By Jim den Hollander / USPHLPremier.com
Midwest West Division
Hudson Havoc (1) vs. Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings (4)
All games at Hudson Sports and Civic Center
Game 1: Friday, March 10, 7 p.m. CST
Game 2: Saturday, March 11, 7 p.m. CST
Game 3: Sunday, March 12, 7 p.m. CST (if necessary)
The Hudson Havoc has been on a mission since the first time it took the ice this season and this weekend can realize its goal of being among the 18 teams playing at the Premier National Championship tournament.
Standing in their path though is a Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings team that has made a habit of coming up with big games when needed.
Most recently, the Riverkings dug deep on Sunday, collecting a 3-0 win in Game 3 of its opening round playoff series against the Minnesota Blue Ox to advance to the division semis.
Head Coach/GM Paul Pechmann and his players have not been a part of recent playoff history and that might have worked in the team’s favor as the Blue Ox have made it a habit recently of spoiling playoff bids for the Riverkings right at the South Wood County Recreation Center.
“This [past] round vs. The Blue Ox was just as tough as I expected,” said Coach Pechmann in an email interview.
“They are a team that just kept coming with speed and physicality and we knew we had to match their intensity.”
Upset losses in recent seasons, though, were a non-factor, said the coach.
“Obviously, this being my first season here, I didn’t look too much into (the history) but for this community and fanbase, it was obvious they felt it and a huge weight was lifted when that final buzzer went off (Sunday). The electricity in this building this weekend was tremendous with some record-breaking attendance. I’m so happy for these fans to get to experience that.”
Pechmann would love to carry that momentum into a series that will see his team wearing the underdog tag, but they know their efforts have paid off in the past.
In five regular season meetings, the Riverkings collected just one win, but it sticks out for a few reasons. First, it was the first loss of the regular season for the Havoc who opened with a nine-game winning streak, including two against the Riverkings.
Also, the win came at the Hudson Sports and Civic Center where this series will be played, so Pechmann and his crew know they can win there.
More recently, Havoc collected wins in both games at Wisconsin Rapids including a narrow 2-1 edge on Feb. 11. But the Havoc have dropped just seven games this season and only four against Midwest West rivals, so it will take a perfect performance if Pechmann and his crew hope to pull it off.
“We will need to be at our best if we expect to compete with them,” added Coach Pechmann. “We have had some exciting games throughout the season and have beaten them once. We need to be committed to our game plan and we should be fine. I am expecting an exciting series for sure.”
Coming off a series that included a pair of shutout wins against the Dells Ducks, Havoc Associate Coach Marty Dyck said the team is not about to change the tenacious forechecking style that has gotten it this far.
“Our forecheck was obviously strong against the Ducks so we’ll continue to work on that,” said Coach Dyck, in an email interview. “Back checking is always key in any game as well. We’re going to need to make sure goaltending is strong and focused as they have guys that can make plays. It should be a strong series for both teams.”