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Playoff Previews - "B" Division
(6) Black Aces @ (3) Vikings

Black Aces: 5-6-1, 50 GF, 43 GA, +7 Dif.
Vikings: 7-4-1, 57 GF, 53 GA, +4 Dif.
Black Aces
Top 5 Scorers
Vikings
Top 5 Scorers
Jason Merk 12-9-6-15
Kevin Irwin 12-5-6-11
Sean Magee 10-1-10-11
Steve Janes 5-5-5-10
Trent Nellis 9-5-4-9
Jeff Massullo 11-7-12-19
Fab Carella 8-13-5-18
Bob Haddon 11-2-5-17
Chad Lyons 11-6-8-14
Brent Lyons 9-7-6-13

After a dreadful start to the season (due in part to a tough front-loaded schedule), the Black Aces have been one of the hottest teams in the entire NWBHL. They went 4-0-1 in their last 5 games including the unforgettable playoff clinching, final day tie that saw them pull their goalie in overtime while shorthanded to score the tying goal. They also had a large player purge at the midway point of the season that affected not so much the talent level but the team chemistry. The Vikings, on the other hand come into this game having struggled since starting the season with an impressive five straight wins. That was followed by a for game losing streak that coincided with an injury to one of their key producers, Fab Carella. The team has gotten some points in recent games, but still don't look like they have fully regained their form. The Vikings won the only game between these two by a 7-5 score.

Last year Paul Bennett was the dominant offensive force on the Black Aces and there wasn't much depth after that. Things have changed this year as Bennett has only scored 3 goals this season but several other players have stepped up to share the load. Jason Merk has been a team leader on and off the floor this year and leads the club in both goals and points with 9 and 15, respectively. The speedy Kevin Irwin, one of the best players in the league at controlling the ball at top speeds comes in second on the team with 11 points. Tied with him is Sean Magee, who as expected has made most of the players around him better, as he leads the team with 10 assists. Magee is also a guy with loads of playoff experience and is a proven winner, something that should help the team immensely at this time of year. Steve Janes was a mid-season pickup that helped ease the transition of players such as Mike Wood and Dale Sinclair by producing in a big way. He scored 10 points in just 5 games and looks to be a key figure in the Aces lineup now. Also keep an eye on Dennis Hintz and his wicked shot. He was reduced to a minimum of games this year due to injury but registered 4 goals in his 5 games. Though the team has lost some of it's firepower from the back end without Sinclair and Jeremy Skinner, Trent Nellis is still a formidable shooter from the blueline.

Speaking of offense from the defense, the Vikings actually finished with two d-men among the division scoring leaders. Jeff Massullo has long been considered one of the top offensive forces in the league and he once again put up some huge numbers with 19 points in just 11 games. The big surprise on the season however has to be Bob Haddon, who is known more for his defensive capabilities, but had a breakout year with 17 points and a team leading 15 assists. Up front the big man for the Vikings is Fab Carella. It is no coincidence that the team struggled badly when he missed a month with a broken thumb. His 13 goals are head and shoulders above anybody else on the team. He has a nose for the net and a great release and a key point of coverage for the Aces. Having said that, there are a variety of good scorers to watch out for. The Lyons brothers, Chad and Brent, play extremely well with one another  and play a style of game using speed and creating turnovers in the other end. As for the other Vikings forwards, well they are a beefy group to say the least. Carlo Bolognese, Darren Palmieri and Angello Marinelli all have size and strength on their side and now how to use it. Edge: Vikings

The Vikings, somewhat surprisingly, gave up one of the higher goal totals in the division this season. The 53 goals allowed was a fair bit more than the 41 the other five playoff teams averaged out to. However, individually the Vikings have a bunch of players that are solid in their own end. The defensive corps of Massullo and Haddon along with Al Yip and Claudio Nonis were in tact most of the season with each of those players logging at least 10 games. That seems to be a trademark of Mario Bolognese lead teams; fewer defensemen but ones that come out every game, leading to partners that know how to play well together.

The Black Aces do it by committee and that trend will have to continue for them to be successful. Trent Nellis is one of the league's premier crease-clearers. Colin Ross and Steve Aspiri may not be household names but they are both steady influences in the Black Aces' defensive zone. Sean Kobierski also hasn't got much press in his first season with the team but he has been a defensive specialist. Travis Mitchell also provides good two-play as he has for the last couple of seasons. The Black Aces have always been able to keep the opposition goal total low relative to their place in the standings and this year was no exception. Edge: Black Aces

John Rubino, like the rest of the players on his Vikings team, had a great start to the season and found himself among the league leaders in several goaltending categories, only to stumble a bit in the second half. Although his record of 7-3-1 is still strong, his average and save percentage dropped sharply. However, there is no question that this year has still seen him improve as a goaltender over his previous campaigns and if he can regain his form from the first half of the season the Vikings will be in good shape in this playoff run.

Corey Albino has been a league fixture for a few seasons now and he continues to be able to get the job done. He got his team into the post season once again and possibly set some kind of record when he also backstopped the Sharks in a playoff-clinching victory on the same day as a last minute emergency replacement, thus getting two teams into the postseason in the same league, on the same day. He is positionally sound and makes you make a perfect shot. His .861 save percentage was second in the division behind only Gurn Sumal among goalies with a minimum of four games played. Edge: Black Aces

This is definitely a tough one to call. It's a tale of two seasons for each of these clubs with the Vikings having a strong first half and the Black Aces a good second half. Conventional wisdom would be to take the team that is playing well now, but one can't help but think the Vikings swoon was caused by the loss of their top goal scorer whose return marked the end of the team's losing streak. There is no question these teams match up extremely well and feature similar levels of depth at forward and defense and even eerily similar special teams numbers. There is no question in my mind that this will go to a third game and be a toss-up from there. Edge: None








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