*I think my favourite thing about doing media coverage for playoffs is that I have to talk about 15 less teams than I originally regularly do. When you think about that lack of subjects, you might assume that I provide more in-depth analysis than I usually do. Guess what? You're WRONG. I use playoffs as an excuse to justify my lack of effort and spend the rest of my Sunday afternoons playing CoD on https://twitch.tv/dirtydietrich. Enjoy!*
Happy Easter everybody! I hope you're all enjoying time with your families, relaxing, and staying safe indoors, because the easy part of the VGAHL season is over. All those games against bottom feeder teams are over (unless you're in the Western conference), and now teams will have to square off against the same opponent for up to seven games. The wheat has been separated from the chaff, and now the playoffs are underway.
The best sixteen teams in the VGAHL have survived the regular season, and now get ready for four grueling weeks of playoff action. We have teams who were near the top of their respective divisions/conferences all season, teams who started strong but have fizzled out, squads that were mediocre yet respectable through the entire season, and teams that made that last ditch effort to make playoffs, but now face imposing challenges.
This week marks the start of the quest for the Calder Cup, as eight teams will move four wins closer to championship glory. Will we see an inconsequential series of battles played with passion, class, and integrity? Fuck no! This is the NHL EASHL community, remember? Players will quit, GM's will get fired, teams will play dirty on and off the ice as they hope to secure a spot in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs.
With that out of the way, let's take a look at our first round match-ups, and take some Snap Shots!
Series 1: Hershey Bears (1) vs. Bridgeport Sound Tigers (4)
Hershey Bears: the Squirts finished out their season with a 7-2-1 stretch and took the top spot in the Eastern Conference by a point. The Bears had the best offense in the league, being the only team averaging over 6 goals a game (6.15). Their defense wasn't too shabby either, giving up the third least goals in the league with 145. Having two of the top six scorers in the league (Blades lead the league and was the only player to break 200 points with 205), Caps and Boog are looking like one of the favourites as the chase for the Cup begins.
Bridgeport Sound Tigers: Bridgeport wouldn't stay the fuck out of my DM's on Discord, and also wouldn't stay behind us in the playoff race, as they took the second wildcard spot with 76 points. The Sound Tigers played tremendously over the course of the past two weeks, and while they don't have any spectacular stats, they started to play their best hockey at the perfect time. This team isn't a juggernaut by any means, but they are a scrappy team full of fighters that know how to win close games.
The Verdict: while the Sound Tigers may be on a (dinner, because it's Easter) roll lately, the Bears have been one of the best teams in the league all season long. Bridgeport may get one by the Bears, but it will be a dominant performance by Hershey. Bears win 4-1.
Series 2: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (2) vs. Charlotte Checkers (3)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins: the Baby Pens held the lead in the Metropolitan division for seemingly the whole season, and finished with an impressive 48-12-0 record to secure the second spot in the Metro. Guided by Duchesne (tied for second in league scoring), WBS had the third best offense in the league (320 goals) and had the most regular season wins of any team in the league. Kapanen and Jayscott built a team with scoring prowess, but also defensive responsibility, and will have the depth to go deep in these playoffs.
Charlotte Checkers: Tommy and Grammy have built a team that has been one of my favourites to win the cup all season long, so don't let their third seed position fool you; they went 44-14-2 this season. With an offensive core boasting Frosty, MT, and Jaali, the Checkers put up the fourth most goals in the league and the second greatest average TOA (8:40), but also the lowest goals against total in the league with 141. Availability has plagued Charlotte this season, but expect their biggies to give 7/7 come playoff time.
The Verdict: this is probably the toughest one for me to call, as the Penguins have been dominant all season, but I still feel like we haven't seen the scope of what Charlotte can do with their full lineup. This is gonna be close, but I think Charlotte pulls it out. Checkers win 4-3.
Series 3: Syracuse Crunch (1) vs. Springfield Thunderbirds (4)
Syracuse Crunch: Murph and killswitch let their shit talking of Laval get out of hand and may have contributed to their fall out of first in the East. However, Syracuse still retained the top spot in the Atlantic with a 45-10-4 record. The only team with a higher ATOA than Charlotte (8:42), the Crunch were the 5th team to score above 300 goals while Murph had 84 of those. They made some great blue-line additions in Likeaboss and BigBrownShawn later in the season, and made sure that their team was well rounded as they chased the Calder Cup.
Springfield Thunderbirds: the only team to put more pucks on the net than Syracuse (1192), the Thunderbirds nearly fell out of the playoffs, but got things back on track and finished with 81 points. Springfield's shooting tendencies gave them a lot of goals (280, 7th in the league), but they have the most goals allowed of any playoff team in the East (211). CSM and Chaos are going to need to get some defensive help for Oranges, as they need to form a solid line in front of an inconsistent goaltending core if they want to make moves in these playoffs.
