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Playoff Previews - "B" Division

"B" Div. Semifinals: (4) Rage @ (1) Crooks

Crooks Stats

Record Overall:
17-0-1, 100 GF, 31 GA, +69

Record vs Rage:
2-0-1, 11 GF, 5 GA, +6

Special Teams:
PP: 11 for 30 (36.7 %)
PK: 34 for 42 (81.0 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Manvir Pooni 18-20-18-38
Mishaal Gill 14-13-12-25
Nathan Pangalia 16-5-17-22
Manroz Pooni 16-13-8-21
Raman Sandhu 13-7-11-18

Rage Stats

Record Overall:
6-9-3, 53 GF, 57 GA, -4

Record vs Crooks:
0-2-1, 5 GF, 11 GA, -6

Special Teams:
PP: 4 for 32 (12.5 %)
PK: 31 for 38 (81.6 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Floyd Jewell 16-11-6-17
Jim Davis 18-6-9-15
Steve Dhillon 10-8-6-14
Terry Whitbread 15-4-6-10
Bobby Basran 16-6-2-8
Series Overview
     There was a bit of a point gap between the Crooks and Rage this season. Now substitute the words "bit" for "gargantuan", and "gap" for "chasm". The Rage struggled through the season, winning only 6 games out of 18, while the Crooks dropped only a single point in their inaugural NWBHL season, setting several records in the process. Now here's the interesting thing...that lost point happened to be against this same Burnaby Rage team. In fact, the Rage played their best hockey of the year against the Crooks, getting the aforementioned 3-3 tie as well as the regular season ending 4-2 loss that included an empty-netter. The Rage were also playing that game with a very short bench. The other contest was a 4-0 shutout by the Crooks early in the season that was a bit easier but by no means a cakewalk. 
Team Offense
     The Crooks were the only team in the entire NWBHL to hit the 100 goal mark. This team can flat out score, and the offense is spread nicely throughout the lineup giving the team solid depth. Nine different players scored at least 6 goals for the Crooks this year. By comparison, the three non-playoff teams had a combined seven players to hit that mark. Former Wolverines player, Manvir Pooni, had a breakthrough season, scoring an impressive 38 points, a total that put him a single point behind Bernie Lal for the scoring title. His 20 goals was also the second best total in the division. He has great quickness and a fast release and has really been the straw that stirs the drink for the Crooks this year. The shifty Mishall Gill was also one of the top point getters this season, finishing fourth with 25 points, despite missing a few games. He scored 13 goals to tie the senior Pooni brother, Manroz, for second on the club. This team has plenty of capable offensive defensemen. Nathan Pangalia finished the season as the third highest scoring D-man in the division after the White brothers, putting up 22 points, a total that snuck him into the top 10. He quarterbacks the dangerous Crooks powerplay (36.7%) with a hard shot and good vision of the floor. Jiven Gill also showed a flair for jumping into the attack and finished just below the point-per-game mark. The Crooks have numerous forwards that are fast and like to beat their opponents in a one-on-one setting. Amit Punni, Raman Sandhu and Raymond Kaila, among several others, provide good secondary scoring for this team. The Rage defense will certainly have their hands full with this group!

    The Rage barely scored half the number of goals of the Crooks did in 12/13. They also have fewer sources that provide those goals and one of their better natural scorers, Fab Carella, has been out of town for months, and won't make it back in time for this series. That leaves Floyd Jewell and Jim Davis as the primary goal scoring threats. Floyd had another solid year, leading the team in goals and points (16-11-6-17), not to mention representing them well in the All-Star game by picking up Game MVP honours. He has a heavy shot that he likes to take from anywhere on the floor and can beat defenders to the outside with a powerful drive to the net. Veteran Jim Davis didn't have his best goal production year, but he still managed to pick up some points by setting up others. He still has a legitimate slapshot that can beat a goaltender and the Rage will have to try to get him more looks during this series. Big Steve Dhillon had a great second half, and was starting to take over as the team's most dangerous player. It was him that scored the two late goals to come back against the Crooks, including a last second tally to earn the tie. After a slow start to the season, Bobby Basran also picked up the production late, finishing with 6 goals. Troy Knowlan made only the minimum amount of games to qualify, but if the team can get him out for these games, it could change the complexion of the Rage attack completely. He is an offensive dynamo with terrific speed and ability to take on defenders one-on-one. One of the big signings the team made during the year was that of Dave Snyder, one of the Ndub's all-time leading scorers. He has been playing defense this season, which in part makes up for the loss of offense on the back end due to the Jeff Massullo injury. Snyder will be counted on to help kickstart a
Rage powerplay that struggled all season long, going just 4 for 32, giving them the second lowest conversion rate in the entire league (12.5%). The team will also have to start going to the net more as screens and deflections will be the only way to beat Crooks keeper Jason Sidhu.
Team Defense
    The Crooks play defense by possessing the ball for most of the game, and really that is always the best way to get the job done. The team's defensive corps, as a group, is full of very mobile players that all are proficient with carrying the ball and moving it at the right time. Perhaps the team's only real source of concern this season has been Nathan Pangalia's occasional over-handling of the ball late in games. He has been burned twice already in the last few seconds of a game, once costing the team a shutout, and the other the tieing goal against the Rage. Nevertheless, Nathan is till the team's go-to guy on the blueline and these errors will make him more aware in the key points of a game down the road. Apart from that, there isn't much to dislike about the way this team plays in their own end. The Crooks smashed the 18 game season record by allowing just 31 goals against. That was 7 goals better than the Rage managed during their record setting run in 05/06. Not surprisingly, the team also led the league in fewest shots allowed, giving up just under 19 per game, also a very impressive total.

