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Playoff Previews - "A" Division

"A" Div. Finals: (3) Giants @ (1) Jaguars

Jaguars Stats

Record Overall:
15-4-0, 113 GF, 56 GA, +57

Record vs Giants:
3-1-0, 19 GF, 13 GA, +6

Special Teams:
PP: 18 for 60 (30.0 %)
PK: 27 for 35 (77.1 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Brenden Ham 16-22-29-51
Mont Saran 17-20-23-43
Marcel Lafortune 17-11-26-37
Daniel Lafortune 17-13-22-35
Danny Vero 11-11-14-25

Giants Stats

Record Overall:
13-6-0, 105 GF, 54 GA, +51

Record vs Jaguars:
1-3-0, 13 GF, 19 GA, -6

Special Teams:
PP: 13 for 36 (36.1 %)
PK: 26 for 37 (70.3 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Harp Kalkat 16-17-27-44
Simran Bhatti 15-13-27-40
Justin Matai 13-8-14-22
Matt Peters 11-11-9-20
Alex Bosma 11-8-10-18
Series Overview
     This "A" division championship series features a real clash of the titans this year. In one corner we have a Jaguars team that absolutely tore up the league during the season. The team posted an outstanding record in 2014/15, with a staggering goal differential of +57 (which could have been even better had the team actually tried to run up the score in the crossover games). On the other side we have a Giants team that is the two time reigning fall season champion. Although the team struggled a bit this year against their own division, one can't completely put aside their 29-5-2 record over the previous two seasons. Though the season series between these two teams reads 3-1 Jaguars, it's important to note that the single Giants victory was of the forfeit variety. In other words, the three times these teams actually played one another, it was the Jags that came away with the two points each and every time. Furthermore, two of those were of the convincing variety, both 7-4 victories for the Jaguars. The Giants just weren't able to counter the Jaguars game this season, and now they'll have to try to get it figured out in the playoffs, with little margin for error.
Team Offense
     With the forfeit taken out of the equation, this Jaguars team averaged more than 6.5 Goals For per game, making them the most offensively potent team in the league this season. Brenden Ham was finally able to break through this year and claim his first NWBHL scoring title, edging out Harp Kalkat who has won the crown in the last two Fall seasons. Brenden also eclipsed the 50 point club for the first time, which is a feat that has become increasingly less commonplace over the last few seasons. He actually finished as the league leader in both goals and assists, and is undoubtedly a top candidate for league MVP. The Jaguars also placed three other players in the top six of league scoring. Mont Saran just put up monster numbers (17-20-23-43) in a career year. Though he has always been a reliable point getter, Mont has really transitioned to a top line threat now. Though not as flashy as the other danglers on the team, he knows where to be on the floor and has an excellent shot. The Lafortune brothers put up nearly identical numbers this year, with Marcel edging out Daniel in the scoring race, 37 to 35. It was Daniel that actually had the goal edge, also by two, 13 to 11. Both players play similar styles, with speed and the ability to stickhandle past their opponents being key ingredients to their success. Both are also lethal shooters that dominate from the point on the powerplay, and the dearth of natural defenders on the Jaguars saw the brothers playing defense for the team, as both have done more consistently in recent years. Former Thrashers sniper Danny Vero also put up big numbers after moving over to the Jags this year. He finished fifth on the team with 25 points in just 11 games. Tied at 18 points on the team scoring chart are a couple of forwards with contrasting styles. Graeme Spence is the defensive center that you always want on your team. He controls the play, takes key faceoffs and adds some scoring depth to the roster. Andy Hundhal, on the other hand, is a little more flashy, but less dependable on the defensive side of the ball. He remains one of the deadliest one-on-one players in the league and will score the highlight reel goal if you give him an inch. The club has another young scoring star in Mike Farrington at their disposal. Farrington netted numbers of 12-8-9-17, and is close to a goal-per-game in the three years he has been with the club. Look for his numbers to explode in the coming seasons.

