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Clarington Wins Draft Lottery

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2022 at 10:16 am

The Clarington Coyotes, who won just 13 games this season en route to the league’s worst record, have won the draft lottery and will have the first overall selection in the 2022 Rookie Draft — a welcome infusion of talent heading into the expansion team’s sophomore season.

The Winnipeg Falcons were the big risers in the lottery, moving up from fifth to second overall. The Denver Spurs will pick third.

Charleston and Adirondack to Meet in Final

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2022 at 8:25 am

And then there were two. With a gutsy come-from-behind win in game 6 against Baltimore, the Charleston Chiefs took the Plante title and will face the Adirondack Aces in the Atkinson Cup Final.

Adirondack Aces (57-20-5) vs. Charleston Chiefs (43-30-9)

Both teams got first-round byes, but their roads to this point have been anything but easy. For Adirondack, the GWMHL’s top regular season team, that meant slogging through a tough seven-game series against Farmington, then another against Vancouver that ended with a last-minute comeback and an overtime winner. Likewise, it took the Chiefs seven to get through battle-hardened Salem. Charleston went on to get a timely road win in game 5 against the Crab, then a big comeback victory of their own to take the series in game 6.

The Aces and Chiefs met just twice during the regular season, and the Aces won both in a pair of close games. Adirondack would seem to have the advantage in most categories against Charleston — they had a 100-point player in Johnny Gaudreau, the league’s best defensive forward in Patrice Bergeron, and the league’s most electrifying rookie in Kirill Kaprizov. Semyon Varlamov was also one of the league’s most consistent starters all season long.

The Chiefs don’t have all of that. Kevin Lankinen was passable during the regular season but sports a terrible .864 save percentage in the playoffs, compared to Varlamov’s sparkling .923. (The Chiefs have deployed secret weapon Anthony Stolarz once in each round so far to good effect, however.) On paper, their top forwards — Dominik Kubalik, William Nylander, Brayden Point, Nicklas Backstrom — are good, but a tier below Adirondack’s formidable top line. To be fair, they’re outperforming Adirondack’s stars on the scoresheet these playoffs, but the Aces’ games have been much tighter defensively overall. Adirondack has a strong edge on the powerplay (20.4% to 13.8%) and penalty kill (89.1% to 77.5%).

Yet the Chiefs have been defying expectations all year. No one expected them to finish second in their conference, and they held the conference lead for a good while before being passed by El Dorado. They also have Adam Fox, who’s tied for the team points lead — and therefore the lead among skaters in this series — with 18 in 13 games.

Both teams have won titles but not as their current incarnations — the Aces as the St. Louis Blues and the Chiefs as the Saratoga Blades — but their most recent wins were in 2000 and 1995, respectively, so whoever wins, it’ll be a new face lifting the cup. It should be a great series.

Playoff Preview: Conference Finals

In Uncategorized on June 8, 2022 at 12:01 pm

And then there were four. Adirondack, Baltimore, Charleston and Vancouver are the only teams left after two rounds of tightly contested playoff hockey. Here’s a look at ahead at the two remaining series.

Plante Final: #2 Charleston Chiefs (43-30-9) vs. #4 Baltimore Crab (42-35-5)

The Baltimore Crab pulled off the biggest upset of the playoffs when they ousted the Plante’s top seed, El Dorado, in six games. The Charleston Chiefs, meanwhile, had their hands full with the playoff-tested Salem Sabercats, although they pulled out a game 7 victory in the end. Charleston won the regular season series between these two teams 4-2-0, including two wins on Baltimore’s turf.

The series will feature a clash of young blueline titans in the Chiefs’ Adam Fox and the Crab’s Cale Makar, which should add some intrigue, and we’re bound to see lots of goals as neither Baltimore’s Philipp Grubauer (13GP, .888) nor Charleston’s Kevin Lankinen (6GP, .874) have been especially strong this postseason. And while Charleston holds home-ice advantage, where the Crab have an edge is up front: Pavel Buchnevich (13GP, 11 goals, 25 points) and Sidney Crosby (13GP, 13 goals, 23 points) were dominant in the previous two rounds, far eclipsing the postseason production of any Chief.

