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11/12 Season Preview - "B" Div.

      Many "B" teams have continued to improve their clubs over the past season and it looks like we are headed for an even more competitive season than in recent years. Most of the teams that finished near the bottom last season look much deeper and more balanced and deserving of a playoff spot but it's a difficult task choosing who they will supplant in a post season that will feature just four of eight teams making the cut. This will undoubtedly make for a great regular season with a plethora of important games. The two real wild card teams are the Rage, who come off a last place finish as the Bandits, but have really loaded up this season, and the Stingrays who lost half their team but have some nifty replacements on the way, whom have yet to be seen. There are three favourites heading into the season including the Entourage and Ghostriders, who both performed well last season, and the newly formed West Coast Bullies, that bring their own formidable lineup to the table. Whether you look at the race for first place or for the playoffs, this season is definitely up for grabs!

1. West Coast Bullies - This team has been the recipient of plenty of hype, before they had even played their first game, but now they will have their opportunity to prove things on the floor. Week one proved to be a tough test versus a solid Ghostriders team that resulted in a loss for the Bullies, but they were missing several key players, particularly on the back end. The Bullies have many strengths, but no greater advantage than in goal where they have arguably the best goaltender in the league in Cristian Campeanu. His career .905 save % ranks him tops among all goaltenders in NWBHL history, and he has a 2.55 GAA that is also among the leaders. The defense is solid as well, featuring the athletically dominating Larry Mey, and the punishing Trent Nellis, along with some other good ball rushing dmen in Nick McNicol and Dustin Rind. Up front they have a balanced attack led by the hard working Jeremy Skinner (a former "B" MVP) and Blake Creamer, who's production continues to improve with every season. Veteran Rashid Wahed will supply the passing game for the Bullies, while the shifty Tariq Teja will work some one-on-one magic on opponents this year. Keep an eye out for rookie Riley McQuillan as well as he is expected to be a solid contributor on the team. The Bullies are also expecting a couple of former Hitmen players, Johnson Narcisse and Kyle Wallace to add to the team's offensive depth this year. There is little doubt that this team has been put together with a championship in mind, and it looks like they have the roster to accomplish the feat, but will likely be a target for many other teams in a division that is deeper than in previous seasons.

2. Vancity Ghostriders - This season's version of the Ghostriders boasts a roster as deep as they have ever had, and judging from their first week overtime win against the Bullies, the future looks even brighter. This year's Riders have the benefit of having their core players together for a few seasons now. Players like Rishaad Abbas, Casey and Jim White and Harman Heer have been through a lot over five seasons and over that time, they have developed a style that is distinctly "Riders Hockey". Leading the way on offense will be the rugged Casey White and the shifty Mojib Emami. Casey, who may have been stifled under the previous regime, has really found his form and is coming off an excellent Spring campaign where he notched 10 goals in 11 games. Emami may be the most exciting young prospect in the B division this season. His vision and pinpoint passing should make players around him better. Rounding out the forwards will be the underrated Francis Singh, the speedy Harman Heer, Jeff Brailsford, and dangler Hashmat Mohammad. Don't forget part-timers Dennis Hintz and Ian Banks. As good as the offense is, the real strength of this team will be the back end. Jim White is coming off a stellar season where he was nominated for B division MVP and best D man. Add to that two solid pickups in A Div veteran Dan Ko and ball rusher Nameet Kumar, and their defense starts to be a concern for opposing teams. Splitting duties in goal will be Derek Smith and Dave Malmberg of BC Ravens fame. Malmberg has put up amazing numbers in the past and brings veteran leadership and a Championship to the Riders locker room. This team finally got over the playoff hump and won their first series last spring. Expectations will be high again and this season, it's "Championship or Bust"!

