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Playoff Previews - "B" Division

"B" Div. Finals: (2) Mercenaries @ (1) Rage

Rage Stats

Record Overall:
6-6-0, 61 GF, 55 GA, +6

Record vs Mercenaries:
1-0-0, 6 GF, 5 GA, +1

Special Teams:
PP: 7 for 18 (38.9 %)
PK: 11 for 15 (73.3 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Floyd Jewell 12-16-5-21
Paul Heer 12-8-12-20
Gary Dhillon 11-7-8-15
Amolak Gill 11-6-9-15
Mitch Miller 9-5-9-14

Mercenaries Stats

Record Overall:
6-6-0, 67 GF, 46 GA, +21

Record vs Rage:
0-1-0, 5 GF, 6 GA, -1

Special Teams:
PP: 10 for 33 (33.3 %)
PK: 10 for 11 (90.9 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Karson Levack 12-15-14-29
Myles Scott 12-10-12-22
Kevin Geddert 10-7-10-17
David Prestage 11-5-11-16
Silvan Harper 5-5-9-14
Series Overview
     The Rage and the Mercenaries have been on a collision course since the season began. Now that we have reached the "B" Division Finals, it's time for the two to butt heads and finally decide who the division champion is. It's an interesting contrast between the two finalists, with the Rage having been in the league for 18 years now, and the Mercenaries just in their first season of Northwest League action. Both teams have shown themselves to be a cut above the other "B" opponents and the only prior meeting this season between the clubs resulted in a game so close that overtime was needed. The Rage would win that game 6-5, ending their lengthy OT drought, but more importantly securing the top seed, and as it relates to this series, the bigger dressing room for two of the three contests. On paper these teams are very equal when at their top bench strength, however the Mercenaries will be playing a bit short in this series with a couple of injuries and a few players out of town.
Team Offense
     The offense came easy in the first round for the Rage. They played a young Chiefs team that was overwhelmed in the first game of the semifinal, winning it in surprisingly easy fashion, 10-1. The Chiefs would show up short benched in the second game, but playing much better, making the Rage have to work for what would eventually be a 7-3 victory after they poured in some late ones in the final 10 minutes. Needless to say, the offensive numbers for the team look pretty impressive after the first couple of games. The extremely talented Mitch Miller is putting in an early bid for "B" Playoff MVP with numbers of 2-5-7 through just two games. His big shot remains a dangerous weapon, but his ball control and vision of the floor are what are setting him apart at the moment. Just behind him with 6 points, including a playoff leafing 4 goals, is Floyd Jewell. He continues to do what he does best, finding the back of the net. Rookie Gary Dhillon, who at times has been overshadowed by linemate Paul Heer, was a huge factor in the first round, picking up 2 and 2, including a 2nd star in one of the games. Bobby Basran has found a nice role on the team, now playing set-up man for the lethal Fab Carella one-timer. Fab sniped a pair in game one and is always a threat on the left side with his quick release. Big Amolak Gill contributed four assists to the attack as well, and not only uses his size to his advantage, but a soft set of hands as well. Jay Taylor has had a bit of a tough season for the Rage, but it was good to see him snipe a goal in the first round to get the piano off his back. Aside from Mitch Miller, the Rage are also getting good production from Dave Snyder from the point position. He managed 5 points from the back end, giving the Rage a lethal 1-2 combination on the point.

