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Playoff Previews - "A" Division

"A" Div. Quarterfinals: (5) Warhawks @ (4) Pirates

Pirates Stats

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

Record vs Warhawks:
1-1-1, 16 GF, 17 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

Warhawks Stats

Record Overall:
9-8-1, 97 GF, 79 GA, +18

Record vs Pirates:
1-1-1, 17 GF, 16 GA, +1

Special Teams:
PP: 6 for 27 (22.2 %)
PK: 17 for 24 (70.8 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Amolak Gill 18-15-10-25
Larry Mey 13-12-13-25
Sunny Basi 17-13-11-24
Marquez Ng 13-9-9-18
Michael Craig 10-3-15-18
Series Overview
     These teams split their season series right down the middle with each team winning a game and a 2-2 tie near the end of the season thrown in as well. The latter was a big departure from the first two games that saw the teams stage a couple of 7-6 and 9-7 shootouts, so we may well see some big scores in this series. Game two of this quarterfinal series was placed on a rare Sunday that neither team was particularly keen on, and indications are that both teams may have some notable pieces missing from the lineup. Team depth may be tested in this series. Though the Warhawks been playing consistently well the entire season, competing against and beating some of the established "A" teams, they did have a hiccup in the last game on the schedule where they got mercied by the Wolfpac 12-2. Sometimes those pre-playoff wake-up calls are just what the doctor ordered! 
Team Offense
     Marcel Lafortune absolutely lit it up this season. The short bench the Pirates frequently play with really allowed him to maximize his floor time and he responded with a 52 point season, playing from the back end, mind you. He has come achingly close to the 50 point mark before, posting seasons of 48, 48, and 49  before, but the 15/16 season officially marks a high-water mark for his NWBHL career. He is a definitive front runner for the MVP award this season and at 594 career points, he'll be celebrating the big 600 milestone pretty early in to the next campaign. This team has a few players that put up crooked numbers with four different players hitting the 30 point plateau. Trent Plul was all set to start this season playing for the Jaguars, but the late entry of the Pirates put him in a great position to have a big year. He collected 33 points including an impressive 26 assists, a total that put him third in the league in that category. Trent knows how to find the open spaces and has great vision of the floor. Graeme Spence and Daniel Lafortune put up nearly identical numbers this season. They both played 11 games and scored 12 goals, but Spence wins the battle with 19 assists to Daniel's 18. They both employ drastically different styles, with Daniel being the fancy stickhandler of the two, always trying to undress the opposition players, while Graeme plays more of a straightforward game, heavy on the fundamentals. The veteran Ray Diesel proved he can still get the job done with better than a point per game. He hit the 600 point mark himself earlier in the season, becoming just the eighth player in league history to do so. The Pirates got a huge boost when Danny Vero returned to action in the last game. He missed a bunch of time with an injury which in turn forced an already shorthanded team to play even shorter. Danny is a tremendous offensive presence that can take over a game and beat you with a variety of different tools, and he may be a the real difference maker in this series. There are also other dangerous players on the roster not to be overlooked in Jesse Churchwell, Darcy McNeil and James Mowat, each of which squeaking into playoff qualification. In summary, this is a dangerous group with a lot of weapons.

     The Warhawks are a team that scores by committee. There's no dominant Marcel-type player on this club, but a bunch of good players that share the load evenly. This helps to take pressure off of individual players, and the Warhawks have long been a club that is fully about the team concept. The man that really turned heads on the Warhawks this year was Larry Mey. With 25 points in a mere 13 games as a defenseman, he was putting up MVP numbers. Unfortunately, his season came to a premature end with an injury that has put him on the sidelines for this series. That's a brutally tough loss for this team, but the club has remained competitive even with his absence as others have stepped up. Amolak Gill has had another fine season and led the club with 15 goals and 25 points. The 15 goals was a new career high. The always dangerous Sunny Basi continues to be a solid producer for the club that he has done so much for as a GM for the past 13 seasons. His 24 points was the second best total of his career. The small but shifty Marquez Ng has great finishing capability and the slick Sean Grewal can dangle with the best of them. Two guys on this team that will be really counted on in this playoff run are Sandeep Khangura and Mike Craig. Sandeep AKA "Sippy" is a pure sniper, and during the 2008/09 season he put up one of the great goal scoring campaigns in league history notching 31 goals, which remains a "B" division record. Craig has been a huge addition to this team since joining them late last year and he has put up some gaudy numbers including 18 points in 10 games this season. He has a blistering shot that really helps the set up the Warhawks powerplay. Though the club has missed the offensive production of Larry Mey, they do still have team cornerstone Kevin Booth to run the back end and work the PP.

