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Playoff Previews - "B" Division

"B" Div. Semifinals: (3) Stingrays @ (2) Mercenaries

Mercenaries Stats

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

Record vs Stingrays:
2-0-0, 17 GF, 6 GA, +11

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

Stingrays Stats

Record Overall:
4-8-0, 58 GF, 76 GA, -18

Record vs Mercenaries:
0-2-0, 6 GF, 17 GA, -11

Special Teams:
PP: 3 for 11 (27.3 %)
PK: 12 for 16 (75.0 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Hashmat Mohammad 4-6-4-10
Prem Rai 4-6-2-8
Sandeep Khabra 8-4-4-8
Sunny Thandi 4-3-2-5
Mike Ball 7-4-0-4
(List excludes playoff non-qualifiers)
Series Overview
     It's been an impressive debut this season for the Mercenaries in the NWBHL. The team was able to get some valuable experience in the North Van league prior to this season and it has definitely paid off. The team tied for the best record in the division, just losing out to the Rage by virtue of the overtime loss in the teams' only meeting. Aside from that and an early season drubbing at the hands of the Barons when the Mercenaries had a short bench, little else has gone wrong for them this year. The Stingrays, on the other hand, had a much harder road to get to this point. After the Brighouse Knights abandoned the Stingrays, reneging on a merger agreement at the outset of the season, then GM Sukh Sandhu officially sent notice to the team calling it quits. Fortunately, Bob Dhaliwal stepped up big for the franchise, keeping the team afloat financially as well with a plethora of good player signings. However the revolving door roster had a tough cost. Not only did the ever changing lineup fail to create chemistry (in stark contrast to the largely full-time Mercenaries core), but the number of high quality players that just failed to make the playoff qualification mark is gravely concerning. With Andy Hundhal and Zach Kelm moving on to play with the Barons, and Kevin Flather, Lucky Bahia, Harjot Sohal and Raman Rai all missing the post season minimum games requirement, this Stingrays club is facing a serious threat with the bulk of its offense absent. To make matters worse, the Mercenaries absolutely handled the Stingrays in the regular season, beating them by scores of 8-2 and 9-4.
Team Offense
     The Mercenaries were the top scoring team in the division this year, averaging an impressive 5.58 goals per game. They have some real top end shooters on the team. Perhaps not as much depth throughout the entire lineup as a team like the Rage, but the Mercenaries have a top six that no other team in the "B" div can match. The team's offense starts at the top with Karson Levack. He is a deadly stick handler and has a hard, accurate shot that he isn't afraid to let go from distance. Karson won the division scoring title (12-15-14-29) in his first year in the Ndub as well as the "B" 3 star cup. Needless to say, he is a prime candidate for the Rookie Of The Year and "B" MVP. However, Karson has had plenty of help this season on the club. League veteran Myles Scott posted a career high this season with 22 points, to finish second in team scoring. His 10 goals was also second most on the Mercenaries. The tall and shifty Kevin Geddert is another ball handling wizard with a natural scoring ability. He collected 17 points in 10 games and tied Floyd Jewell for the league lead with 3 powerplay goals. David Prestage is a real speedster on the club, and he too is a dangerous player around the net. He came in fourth in team scoring with 16 points. Next on the Mercenaries scoring chart are a couple of real wild cards for the team in Sylvan Harper and Luke Tully. Both of them played sparingly this season, but managed to get in the required number of games for playoff qualification. Sylvan, in particular, wowed spectators with his ability. He racked up 14 points in just 5 games and earned a 1st star twice as well as a third star. Had he played the whole season, we would be talking MVP numbers. The former Merritt Centennials player will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs. The diminutive Luke Tully also put up big numbers in few games (4-1-12-13), playing set-up man at every opportunity. He landed a pair of 2nd stars in his four games of action. The team has some other solid forwards at their disposal with Aiden Trerise and Dallas Hoffman both capable contributors to the offense. The team doesn't rely on its back end for offense as much as other teams. Jamil Jeraj had a strong campaign for the team with 7 points in as many games, but mostly the defenders are just expected to get the ball up to the forwards and let them do their thing. The Mercenaries did have Jim White for a couple of games, and he would have addressed that need for a pure offensive defenseman, but he disappeared from the lineup shortly after his arrival. 

