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Playoff Previews - "A" Division

"A" Div. Semifinals: (3) Warhawks @ (2) Ghostriders

Ghostriders Stats

Record Overall:
10-2-0, 81 GF, 39 GA, +42

Record vs Warhawks:
1-1-0, 5 GF, 3 GA, +2

Special Teams:
PP: 4 for 21 (19.0 %)
PK: 15 for 18 (83.3 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Dave Fisher 8-10-26-36
Waseem Khalil 10-13-10-23
Jay Dove 6-10-8-18
Steve Mulholland 4-4-7-11
Lloyd Weir 4-3-8-11

Warhawks Stats

Record Overall:
9-3-0, 53 GF, 38 GA, +15

Record vs Ghostriders:
1-1-0, 3 GF, 5 GA, -2

Special Teams:
PP: 5 for 23 (21.7 %)
PK: 20 for 29 (69.0 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Sunny Basi 12-9-6-15
Sean Grewal 11-8-6-14
Bronson Cooper 11-3-11-14
Amrit Shergill 8-5-7-12
Kevin Booth 11-4-8-12
Series Overview
     In an insanely tight "A" division this year, it was the Langley Barons that got the job done on the final weekend to earn the coveted bye straight into the final. That now leaves the Ghostriders and Warhawks to battle it out for the other finals berth. These teams both had terrific campaigns and split the season series with a win apiece. In fact, all three "A" div teams would split the season series with one another in an indication of how close things were all year. The difference in the final standings was the Warhawks' loss to the Stingrays in early May (though they would have been the 3rd seed due to goal differential, regardless). With the two "B" semis looking like they might be a bit lopsided, many people are looking forward to this series of two evenly matched teams that have been built very differently. The Warhawks have gradually added to their core, slowly and incrementally improving to the point that they can compete against the best of the best. Their players are mostly full time and committed to the team. The Ghostriders went a different route, picking up every "A" div gunslinger that wasn't tied down. The result is an immensely talented group of part time players, but that risk has paid off well now that the team has successfully navigated the regular season and can bring in a more full lineup for the games that matter. 
Team Offense
     With 81 goals on the season (6.75 per game) the Ghostriders were the second highest scoring team in the NWBHL behind the Barons, who netted 85. There weren't a lot of regulars for the Ghostriders, as they fielded a part-time team this year, but the club's GM, Rishaad Abbas, knew that a small core of stars in each game would hold the team until playoffs when they could field a bigger lineup when it counts. Of course, it doesn't hurt when you have Dave Fisher in your lineup most games. Dave had another classic season, winning the scoring title with staggering numbers of 8-10-26-36. Even more phenomenal is the fact that he recorded two games with double digit scoring, first picking up 11 points against the Spartans, and then recording a 10 point effort versus the Rage. The latter game helped him run away with a scoring title that was somewhat in question up to that point. Waseem Khalil had a fine offensive season as well, leading the Ghostriders in goals with 13. His 23 points was good for fourth in the division as well. Another consummate scorer, Jay Dove put up his usual impressive numbers from the back end. Jay finished with 10 goal and 18 points in 6 games. His shot remains one of the deadliest weapons in ball hockey and the Warhawks will have to make sure they can take away his time and space. He is particularly dangerous off the draws. The always fiery Ziad Badr managed a two point-per-game average, including 7 goals in just 5 games. A couple of other top scoring players to just reach the qualification minimum for the club are Lloyd Weir and Steve Mulholland. They will both be key figures in the Ghostriders attack and always put up good numbers. The two tied one another in production with 11 points in the four games. In fact, a quick glance down the team's roster shows quite the array of talent that just made the four game cut. Larry Mey, Mont Saran, Mojib Emami, Will Arthurs and Kais Naibkhil all just snuck into postseason qualification. Of particular interest is the fact that despite the Riders having an amazingly stacked offense, the team's PP numbers were fairly sub par. Their powerplay conversion rate of 19.0% is actually the second lowest in the league. Go figure!

     For the longest while during their formative years, the Warhawks had to rely on production from a single line. Those days are long gone and the offensive depth of the team is now one of their strong points. Sunny Basi is still the big goal scoring threat he has been for many years, and he once again finished as the club leader in goals (9) and points (15). However, he has quite a bit of help these days, and young, talented players like Sean Grewal, really give the Warhawks some scoring punch. Sean is one of the game's best one-on-one players, and he can tie a defender up in knots. He finished just behind Sunny in scoring with numbers of 11-8-6-14, including a pair of shorthanded goals. Tied with him at 14 points is another high quality offensive talent. Bronson Cooper, usually known for his goal scoring, became a set-up man this season, leading the Warhawks with 11 helpers. He brings great on the floor intensity to the team on top of his offensive talent. Kevin Booth was at his best this year, dominating from the back end. Aside from his better than a point-per-game production, he was among the league's top vote getters in the 3-Star category. He tied teammate Sean Grewal with two firsts, a second, and a third star, for third place in the "A" div this season. Long time Wolverines mainstay Amrit Shergill had another fine season with 12 points in 8 games. Last season's Rookie Of The Year, Marquez Ng, had a bit of a drop off in production from the fall season, but was still a solid contributor with 10 points in 11 games played. After a breakout year offensively last season, Ami Gill has picked up where he left off with 7 goals in 9 games. He always seems to be in good position around the net for the deflection or the tap-in. The Warhawks powerplay numbers were only marginally better than the Ghostriders, and this is an area they'll need to improve on if they want to take this series.
Team Defense
    The Ghostriders were pretty good at keeping the ball out of their net this season, as they surrendered only 3.25 goals per contest. That was the second best number in the league... after the Warhawks, as it happens. There are many talented defensemen on the team, none more than Jay Dove. Although he is known more his offense, and can be an adventure in his own zone when he over handles the ball, his shot blocking ability cannot be overlooked. The team also managed to work Larry Mey into the lineup. Perhaps more than any other player in the league, Larry is an absolute beast on the floor. He will win battles everywhere in his own zone and then be the first guy up the floor. Another hard shooter for this team is Kais Naibkhil. He has a cannon, and those preoccupied with Dove that choose to not focus on it, do so at their own peril. He is a big bodied defender who never passes up a chance to play physical. The Riders are pretty short on the back end after that as they failed to qualify a host of talented dmen including Ricky Janda, Keagan Fedorko, Brett Newbery, and Nameet Kumar. Rishaad Abbas or one of the other forwards may be asked to fill in as a fourth defenseman, though the team has become accustomed to playing with a short lineup all season, so it likely won't be a huge problem for them.

