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Playoff Previews - "A" Division

"A" Div. Semifinals: (4) Pirates @ (1) Jaguars

Jaguars Stats

Record Overall:
16-2-0, 111 GF, 63 GA, +48

Record vs Pirates:
2-1-0, 8 GF, 7 GA, +1

Special Teams:
PP: 8 for 20 (40.0 %)
PK: 21 for 26 (80.8 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Stan McClellan 13-21-22-43
Mont Saran 15-11-29-40
Andy Hundhal 13-11-25-36
Brenden Ham 9-15-20-35
Jay Dove 15-15-17-32

Pirates Stats

Record Overall:
11-6-1, 101 GF, 68 GA, +33

Record vs Jaguars:
1-2-0, 7 GF, 8 GA, -1

Special Teams:
PP: 8 for 30 (26.7 %)
PK: 16 for 23 (69.6 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Marcel Lafortune 17-24-28-52
Trent Plul 18-7-26-33
Graeme Spence 11-12-19-31
Daniel Lafortune 11-12-18-30
Ray Diesel 17-10-8-18
Series Overview
     The Jaguars absolutely dominated this season in the NWBHL. With a 16-2 record (with one of the losses coming by way of a forfeit), they put one of the great seasons in league history on the board. They clinched top spot and one of the two first round byes through the quarterfinals. The Pirates also put up a good season, finishing with 11 wins, but were just edged out in the head-to-head with the Wolfpac and had to settle for the fourth seed. A very impressive opening round sweep of the Warhawks now brings them into this match-up with the Jaguars. The teams played a pair of extremely close games during the regular season, each of which the Jags won by a 4-3 score line. The Jaguars also had a forfeit to the Pirates in November which put the brakes on their hopes of a perfect season. 
Team Offense
     The Jaguars were an offensive powerhouse in 2015/16, finishing with 111 goals scored in 17 games played, for an average of more than 6.5 per contest. There are numerous deadly scorers that make up this roster, led by 7 time Ndub scoring champ Stan McClellan. He came up ten points short of adding another scoring crown to his collection, but it's worth noting that he also played four games fewer than the eventual winner, Marcel Lafortune, who just happens to be on the opposition in this series. Stan's 43 points mark the 9th time he has surpassed the 40 point plateau in a campaign. Mont Saran also reached the 40 point mark this season, putting him sixth in "A" div scoring. He has become a serious scoring threat over the last couple of years having really benefited from playing with elite players on a regular basis. Though Mont is a solid goal scorer, he actually claimed the league assist title this year with a career best 29. Andy Hundhal finished third on the team with 36 points in 13 games. He is one of the most creative players in the game and always a treat to watch. Already having mentioned numerous top scoring threats for the Jaguars, we've yet to even touch on perhaps their most dangerous offensive catalyst, Brenden Ham. Brenden missed a bunch of games down the stretch, but was a legitimate MVP candidate until that point, finishing with staggering numbers of 9-15-20-35. Had he played a full 18 game schedule, that projects out to a 70 point season! The Pirates will definitely have their hands full with him and their defensemen must be careful not to get danced as he remains one of the game's niftiest one-on-one players. Just making the six game qualification limit is Mike Farrington. He is a noted finisher and contributed 10 goals in just the six games played. He has a cannon of a shot and rarely hesitates to let it rip. The Jags have some terrific offensive defenseman to add to the mix as well, with the incomparable Jay Dove above the two-points-per game mark once again. Interestingly, even with stellar offensive numbers of 15-15-17-32, Jay only finished third in defensemen scoring behind Marcel and Harp. Jay's shot is legendary, but with the likes of Mitch Miller, Peter Gajdos and Mike Antoniali also firing away from the bluline, the Pirates defense is going to have to be wary of giving any room to the Jaguars point shooters.

     (Editor's note: This Pirates write-up is a brief summary emphasizing their first round action. To see their original team pre-playoff scouting report click here). The Pirates scored in bunches against the Warhawks in the quarterfinal, meaning plenty of players on this team dot the playoff scoring leader chart. Daniel Lafortune and Graeme Spence come in tied with 6 points apiece after the two games. Trent Plul actually finds himself tied for the goals lead with the Wolfpac's Manvir Pooni, at four goals. Marcel Lafortune was his usual dynamic self in the opening round with 2-3-5 including a first star performance in game one. Ray Diesel showed he's still capable of putting points on the board with a goal and three helpers. Danny Vero, back from an injury layoff, may take a couple games to get his timing back, but he still chipped in three points in the Pirates sweep. Jesse Churchwell, James Mowat and Lloyd Weir didn't make an appearance for the team last week, but one or all of them would be more than welcome to help increase the club's  scoring depth, and perhaps take a little pressure off the Lafortune brothers to provide the bulk of the scoring. So far so good, however, as everyone has chipped in offensively. 