     The temptation is to again talk about who isn't in the lineup for the Stingrays. Nevertheless, without six of their top nine players available, the team will simply have to go with the players they do have. Hashmat Mohammad proved to be a revelation for the Rays towards the end of the year. It has been well established that he is one of the most purely talented players in the league, yet he has had problems converting it into points. Hashmat has been around the point-per-game mark for his entire career prior to this year, which just isn't the production one would expect from his level of talent. He started to see some real results in his last couple of games as he moved back to the blueline, allowing him to wind up his speed and use his phenomenal stick-handling skills to carry the ball through the opposition checkers. Playing defense has also given him the room to get off  his shot which has paid dividends as well. With 10 points in 4 games, he is the Rays unquestioned go-to guy in this playoff series. Prem Rai has gone a bit under the radar, which is to be expected on a team that has seen 40 players pass through the lineup in a mere 12 games. Prem has fired 6 goals and added a couple of helpers in just 4 games. He too, will need to be an effective force in this series for the Stingrays. The steady Sandeep "Cobra" Khabra, was the most consistent player for the team this season, finishing with numbers of 8-4-4-8. With all of the team's turnover this season, it's good to see some familiar faces like Mike Ball still with the club. He is one of the harder working players on the team and can contribute to the offense as well. He chipped in 4 goals this season in 7 games played. Of course, long time Stingray Sukh Sandhu is still with the team as well. A change in his work schedule had taken him out of the Friday games, severely limiting his participation in the last half of the campaign. He is coming off of a career season in the fall that saw him lead the team in scoring, and he has been somewhat productive this season with 4 points in 6 games. Terrance Bains is another player the team will need to be in the lineup and getting some production from. He played just the minimum four games and mostly on defense as the team has been short in that area for a number of games. He is a talented player with a nose for the net and a good shot. There are no less than 7 Stingrays that have played just four games but will be needed to start showing up if the team is to have a realistic chance in this series. The scoring will likely also have to come from some unexpected sources. 
Team Defense
    The Mercenaries surrendered the fewest number of goals in "B" this year with 46. Only the Rage were even remotely close, giving up 55, which was close to a goal-per-game more. Not surprisingly, the team also gave up the fewest shots in the division, at just over 25 per contest. The key largely lies in the the ball possession the team has in most of its contests. They do have some capable defenders on their blueline. Dan Ko is one of the most experienced dmen in the league, having suited up for 381 regular season contests, the 4th most of all time. He is a stay-at-home defender that is great at breaking up opposition plays, and knows his position well. Former Bullies player Jamil Jeraj, has excelled with the Mercenaries this season, particularly early in the year when he was putting up some big numbers. Scheduling conflicts have kept him from being a full timer, but he would be key to the team's success if he is able to make it out for the playoff games. Josh Lowres has slipped a bit under the radar this season but his 6 points in 9 games is decent production from the back end. Big Will Barrett joined the club for the second half of the schedule and has helped give the team another steady defender. The team's across the board ball pursuit is a key to their success and they will no doubt be pressuring the Stingrays forwards hard all series. That pressure was also key to the Mercenaries league best penalty kill as well, killing 10 of 11 opposition chances with the man advantage.

    The Stingrays struggled with team defense throughout the season giving up more goals than any team but the Spartans. The Rays also surrendered 411 shots on goal through 12 games, which works out to more than 34 per contest. That's just too many opportunities to be handing to the other team on a regular basis. The team has few defensemen playing their natural position though Harjot Bratch, and Dennis Wong were a couple of the mainstays that did fit that description. The Rays converted Terrance Bains and Hashmat Mohammed successfully to defense this season when the need arose and their good hockey IQ and natural talent allowed them to excel in that role. The issue with converting forwards, however, will always be managing to not turn over the ball in the wrong spots while handling it in your own end. Hashmat was particularly guilty of that at times in the last couple of games, but his overall effectiveness far outweighed the drawbacks. The team was hoping to have Kevin Flather and Raman Rai available, which would have brought a whole different dimension to the Stingrays blueline, but unfortunately the schedule did not work out for either to make the minimum qualification mark. 
    The Mercenaries started the season with Ron Campbell in net. He played the first couple of games before missing a start. The team called veteran Bill Lundholm in to play that one and they haven't looked back since. Bill would, in fact, play the next nine games in a row, posting some impressive numbers. His 3.24 Goals Against Average was behind only the Rage's Cliff Stayner in the entire league (counting the "A" div), and his .872 Save Percentage tied with Cliff for second best behind Rick Baker of the Ghostriders. Bill's run of starts came to an end in the Mercenaries' final game of the year when an injury suffered at Play On, forced him to the sidelines. Fortunately, the team is comprised of many willing volunteers to strap on the pads, and Nate Hartley did so in the final game, picking up the win in a game against the very Stingrays team the Mercenaries will now face in the first round. Lundholm's playing status is still unknown at this time, and that might prove to be the one serious issue the team will have to deal with in this playoff run. If he's not able to go, the crease will be in the hands of Campbell again, but failing that, volunteers will be sought in the dressing room. 

    Bob Dhaliwal has been the main man for the Stingrays between the pipes this year. He played 8 of the team's 12 games, posting a 3-5 record. Though the GAA and Save % numbers may not be pretty (6.34 and .814, respectively), one has to keep in mind the challenging conditions brought on by the revolving door roster the team dealt with all season. Some games, the team just played particularly short handed and there also seemed to be a dearth of natural defensemen throughout the entire season. All of these conspired to make the Rays a team that gave up a lot of shots and quality scoring chances and Bob's numbers suffered accordingly. With that said, Bob is a netminder that does have issues with consistency, and though he can be great in any given game, he can also have some games where his game is not where he needs it to be. He will definitely be tested early and often in this series by a potent Mercenaries attack, and he will have to be at his best from the opening drop. The other man to get some starts for the club was Lakhbir Gill, who took over with Dhaliwal out of town for a brief stretch in the middle of the season. Lakh played well in his three starts including a win over the Warhawks that was the highlight of the Stingrays' season. Though the team may need his play out of the net more, should Bob not be able to go for some reason, Lakh would provide a capable replacement. 
Overall Outlook
     When these two teams met in the regular season, the series was rather one sided. The Mercenaries won both games, outscoring the Stingrays by a combined 17-6. One of those games was a 9-4 rout at the very end of the schedule, with the Stingrays fielding a similar lineup to that which they will have available to them for this series. Had the Rays been able to qualify more of their late season pickups, this would have been a prime candidate for an upset, as there was certainly a lot of talent there. Sadly, that's not the case and the Stingrays will have to field a club with less firepower that hasn't played together as a unit much, if at all. Playoffs are not the time for your players to be introducing themselves to one another. As for the Mercenaries, after a bit of a slow start to the season, they have shown themselves to be a juggernaut fueled by youthful exuberance, and supreme natural hockey ability. Like in the Rage/Chiefs series, the outright favourite will have to be careful about being complacent and taking the opponent for granted, but this series is definitely the Mercenaries' to lose. Series Prediction: Mercenaries in two

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