Sawchuck Final: #1 Adirondack Aces (57-20-5) vs. #3 Vancouver Night Train (53-23-6)

To no one’s surprise, Adirondack advanced, although it took a Chris Kreider overtime goal in game 7 against Farmington to get it done. With 57 regular season wins, the Aces were the toast of the GWMHL this year and anything less than a cup final appearance would be a disappointment. Yet the Night Train, who somewhat miraculously got past a strong West Virginia team in the second round, make a pretty worthy opponent. For one thing, Vancouver took the season series 5-1-0, although three of those wins came against the Aces’ backup goalie. For another, these teams’ starters have similar postseason stats so far, with Adirondack’s Semyon Varlamov (7GP, .913) only slightly ahead of Vancouver’s Mike Smith (13GP, .912).

The top Night Train forwards have mostly been getting the job done, with Connor Brown leading the way with 9 goals and 15 points in 13 games, although secondary scoring — especially from Mat Barzal (2 goals and 6 points in 13 games) — has been an issue. On Adirondack’s side, Patrice Bergeron is without a doubt one of the toughest opponents to face in a playoff series, and is scoring at a point-per-game clip so far. Surprisingly, Kirill Kaprizov is off to a quiet start, at least compared to his regular season numbers, with 2 goals in 7 games. If he heats up, the Aces will be trouble.

Playoff Preview: Sawchuk Semifinals

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2022 at 11:48 am

#1 Adirondack Aces (57-20-5) vs. #4 Farmington Fighting Saints (50-23-9)

Adirondack had the league’s best record, the league’s best rookie, and one of the league’s most consistent starting goalies. Slam dunk against the fourth seed? Not so fast. Farmington, which won its opening round series against Ice Harbor in 7, still had 50 wins and while the Aces took the season series 4-2-1, only one game was won by more than a goal. Even on special teams, Adirondack and Farmington had nearly identical regular season numbers.

The Fighting Saints are a good bit more playoff-tested, however, as the Aces haven’t made it out of the conference semifinals since 2002. Can wunderkind Kirill Kaprizov, who scored 57 goals in his freshman season, stay hot in his first playoff action? With Patrice Bergeron, Johnny Gaudreau and Chris Kreider, the Aces can probably compensate if he can’t. The Saints can score too — they had three forwards with more than 40 goals, and JT Miller and Mikko Rantanen each scored 6 in the Ice Harbor series. But the Fighting Saints also gave up a ton of goals in that series — 5.9 per game! — and platooned Robin Lehner, Ilya Samsonov and Pekka Rinne to subpar effect. If Semyon Varlamov can put up a solid performance for Adirondack, that may be the difference.

#2 West Virginia River Rats (54-23-5) vs. #3 Vancouver Night Train (53-23-6)

Just one point separated these two teams in the standings, so fortunes could very easily have been reversed. That being said, the Night Train struggled with sixth seed San Jose in the opening round, needing overtime in game 7 to move on and failing to win a single game on the road. That will obviously be a problem now that their opponent has home-ice advantage.

More cause for concern if you’re a Night Train fan: West Virginia won the season series quite handily, 4-1-1, although most of the games were at least close. The River Rats have better high-end talent (Leon Draisaitl led all regular season scorers and Jakob Chychrun and Dougie Hamilton put up 90 and 85 points, respectively) but the Night Train’s top line of Connor Brown, Elias Lindholm and Mark Stone all had strong opening rounds, and the Night Train have the special teams edge too, scoring at an insane 40.9% clip on the powerplay against the Hosers. Oh, and one thing the Night Train didn’t have when it was losing games to the Rats early in the season was deadline acquisition Mike Smith, who played to a .921 save percentage in round one. That could make things interesting.