3. B.C. Entourage - The Entourage return for another season, but this time missing their big ticket player that is Jordan Chowsen, who has rightfully earned promotion to the Entourage parent club, the Wolfpac. Don't be fooled though, this is still a talented team that will compete for the top of the division, and started off the season the right way, with a 7-2 trouncing of a shorthanded Stingrays team. The Gill brothers, Jovin and Gugan will carry a bulk of the load for the club this season. The diminutive Jovin is a slick forward that has good offensive instincts, while the sizeable Gugan is a force on defense, both physically and with his tremendous ball handling skills. He is one of the great under appreciated blueliners in the league but should be in contention for top defensemen honours this fall. Team manager Aman Dhillon and former Sharks and Marauders forward Terrence Bains will be looked upon to score some goals for the team this season. Bal Sidhu is another solid pickup, coming over from the Wolverines. He had a breakout season after converting to defense with the team during the Spring. Another former Wolverines player, Jay Hothi also joins the fold giving the team an impressive array of offensive defensemen. The Entourage also have Dennis Grewal, one of the league's best two-way forwards and leading faceoff specialists to help keep the ball out of their own net. Jason Atwal is a terrific goalie that plays his best during the big games. He was key to the Entourage winning the "B" title in 07/08, though he has had to shake off some rust after a lengthy absence from 2009 through to this past spring season when the team made it's return to action. The Entourage tend to run with a shorter bench than most which can be an issue against those teams that bring three lines and run hard, but look for them to be a contender as usual.

4. Burnaby Rage - The Rage, this season, are basically the West Coast Bandits 2.0. They are coming off of a very disappointing and uncharacteristic last place finish in the B's last Spring. Usually that means a team shakeup and that is exactly what they have done. First, they pulled the trigger on a deal that brings a trio of Stingrays to the team including all-star Jim Davis, Paul Cardillo and Dave Burke. Next, they went out and locked up solid Sniper forwards Chris Smith, Chad Craven and Steve Carruthers. The team did suffer a setback in the first game of the season, losing to an upstart Spartans squad, but don't look for them to repeat their Spring performance this year. One reason things are looking up for the Rage this season, is the injection of offense they receive in pickups Jim Davis and Steve Carruthers. Jim has won at every level and brings a winning attitude and a booming shot to the table while Carruthers brings speed and slick ball handling skills. Fab Carella is coming off of an average year but he is a big-time goal scorer and he's been clicking at a goal a game pace with over 60 games played in the NDub. Expect him to bounce back this year. More games from Caleb Chiu can only benefit this club as he was limited to only 3 games last Spring. Defense has always been a strong suit for the Rage and this season is no different. Their veteran core is made up of Jeff Massullo and Darren Palmieri. Both players have put up numbers consistently and both are hard-nosed and crafty veterans. Alvin Yip also returns after taking a couple of seasons off. While people are rightfully talking about pickups Davis and Burke, they may neglect to mention Paul Cardillo. Paul may fly under the radar, but he's a fantastic Dman. He rarely makes mistakes and has a great first pass. In goal is another wily veteran in Bill Lundholm. Bill has always been a goalie who plays better the busier he gets and with the stacked B division this year, he may get his wish. The Rage are out to prove that last year was a blip and that they are a team to be reckoned with.

5. Surrey Spartans - Last Spring's Spartans team could be considered a success. They established themselves as playoff contenders with quality goaltending. They were, however, one point short of their ultimate goal, the playoffs! These growing pains may finally be over as the Spartans appear to be poised to enter the post season firing on all cylinders. After an impressive 6-3 win over the Rage in week 1, the team is confident that the wins will continue. Leading the charge for the Spartans, will be their Big 3, Floyd Jewell, Amolak Gill and Myles Scott. Floyd is the straw that stirs the drink when it comes to offense. He is coming off of 4 straight seasons of 20 plus points and there is no reason to think that will change. Amolak is coming off of his best effort with 10 goals in just 12 games. Myles continues to increase his numbers and the Spartans improved record reflects that. The club has added this year without subtracting too much by picking up a pair of nifty Sniper forwards Kono Douglas and Adam McDonnell. Both have put up decent numbers in the past and should get ample floor time with this group. Throw in bruiser Paul Bennett and sniper John Kump and the Spartans Goals For should continue to rise. Defensively, they will have their work cut out for them with the loss of ball moving Dman Dale Sinclair. Up to the task are brothers Chuck Emery and Shane Holloway. Chuck commands respect with his demeanor and his shot. Shane is always solid on the back end. Carm Cannata is another blueliner they will need to rely on. He is a wild man back there and his style really wears down opposing team's forwards. In goal is workhorse Sean Kobierski, who be the hardest working goalie out there. He's been busy this offseason training with Cristian Campeanu which should pay some dividends. The Spartans didn't take the summer off and have been practicing together regularly in hopes that it will make a difference come crunch-time where, as the Spartans found out last Spring, every point counts.

