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Playoff Previews - "B" Division

"B" Div. Semifinals: (4) Chiefs @ (1) Rage

Rage Stats

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

Record vs Chiefs:
2-0-0, 12 GF, 4 GA, +8

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

Chiefs Stats

Record Overall:
2-10-0, 42 GF, 73 GA, -31

Record vs Rage:
0-2-0, 4 GF, 12 GA, -8

Special Teams:
PP: 5 for 18 (27.8 %)
PK: 10 for 21 (47.6 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Chase Butler 10-10-12-22
Jason Makowski 10-6-8-14
Derek Bjornson 12-2-9-11
Tyler Beliveau 7-3-5-8
Balraj Dhillon 10-2-6-8
Series Overview
     The first year Chiefs may have a tall task ahead of them if they want to dispatch a veteran Rage team that has really come into its own this season. The Rage took top spot in "B" by virtue of their overtime win against the Mercenaries which provided the all important tie break between the teams. Like many teams in the div, the Rage were shutout of the win column in their "A" match-ups, going 0-6, but with the exception of a couple of late season shellackings to the Barons and Ghostriders, played the top tier pretty tough, dropping four games by a single goal, including two in OT. Simple math then suggests that this team was perfect against their "B" competitors posting a 6-0 record with an impressive 41-16 goal differential. The Chiefs went 2-6 in their own division with a goal differential of  -14. Furthermore, both of their victories came over the last place Surrey Spartans, meaning the Chiefs have yet to beat anybody above them in the standings. The Chiefs got hammered by the Rage 6-0 to start the season but lost a tight 6-4 contest later in the year as they started to gel a bit. 
Team Offense
     The Rage averaged over five goals per game this season, putting them behind only the Mercenaries in the "B" division. Though they don't particularly have any "A" caliber superstars up front, they feature great depth and can beat you with any of their three lines. It was a career season in the goal scoring department for Floyd Jewell who netted a division best 16 tallies. He is this year's "Cy Young" winner as he managed just 5 assists, but then again he is looked at to be the one to do the finishing on the team. In any case, the 21 points was good for fourth overall in the "B" scoring race and a point ahead of teammate Paul Heer. It has been a terrific rookie season for Heer who hit the 20 point mark, which is always an achievement in the shorter 12 game Spring season. He and running mate Gary Dhillon, have really helped push the Rage to the next level this season by giving them that added depth. Dhillon has also excelled with numbers of 11-7-8-15 and also figures to be in the Top Rookie award conversation. Last year's "B" MVP winner Amolak Gill has been another big addition to the roster this season, and he finished with a solid 15 points in 11 games. He is a big bodied power forward, but also possesses slick hands and can use the toe drag to perfection. Also in the power forward mold is big Steve Dhillon. He is at his most effective in close quarters around the net, picking up the garbage. A much overlooked component of the Rage this year is the always talented Fab Carella. He is one of the league's pure snipers and can get off the one-timer in the blink of an eye. The Rage are also a dangerous club from the back end. The acquisition of Mitch Miller this year gave them that offensive dynamic they haven't really had since the days of Jeff Massullo. He led all "B" defenders with 5 goals and 14 points. His slapper is a bullet that he gets away with an almost effortless wind-up. Dave Snyder also had a solid season from the Rage blueline, picking up 13 points in 11 games. He is a terrific passer and an excellent powerplay quarterback. With all these weapons, it's no surprise that the Rage had a good year on the PP with a division leading 38.9% success rate. 