Playoff Preview: Plante Semifinals

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2022 at 2:38 pm

#1 El Dorado Lynx (44-29-9) vs. #4 Baltimore Crab (42-35-5)

For a time, it looked like the defending champs would surrender the top seed to Charleston, but the Lynx reclaimed the spot down the stretch despite a slightly underwhelming season by Alex Ovechkin (33 goals, 54 points in 66 games). That they were able to do so is largely thanks to a 104-point season by Ryan O’Reilly and a career year from Jeff Petry (28 goals, 95 points in 82 games). The Lynx are, however, facing a looming change in goal, as Tuukka Rask and Carey Price fade. Rask was the better of the two in what may have been his swan song, posting a .910 save percentage, but he’s only eligible to play in four games this round, meaning the Lynx will have to hope Price steps up if the series drags on.

And the Crab have the tools to do just that. They edged the Lynx in the season series, going 3-2-1, and are coming off a strong showing in the opening round against Pittsburgh, where they got clutch performances from Sidney Crosby (8 goals, 13 points) and Pavel Buchnevich (6 goals, 13 points). Their high-octane D hasn’t even gotten into gear yet, but if Cale Makar starts lighting it up, El Dorado will have its hands full. Like the Lynx, the question mark is between the pipes. Philippe Grubauer had a strong regular season, but could only muster a .900 save percentage against the Hornets. This series could see a lot of goals.

#2 Charleston Chiefs (43-30-9) vs. #3 Salem Sabercats (40-31-11)

The Chiefs were something of a surprise this season, as they entered the season with questions about the team’s depth and goaltending. But they got big years from Dominik Kubalik (36 goals, 91 points), three more Chiefs put up 30 or more goals, and Adam Fox emerged as a superstar with 83 points in 81 games. The season series finished at a 3-3-0 deadlock and was high-scoring — with Kevin Lankinen (.900 in 43 games) starting for Charleston, that’s how they’ve had to win games.

They’ll need Lankinen to find a new level against Salem, who are the league’s most battle-hardened group even though the team isn’t the league powerhouse it once was. The Sabercats were the only team whose first round series didn’t go the distance, although — and all due respect to the expansion Hershey Bears here — they were up against a fairly anemic offense. Marc-Andre Fleury continued his excellent play (.940 in 5 playoff starts) and gives Salem a major advantage in this series. It’ll be close, but Charleston definitely has its work cut out for it, despite having home-ice advantage.

Updating the Record Books After a Remarkable Season

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2022 at 9:55 am

It was a year of firsts in the GWMHL, with two new teams and a new playoff format, but it also saw many remarkable personal and team achievements.

Sidney Crosby is now 6th in career points with 1,286, just ahead of Alex Ovechkin‘s 1,280. It should be fun to see these two duel it out in the late stages of their careers. Crosby also climbed to 3rd place in assists (811), although he has a long way to go to challenge Joe Thornton’s 1,144. Claude Giroux (672) and Anze Kopitar (666) both entered the top 10 in assists this season. Likewise, Patrick Kane broke into the top 10 in career goals with 486 and will almost certainly hit the 500-goal milestone next season.

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Playoff Preview: Sawchuk Quarterfinals

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2022 at 1:35 pm

The Sawchuk Conference quarterfinals have the makings of a meat grinder. While teams vie for the pleasure of facing Adirondack or West Virginia in the semis, even the first round will see some of the league’s better teams in action. Here’s what to look forward to:

Vancouver Night Train (53-23-6) vs. San Jose (36-38-8)

On paper, it doesn’t look good for San Jose. The Night Train finished with the league’s third best record and ended the season on a roll. They boasted the top powerplay (23.8%) and second best PK (87.1%). Only one team scored more goals and they were tied for the fewest goals allowed. Their dominant top line featured the league’s goal-scoring leader (Connor Brown with 70) and the league’s assist leader (Mark Stone with 80). Their defense had three guys over 50 points and one at 49, and deadline acquisition Mike Smith found a groove after a shaky start, posting 4 shutouts in 24 starts with his new team.

