By Jim den Hollander / USPHLPremier.com
Midwest West Division
Minnesota Squatch (2) vs. Minnesota Moose (3)
All games at Furniture-and-Things Community Event Center, 7:15 p.m. CST
Game 1: Friday, March 10, 7:15 p.m. CST
Game 2: Saturday, March 11, 7:15 p.m. CST
Game 3: Sunday, March 12, 7:15 p.m. CST (if necessary)
On paper, it appears the upcoming Midwest-West Division series between the second seeded Minnesota Squatch and third seeded Minnesota Moose could be the most important and interesting playoff series yet.
Separated by six points in final regular season standings, the second place Squatch will benefit from the margin with home ice advantage throughout the Best-of-Three division series that will advance the winning team to the USPHL Nationals to be played March 23-28 in Utica, N.Y.
The teams split their four-game regular season series, the Squatch gaining an extra point based on
the most recent contest, a 6-5 win for the Moose in Elk River, Feb. 18. The other three games
included a 5-3 win for the Squatch on home ice in the first game of the season, an 11-7 win for
the Moose a week later at Fogerty Ice Arena in Blaine and a 5-3 win for the Squatch in Blaine
All of the top four teams in the division won opening round sets on home ice so that trend might favor the Squatch a bit, but the Moose have shown they can find the way to win in Elk River. The Moose swept Steele County Blades in Blaine while the Squatch collected a sweep against the Isanti Outlaws on home ice.
“We are very happy as a staff with our play vs. Steele County Blades in the first round,” said Moose Head Coach Jon Jonasson in an email interview. “We felt playing a team like the Blades in the first round was a good test on what we are capable of for the remainder of playoffs.
“The Blades were prepared to play us, and we were ready to match it. Going into the Squatch series, we have focussed more on the defensive side of the puck to prepare for their top line,” Jonasson added. “We take pride in keeping teams outside and not giving up grade ‘A’ scoring opportunities and we plan to make it difficult for them to score this weekend.”
The Squatch made a huge impression in its first season and a trip to ‘Nattys’ would be the ultimate prize.
“The Squatch had a strong first season in the league and we are excited to play a team like them
to earn our bid to the National Tournament. We split the series with them including a game
where we scored 11 goals and (in the other win) we had to climb out of a hold to comeback
from a three-goal deficit to win in a shootout,” Jonasson said. “This has given us an opportunity to see how we match up vs. the Squatch in every scenario. We expect the weekend to be a fast-paced series with a lot of physicality and some high-level plays from both sides.”
Squatch Head Coach Chic Pojar is also looking forward to what will be a tough test for his team as well.
“This weekend will be a tough battle with the Moose,” said Pojar in an email interview. “This series will be a tight-checking match up. Special teams will be critical. We are healthy right now, which is key, and we are firing on all cylinders. If we bury our chances, we’ll have a shot at Nationals.”
“Our team has been talking about and preparing for this weekend all season,” said Coach Jonasson. “We are happy to be in the spot we are, heading to our last round of playoffs before Nationals. The guys in this locker room are mature and prepared for anything the Squatch throws at us. They are anxious to get this series started. As a staff, we are proud of the performance from this group. Since Dec. 18, we have only dropped four games and it’s because the players on this team have a goal and have not steered south of it once.”