6. South Fraser Stingrays - Of all the teams in the league, the biggest mystery heading into this season is the Stingrays. This team was gutted over the summer, first by the Bullies, whose admission into the league stripped the Rays of several good players (Campeanu, Skinner, Creamer, Sahota, Teja), and then by the Rage who picked up Davis, Burke, Cardillo, and perhaps even Kevin Morash. With half of his roster heading for greener pastures, GM Sukh Sandhu will have his work cut out for him with a rebuild. The team still has Rob Kahle as one of it's netminders and he is still considered one of the best. Additionally, the team picked up Jay Albanese, who was starting to turn some heads in "A" with some great play for the Thrashers before they folded. Among the returnees to this team are the Dean brothers, Adam and Taylor. They are good young players that must provide regular production for this team, but look for them to be able to do that with some increased playing time this season. Trent Plul also returns and look for him to bring his talented son Taylor on board for the year. Curtis "Crazysocks" Tarzwell has been one of the handiest players around for the past few years with this club. He can play either forward or defense and excels at both. They need him to come out on a full time basis, though, which hasn't been the case for the past few seasons. Former Barons player Lloyd Weir has also joined the Rays for the fall. The other big signings for this team from the offseason come in the way of former Wolverines players. Dogar Gill brings his excellent shot release to the team and will be a key goal scorer. The charismatic Harminder Rai will also bring some veteran experience to the Stingrays blueline, as well as a booming shot. Both of those players were actually brought into the league by the Rays a few years ago. With them in the lineup, don't be surprised to see Andy Hundhal pop up upon his return from India. If that's the case, expect this team to climb the rankings in a hurry. And last but not least is the return of Peter Jottey. What more needs to be said?

7. Richmond Warhawks - The Warhawks return for their fifth season of NWBHL action with a similar roster but a new game plan and a higher set of expectations. This year they will be cutting down to two lines in an effort to trim the fat. This will give their top players more floor time and make for less shifts when they are running around in their own zone. The other big change the team has been looking at for this season is the conversion of Kevin Booth to defense. He has been their go-to forward for the past several seasons and has always been a leader with his scoring and hustle. The Warhawks feel they may be better served by giving themselves a better ball handler in their own zone as well as opening him up to use his big shot from the point. Up until now Cyril Duncan has been their only dependable shooter from the back end. The improvement of Raman Bains has helped make this transition workable as he has been finding the net regularly throughout the spring and into the first game this season where he scored a hat-trick. This should alleviate some of the pressure on Sunny Basi who along with Booth had done the majority of the goal scoring on the team in prior seasons. Harneil Lilly is the other man on the top line for the Hawks and he must also continue to produce, but the real concern for this team at forward was the lack of supplementary scoring. Amrit Shergill returning should help that issue and if the team can get Bronson Cooper to come out again, that should push their offense to the next level. The goaltending position is the real strength of this team as Cliff Stayner burst onto the scene last year and was easily the team's MVP. He puts up consistently solid save percentage numbers in front of a team that has always given up a lot of chances. If they manage to limit those chances against this year, he will be able to put some wins on the board for the Warhawks. This team continues to improve and definitely has its sights set on a playoff spot, which would be a franchise first.

8. B.C. Black Aces - After being out of the action for a couple of seasons, the Black Aces have returned to the Northwest League fold, but the team is essentially starting at the beginning from a roster standpoint. Gone are such players as Campeanu, Skinner, Bennett, and Nellis that have moved on and become key components of other organizations. Having said that, manager Steve Aitken has been able to lure back some of the original core to build around. Big Steve Aspiri returns on defense as well as Travis Mitchell and the speedy Kevin Irwin up front. The other familiar returnee is Corey Albino who has been a cornerstone of this Aces franchise. He started this season in net, but there are also plans to play Jason "Bumblebee" Kumar in goal with Corey putting his speed to good use on forward, where he is a surprisingly nifty player. Though many from the original team had moved to the Spartans after the 09/10 season, there are a couple of other players that have moved the other way this year including the imposing Nav Singh, the small but shifty Shakeel Khan and the hard working Randy Wiegand. The opening game for this team was a tough one as they had many players knocked out of action by the Abbotsford tournament earlier in the day. This forced them to play with a thin lineup and may have cost them a game against a Warhawks team they needed to beat. The short bench did give us an opportunity to see a couple of first year players that looked promising including Robby Singh, who picked up a pair of points, and Michael Ramos, who used his speed well and has a decent shot. With the rest of the division making strides, this team might be considered a long shot for a playoff spot, but they will make their opponents work hard to beat them each and every night.

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