Round 1: Wichita Jr. Thunder
(3) WICHITA JR. THUNDER (30-21-1) VS. (6) DALLAS SNIPERS (19-29-4)
From top to bottom, the Midwest Division has proven to be one of the best in the Western States Hockey League. That’s why the higher-seeded Wichita Jr. Thunder will not have an easy go of things when it faces off against the Dallas Snipers this weekend in a Midwest Division quarterfinal.
Wichita won the head-to-head matchup with a record of 4-2-0 against Dallas during the regular season.
The Jr. Thunder are sure to be disappointed after losing two of their last four games, which caused them to narrowly lose out on a first-round bye. One of those losses was a heartbreaking 5-4 decision against the Snipers.
This series will be the first home playoff series in the five-year history of the Jr. Thunder. It is interesting to note that last year, when Wichita competed in its first-ever postseason action its season ended with a two-game sweep at the hands of the Snipers in the division quarterfinals.
Wichita Head Coach Rob Weingartner is excited for the series, which he thinks will be very competitive.
“I expect a battle this weekend, and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Weingartner. “I believe we have the best division and the playoffs should be exciting.”
Weingartner also complimented the play of Dallas netminder Alexander Moustakis, saying, “Moustakis, who has 15 of the Snipers’ 19 wins this year, is one of the WSHL’s elite goaltenders. He proved that again last weekend by stealing two wins from Oklahoma City.”
Moustakis’ Jr. Thunder counterpart, Erik Spath, also had a great season. Spath posted a 3.50 GAA and a .918 save percentage to go along with his 25 wins, all while facing nearly 1,800 shots.
Dallas seemed to be in position to compete for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs before a long slump in February put them in the basement of the Midwest Division.
The Snipers' biggest offensive threat is Michael Tugo (31-32-63). Tugo has contributed seven power-play goals as well as a team-high three game-winners. Wichita counters with the talented Petr Cicmanec (47-52-99), who was eighth in the league in regular-season scoring. A key for both teams will be stopping the main scoring threat from the other side.
The deciding factor of the series could be how many penalties Dallas takes. Wichita has scored 90 of its 228 goals while on the power play, which is clicking at a rate of 29%. The Snipers, meanwhile, have allowed a division-high 66 power-play goals.