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The Riz Report
Week 8

The cold and flu season got the better of me last week (again!), and I didn’t have the opportunity to finish all of the previews for Week 7. My sincerest apologies to the Rage, Crooks, Devils, Ghostriders, Thrashers and Chiefs for missing you guys! But after watching last week’s games, I don’t think any of those teams needed a preview. All three games were exciting to watch and had some spectacular goaltending! Last week was a goalie weekend as 4 of the 5 games showcased at least one spectacular goalie performance. No bias here of course ;)

B Division

Both teams are coming off winning weekends and are setting their sights on the battle for second place in the B Division; all due respect to the Devils, of course. The Warhawks are in the driver's seat with a 2 point cushion on the Ghostriders in this crucial 4 point game. Although this will be the first match-up between these two teams this season, the Warhawks have plenty of faces in their roster familiar with the red and whites of the ‘Riders and after being bounced from the playoffs last season, I am sure both teams are looking to prove something going into this one. Shane Ram has compiled a spectacular season thus far, and currently leads the league in a number of categories including shutouts, GAA and Save %. The Warhawks have been the best defensive team in the league this season and will be a handful for the struggling Ghostriders.

The Ghostriders exploded with 5 goals last week in a winning effort. This production tied their previous high of the season, albeit in a winning cause. Despite the win last week, the team is still struggling to sport a full lineup and only had 8 players and 1 goalie for the game. This goes towards the old adage, “it doesn’t matter how many players are suiting for the game as long as they are the right ones”, but it is a slippery slope for sure. The Ghostriders will definitely not get away with sporting an 8 man roster vs. the Warhawks this week. With that being sad, I can tell you, the fans, that a number of the Ghostriders will not be in attendance this week due to personal and Halloween reasons.

This is a huge game for both teams. Statements can be made through wins for either side, but I think this game will be decided on the rosters. And history tells us the Hawks just have more players show up for games.

A/B Crossover

The first crossover game of Week 8 sees the Devils and Crooks face off in a very important game for both teams with respect to their seeding in their respective divisions. The Devils must win the game in order to keep pace with the Ghostriders, Panthers and Warhawks for second place in the B Division and a playoff berth, while the Crooks are eyeing the second place Jaguars in the A Division; lagging only 1 point behind. This game is far more important for the Crooks, however, as the A teams will likely need to collect all the available points from the crossover games to stay in contention for the three playoff spots. However, if the Devils, can steal a point or two, that will set them up nicely in the B div race.

The Devils should be welcoming back their star goalie as the absence of Gurmukh Virdi was noticeable last week. Gurmukh has posted impressive numbers thus far, and I for one am curious to see how he fares against the stiffer A Division competition. The Devils play an up-tempo game involving a lot of rushing offence and will give the speedsters on the Crooks a good run, but they will need to be more responsible defensively. Specifically, the forwards will be relied upon to both back check and fore check if the Devils stand a chance this game.

The Crooks played a very fast and entertaining game last week and it was vintage Crooks. Led by Jason Sidhu in goal, this collection of speedy players buzz around the floor and give opposing defencemen fits! The talent on this roster is phenomenal, led by Nathan Pangalia and the familiarity between the players on the team is clearly evident.

I don’t suppose the Crooks will drop this game after being winless in their last two. They’re not that kind of team. The real questions during this game will be 1) Will there be a mercy?, and 2) Will Sidhu get what we are not supposed to talk about?

A Division

The second of the back-to-back Surrey match-ups of the week, sees the A Division leading Thrashers face off against the basement dwelling Giants in a game that has playoff implications for both teams already in this young season. The Thrashers need the 2 points in order to keep the Jaguars at bay who are nipping at the Thrashers' heels being only 1 point behind them. The Giants on the other hand are trying to keep their playoff hopes alive.

