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#USPHLPlayoffs: Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings vs. Minnesota Moose

Midwest West Division 

Minnesota Moose (5) at Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings (1) 

Friday, March 8, 7 p.m. CST 

Saturday, March 9, 7 p.m. CST

Sunday, March 10, 7 p.m. CST (If Necessary) 

 

By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com

The Riverkings are hyped up and, coming off a 2024 Midwest West Division regular season title, absolutely determined to make their first #USPHLNationals appearance since the Premier’s inaugural season of 2017-18. 

The Minnesota Moose have been more regular Nationals participants, missing the qualification mark only once, in 2022. They are coming into the series against the No. 1 seed after pulling off a 5-over-4 seed victory in beating the rival Minnesota Blue Ox in two games last weekend, 7-4 and 6-3. 

“I thought our first round went well. We played a good series against the Blue Ox that was physical and had a lot of ups and downs,” said Moose first-year Head Coach Nic Leibold. “I felt our guys handled the series well and made sure to show up to every game with high intensity and passion. I hope this does not just continue into the next round, but that we ramp it up to an even higher level.”

The Riverkings took on the No. 8 seed Minnesota Mullets in Round 1 and, although they swept in two games, didn’t get out of Game 2 easily. After a convincing 6-0 win in Game 1, they only eked out a 3-2 victory in Game 2 to cap the series and advance to this new round, where the winner will automatically go to the Nationals in Utica, N.Y. (March 21-26).  

“I am proud of the way we competed. We took care of our own end pretty well and created some good momentum with tons of shots,” said Riverkings Co-Owner/GM/Head Coach Paul Pechmann. 

The Riverkings went 3-1-0-0 during the season series against the Minnesota Moose. Two games were one-goal games (including the Moose’s Sept. 29, 3-2 victory), and the two others were decided by either two or three goals. 

“I expect the series against the Riverkings to be a good one,” said Leibold. “They are a solid team that works hard and does many things well. The Riverkings move pucks well and they play a physical style that is always tough. I expect the series to be tight and each team will battle hard and leave it all on the line. They are well-coached and they show up ready to play hard. We have always had tough battles against the Riverkings and I expect this to continue.”

“I think we’ll need to make sure we bring more of that energy and speed [from the first round] with us this weekend,” added Pechmann. “I expect these games to be a grind-it-out long weekend. The Moose are big and tough to play against. We’ve had close games all year and I don’t expect that will change.”

The Riverkings are a strong depth scoring team, where 10 different players scored 20 or more points in the regular season, 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. The defenseman Alex Willharm led the team in scoring in the playoff series with four points, and four more Riverkings had three points, again illustrating that depth. 

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. Yildirim put up a 28-save shutout in Game 1 last week. 

In the regular season, creasemate Jude Ayling was seventh in save percentage league-wide at .933, and he got the Game 2 win after making 22 saves.  

For the Moose, John Becker was essentially the team’s leading light from wire to wire, finishing with 40 points in 38 regular season games. Zach Hutchinson (38 points) and Justus Harrison (37 points) were right behind him in the scoring race. Looking at the deeper analytics, Harrison was the plus-minus leader (+19), Hutchinson won 409 faceoffs (57% success rate) and forward Teague Pilgrim was the top shot-blocker with 41 blocks in 35 games. 

It was Justus Harrison who was massive for the team in Round 1, posting eight points (3-5-8), the second most in the playoffs so far. Becker and Jacob Begich both scored four points. 

Goalie Joey Gag went 13-6-0-1 with a .920 save percentage to lead the Moose in net. Gag stopped 41 of 48 shots for the two wins in the first round.

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