loons. This Blue Ox team is largely the same squad that won the Youth 14U title last season, and they’re one of only two teams to knock off the top ranked Walleye during League play. Ironically, the other team to beat the Walleye was the Loons, who despite a poor record have shown they can compete with anyone in the League.