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Playoff Previews - "B" Division

"B" Div. Semifinals: (4) Ghostriders @ (1) Warhawks

Warhawks Stats

Record Overall:
11-7-0, 80 GF, 57 GA, +23

Record vs Ghostriders:
2-0-0, 10 GF, 5 GA, +5

Special Teams:
PP: 11 for 31 (35.5 %)
PK: 32 for 47 (68.1 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Sunny Basi 17-8-12-20
Larry Mey 13-6-12-18
Nick McNicol 16-12-2-14
Mike Craig 6-4-10-14
Amrit Shergill 12-4-9-13

Ghostriders Stats

Record Overall:
8-9-1, 66 GF, 74 GA, -8

Record vs Warhawks:
0-1-0, 5 GF, 10 GA, -5

Special Teams:
PP: 6 for 22 (27.3 %)
PK: 17 for 22 (77.3 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Waseem Khalil 14-14-8-22
Ian Banks 10-6-9-15
Blake Creamer 6-4-6-10
Jim Davis 6-4-6-10
Ziad Badr 11-4-5-9
Series Overview
     This series is a rematch of a semifinal that took place in the Spring, interestingly enough, in the "A" Division. The Warhawks would down the Ghostriders in a hard fought three game series, and move on to play the Barons in the final. The Riders would love nothing more than to avenge that loss. This season both teams returned to "B", albeit going about their business in completely different ways. A quick look at the player stat page of both teams shows an interesting dichotomy. The Ghostriders are essentially a part-time team. They really only had one player, Waseem Khalil, play the bulk of the schedule. They had Ziad Badr at 11 games, and 4 other players at 10. Every other player on the roster played less than half the year with a bulk of those being the minimum six games for qualification. In an 18 game season, that's not good. By comparison, the Warhawks always put forth a full lineup stacked with regulars. They had 10 players play at least 13 games with a few others close to that mark. That consistency paid off in the team's record. The Warhawks won the regular season title and sported a strong divisional record of 11-3, including sweeping the regular season series against the Riders. The team's goal differential (+23) was easily the best in the div as well. With that said, the Ghostriders are perhaps starting to gel, and are coming in to this series on a high, having won four in a row (though one of those was a forfeit win). They'll definitely need to keep that momentum going as they combat a tough Warhawks club in this semifinal. 
Team Offense
     The Warhawks were at the top of many statistical categories this year, and offense is no exception. They led the division with 80 goals, good for nearly four and a half per game. The wealth was really spread well throughout the lineup as the team had 8 different double digit point scorers this season. Sunny Basi topped the list for the Warhawks, as he frequently does, with 20 points in 17 games. What's unusual about his stat line this year is that he actually had more assists than goals, marking the first time that's happened since the 11/12 campaign. Right behind him is Larry Mey with some impressive numbers of 13-6-12-18. Larry is pretty much the runaway top candidate for Top "B" Defenseman this year. Perhaps as important as the points he puts on the board is the way in which he plays his game. It's very much Dave Fisher like in that it is high energy at all times. There really is no dip in level from Larry and that's something that always inspires his teammates. Nick McNicol has continued to be an impact player since moving over to the Warhawks from the now defunct Bullies. He has had an extremely goal heavy season, notching 12 compared to just a pair of assists. He's another player that plays with extreme intensity, but it's important for Nick to know where that line is and to stay on the right side of it. Next on the team's scoring chart is their secret weapon this season. Mike Craig only played 6 games to sneak over the qualification wire, but he lit things up every time he was in the lineup. Mike actually collected 14 points in those 6 games for an impressive 2.3 points-per-game clip. The Ghostriders will definitely have to give this guy some extra attention. There are really too many other weapons to mention for this Warhawks team, but the likes of Amrit Shergill, Dogar Gill, Manu Gill, Marquez Ng, and Sean Grewal all provide solid secondary scoring support. The team also has a couple of good offensive defensemen aside from the aforementioned Larry Mey. Both Kevin Booth and Nameet Kumar are good ball movers that can shoot from the point. This team is absolutely stacked and the depth they have makes it hard to shut the team down even if you can throw some good checkers at the top line. 

