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Playoff Previews - "A" Division

(3) Wolfpac @ (2) Barons

Wolfpac: 8-8-2 (.500), 82 GF, 76 GA, +6 Dif.
Barons: 13-5-0 (.722), 100 GF, 59 GA, +41 Dif.
Top 5 Scorers
Top 5 Scorers
Rob Sangha 14-13-17-30
Steve Mulholland 14-10-10-20
Herman Sunner 10-10-9-19
Jonny Pal 14-6-10-16
Justin Matai 14-5-9-14
Marcel Lafortune 14-23-18-41
Mitch Miller 17-9-20-29
Dan Molatore 16-8-15-23
Rick Stradling 14-13-7-20
Sean Magee 14-3-15-18

Of the four series in this first round, this might be the biggest battle. These teams do not like each other and the talent on display is off the charts. The Barons were in a battle for top spot all season with the Executioners before dropping two of their final three contests to finish with the second seed. Still, a 13-5 record is pretty impressive as the Barons have kept up their tradition of excellence. For the Wolfpac, on the other hand, it has been a struggle all season long, as they finished with a disappointing .500 record. The Wolfpac did manage to beat the Barons in the final week of the season, but it's worth noting the bulk of the Barons team was down at a Vegas tournament, forcing the team to play quite shorthanded. The Barons won the other three contests between these teams this season.

The Wolfpac are typically among the leaders in goals scored on an annual basis, which is why it comes as a bit of a surprise to see them as the lowest scoring team in the "A" division this season with 82 tallies. Much of this can be attributed to injuries to some of their top producers including Tony Chohan who has now had two surgeries in the last month, and newcomer Jas Rai, who was raking in the goals prior to his injury absence. Rai is back and able to unleash that lightning fast release once again on unsuspecting goalies, while Tony Chohan's status remains uncertain. Many eyebrows have been raised this year when looking at the Wolfpac scoring leaders as Rob Sangha, mostly noted for his defensive prowess, has had an amazing season and leads the team with 30 points. It's his highest total since the 03/04 season. Steve Mulholland sits second on the team in scoring with numbers of 10-10-20 through 14 games. The word is out on his incredible snapshot, yet he still beats goaltenders cleanly on a weekly basis. Herman Sunner finished with nearly identical numbers but with one less assist and in four fewer games. His speed and a bullet shot are his weapons and he is often moved back to the point on the powerplay. Another major addition the team made this year is to pick up speedster Marco Carotenuto. He has great finishing ability and scored one of the goals of the last week. There are a host of players that finished around the ten point range for the Wolfpac including Mike Hayer, Brock Pierson and Mike Sanghara, whose production was well under his usual output. Having said that, the playoffs are a new season and a chance for him and the entire team to put the 11/12 campaign behind them.

The Barons hit the century mark in goals scored this year which is always an impressive plateau to reach and equates to a per game average of more than five and a half. Having said that, you can't talk about the Barons offense without bringing up the fact that they will be without the amazing Brenden Ham this season, as he failed to qualify. Nevertheless, the team was without his services for most of the season and still managed to score on a regular basis. The bulk of the offense with the Barons goes through Marcel Lafortune. His ability to create things on the floor is unmatched, but what is often overlooked is his ability to coach others on the floor to greater success. He can often be seen repositioning his teammates on a draw or on the powerplay set up. He has also learned over the years to stop taking retaliation penalties and let the opposition do the sitting in the penalty box while the Barons feast on their 35.7 powerplay percentage. Mitch Miller has been a revelation for the team this year as the young star on defense collected an impressive 29 points in his sophomore season. He has almost supplanted Craig Houle as the team's top offensive defensemen, but one can't overlook Houle's tremendous experience. He played fewer games this season but was still well over a point per game. Dan Molatore placed third on the team in scoring with 23 points, and recently recorded his 750th career point, making him the first player in NWBHL history to reach that mark. The other lines are also filled with veteran scoring talent such as Rod Wardell, Kerry Nikolai, Graeme Spence, and Sean Magee. This team has great offensive balance, and though stopping Marcel is the Wolfpac's top priority, there are many weapons here to keep tabs on. Edge: Draw

Though the Wolfpac didn't have as good of a defensive record as the Barons this season (almost a goal higher, on average), the outlook improved greatly near the end of the season when they qualified Jordan Chowsen and Paul Samra. Chowsen, in particular, is a dynamic offensive threat with a big shot, but he can also be counted on to handle the ball well in his own zone. Jaz Mahal is a tower of strength at the back for the Wolfpac, and though he hasn't got much press this year, he has always been a difference maker for teams. The club also has a couple of veteran defenders on the back line that can usually be counted on to play mistake-free hockey in Gopal Power and Davinder Chohan. The big concern for the Wolfpac heading into this playoff series, is their PK. They registered a league worst 63% kill rate, in addition to taking a great deal more penalties than anyone else. That led to the team surrenduring a shocking 17 Power Play Goals. By comparison the rest of the league averaged 8 PPG's allowed.

The Barons had an impressive team goals against this year, leading the "A" division by a wide margin at 3.28 per game. This is not an uncommon feat for a Barons team that prides itself on keeping the ball out of their own net, and has been one of the leaders in this category for many years now. They feature many quality defensive defenseman such as Graham Tizzard, Ed Silva, Scott Rickards and Ryan Taylor, as well as a host of two way forwards. Ray Diesel and Graeme Spence are both multiple winners of the NWBHL Top Defensive Forward award. They say defense wins championships, and the New West Barons have been put together with that mantra in mind. Edge: Barons

The Wolfpac received an amazing gift at the end of the season with the return of goaltender Rick Baker, who was earlier thought to be done for the entire year. The team struggled in his absence but he gives them not only great goaltending, but that mental lift they so desperately needed. Baker is a playoff goaltender and has led this team to the promised land before. Should there be any type of hiccup with his return from injury, the Pac do have Vince Mudaliar qualified as an insurance policy. The other question that does have to be asked is how well Baker will perform after the injury though a second star performance in his first game back would seem to answer that.

Word is that the Barons might also have a top goalie that will return from an extended injury layoff. Dean Salsnek has missed the bulk of the season after going under the knife early in the year, but has promised a playoff return. The Barons also have a tremendous playoff keeper in the form of Tony Ferreira. He was forced into more action this year with Dean out of the lineup and posted an impressive 9-3 record with a 3.58 GAA and .847 save percentage. The team also qualified Jamie Kungl, but he struggled for the team finishing with losses in both of his games. Both of these teams have tremendous talent in their nets, but due to some uncertainty related by post-injury returns on either side, I will call this one a draw. Edge: Draw

To this point 11/12 has been a bit of a write-off for the Wolfpac, but they still have a chance at redemption if they can pull it together and win some playoff games. Health has been a major issue for the team and it will continue to be a concern throughout this series, though the team does have enough quality players to overcome this adversity. The Barons can't take the Wolfpac lightly, but have been playing playoff intensity hockey already for a month. They seem to be a more cohesive unit at the moment and also possess the game's top game breaker in Marcel Lafortune. There is no doubt that this series will go the distance, and certainly could go either way, but I have to give the slight edge here to the Barons. Edge: Barons

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