#USPHLPlayoffs Series Preview: Motor City Gamblers vs. Battle Creek Kernels

By Miles Regan / USPHL.com

Battle Creek Kernels (No. 6) at Motor City Gamblers (No. 3) 

Midwest East Division 

All games at Motor City 

Thurs., March 2, 7:45 p.m. EST

Fri., March 3, 3 p.m. EST

Sun., March 5, 5 p.m. EST (if necessary) 

Motor City enters their opening round series as the hottest team in the Midwest East. The Gamblers have won 11 straight games and earned the division’s third seed, good for their best finish since 2018-19. They qualified for Nationals that season and this 2023 squad looks to be their best since that season.

Motor City won the regular season series 3-0-0-1 against Battle Creek. They recorded a .franchise record 56 points in only 43 games this season, helping them return to the contender conversation after a couple rebuilding years. Associate Coach Jason McCrimmon had plenty to say about the Motown turnaround.

“We’re in a good space, our group is amazing. Very coachable. Our staff changes have been huge for our program rebrand, helping to get us moving in the right direction.”

McCrimmon gives a ton of credit to first year head coach Sam Shaheen and his staff, but the Gamblers themselves deserve a great deal of praise as well. Defensemen Aidan Canady (‘03/Schaumburg, Ill.) posted 16-50–66 and Jake Mullins (‘03/Clawson, Mich.) put up 22-
42–64). They finished second and third in scoring among all Premier defensemen and combined for 130 points, both earning NCDC tenders for 2023-24 with the Idaho Falls Spud Kings. They are the most offensively-dangerous pairing in the league and their work on the power play helped Motor City score a division-bet 48 PPGs this season.

Canady’s 50 assists was the most of any Premier blueliner, too.

When asked about Battle Creek, McCrimmon called the Kernels a hard-working, physical group. He believes Motor City will have to be very prepared if they want to get through the first round. McCrimmon also said that solid goaltending will be the key for MCG.

“Goaltending is where we’ll get that advantage. Put the brick wall up and we’ll be good to go.”

Gambler netminders Robert Allport (‘03/Fitchburg, Wis.) and Larkin Dolan (‘02/Boulder, Colo.) each won 11 games this season and will likely split the series. Motor City forwards Will Boyer (‘02/Detroit, Mich.) put up 23-15–38 and Nick LaFornara (‘02/Buffalo, N.Y.) posted 21-20–41 and are another pair of Gamblers to watch this weekend.

Battle Creek enters their inaugural playoff series playing some of their best hockey. The expansion franchise Kernels were bitten by the injury bug early in the season, but have been healthy as of late according to head coach Triston Jensen. Battle Creek won just one of their four tilts with Motor City this season, a 3-2 shootout victory on Nov. 5, but coach Jensen feels great about the way the two teams matchup:

“(We) match up extremely well with MCG. They’ve got what many will call the best power play unit in the country, but 5-v-5, we’re there with them.”

He’s got a point. Motor City took the regular season finale 7-3 on Feb. 26, but their victory came by way of five power play goals and an additional shorthanded tally. The game goes down as a 2-1 Kernels win if you only count even strength minutes. Staying out of the box will be of the utmost importance for Battle Creek this weekend.

The statline of their leading scorer, Evan Burkle (‘02/Battle Creek, Mich.) also gives the underdogs some confidence. The homegrown Kernel set a BCK single game record with five (4-1–5) points against MCG on Oct. 1 and also scored the shootout winner versus the Gamblers on Nov. 5. Burkle finished the regular season with 28 (16-12–28) points.

When asked about his team’s X-factor, Jensen went with his netminders: “Galvin (Reagan, ‘05/Grand Haven, Mich.]) and Liam (Donnelly (‘03/Sherwood Park, Alb.), one advantage we have is the goaltending department. Will our ‘05 keep up his fantastic season, or will our ‘03 continue to be a stud? Our two big X factors are our goaltenders.”

Donnelly and Reagan have put up some gaudy numbers in the blue paint this season. Their 1,213 combined saves are the most of any goaltender tandem in the division, and they’ve helped Battle Creek stay in games all year long.