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11/12 Season Preview - "A" Div.

      In spite of the lower number of teams competing in this year's "A" division, there have been few seasons when the top of the division has been so tight. With the Executioners having made so many solid pickups, the Barons remaining largely the same, and the usually favoured Wolfpac losing a top player, one could easily list the top three teams as 1A, 1B, and 1C and leave it at that. However, I have always been a big beleiver in the theory that you have to knock off the champs before you can become them, so for now I will leave the ranking as it has been the past few seasons. As for the Jaguars, they will have their work cut out for them, but they have already showed in week one that they won't lie down for any team. All things considered, this should be an intriguing season in "A", to say the least.

1. Surrey Wolfpac - Look for another solid edition of the Surrey Wolfpac this year. Having said that, they will be without top scorer Tony Chohan who will be sidelined for likely the entire year with a knee injury. The team was rumoured to have picked up Dave Fisher as a more than capable replacement, but that deal seems to have fallen through. Waiting in the wings, however, will be sniper Steve Mulholland. A ridiculously quick release makes him a threat from anywhere on the floor, and a move from defense to his natural position as a right winger, should equal big numbers for him this season. Mike Sanghara, one of the league's most dangerous one-on-one players, will be looked upon to continue contributing big offensive numbers while the dynamic Herman Sunner will need to be in the lineup more often than his nine games in 10/11. Other important members of the offensive attack will be Justin Matai, Jonny Pal and Rob Sangha. The 'Pac are equally stacked on defence with returning veterans Brock Pierson and the energetic Gary Chahal. Add to the mix one of the league's rising stars, Rookie Of The Year Jordan Chowsen, and steady defender Davinder Chohan, and you have a roster as deep as any in the league. Rick Baker will be between the pipes and he is coming off a championship year where he put up solid numbers in a tough division. While there are no apparent weaknesses, the Wolfpac are known to run with a short bench. Lack of players sometimes results in a tougher game for the Wolfpac, even with all the skill they possess. That being said, they will still challenge for first in the division and their combination of youth, speed and skill is unmatched in this league.

2. New West Barons - The Barons come off their third consecutive spring championship, but must find a way to climb the higher mountain that is the fall season and in particular, find a way to beat the powerhouse Wolfpac. Marcel Lafortune was limited to just two games over the spring due to his commitments with the national team, but should be back among the league's top scorers again this season. There were reports this season that the Rage would endeavor to put in the "A" div version of their team that last saw action in 09/10, but that never materialized which is a good thing for the Barons who get to keep players such as Graeme Spence, Ryan Taylor, Graham Tizzard and Tony Ferreira. Ferreira is expected to split duties once again with Dean Salsnek in what has been the most reliable goalkeeping tandem in the league for the past few seasons, though Dean may miss some time with a scheduled operation to come this year so look for the minutes to skew in Ferreira's favour. Craig Houle returns as the main man on the point and comes off a season that saw him win Top Defensemen honours in the division. Mitch Miller helped shoulder some of the offensive load from the blueline in his rookie campaign this spring and is certainly a player to keep an eye on. Brenden Ham has been in and out of the lineup for the past couple of seasons but when he is in the lineup it gives the Barons a whole new dimension. Lloyd Weir has moved on to the Stingrays, but other than that this is pretty much the roster that has returned from the last few seasons. They have found a way to mesh their experienced veteran players with a wave of young talent giving them perfect balance. This team will undoubtedly vie for the league's best record again, but regardless of how the regular season goes, this year is championship or bust for the Barons.

3. Mainland Executioners - It's been a productive off-season for the Executioners with them making many big name acquisitions with the idea of taking a serious run at an "A" division crown. The loss of the Thrashers has given this team a big boost as they have now picked up all-stars Jay Dove and Sanjeev Haer. The reports are that they also won the Dave Fisher sweepstakes as he had also been rumoured to be heading to the Wolfpac. Those are some big pieces that have been added to an already solid core featuring the hard-shooting Lee Bryant, Bryce Goligher, and Andy Saran. Shane Khan had a breakout season capturing his first "A" div MVP award as well as the 3 star cup. Chip Gill was a late addition to the Spring team but immediately added scoring depth. The Execs are also happy to have Ben Saggu back and fully healthy for the season as he also made his return during the spring after a lengthy absence due to injury. GM Mike Bhayana comes off of a career year that saw him put up big numbers in both the regular season and playoffs. The team will however be without one of their top defenders for a while in Steve Tung who has battled some health issues over the summer. The goaltending picture has also taken on a new outlook as Craig Hagan was replaced at the last minute by Jeff Fernquist. Though Fernquist hasn't played NWBHL hockey in several years, he has been carving out a championship career in several other leagues and tournaments. He is a great goaltender and loves to show off his ability in moving the ball and already picked up a pair of assists in the first game. This team has certainly stacked up this season and will be a top contender to win the the league championship.

4. Pacific Jaguars - This should be an interesting season for the Jaguars as they make the move up to the top division after a successful campaign that saw them win their first title. GM Pawan Bains has stated his intension to keep them in "A" and build a team that can compete at a high level of play over the long term. Jas Basra returns to the nets for this franchise after taking the spring season off. Look for him to get tested often as the team learns to play with the big boys, but he should be up to the task as one of the elite stoppers in the game. The team has kept their lineup largely intact with the move up, which is always a difficult proposition. Offensive leader Kevin Uppal hopes to keep up the hot streak that saw him score 11 points in 5 games on the way to securing the "B" Playoff MVP. Waseem Khalil also comes off a scoring title and MVP season and he hopes to have a season similar to his Spring '10 campaign where he put up almost two points per game in "A" with the Hitmen. The big acquisition for the team this summer was a package that has given them premier talents Daniel Lafortune and Orien Matsubara along with goaltender Mike Ireland. With other veteran scorers such as Amrit Virk and Jay Maracle, this club has decent offensive depth. The Jaguars are reportedly without the services of Graham Skelton due to injury, but fortunately the team still has other weapons such as Gurinder Dhillon and the newly acquired Brandon Brar to provide some offense from the back end. Other members of the blueline expected to contribute this season are the always reliable Sat Ahluwalia and the larger-than-life Randy Sihota. This team is expected to have some growing pains with the move up this year, but the interlocking schedule should help ease them into things with some easier games and the playoff format that sees all four teams make it will give them a taste of "A" caliber playoff intensity.

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