     Harp Kalkat continues to be the primary mover of the Giants' offensive game. After being the top point man for the team in the regular season with 44 points in just 16 games, he has continued to be a force in the playoffs, leading the club once again with 2 goals and 3 assists in the first round. Though a defenseman, he will often become a "rover" on the floor, and the team is very disciplined in sending someone to cover at the back end when he moves up. Rajan Boparai gave the Giants that extra bit of spark they needed against the Thrashers, as he notched the hat-trick in the deciding third game. He is a game-breaker in his own right, and if he can manage his penalty totals in this series (the Jaguars draw a ton of penalties), he can be an effective force. Simran Bhatti remains the second biggest offensive threat on the club. He picked up a pair of goals in the semifinal along with an assist. Herman Sunner also made a huge difference for the team as he was a huge catalyst in the decider, with three assists. The team will need him to show for all the games instead of just the one he played in the opening round. The other major contributors the team will be looking to in this final are Justin Matai, Matt Peters, and Bobby Grewal. Look for Alex Bosma on the point to take some of the offensive load off of Harp, as well. As the semifinal was pretty clean, there weren't many powerplay attempts to be had, but at 36.1% on the season, it is still an important weapon in the Giants' arsenal. Andy Saran, Ron Sandhu, and Goji Sidhu each collected a pair of points and would qualify as scoring from unexpected sources. The team would love for that balanced attack to continue, and might just need it to win this series.
Team Defense
    The Jaguars finished just behind the Giants in fewest goals allowed this season. They actually gave up far more shots per contest (24.1 compared to 20.5), but again you must take into account that the Jags took a far more relaxed approach in the crossover games than the Giants, which tends to inflate their numbers. In general, the team employs more of a run-and-gun philosophy than most teams anyway, and can out score any defensive problems they might have. Having the Lafortune brothers on the back end may lead to the odd mistake, as they often try to do too much, but in the end they will create more offensive chances then they will surrender. Almost the forgotten man on the club this year, Craig Houle, has had a down year with his numbers with just 6 points in 10 games. This was also the case last fall with the team, but it's most likely a result of the more defensive role the team needs him to play. He is still a strong ball possession player in his own end and he knows how to make that perfect outlet pass in transition. The reliable Gino Porco is unquestionably the defense-first, dman on the team. There are no frills to his game... he simply gets the job done. Long time Jaguars player Gurinder Dhillon is still with the team as well, though he only managed to play 7 games this year. Look for him to contribute from the back end as well.

    The Giants had another great defensive season and finished with the fewest shots and goals allowed in the league. They did give up four goals in each of their three playoff contests, which is well above their regular season average, but in a series against a stacked "A" division competitor, it is likely that you're going to give up some goals. In any case, the team bent but didn't break, winning the series and earning the right to face off against the Jaguars in this championship final. Harp Kalkat continues to lead everyone in playing time, and he will once again be a force on both sides of the ball in this series. The towering Alex Bosma will also see front line duty on the blueline for this team. The Giants also got strong work out of a second pairing of Shaun Kalkat and Kyle Johal in the first round. If that duo can keep the deadly Jaguars shooters from running wild when they're out there, then the team will gladly leave things up to Harp and Alex to do the offensive damage. The Giants' PK was not as solid as the team would like it to be, going at a rate of 70.3% during the regular season and 4 for 6 against the Thrashers. It's certainly one area the team has some room to improve on.
    Dean Salsnek had an outstanding season for the Jaguars, albeit in a limited capacity. He only played 6 games of the 19 this year, but did manage to post a 5-1 record in those starts. His Goals Against Average was an impressive 2.66, to trail only Adam Butler among all goaltenders in the NWBHL. His .905 Save Percentage was also second highest, and well above the league average. Dean is also the all-time NWBHL league leader in both wins and playoff wins, so he knows how to get the job done. However, he has been off for quite a while with not only the first round bye, but the two game suspension he received near the end of the season (We should also mention that he is the career penalty minute leader among goalies for the league as well!). He may have to shake off a bit more rust then most of the players on his team for this series. The Jags also got a huge contribution from Steve Carruthers this season. He posted a perfect 7-0 record, including many pivotal games against top tier competition. He goaltending numbers weren't quite as gaudy as Dean's, but were still quite respectable. His GAA of 3.14 was fifth and his .854 Save % was middle of the pack. He suffered a late season injury and his status for this series is uncertain. The team also has Harvy Takhar qualified. He played a few games for the team at the beginning of the season and played well, but didn't appear for the Jags in the second half at all.

    I went into some detail in the semifinal preview about the interesting dynamics of the Giants goaltending. Adam Butler dominated in his short tenure at the tail end of the season, leading the Ndub in GAA (1.85), Save Percentage (.908) and shutouts (2). His strong play has carried into the playoffs where he won both of his opening round starts, earning the game's 1st Star in both contests as well. The Thrashers put on a ton of pressure in that series and did manage to get their share of goals, so Adam's numbers aren't as impressive as his regular season figures. Nevertheless, the 4.00 GAA and .860 Save % were enough to keep his team in the game and let the Giants' deadly offense finish the job. Jas Basra played game 2 of the series on the Sunday and struggled a bit in a 4-1 loss, albeit coming off of a multi month period of inactivity. Look for him to be more sharp if called on again in this series. However, with this Final scheduled to just be on Saturdays, look for Adam Butler to get the call whenever possible.
Overall Outlook
     Two of the best rosters in Northwest League history are set to go at it in what should be a series for the ages. As mentioned in the series overview, the Jaguars have dominated the Giants this season, but one has to remember that the playoffs are an entirely different animal. The Giants have reached the top of the mountain both times they were here in 2013 and 2104. The Jaguars do have some history of winning as well, taking the Spring '13 "A" championship to go with a 2011 "B" div title. To get here, the Giants had to overcome a lengthy period of inactivity, which is something the Jaguars must now face, having played only a single Ndub game since the end of January. During the regular season contests between these two teams, it was the Jaguars full speed transition, and awesome finishing ability that was the difference. Assuming they can shake off the rust quickly and get back to that high-tempo style of game that was seemingly so natural for them, I do think the Jaguars might have what it takes to unseat the Giants in this final. They'll need to figure out an answer for both Adam Butler and Harp Kalkat first, however. Not an easy task. Expect this one to go the distance. Series Prediction: Jaguars in three

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