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Playoff Previews - "B" Division

"B" Div. Semifinals: (3) Wolverines @ (2) Barons

Barons Stats

Record Overall:
12-6-0, 91 GF, 58 GA, +33

Record vs Wolverines:
2-1-0, 10 GF, 9 GA, +1

Special Teams:
PP: 17 for 34 (50.0 %)
PK: 24 for 32 (75.0 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Rod Wardell 13-29-14-43
Sean Magee 15-4-23-27
Dan Molatore 18-8-17-25
Jestin Kumar 11-12-7-19
Kerry Nikolai 8-7-9-16

Wolverines Stats

Record Overall:
12-6-0, 81 GF, 57 GA, +24

Record vs Barons:
1-2-0, 9 GF, 10 GA, -1

Special Teams:
PP: 8 for 35 (22.9 %)
PK: 39 for 50 (78.0 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Gurjeev Purewal 14-12-13-25
Gugan Gill 9-9-11-20
Amrit Shergill 17-4-15-19
Dogar Gill 16-9-8-17
Amar Cheema 11-8-9-17
Series Overview
     These teams played one another tightly this season with the Barons winning the first two contests 3-2 and 6-4, before the Wolverines came back to take the third by a 3-1 score. The season series victory gave the Barons the second seed in the playoffs as the two teams tied with identical 12-6 seasons. What many people may have forgotten, is that the Wolverines actually started the season with three consecutive losses. That means they've actually been on quite the tear since then with a 12-3 record, and one of those losses was essentially given away as it came when the Wolverines had literally no subs. All of this means that they have been a better team then their overall record may indicate. The Barons have been fairly consistent throughout the year, dropping back-to-back games only once. Both teams also head into this series on a high, with the Barons having won three games straight, while the Wolverines have won their last five.
Team Offense
     There is really no secret to the Barons' offensive game plan; get the Ball to Rod Wardell. He put up one of the best goal scoring campaigns in recent history with 29 goals in just 13 games. It was the second most goals in the history of the B division after Sandeep Khangura's 31 for the Surrey Hitmen in 08/09. Rod also finished the year with 14 assists for a total of 43 points, which was good for a 9 point lead over Sunny Basi at the top of the scoring race. Few goalies have been able to keep up to his blistering slapshot this year, which is not only heavy, but comes from a lightning fast release. The Barons are well aware of this weapon, and try to feed Rod on each and every play. Interestingly, this has caused them some problems this year when Rod has been out of the lineup, and the team seems to be at a loss as to who should be pulling the trigger, and the team's shot count plummets. The one other big goal scoring threat the team has is Jestin Kumar. He was a surprise acquisition for the team coming along as a bonus when the Barons signed his brother Jason, but Jestin has been a huge addition to the offense, finishing the season with 12 goals in 11 games, a total good for second on the team. Sean Magee, one of the league's premier set-up men, has had a field day along side Rod Wardell this year. Sean led the division with 23 assists, and even though he only netted four goals himself, he still managed to come in sixth in the league scoring race. He will be a key figure in the series as he tries to get the ball into the hands of those that will bury it. Dan Molatore, the man who has played more NWBHL games than anyone else, had another solid season, finishing third on the club with 25 points. He finished the season a pair of points shy of the 800 mark for his career. He will be counted on to add some supplemental scoring as the Wolverines will be doing their best to smother Wardell. Other notable offensive weapons for the club include Kerry Nikolai (8-7-9-16) and big Dennis Hintz, who added 8 points in as many games for the team. Dave Snyder and Mike Grandia are their two main weapons on the back end. They will help quarterback a powerplay that fired at a league best 50% this year, surpassing even the "A" div teams for efficiency.  