Team Defense
    The Jaguars put up some surprisingly good defensive numbers for a team that plays such a run-and-gun style. The 63 goals allowed ties the Giants for the best mark in the league (though there is a forfeit game in their as well). The key for the Jaguars is to have the ball for the majority of the game and they are one of the best possession teams around. Though Jay Dove will give up some chances in his own end as he tries to push the envelope on ball handling, he is still one of the game's best shot blockers, something he doesn't get nearly enough credit for. The huge Peter Gajdos and Mike Antoniali will make it unpleasant for opposition forwards in front of the net. They both play with loads of physicality and at times, nastiness. The club also has Gurinder Dhillon, the token defensive defenseman on the squad whose prime concern will be taking care of his own end. The Jaguars had excellent numbers on the PK this year, posting an "A" div best 80.8 percent success rate. 

    The Pirates held the Warhawks to 39 shots through the first round, or less than 20 per contest. That was a solid team defensive effort, but the challenge will become all the more difficult this round versus a Jaguars team that is loaded with firepower. The team will need to be wary of turnovers up the floor as the Jaguars transition is lethal. The Pirates may well have the edge up the middle with two of the league's best faceoff men in Graeme Spence and Ray Diesel. Winning the possession battle will be huge for this team and the ability of Marcel to carry the ball out of his end will be key. The team dropped the defensively reliable Darcy McNeil back to play the blueline against the Warhawks, and it worked out well. Though not big in stature, he always makes smart decisions with his play. The performance of the second defensive unit featuring Ken Bollen and Gino Porco will be an important factor in this series as well. If they can keep it simple and make their clears when they need to, they can keep out of trouble and prevent the Jags from feeling too comfortable in the Pirates end.
    The Jaguars have a pair of capable goalies in the fold that split the season with 8 games apiece, with the remaining two games consisting of a forfeit and an emergency goalie start (as usual by Bob Dhaliwal). Both goalies put up incredible numbers this year. Lee Milner was a perfect 8-0 with a league best 3.25 GAA and .870 Save Percentage among goalies that played more than just a handful of games. Lee has definitely done his best this year to at least make the team think about giving him a chance in the playoffs. Having said that, this has always been Dean Salsnek's spot to lose. The all-time leader in both regular season wins and playoff wins, Dean knows how to get the job done in crunch time. He didn't exactly do much wrong during the season to lose the spot either, posting a 7-1 record with a 3.88 GAA and .869 save %, both numbers that put him among the league leaders as well. Dean's biggest issue will be keeping his emotions in check if he deems there to be a bad call against his team. His meltdowns are legendary, and often counterproductive for the team. Either way the Jaguars go with the goaltending decision, they will have a strong starter in net that has shown an ability to win games this season against tough competition.

    Steve Carruthers was solid in both games he played for the Pirates in round one. He did have his numbers brought down a bit by surrendering some late goals in the second game with the outcome already all but decided, but when the games hung in the balance he had the answer when the Warhawks came calling. Steve played the Jaguars twice during the regular season, dropping a pair of tight 4-3 games. The Pirates still do have veteran Tony Ferreira in reserve should something unexpected happen in this series, but otherwise look for Carruthers to go the distance between the pipes for the club.
Overall Outlook
     One of the interesting aspects of both of these teams are their relatively small roster sizes. Thirteen runners are qualified to play for the Jaguars with the same number available for the Pirates side, but there are typically a few no-shows, meaning both teams are likely looking at running just a pair of lines (as the Pirates already successfully have vs the Warhawks). Both teams have excelled this season under these circumstances, with the clubs' top players seeing heavy minutes. As dominant as the Jaguars' record has been this season, it's interesting to note how many close games they have actually been in. Surprisingly, the Jags played in ten games that were decided by two goals or fewer (including 5 one goal games), and they went 10-0 in those matches, proving they have what it takes to win a tight contest. Like with the Giants team that also earned a first round bye, the Jaguars will need to get their game into gear quickly after an off week against a Pirates team that has already played a series. After the year they've put up, one has to think the Jaguars are the favourites, but I think this series will be a tight one and will most likely go the distance. Series Prediction: Jaguars in three

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