So it’ll be an uphill battle for the Hosers as they make their first playoff appearance in over two decades. But they too have high-end scorers in John Tavares and Mitch Marner, who each had 84 points, and a deep defense of their own, headlined by Cam Fowler (17 goals in 82 games) and two-way rock Charlie McAvoy (46 points in 76 games). Most critically, Vancouver won the season series only narrowly (3-2-1) with the results going down home/away lines — the Night Train managed just a road tie against the Hosers, and that could be an advantage for the lower seed in a 2-3-2 playoff format. There’s also the huge X factor of Igor Shesterkin. The young San Jose netminder posted poor numbers (3.47, .896 in 38 games) but has the ability to be so much better. If he can bring his game up to the level of his potential, he could steal a couple — and a couple is all it takes in a tough playoff series.

Farmington (50-23-9) vs. Ice Harbor (45-30-7)

This could be the most entertaining series of the four quarterfinals. The teams match up so well: each has high-end forward depth, 60-point defensemen to run the offense, and big question marks in goal. Ice Harbor scored more goals than any other team during the regular season and allowed the most goals, too. The Storm have Alex DeBrincat, who finished second in points with 122 and third in goals with 59, alongside 100-point men Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau; the Fighting Saints can counter with JT Miller (104 points) and Mikko Rantanen (102). The teams were comparable on the powerplay (Farmington 4th at 20.6%, Ice Harbor 3rd at 21.1%) but while Farmington’s PK was very good, the Storm had the league’s second worst penalty kill at 77.5%. Big edge for the Saints there.

Which brings us to goaltending, the source of much of the series intrigue. Farmington got solid performances out of Robin Lehner (28 games, 2.98, .912) and Ilya Samsonov (28 games, 3.23, .909), but Pekka Rinne was a lot less good (26 games, 3.25, .900). The problem is, due to eligibility rules, they’d have to play all three if the series were to go 7 games. And then there’s Ice Harbor. Carter Hart was a disaster this season, posting a .867 save percentage in 30 games. Jonathan Bernier (28 games, 3.93, .892) was better but not exactly good, and Linus Ullmark was decent (24 games, 3.38, .906). However, unlike Farmington, the Storm won’t have to play their worst goalie in the playoffs at all. Take Hart out of the equation and the goaltending goes from catastrophic to… passable?

We don’t have to go back far to look at the season series between these two, since all six of their games happened in the fourth quarter. Ice Harbor ended up going 3-2-1 and were undefeated on home ice (2-0-1), and — as you might expect — the teams combined for an absolute ton of goals — 56 of them in all, with the Storm scoring 7 twice and Farmington hitting the mark once. This series has barnburner written all over it.

Playoff Preview: Plante Quarterfinals

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2022 at 12:23 pm

It’s a brand-new playoff format for the GWMHL, as the field has been expanded by four total teams. The top two in each conference get a bye, so the first round will determine who moves on to face the first and second seeds. Here’s what that looks like in the Plante:

Salem Sabercats (40-31-11) vs. Hershey Bears (36-37-9)

Nobody tell the expansion Bears, miraculously seeing postseason action in their inaugural season, that they’re about to face the most successful dynasty in GWMHL history. Although the Sabercats are now two years removed from their most recent title, they still have a strong, balanced team led by veterans Anze Kopitar, Patrick Kane and David Perron, who all posted more than 80 points this season.

Yet, against the odds, Hershey actually won the season series 3-2-1, so maybe Salem’s path to the second round won’t be so easy after all. The Bears tied with Vancouver for fewest goals allowed, had the league’s best penalty kill (87.3%), and blocked more shots than any team in league history (379). They won’t score a ton (team points leader Carter Verhaeghe had 65; the next highest forward was Calle Jarnkrok with just 46), but they’ve been getting good goaltending from Chris Driedger, who will likely split games with Cal Petersen, and should be a worthy adversary. At the other end, Salem got a great season out of Marc-Andre Fleury (.923 save percentage in 51 games), so this series may be shaping up to be a goaltending duel.