     The Ghostriders have an interesting collection of league veterans at their service. If experience is an important factor in the playoffs, then this team is well off in that department. Waseem Khalil had another impressive season and led the team in scoring with 22 points. His 14 goals was far and away the top number on the club, with the next highest total being a couple of players tying with 6 each. Waseem is ever dangerous on the powerplay and has one of the most deceptive releases in the league. Ian Banks, one of the members of the NWBHL's exclusive 500 point club, finished second on the team with 15 points in 10 games. He's a dangerous sniper and can pick corners at will if left alone in front of the net. Speaking of veterans, the club coaxed Jim Davis back into the league this year and he hasn't disappointed. Jim notched 10 points in 6 games for the team. With an identical stat line of 6-4-6-10, Blake Creamer has shown that he can still produce as well. Of course Blake has also helped this team in other ways, bringing along young gun Riley McQuillan to offset the team's collection of elder statesman. Riley is a natural goal scorer with a quick snap release that often catches goalies off guard. Though the team did lose a big piece earlier this year when Meemo Dik got injured, the Ghostriders still have his longtime running mate Ziad Badr in the fold. The fiery Ziad has tremendous speed and a real nose for the net, but as always, must not lose his focus in the heat of the game. Hashmat Mohammad and Rashid Wahed are a couple of other good weapons in the Ghostriders arsenal. Wahed is the set up man that lifts the game of everyone around him and Muhammad is the deadly stickhandler that can go through several opposition players to score the highlight reel goal. Offense from the back end is a strength for this Riders team. They have the huge shot of Kais Naibkhil from the point, though he is best taking some of the power off to up the accuracy level of the shot. Jora Dhami showed his offensive instincts on the blueline this year, picking up 7 points in 9 games. Another big shooter Andrew Jamison also just managed to qualify. Look for him to see some action on the point of the Ghostriders powerplay. 
Team Defense
    It's a true team concept when it comes to playing defense for the Warhawks. They gave up the fewest goals in the division by a fairly wide margin (57, for an average of just over three per contest), as well as the fewest shots on goal at just a hair under 24 per game. Though the club has some good ball handlers on the back end that like the possession game and will often carry it out of danger (Mey, Kumar, Booth), the team also has several noted defense-first dmen that are noted for clearing the front of the net and making the safe play. Bhal Randhawa, Deepak Takhar, Sat Ahluwalia, Muni Dutta, and Cyril Duncan all fit that mold. Getting all these guys in to the lineup may well be the biggest challenge the Warhawks have to face at the moment. The Warhawks were short handed an awful lot this year. In fact, they were tied for a league high 47 times, a man down!  Some personnel changes have led to that big increase, as this team used to be the least penalized in the league for many years. The PK wasn't as solid as the team would've liked either, only managing a 68.1 % success rate. Those numbers combined to give this team a league worst 15 goals allowed on the opposition PP. Facing a veteran group like the Ghostriders who can certainly put together a good powerplay unit, the Hawks will have to be cognizant of staying out of the box in this series. 

    The Ghostriders are a run-and-gun team without question. Defense isn't particularly the part of the game they specialize in, though they do still have some good defenders on the club. Dustin Rind has the reach and the stride to shut down the opposition forwards, and the club has a couple of big bodies that like to bang in front of the net in Kais Naibkhil and Jora Dhami. Francis Singh is also an underrated defender in his own end. A strength of the team lies in its good two way centres. Riley McQuillan is fantastic on the back check, and Ian Banks comes back deep into his own zone to help out and make sure he's providing an outlet. The jack of all trades, Rashid Wahed, can be played in all positions and is always mindful of his defensive responsibilities. Young Will Arthurs can be described in much the same way. The Ghostriders had a surprisingly strong year on the Penalty Kill, leading the division with a 77.3 % success rate. In total, they surrendered only 5 PP goals, which was the best number in the league. With all that said, they are facing an impressive array of scorers on the Warhawks, and the Riders will definitely have to cut down on the nearly 29 shots per game they gave up during the regular season, a number that put them ahead of only the last place Chiefs in the entire NWBHL.
    This looks to be an excellent goaltending match-up in this series. The Warhawks have a pair of highly talented keepers at their disposal. Shane Ram played the bulk of the games for the team and was spectacular. He posted division bests in GAA with an impressive 2.69, as well as a sparkling .881 Save %. Nobody came close to those stats in the division, and the only two goalies ahead of him in the entire league, Adam Butler and Dean Salsnek, had the benefit of being on the "A" side of the crossover. Of course, the Warhawks feature significant depth at the goaltending position, and still have Ami Gill in reserve. Ami finished second to Shane in both GAA and Save %, at 3.33 and .875, respectively. You couldn't go wrong with either of these two, though Ami is also one of the team's high end offensive players, so for that reason alone we can expect to see Shane get the starting assignment. With the top two statistical goalies in the division this series, you really have to think the Warhawks have the edge in this department.

Derek Smith will be the man getting the starts in this series for the Ghostriders, at least unless anything goes wrong (scheduling conflicts or injuries) with that plan. He had a down year by his standards, finishing in the bottom third of the goaltending statistical categories with numbers of 4.90 and .842, though he still managed to post a winning record at 4-2-1. An ugly 11-1 loss at the hands of the Giants helped inflate his numbers this year, though that was the only crossover game he started. Derek has a winning pedigree and has taken teams to the promised land before, so the Riders will rightfully have a lot of faith in Derek to keep them in the game and give them an opportunity to win this series. The other man in the picture for the Ghostriders is Riz Abbas. He posted a 3-3 record for the club and even a slightly better Goals-Against than Derek (4.17), though his .838 Save Percentage is lower than where he'd like it to be. Coming off a lengthy absence from playing as he was out of the country for a couple of years, Riz has had to work to get his stamina up to a suitable level again. If he does get the call for a game in this series, look for him to be ready and give it all he's got.
Overall Outlook
     The Warhawks have proven they are the real deal all season long. They lead the division in nearly every category possible and beat the Ghostriders in both games they played during the regular season. The team has taken a patient, building approach since their inception and they are really starting to reap the benefits of that system now. The Ghostriders have been using a different approach, and though they have routinely been able to load up with hired guns, the commitment from the group in general seems to be lacking. The hope is that once playoffs come around, and with everyone qualified, that the lineups fill out properly as they should and that everyone's natural ability will shine through. Those are a couple of difficult assumptions to bet a playoff run on, however, and I look for the Warhawks' cohesion and depth to win out. Though this series could easily go three games, I think the Warhawks, still hungry for their first title, will take care of business as fast as possible. I'm calling the sweep in this one. Series Prediction: Warhawks in two

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