     Mercenaries scoring star Karson Levack has continued in the playoffs where he left off in the regular season, registering a team high 5 points in the first round sweep of the Stingrays. With that said, he is one of the players that the team will be without for at least the first and possibly the second game of this series.  He and David Prestage, another of the offensive leaders on this team (not to mention a player that was also performing well on defense for the team when called upon to do so), will both be out of town for much of the weekend with a possible chance of returning for the Sunday game. Myles Scott, another important offensive component for the club, also has his playing status in question for this weekend. This means the depth of the team will be tested and the other players will have to step up their contributions. Silvan Harper was an absolute monster in the single game he played in the first round, picking up a pair of goals to go with a couple of assists. His attendance record for the club, however, has been spotty all season, and the team will definitely hope to see him out and helping drive their offense. Kevin Geddart, who finished behind only Karson and Myles on the Mercenaries scoring chart will definitely be a key figure for the team this weekend. He also played well versus the Stingrays, picking up a first star in the series opening 3-0 win after a couple of lethal snipes. Luke Tully would collect a point on each goal in that game, but missed the second match. He will be looking to set up Geddart as the trigger man as these two will undoubtedly be taking the top offensive minutes and powerplay duty for the team while they are short. The importance of players like Dallas Hoffman, Aidan Trerise and Travis Ryan increases as well. These nifty forwards didn't always get the powerplay minutes on a stacked Mercenaries squad, but they will have an opportunity to show what they can do against the Rage. 
Team Defense
    The Rage had an outstanding defensive series against the Chiefs, shutting them down completely in the first game and limiting their chances in the second. The team has been great all season in a defensive capacity and they are also getting some serious production from their blueliners. As previously mentioned, Mitch Miller is leading the entire playoffs in scoring while Dave Snyder is also off to a hot start with numbers of 2-1-4-5 so far. Terry Wong and Bob Haddon have also been solid enough for the team in their own end that they've even been able to move Jeff Lim up to forward to keep the team's three line attack in order. Look for things to get a lot trickier for the Rage in this series as they take on the highly talented Mercenaries forward corps.

    It's not fully known at this time who will or won't be out for the Mercenaries for the first game or two of this series as far as the blueline goes. However, you can expect Dan Ko to be there as he rarely misses a game and Josh Lowres has also been a staple for the team on the back end this year. The team really needs big Jamil Jeraj to be in the lineup. He is a talented two way defensemen with a big shot. The underrated Mark Trendell-Jensen can also help this group out a lot. Will Barrett missed the first round and his status for the final is unknown. The Mercenaries, much like the Rage, handled their opponent in the first round, effectively shutting down the Stingrays for 65 of the 80 minutes before the Stingrays caught fire in the final few minutes. The biggest concern for the Mercenaries' "D" might be all the big power forwards the Rage can throw at the front of the net. They are a handful for any team, and the three lines the Rage will be constantly cycling will create lots of pressure. It should be interesting to see how the team handles it, particularly if they are playing somewhat short benched.
    Cliff Stayner got both starts in the semis and is presumably the goaltender of choice for the finals as well for the Rage. He has continued to be a difficult man to beat this season, as he has posted a 2.00 GAA and .882 Save Percentage in the playoffs so far. To be fair, he wasn't challenged all that often by the Chiefs who only put 13 shots on goal in game one and 21 in game two. Nevertheless, he has been there when called upon. He should certainly be tested more by a dangerous group of Mercenaries forwards, though Cliff has often been at his best when facing a higher shot count anyway, something he has become accustomed to as he has previously been on teams that have had their defensive shortcomings in this and other leagues. Andy Vandenberg remains on call for the Rage should Cliff become unavailable. Though Andy hasn't played many games this season, he would definitely be stoked to help end the team's lengthy championship drought.

    The goaltending position was a huge question mark for the Mercenaries entering the playoffs with their number one, Bill Lundholm, on the shelf with injury. Luckily, the man the team stared the season with, Ron Campbell has returned to the crease and come up huge for the team. He was extremely solid in his first game, pitching a 3-0 shutout over the Stingrays, including a goal line stand with the tip of his pad that left many in the crowd gasping. The Stingrays did finally manage to solve him in the second period of game two as they started to play with desperation and just put everything to the net with a crowd in front. However, Ron managed to hold on for the 7-5 win and help put the Mercenaries through to the next round. With Lundholm still doubtful for a return, and the Mercenaries facing a potential lineup crunch this weekend, Ron Campbell may have to be a huge factor in the team stealing a win to set up a game three the following week.
Overall Outlook
     The game plan is clear for the Mercenaries here. They need to steal one of these first two games and wait for their full lineup to emerge next week in a winner-take-all game 3. The Rage don't want to let that happen, but interestingly, they sometimes seem to be more vulnerable against teams with smaller lineups. Perhaps it's a psychological let down of thinking the game will be easy that gets them in trouble. In any case, look for the Mercenaries to be playing desperate hockey, and they certainly have enough talent to make an opponent pay for any mental mistakes that might occur. Overall, however, I think the Rage are still the team to beat. It's a full, deep lineup with lots of experience and terrific goaltending. That's always a tough formula to beat. I think this series still has a good chance go to a game 3 but somehow I feel the Rage will be able to pull out the victory in the end. Series Prediction: Rage in three

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