Team Defense
    Two of the league's best defensive forwards of all-time play on the Pirates. That's not just hyperbole either. Ray Diesel and Graeme Spence combined to win the NWBHL Best Defensive Forward award 7 times before the trophy was retired a few years ago. Both are among the league's best faceoff men as well, and faceoff wins equal ball possession. Interestingly, the Pirates actually get much of their offense from the back line with both Lafortune brothers lining up on defense these days. With their dynamic speed, they can pick the ball up deep within their zone and pick up a head of steam that allows them to beat their opponents cleanly, or be taken down in the process to draw the penalty. The two defensive guys at the back are Gino Porco and Ken Bollen. Both are capable players, with Ken having a bit more offensive upside, and Gino being the one unquestioned stay-at-home defender on the Pirates roster. With so many guys on the team thinking offense, the Pirates will get drawn into some high scoring games, but they're alright with that as they feel confident that they can win more wild shootouts then they'll lose.

    That final game loss to the Wolfpac which saw the Warhawks give up a 12 spot somewhat inflated the team's overall numbers for surrendering goals. The final tally was 79 against in 18 games for a per game average of 4.4, which in a division with as many deadly shooters isn't too bad. The loss of Larry Mey, their number one horse on the back end, was a tough break for a team that is still it's infancy as an "A" div competitor. Kevin Booth and the slick Nameet Kumar are the main ball handlers on the back end for the Warhawks, with Bhal Randhawa and big Deepak Takhar taking on the more defensive roles on the Warhawks blueline. One also can't forget the invaluable Nick McNicol. He's the swing man on the team that can be moved up front or back on to D depending on whatever the team's needs are. If the club has a full compliment of forwards for one of these games, look for Nick to drop back and help out the defenders. His fiery competitive nature is unmatched, and he will also help provide more offense from the back end.
    Steve Carruthers played the majority of the games for the Pirates this season with 12, which also happens to be the most he's played in any season in the NWBHL as a goalie. He was a game under .500 with a 5-6-1 record. His 4.73 GAA and .807 are a ways down the leader board, but the Pirates will give up their quality scoring chances. In any case Steve is an athletic goalie who can certainly steal a game. Veteran keeper Tony Ferreira qualified for playoffs the easy way, as he played both ends of a Pirates doubleheader on January 30th. Both games were of the crossover variety, so he ended up with a light workload in each, setting him up with some impressive looking numbers. Speaking of sweet looking goalie stats, I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that defenseman Gino Porco suited up for a pair of games for the team in an emergency, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.56 GAA and .903 Save %! The goalie of the future? Not quite. If the Pirates end up putting Gino between the pipes for this series, something has gone very, very, very wrong.

    Shane Ram is the likely starter for this team. He played the most of any Warhawks goalie with 11 games, posting an even 5-5-1 record. He has pretty respectable numbers with a 4.13 Goals Against and .847 save %. It was only a year ago that Shane led the Warhawks to the "B" division crown, winning the Playoff MVP in the process. The team is hoping for a repeat performance against some terrific shooters on the Pirates. However, Shane's attendance in the second half of the season was a bit more sporadic which sent the Warhawks out scouting for another solid keeper. They picked up promising rookie Josh Evans and he collected the W in two of his three starts with a painful loss coming on an overtime goal with a single second remaining on the clock to the Jaguars. The club also has veteran Vince Mudaliar in the fold. Vince was superb last spring for the Warhawks as they made it to the final, dropping the series to the Barons in the Game 3, winner-take-all championship game.
Overall Outlook
     The Pirates and Warhawks staged a tremendous head-to-head battle with one another during the 2015/16 season, and when the dust was settled, neither team had really won. This series looks to settle that for this year at least. It's a match-up of a pair of stylistically differing teams, with the hard working Warhawks that will grind you all game long versus the more high powered offensive machine of the Pirates. It will be interesting to see if the Warhawks are able to shut down the big Pirates shooters, and still continue to get the solid production from all three of their lines that they need to be successful in this series. Assuming the other quarterfinal goes as expected, the winner of this series will go on to face the Jaguars in an even tougher match-up. As for who comes out the victor in this one, your guess is as good as mine. Series Prediction: Too close to call

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