The Wolverines offense is in stark contrast to the Barons, as the team counts on a balanced scoring attack, and can role their lines easily throughout the game without losing anything. Gurjeev Purewal was a breakout player for the team this season, finishing with a team best 12 goals and 25 points. He really showed his value in a pair of games late in the season when the team was depleted by injury. The Wolverines won back-to-back 3-1 games (including one versus the Barons), with Gurjeev scoring two of the three goals in each game. Gugan Gill put up some monster numbers from the blueline with 20 points in just 9 games played. He missed the stretch drive with an injury and there was fear that his season had been ended, but he made a successful return to the lineup for the team's regular season finale. The point totals of the Wolverines players showcase the team's balance as there are six different players separated by four points. Long time Wolverines players Amrit Shergill and Dogar Gill continue to be front line offensive threats for the club, finishing with 19 and 17 points, respectively. Amrit is an accomplished two way center that can score or set others up, while Dogar is more of a trigger-man, using his quick one-timer to beat opposition goalies. The diminutive Jovin Gill is an offensive catalyst that can really control the flow of the game for the team. He is also quite adept on the team's powerplay, setting things up for the big shooters. One of the team's other important producers, Amar Cheema, is reportedly done for the year due to injury, but as mentioned earlier, this team's depth up front should help to alleviate that loss. The Wolverines also bulked up their lineup midseason, with the addition of a pair of former Crooks players, Amit Punni and Simran Kang. They are a talented duo, that helps make the team's offensive ranks even deeper.
Team Defense
    The Barons finished just a single goal behind the Wolverines in total goals surrendered in the 13/14 season. They have an extremely veteran group of defenders with loads of playoff experience. Mike Grandia, Dave Snyder, and Dave Penland will take care of the bulk of the offence for the group, each possessing a big shot from the point as well as good ball-handling ability. The other half of the team's defensive corps is the stay-at-home defensive type. Ed Silva prides himself on keeping things clean in his own end and making good outlet passes to the forwards. Big Mario Trionfi has a tremendous frame to guard the crease with and on occasion gets thrown up on forward to screen the opposition goaltender on a Barons' powerplay like Zdeno Chara often does. At the other end of the size spectrum you have Spinder Gosal, but his ferocity and compete level are impressive. The Barons are one of those teams that like to possess the ball, and the best way to defend your opponent is to keep them away from it.   

    The Wolverines had a strong defensive season, leading the division in both goals against (57 for an average of 3.17 per game), and fewest shots allowed (385 for an average of 21.4 per game). The team has a host of mobile defenders as well as some good size. Gugan Gill is the premier defenseman in the entire division. He has a rocket of a shot and for a man of his size, is remarkably quick when carrying the ball. Robin Ponach is another big defender with a high talent level. He didn't play many games this season, though he did qualify for the playoffs. If he is in the lineup that will give the team a huge boost. Harminder Rai has a classic defensive philosophy of just taking a wild hack at the ball to fire it away from danger. It is surprisingly effective! Alan Cheema and Justin Saroya are two more skilled defenders that show off the blueline depth of the Wolverines. Add to that the fact that the team has a host of good defensive forwards. Amrit Shergill is a great faceoff man and is always solid in his own end, while Jovin Gill and Simran Kang are always in the conversation for the league's Best Defensive Forward award. This team doesn't give up much, but will have to be wary of the Barons' deadly powerplay. The team did lead the div with a 78% penalty kill rate. That's the good news, the bad news is that they were shorthanded a league worst 50 times. They'll definitely need to cut that number down if they want to be successful in this series.
    This series features three of the top four goalies in the division as far as goaltending stats go. The Barons will have Eddy Bordignon as their starter. He played parts of a couple seasons for the Thrashers before heading over to the Barons where his game has gone to another level. Eddy was third in the division in Goals-Against-Average with 2.92 as well as second with an .885 Save Percentage. He posted a 9-4 record as well as a pair of shutouts this season. The back-up will be Jason Kumar, who finished at 3-2 with respectable goaltending numbers of 3.56 GAA and .863 SV%. Jason has been a valuable addition for the team out of the net as well, so there is a double benefit to having Bordignon available this series for the Barons.

    Goaltending has been the Wolverines Achilles' heel in previous seasons. Thanks to John Fronek, not only is that no longer a problem, but the crease is now an area of strength for the team. John lit up the goaltending leader board with a 2.55 GAA (outstanding numbers historically in the Arenex), as well as a very solid Save Percentage of .884, which put him one notch behind his series counterpart Eddy Bordignon. The most important stat for Fronek was his record. He had ten starts for the Wolverines, and came away with a victory in 9 of them. It's definitely worth noting that the Wolverines were sitting at 1-4 on the season when John Fronek joined the team, and the turnaround followed immediately. Gopal Jaswal will be on stand-by for the club. He too had a good GAA, giving up exactly three goals per contest, but his .829 Save % was on the low end and his record of 3-3 pales in comparison to Fronek. 
Overall Outlook
     Generally, there are numerous elements to any given playoff series. Having said that, this particular match-up seems to have a glaring emphasis on one particular facet; whether or not the Wolverines can shut down Rod Wardell. The Barons' last three losses came in games when he was absent, but the team proved extremely difficult to beat when he was in the lineup, which should be all the time now that we've reached the postseason. If there's one team in the division that can do it, it's probably the Wolverines, who played defense better than any other team in "B" this season, and have the goaltending to go along with it. They come in as the hottest team as well, and there is every reason to believe that they will keep on rolling. This is a close match-up and I do think there's a good chance it goes the distance, but I get the feeling the Wolverines are just too solid at the moment. Series Prediction: Wolverines in three

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