    The Rage back end has been decimated by injury this season. Jeff
Massullo, the team's heart and soul when it comes to defense, was lost early in the season. Paul Cardillo, and Darren Palmieri were both lost later in the year with injuries as well. Both are progressing with their recovery and might have an opportunity to return to the lineup, but if not the team is prepared to soldier on without them. Some new additions were needed to be added, so the team explored a connection to the NWPR league's Moonraker Shooters team, bringing in Terry Whitbread, Bruce Conley, and Jeff Lim. Conley, unfortunately, failed to get in that final qualification game and is out of the running, but the team has the other two as well as the ever talented Dave Snyder ready to go. The other guys on the back end are veteran Bob Haddon, and Daniel Fraser. The young Fraser is surprisingly fleet of foot for his size but had a surprisingly quiet offensive season (14-0-2-2) considering the energy he plays with out there. The Rage will definitely need Daniel to get back on the offensive track in this series. Outside of Fraser, the Rage defensive corps ages in range from their early 40's to 50's compared to the Crooks average age of 21 or 22. Let's just call it an experience edge for the Rage, shall we?
    The Crooks have Jason Sidhu as the man between the pipes. Jason just put up one of the great statistical seasons in the history of the Northwest League. He eclipsed Justin Faykosh's record for wins in a season with 16. Perhaps more impressive even was his Goals-Against-Average of 1.81. Though that fell just short of a single season record (Cristian Campeanu holds the mark at 1.67), it is still the fourth best total ever recorded with a minimum of at least 8 games played. Though many people will point to the great team in front of Jason, it is also worth noting that his Save % was at .905 this year, rare territory in the Arenex even for goalies with good teams in front of them. He has solid fundamentals and rarely gets caught out of position, meaning he doesn't have to rely on the desperation acrobatics of other goalies in the game. Jason exudes calm in the net and the team seems to feed off of it. The Crooks' GM, Manvir, gave me a sneak preview of things to come when he asked me to keep an eye on his goalie, who he said would be their best player. He was right.

Goaltending is one of the bigger strengths for the Rage. They have two solid goaltenders with completely different styles and levels of experience. The ageless Andy Vandenberg has been playing in the Ndub since 1996. That means he was in the league when many of his opponents in this series were toddlers. Not surprisingly he is among the all-time leaders in several categories including wins where he sits fourth on the list. He is a solid stand-up goaltender who also happens to be one of the league's fiercest competitors. Cut through his crease at your own peril! The goaltending dichotomy with the Rage is quite interesting to watch, when you consider how opposite Lee Milner is. Lee is the young up-and-comer and plays a Hasek-like style relying on his reflexes to get to balls and spending a lot of time bouncing around to make saves in all different manner. It's far from fundamentally sound, but definitely effective, and extremely entertaining. Andy and Lee both put up tremendous numbers this season. Andy was slightly better in the stats department finishing with the third best GAA (2.69) and the div's second best Save % (.895) among goalies with 6 games or more. Lee also put up great numbers with a GAA of 3.15 and Save % of .889, but had just a 1-4-3 record, due in part to a lack of run support. Either goalie would be a fine choice but look for the veteran, Andy Vandenberg, to get the first look. 
Category Breakdown
Special Teams
Overall Outlook
     Interestingly, the one team the Crooks had any problems with in the regular season is the team they find themselves matched up against in the playoffs. The Rage look at the glass half full as they were quite competitive in their season series, but the fact is the Crooks still took 5 of 6 points and were just a single second away from yet another sweep of a team, and a perfect season. It won't take just one victory for the Rage to pull this off either, but two of three. Good match-up or not, that seems like a tall order. The Crooks are just too dominant in too many areas. I'm calling sweep for this one. Series Prediction: Crooks in two

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