Baltimore Crab (42-35-5) vs. Pittsburgh (38-35-9)

Lower seed Pittsburgh won the season series between these two teams pretty handily (4-2-0) and the teams seems evenly matched, which promises an exciting matchup. Baltimore has the more dangerous snipers (Sidney Crosby and Pavel Buchnevich scored 46 and 41 goals, respectively) and a monster on the back end in Cale Makar (65 points in 64 games) while the Hornets got timely if less spectacular production up and down their lineup, led by Ryan Strome (78 points), and boasts some major weapons on the blueline of their own in Quinn Hughes (74 points in 82 games) and Victor Hedman (50 points in 71 games).

There are some factors that could tilt things one way or the other, however. Baltimore needs a lot more out of its secondary scoring, as Mark Scheifele managed just 16 goals and 56 points in 82 games and Filip Forsberg potted a mere 11 goals in 57 games. The Hornets, who will be facing a strong regular season goalie in Philipp Grubauer (51 games, 2.73, .914, 6 shutouts), face a goaltending dilemma. Their nominal starter, Anton Khudobin, was pretty bad, posting an .890 save percentage in 43 starts. Backups Petr Mrazek and Ville Husso fared better but aren’t eligible to play in all the games if the series goes long. Pittsburgh will need Khudobin to find his A game if they’re going to have a chance against the Crab’s big guns. Oh, and it would help to have Evgeni Malkin, who made just 42 regular season appearances, in the lineup too.

The Regular Season is Over!

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2022 at 6:09 pm

The 2021-22 GWMHL closed with a bang, as some last-minute jockeying will have major playoff implications.

The final order in the Plante didn’t change much from the third quarter, but El Dorado retook first from upstart Charleston. Both teams will receive a bye in the first round, but the Lynx having home ice advantage could help them go on an extended run.

Further down the standings, the expansion Hershey Bears have made it to the postseason in their first year. Are they the beneficiaries of brand-new, expanded playoff rules? Yes. Is it still a remarkable achievement that few would have predicted? Also yes.

Your Plante matchups for the first round will be:

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Playoff Races Intensify Heading Into Final Quarter

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2022 at 3:49 pm

Just 18 games remain in the 2021-22 GWMHL schedule, and the playoff races are heating up! With the rule changes that accompanied expansion last summer, the top six teams in each conference will make the playoffs, while the top two in each conference get a bye in the first round.

The third quarter saw some seismic shifts in the Plante Conference, as the Charleston Chiefs had a monster 14-6-4 quarter while rivals El Dorado (9-10-5) and Salem (10-11-3) were stuck in neutral. This allowed the Chiefs to not only leapfrog the Lynx to take first place in the conference, but put six points between them.

Further down the standings in the Plante, the Pittsburgh Hornets had a great 15-6-3 run that put them squarely in the playoff mix, and the expansion Hershey Bears skated to a nice 12-9-3 while both Parry Sound (5-15-4) and Winnipeg (5-19-0) struggled, putting the Bears in the final playoff spot by a mere point.

Not much changed near the top of the Sawchuk Conference, as the Adirondack Aces‘ 14-7-3 Q3 record kept them in first and nothing else has moved in the top four. But big changes were afoot after that, as the Hamilton Ti-Cats faded badly, going 5-17-2, while the Ice Harbor Storm surged to a 16-7-1 record that put them in the fifth spot, three points back of Vancouver and a commanding 16 ahead of San Jose. The Storm have by far the most potent offense in the league, averaging just short of five goals per game — they also allow the most goals, so every game’s an adventure. San Jose, Delta, and Hamilton will have to duke it out for the sixth and final playoff berth.

Ice Harbor’s Alex DeBrincat had a huge third quarter, with 43 points in 24 games, and teammate Jonathan Huberdeau had 36 points. Both have jumped past Leon Draisaitl for the points lead and DeBrincat becomes the first player on the season to reach 100 points, with 107. He also now leads the league in goals with 53, and is joined in the 50-goal club by Portland’s Brad Marchand (51) and the extremely unlikely Vancouver’s Connor Brown (50).

Kirill Kaprizov leads the rookie race with 70 points in 62 games, and West Virginia teammates Jakob Chychrun and Dougie Hamilton are one-two in the league for points from a defenseman with 71 and 68 respectively.

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