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#USPHLPlayoffs Preview: Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings vs. Minnesota Mullets

Minnesota Mullets (8) at Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings (1)

All Games At South Wood County Recreation Center, Wisconsin Rapids, WI

Friday, March 1, 7 p.m. CST

Saturday, March 2, 7 p.m. CST

Sunday, March 3, 7 p.m. EST (If Necessary) 

 

By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com

 

Six years is an awful long time between Nationals berths, so in the minds of the 2023-24 Midwest West Division regular season champion Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings, that wait needs to be history. The Riverkings made it to the very first USPHL Premier Nationals in 2018, but since then obviously all the players have changed, coaching staffs have changed and heck, even the ownership of the team changed. 

Paul Pechmann is a Co-Owner of the Riverkings and also the team’s Head Coach. He helped lead the Riverkings to a 30-7-3-4 record for 67 points, one point better than the No. 2 seed Minnesota Squatch. He is absolutely determined to bring the Riverkings back to the Nationals stage. First step: win their semifinal series vs. the Minnesota Mullets. 

“I expect this to be a fast, hard-fought battle. [The Mullets are] a team that can score and can beat you if you’re not prepared,” said Pechmann. “They’ve done it to us this season already, so we will do our best to be energized and ready to go on Friday.”

The Riverkings went 3-1-0-0 against the Mullets, but Pechmann obviously still remembers that Jan. 26 4-3 Mullets win very well. So does Mullets Owner/GM/Head Coach Chris Walby – and he’ll be looking for similar results to kick off the 2024 playoffs. 

“I’m excited about our first round matchup and another road trip with this group,” said Walby. “I’m proud of our boys, their hard work and the season we’ve had. We’re playing decent hockey right now and have come a long way since September.” 

The Mullets, who went 13-31-0-0, are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2022, when they pushed the No. 3 seed of that year, the Hudson Havoc, to a third game. The Mullets won a playoff series against the former Wisconsin Muskies in 2018, but fell to the Minnesota Moose in the finals that season. The next year, they had their only previous playoff meeting against the Riverkings, falling in two games. 

Tear off that page of history and we’re back to a 0-0 record for both teams. They bring in strong and veteran players on both rosters. 

The Riverkings are a strong depth scoring team, where 10 different players scored 20 or more points this year, led by Jake Bryceland at 51 points in 43 games. He was followed by Saint Michael’s College recruit S.J. LeComte (35 points in 30 games) and Owen Tutich (34 points in 31 games). Bryceland was the team’s plus-minus leader (+29) and defensive defenseman Lucas Whitehead led the way in blocked shots with 85, nearly two per game. 

Mullets Captain Caden Sutter led the team with 49 points in 44 games, while Mullets veterans Cade Anderson (39 points) and Jack Eckholm (35 points). Cyril Valach, who put up 22 points in a season-ending 11-game scoring streak, led the team in plus-minus with a +6. The Mullets’ own big-time defensive defenseman Tanner Balsitis blocked 89 shots this season. 

The Riverkings are very rich in goaltenders, with Bora Yildirim finishing as the save percentage champion for the whole USPHL Premier with a .950 mark. Creasemate Jude Ayling was seventh in save percentage league-wide at .933. Kody Niederkorn was a late-season addition to the Mullets and finished with a 5-6-0-0 record in 11 games with a .925 save percentage.

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