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Playoff Previews - "A" Division

"A" Div. Semifinals: (3) Thrashers @ (2) Executioners

Executioners Stats

Record Overall:
10-7-1, 74 GF, 61 GA, +13

Record vs Thrashers:
2-2-0, 20 GF, 20 GA, 0

Special Teams:
PP: 10 for 37 (27.0 %)
PK: 25 for 31 (80.6 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Jesse Churchwell 14-13-12-25
Wes Grisdale 12-8-9-17
Sean Phair 6-8-8-16
Ravind Rana 7-7-4-11
Andy Saran 11-2-9-11

Thrashers Stats

Record Overall:
8-8-2, 76 GF, 65 GA, +11

Record vs Executioners:
2-2-0, 20 GF, 20 GA, 0

Special Teams:
PP: 17 for 51 (19.6 %)
PK: 39 for 51 (76.5 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Dave Fisher 15-22-7-29
Roy Cabrita 15-6-14-20
Jeff Heer 12-4-15-19
Steve Mulholland 11-9-9-18
Danny Vero 9-8-6-14
Series Overview
     The season series between these two teams finished up about as even as is mathematically possible. Each team won two games and lost two games, with 20 goals for and 20 goals against. Strangely, the games themselves weren't close at all, with a three goal spread being the smallest margin of victory as the clubs took turns pounding one another. The Executioners finished a point ahead of the Thrashers in the standings, but that's a somewhat misleading stat considering the Exec's had a pair of points taken away due to a couple of forfeits this year. Realistically, they should have been able to cruise into second spot instead of taking the difficult route of sneaking in with a late winning streak. The Thrashers got to where they are now by having a season without any real streaks of either wins or losses, but rather alternating good games and bad games.
Team Offense
     When looking at the Executioner's overall goals for, one has to factor in the fact that the team was three games short due to some forfeits, both for and against. The actual numbers were 73 goals in 15 games, which was good for 4.87 per contest. That's a solid figure which puts them behind only the Giants in the "A" division. The team also put together patchwork lineups throughout the year and therefore have many players right at the minimum number of games for qualification. This makes it hard to judge what kind of season they're having with such a small sample size. One of those players that did manage to show up for the bulk of the season was Jesse Churchwell. He had a breakout year for the Executioners, more than doubling his previous career high with 13 goals and 25 points in 14 games. He was definitely the team's MVP in 13/14, leading them in most of the major offensive categories. His brother Dylan was one of the part-timers, but he is always a huge factor when he's in the lineup. He has great speed and is one of the niftier stickhandlers in the league. Rookie Wes Grisdale had one of the best freshman seasons in the league this year, finishing second on the team in scoring with 17 points. Another find for the team, Ravind Rana, scored on some impressive solo dashes this season as he was a goal-per-game producer for the club in his first season. Shane Khan, another of the players to reach minimum qualification, will be an important playoff producer for the team. Look for the Exec's to employ Lee Bryant on the point of the powerplay. He is one of the hardest shooters in the league and he really knows how to quarterback the man advantage. There are two many offensive weapons on this club to name, but Andy Saran, Bryce Goligher, and Ben Saggu are also worth a mention.