     Despite the Chiefs' struggles with their overall record, the offense was actually better than many had expected this season. Three and a half goals per contest is actually pretty decent for a club that finished with a 2-10 record. Chase Butler has been the talk of the league this season, as he finished second in "B" scoring behind only the Mercenaries' Karson Levack. With numbers of 10-10-12-22 Chase easily eclipsed his previous career highs and in fewer games. He is a definite MVP candidate as the offensive depth on the Chiefs is questionable. Having said that, there were were a few other bright spots for this team. The lanky Jason Makowski shows a good skill set including the ability to get the ball on the net with a hard, quick release. He finished second on the Chiefs with 14 points in 10 games, and will be looked on to provide some playoff production as Chase will undoubtedly earn some extra attention from the Rage checkers in this series. Numerous defensemen factor in the upper reaches of the Chiefs scoring table. Derek Bjornson and Tyler Beliveau come in at 11 and 8 points respectively. Beliveau was actually above the point-per-game mark, having only played 7 games this season. With a lack of high end forwards, the "Killer B's" will need to continue to supply the team with an offensive push. Balraj Dhillon and Brad Joseph are the next forwards that the Chiefs will need to step up. Balraj is a nifty ball handler and Brad is a big, strong forward with speed and a good ability to forecheck. Scheduling conflicts kept one of the team's top forwards out of the lineup for much of the season. Johnny Podolski showed his offensive talent playing the four game minimum, but they will need him to be in the lineup for the entire series to give the Chiefs that extra pop they will need playing against a solid Rage team. 
Team Defense
    The Rage actually gave up more shots on goal this season than the Chiefs did (352-335). However, this is a somewhat misleading stat as the Rage's shots surrendered average was 29.3 for the entire season, but a tidy 22.3 once the "A" div games were taken out of the equation. The experience edge is hugely on the side of the Rage when comparing the team's defense. In fact, the difference in collective NWBHL seasons played by the two team's defense corps would be positively staggering. As mentioned previously, the team has a pair of very skilled, offensive dmen in Mitch Miller and Dave Snyder, but they are nicely supplemented by a host of defensive minded blueliners with the club. Jeff Lim, Bob Haddon, Phil Tocco, and the ageless Terry Wong are all solid, stay-at-home defenders that battle hard, and know how to clear the ball when in danger. This edition of the Rage doesn't have too many widely regarded defensive forwards, but they do play a solid team game. The Rage would have had some better numbers in the overall goals against department had they not been lit up for 13 on the final night of the season by the Ghostriders. Prior to that mishap, they were allowing a decent 3.5 goals per contest.

    The Chiefs are hoping the relative youth and enthusiasm of their team will offset the Rage's domination in league and playoff experience. Though the Chiefs do have some talented players on their blueline with the likes of Derek Bjornson, Tyler Belliveau and Jeremy Sales, it's the team's overall defensive play that is suspect. The Chiefs are slow on the backcheck and are prone to the counterattack, which could prove a fatal weakness against an explosive team like the Rage. The Chiefs also tend to get running around in their own zone. This is not an uncommon problem for a first year team as defensive coverage is one of the more difficult parts of the game to master. The biggest concern facing the team in this series might be the penalty kill. The team's PK was dead last in the entire league, and by quite a distance. They killed less than half of the opposition's powerplays (10 of 21) for a horrendous 47.6 penalty killing percentage. This is a huge area that the team will need to improve on if they are to have some postseason success. To make matters worse, they are going up against a Rage powerplay that posted a division best conversion rate. The Chiefs may be well served by doing their best to avoid going down a man in this series.
    The goaltending category is another decided edge in favour of the Rage. They not only have two goaltenders available to the Chiefs one, but they each have a considerable amount of experience and have both put up strong campaigns this Spring. Cliff Stayner is one of the great comeback stories of the year, after his unceremonious release from the Warhawks in the playoff stretch last year. He has played better than ever for the Rage and actually led all Ndub goaltenders with a 3.14 GAA. His Save Percentage is tied for second at .872 and those numbers don't include two emergency starts for other teams in which he posted an even better .889 save %. One of those games was a masterful effort against his old Warhawks team, no less. The other man in the crease for the Rage is Andy Vandenberg. Talk about experience, Andy has played 219 games in goal to lead all goaltenders in league history. That's 26 seasons in total! (Though ironically at 44 years of age, he's actually the younger man in this goaltending duo by a year.) Andy's numbers weren't quite as impressive as Cliff's, but he did finish with a solid .864 save percentage, good for fifth in the league. He is a real competitor and one of the strongest men in the league. The Chiefs would be well advised to be careful when crashing the crease when he's in the net. 

    Pasquale Sbrocchi played all but one game this season for the Chiefs, with Shane Ram being borrowed from the Warhawks for the only other start this year. Win or lose, Pasquale is the man for the Chiefs in this playoff run. He struggled a bit in his first NWBHL season, posting a goals-against of 6.03 with a save percentage of .776. Both of those numbers put him towards the bottom of the division, though it goes without saying that Pasquale faces a lot of quality shots coming his way behind an inexperienced group of defenders. He'll need to step up and steal at least one game for the Chiefs in order for the club to have a realistic shot at downing the Rage in this series.  
Overall Outlook
     On paper this series is a bit of a mismatch, but we all know that playoff series aren't played on paper. The Chiefs showed that they are a team that will compete, and if the Rage don't bring their work boots, or start just looking ahead to the finals, they may find themselves in a real dog fight. With that all said, this certainly looks to be the Rage's series to lose. They haven't dropped a game to a "B" opponent all season, while the Chiefs have yet to beat any team not named the Spartans. This series is about team depth and the more experienced Rage have been building theirs for a good while now. As for the Chiefs, this has been a promising start to the franchise and with some more additions next year they will be better equipped to take on teams like the Rage in the future. I'm calling this one as a Rage series sweep. Series Prediction: Rage in two

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