The Thrashers are having a typical Thrasher-like season again this year, sitting atop the A Division. This team has some excellent stats as they sit second in the NWBHL is both goals for and against. Offensively this team is being led by Roy Cabrita, while Dove and Fish are not too far behind. Both players are having typical years. Remember when I said that they were getting old and such? On the back end, the Twin Towers, Jeff Heer and Jay Dove, are imposing oppositions like they usually do, and having Rick Baker between the pipes doesn’t hurt at all either. This team is a force to be reckoned with.

The Giants are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They cannot afford another slide and must pull together a string of wins. If you look at their stats you will see that they have won 2 out of their last three games. Not too shabby. But if you look closer, you will notice that both wins were in crossovers and also, those are the only 2 wins the Giants have! The Giants must start getting “W’s” against A division opponents if they plan to stick around for the post season.

I always want to lean towards the Giants in a hope that they can still pull this season out of the garbage heap. But like the old adage goes, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably will not win hockey games.

A/B Crossover

Another crossover game this week, but not your usual kind. This one has the B Division leaders, the Rage vs. the Jaguars who are eyeing the top spot in the A Division themselves. This one has all the marking of an upset in the making, if you count an A Division team losing to a B Division team an upset.

The Rage are leading the league in points thus far and are really beginning to gel as a team. Cliff Stayner is playing superb and the Yueh-Gi-Flo line is clicking! If there is any one team that can give the A Division teams a run for their money it will have to be the Rage. Floyd Jewel is having a monster season and is making a serious run for the B Division MVP this season. Well I guess him and Cliff both. The Rage have a good mix of defensive prowess and offensive firepower. The only thing that can slow them down these days, it seems, is a hot goalie, as evident last week when they only squeaked out a win in a decidedly one sided affair.

The Jaguars are looking for the easy 2 crossover points this game in order to keep pace with the A Division leading Thrashers. This should not be a problem as the veteran laden Jaguars will not make the mistake of taking the Rage too lightly. The Lafortune brothers should be a handful themselves, let alone adding guys like Brendan Ham into the mix. The Jaguars will have to deal with the potent Rage offense and here is the only question of the game; Who will start between the pipes for the Jaguars? Dean Salsnek has been stellar in the two games that he has played and it seems like he may be the Jaguars main man moving forward.

This has been a really interesting preview to write. As you can see, I feel both teams have a good chance of winning this game, and I think it will show on the floor. For that reason I am naming this game the “NWBHL Game of the WEEK”. I actually cannot tell you who will win this one but I do wish I could be there to watch it!

B Division

Two of the newer teams in the league will play the last game of the week and it should be a rather pedestrian game IMO. The Panthers are still a big surprise to me as they are tied for second place in the B Division and will be looking to create a larger gap between themselves and the struggling Ghostriders.

I was not sure what we're going to see from the Panthers at the outset of the season, but they have dipped into the pool of free agents and picked up some key players to help ensure they do not fizzle out as the season progresses. Scott Wilshire is doing all he can to keep the team afloat, but the Panthers need others on the roster to step up production if they want to keep pace with the Rage and Warhawks, whose necks they are breathing down at the moment. Dave Sherwin is settling in well after 6 games under his belt, so I can only assume that this team will get better defensively as the season progresses.

The Mercenaries are tied for last place in scoring in the NWBHL thus far. They have the same issue as the Panthers, but where the Panthers are finding a way to score by committee, the Mercenaries are rarely scoring at all. The Mercenaries have only scored 5 or more goals once this season and that was against a backup goalie, who regularly plays out. They need to devise a game plan that is more than “drop-in hockey” like. The veteran pick-ups on this team have to lead by example. Although I don’t realistically expect them to score a bushel load of goals or anything, I do expect they will set the tone of future games through leading by example. No one can accuse these guys of playing with no heart.

If the Mercenaries were to play the Chiefs all season they would be undefeated. Unfortunately, for the Mercenaries, this game will be against a very hungry Panthers who will be looking to make a dent in to the Rage’s position as top in the B Division.

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