The Thrashers averaged 4.22 goals per contest this year. For many teams that would be considered a strong offensive output, yet for the Thrashers that can be considered an off year. Dave Fisher, however, put together another stellar season of prolific scoring, finishing with 22 goals in 15 games to go along with 7 assists. Those numbers were good for second overall in the division in both goals and points. Were it not for a guy named Harp Kalkat, Fisher would be the leading MVP candidate. Another NWBHL veteran, Roy Cabrita, also had another solid season finishing second on the Thrashers with 20 points. Though typically a shooter, Roy ended up as a set-up man this year with 6 goals and 14 assists. Steve Mulholland, another noted trigger man, notched 9 goals in 11 games to finish behind Fisher as the second highest goal scorer on the team this season. The Thrashers had a few big pick-ups this year, including Danny Vero, an explosive scorer with great speed. He put up an impressive stat line of 9-8-6-14. Jonny Pal, was a late season acquisition, but he keyed the offense upon his arrival with his sharp passing skills and finished above the point-per-game mark. For almost as long as the Thrashers have been in the league, their attack has been led from the back end by a couple of superstar blueliners in Jeff Heer and Jay Dove. Jeff finished third on the team in scoring with 19 points in 12 games, edging closer to a big milestone at 500 points. Jay had a bit of a down year in production, but a lengthy mid season suspension may have hampered his momentum. The other interesting roster move for the club this season was the signing of a number of Slovakian imports. They each bring something different to the table with Matus Luc bringing some speed and passing ability and Marek Skosnik some grit and tenacity. Big Peter Gajdos is a big defender with a huge shot from the point. Yeah... like the Thrashers didn't already have enough of those!
Team Defense
    The Executioner's defense is taking a bit of a hit in game 1 of this series as the always dependable Rick Tung has another game to serve on a late season suspension (though the Thrashers' Matus Luc has one more game to serve as well, somewhat offsetting the loss). Rick and his brother Steve Tung form the backbone of the team's defense and have done so for many season now in the league. They take care of the more defensive side of things while Lee Bryant and young Keagan Fedorko look after the offense from the blueline. The team also has a decent two way defenseman in Mark Melim. Though new to the league this season, he is a veteran with plenty of experience and has been a regular with the always stacked Falcons of the NWPR league. The Executioners have always been a bit of a run-and-gun team, so they won't mind if they have to win a game by a score of 8-6 if that's what's required.

    The Thrashers have always had some great defenders. Jay Dove gets criticized for making some bad turnovers in his own end when he tries to do too much, but he manages to offset that by being one of the game's premier shotblockers. Jeff Heer has a terrific stride and an amazingly long reach, making him tough to beat in his own zone. The additions of huge Peter Gajdos, and tough-as-nails Ryan Simonsen this season have made the Thrashers' crease an even tougher place to get to. Of course the club still has the meat-and-potatoes type, Onkar Bhandher, back there as well. He may not have the talent of the other defenders, but he plays his role well and is always willing to sacrifice his body with a great diving shot block. The team plays a pressure forecheck game and aggressive players like Dave Fisher and Roy Cabrita are always working hard to track down and strip opposition forwards.
    The Executioners had the goaltender carousel spinning all season. They used no less than five different goalies this season with no goaltender getting more than five games. The man that played the most for the team is the one that they hope will be around for the playoff run. Adam Butler lit it up this season in his few games, posting a 3-1-1 record with astounding goaltending numbers of a 1.97 GAA and .926 Save %. Two of his wins were of the shutout variety. Adam is an amazing young goalie with great positioning and a quick glove hand. Rob Kahle and rookie Brad Anderson were the other two goalies that saw the most action with 3 and 4 games, respectively. Each of them picked up a pair of wins on the season. Rob is the more experienced of the two and has lots of experience winning big games, but Brad has a big frame and plays the angles well. 

    The team's fortunes changed for the better when the Thrashers picked up former Wolfpac standout goalkeeper Rick Baker midway through the campaign. He is truly one of the game's best goalies and will give any team the chance to win any time he sets foot in the crease. He posted strong numbers with a 2.84 Goals-Against-Average and an .895 Save Percentage. His record in nine games played was 4-3-2. The team split the other half of the season between Tony Ferreira and Bill Lundholm. Both netminders finished in the middle of the pack in stats with Ferreira placing the higher of the two in most categories. Having said that, we may not see either of these two if things go according to plan.
Barring illness or injury, this will be Baker's team to run with throughout this playoff drive. He has successfully guided multiple teams to league championships in the NWBHL and he would love to add another to his collection with the Thrashers. 
Overall Outlook
     If the goaltending match-up unfolds as hoped with Adam Butler and Rick Baker going toe-to-toe, the shooters in this series could have their work cut out for them. Having said that, both of these teams certainly have powerful lineups and can score goals in bunches. The big question mark for the Executioners, as it has been for several seasons, will be if they can manage to work all of their part-time players into the same lineup and form a cohesive unit. The Thrashers had better turnouts in general, but they too suffered from a lack of cohesion with a large roster of players, but not much lineup consistency. Both of these teams have similarly potent levels of firepower and had very close numbers in the special teams categories. Of all of the series in the first round of the Northwest League playoffs, this match-up of the Thrashers and Executioners is the hardest to call. I may even have to flip a coin. Series Prediction: It was "Tails"

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