    As previously mentioned, the Warhawks led the Northwest League this year in goals allowed giving up just 38 in 12 games for an average of 3.17. The team also averaged a league low in shots against at 23.3 per contest, so there is little doubt that this club knows how to defend. That's a good thing, because they will definitely be tested in this series by a potent Ghostriders attack. Though there are many weapons to be concerned about, the team will most certainly have to come up with a game plan to contain Dave Fisher. Easier said than done, of course. The defense corps on the Warhawks has some good veteran talent on it. Kevin Booth has really been outstanding this year and will be a candidate for the Top "A" Defenseman award. He has support from the talented Nick McNicol, who contributed 6 points in 10 games for the team. He's excellent at leading the rush and has spent some time at forward, giving him an offensive edge to his game. Sat Ahluwalia had a good season for the team, finishing with numbers of 6-3-3-6. He and Bhal Randhawa have some extra motivation in this series as they both find themselves lined up against their former team. There are some underrated defensive defensemen in the form of Muni Dutta and Cyril Duncan. They are both experienced players who know how to handle things in their own end. And last, but not least, big Deepak Takhar is always good at laying down the law in front of his own crease. The Warhawks play a good defensive team game and will need contributions from everyone if they want to shut down a highly talented Ghostriders lineup.
    This series will provide a fantastic goaltending match-up, with both team being well stocked in net. The Ghostriders feature one of the game's premier goaltenders over the last number of years, Rick Baker. He has three NWBHL championships to his credit, and a pair of Top Goaltender awards. Rick is usually among the league leaders in the various goaltending categories, and this year is no exception. He led all netminders with an .877 Save Percentage and his GAA was fifth at a very solid 3.35. His record this season was an impressive 7-2. Furthermore, Rick is a big game goaltender who plays his best when everything is on the line. Though Baker should be the main man for the Riders during this playoff run, the team also has another quality keeper at their disposal. Derek Smith has backstopped a couple of different teams to Ndub titles. He only played two games this year but won them both with a 3.68 GAA and .863 Save Percentage. If he should get the call, the team knows he is more than capable of getting the job done.

    The Warhawks have one of the great up and coming goaltending prospects of the last several seasons in Shane Ram. The team made a difficult decision, cutting their long time keeper, Cliff Stayner, for Shane just prior to last year's playoffs. Shane would give up three softies in his first four minutes of NWBHL action as the Warhawk players collectively held their breath on the bench. Fortunately, he was brilliant in the rest of that game as the team came back to win, and Shane has pretty much been outstanding ever since. He posted good numbers, with a 3.30 Goals Against (4th best in the league) and an .858 Save Percentage. He also put up a 7-3 record this year for the Warhawks and was at his best in an early season tilt as he backstopped the Hawks to a 1-0 win over these very Ghostriders. He stopped all 30 shots on his way to 1st star honours that evening. Many people forget that he is still technically a rookie and will be a top contender for the Rookie Of The Year award. Should an injury or scheduling problem prevent Shane from playing, the team also has Ami Gill to turn to. Ami hasn't played much goalie in this league for the past few seasons, but he remains a top quality netminder and showed his talents at the recent Play On street hockey tournament where he backstopped his team to the finals. Having said that, he is one of the team's go-to goal scorers, and the Warhawks would rather have him scoring goals than stopping them.
Overall Outlook
     In what should be an outstanding series between a couple of great teams, you can probably look to a game three to get things finally settled. It's interesting to note that in the two games these teams played against one another, the team that carried the majority of the play and had the sizeable shot edge, was ultimately the team that lost. What that means for this series I'm really not sure. Both teams have outstanding goaltending. The defense probably narrowly favours the Warhawks, but I think you'd have to give the offensive edge to the Ghostriders. The fact they can bring out a full lineup to this series for one of the first times this season means we will get to look at a team with more depth than we've seen all year as well. Look for these games to be hard fought and have a close score, but I'm picking the Ghostriders to come out on top after this series goes the distance. Series Prediction: Ghostriders in three

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