By Jim den Hollander
Midwest West Division
Minnesota Squatch (2) vs. Isanti Outlaws (7)
All games at Furniture-and-Things Community Event Center
Friday, March 3, 7:15 p.m. CST
Saturday, March 4, 7:15 p.m. CST
Sunday, March 5, 7:15 p.m. CST
If you like goals, the Premier Midwest West division playoff series between the second seeded Minnesota Squatch and the number seven Isanti Outlaws could be one to watch.
The Squatch, led by a couple of the league’s top scorers at times this season, appeared to have the ability to score at will. The team’s 239 regular season goals were easily the highest total in the division. In fact, the Squatch were the only team to cross the 200-goal threshold.
The Outlaws finished 22 points behind the Squatch and scored 149 goals but like the Squatch the team’s records show some come from behind wins.
The Outlaws held down nearly every position in the division at one point or another, including some time in the penthouse suite. Both teams appeared to drop off a bit after the Christmas Break, but for the Squatch that ‘fall off’ meant an 11-7-0-1 record.
The Outlaws have wins against all eight Midwest-West rivals this season but also losses against all eight while the Squatch has also defeated all eight and swept five-game sets against both the Dells Ducks and Minnesota Mullets.
Head-to head, the Squatch and Outlaws split their season series with two wins apiece, most recently a 5-1 decision for the Squatch at Isanti Ice Arena earlier this month.
With the Squatch being a first-year entry in the league, there are no previous playoff records.
Outlaws Coach Don Babineau knows recent history hasn’t been great for the Outlaws but with strong performances from top players the team can pull off a win against any other team.
“The season definitely had its highs and lows,” recalled Babineau in an email interview. “At one point we were on a 14-0-1 run. The second half has been a bit of a struggle trying to find our game on a consistent basis as of late, but no doubt in our staff’s eyes, we feel we can win the series knowing we have put up two good games in their home rink and scoring 11 goals total in both games.
“We understand playoffs are different from the regular season and we expect this series to be a challenging one. But we are coming in with confidence knowing three of four games with them were close.
Meanwhile, Coach Pojar has seen his team put up some big scores and charge back from deficits in the third period numerous times and he thinks the best is still to come from his squad.
“We are looking forward to playing the Outlaws in the first round as we are playing well in many areas right now,” said Pojar, in an e-mail interview. “The power play is clicking. Goaltending is solid and defensively, we are playing well as a five-man unit where everyone is doing their job.”
With players like Daniel Ellingson (41g, 103 pts.), Jack Pojar (45g, 90 pts.) and Blake Bakey (16g. 65 pts.) on the Squatch side, they could put up some big offensive numbers, but the Outlaws match up well led by Tyler Schmitt (34g, 81 pts.) and Easton Parnell (24g. 71 pts.).
The Squatch improved in goal with the addition of Nate Gulsvig in the second half, but again, the Outlaws have a guy that comes up big in big games.
“Our goaltending (led by Robert Bymers) will be a key factor,” predicted Babineau. “He has the ability to take any game at any given time. He has been solid for us all season.
“We expect the Squatch will come with their best and we will have to match play and rise to the occasion.”
Pojar sees three keys of the playoffs set.
“1. Stay disciplined, minimize penalties; 2. Shoot the puck often. We don’t want to pass up any shots and 3. Forecheck hard, minimize clean breakouts for the Isanti defensemen,” said Pojar.
“We are expecting large crowds for these games and it will get loud,” said the coach. “That should be a huge advantage for the Squatch.”