The Verdict: while Syracuse may not have been playing like the opposing force they were perceived as in the past weeks, they're still an excellent team and a better one than the Thunderbirds have been, even with their struggles. Crunch win 4-1.
Series 4: Laval Rocket (2) vs. Rochester Americans (3).
Laval Rocket: despite some controversy over the past few weeks, the Rocket have found themselves as the second seed in the Atlantic division, finishing with a 41-15-3 record and going 8-2-0 in the last ten games to gain home-ice advantage in this series. Laval's management team of Crocodile Dundee and Cam have constructed a team that is balanced offensively (employing Debarrd, ScottyB, and more) and defensively (supported by Tankcal, Kneelander, and co.) and looks set for a deep playoff run. (don't forget Choo-Choo-Ciulla in net, love ya Nicky).
Rochester Americans: FUCKNUTZ and Graham seemed to have the second spot locked down until a tough final week (hey schedule makers, throw some fucking variance in there), but still compiled an 84 point season. The Americans were a statistically above average team, much like their first round counterparts, but have one of the league's highest goal scorers in Overkill, with 101 of their 238 goals. The Americans also have a stellar goaltending core with Wulf and Devin, a solid duo in the pipes that will win Rochester some games.
The Verdict: as much flak as Laval gets, they're a very good team top to bottom and know how to win those important games. Rochester has a great team, but I feel like they don't have the offensive core that Laval has. Sorry FUCKNUTZ. Rocket win 4-2.
That was nice. I'm gonna go call my girlfriend and have some lunch. I'm gonna eat so many roasted potatoes.
Series 1: Utica Comets (1) vs. Tuscon Roadrunners (4)
Utica Comets: congratulations to CPenn for single handedly leading his team to the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL's best team, as the mighty Comets finished with 98 points and a 47-9-4 record. Utica's strength was in their defense, as they gave up the second fewest goals against in the league (143). They were no slouches offensively either, putting up the third highest volume of shots in the league (1072). Solid goaltending from blazed and cotachoda will pair with defensive contributions from a core lead by Hogan and support a glorious and prosperous Utica offensive core as they begin their quest for the Calder.
Tuscon Roadrunners: after violating us in the final game of the season, we saw just how effective this Roadrunners team can be. They made a strong push for that final wildcard spot in the West over the past few weeks, going 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and finishing with a 6 game winning streak. Tuscon had a team that was performing below average all season, with their goals for (217) and goals against totals (237) being quite underwhelming. However, Hamburglar and Chris have some great players in Boily, Skillz, and big_joe who are coming alive at the right time to give this team a fighting chance in the playoffs.
The Verdict: that fighting chance won't do much against a team that has been on top of the leaderboards all season long. The Roadrunners have momentum heading into the playoffs, but they won't be able to get past the walls of Utica. Comets win 4-1.
Series 2: San Diego Gulls (2) vs. Ontario Reign (3)
San Diego Gulls: the object of much controversy from the start, the Gulls had the second best offense (324 goals for) in the regular season as they finished with 91 points and the second seed in the West's only good division, the Pacific division. Trav and Ducky assembled a squad full of weapons including Smetty, Campbell, and HowRaw to handle the load offensively, while Milla and Titan backed up Ducky on their end of the ice. With a team with no glaring weaknesses, I see the Gulls giving the Comets a run for their money in this bracket.
Ontario Reign: NICE! The Ontario Reign finished with 69 points on the season, good enough for a sunglasses emoji and the third seed in the Pacific. Five and Steel made some questionable trades throughout the season, but were always in playoff contention. With an offensive core boasting antiace and popeye, and a defensive core employing marktsib and goulet, the Reign don't have any big names that pop out or any engaging statistics, but they have a balanced team that has the talent and tenacity to win some playoff games...
The Verdict: … against another team. Sorry Five, the Gulls have too much firepower to deal with, especially against a team that's relatively plain on paper. I feel like this is is kind of bold, but I'm going for it with this prediction. Get fucked. Gulls win 4-0.
Series 3: San Antonio Rampage (1) vs. Bakersfield Condors (4).
San Antonio Rampage: MLG-Owen's individual record lived up to his name this season, and helped his Rampage finish with 76 points. In the East, that wouldn't cut it (we know from experience), but in the West that's good for the top of the Central division. San Antonio are good on paper, and are the most physical team (1175 hits, only team above 1000) while also being one of the most disciplined (fourth lowest pims with 211). Motowndad, Whitetees (sorry for not getting him Rich), and C-Flowz lead an offense that is likely to grind out a few more teams as the Rampage chase the Calder.
Bakersfield Condors: Rahzki Tzatziki had his power go *poof* on Wednesday night and the Condors nearly fell out of a playoff spot. However, they held onto the first wildcard spot with 65 points and face a style clash in the first round. Bakersfield isn't a very physical team, but employ a selection of offensive weapons including Morrison, Ceasar, and Stamkos. Their goaltending tandem of Lafosh and NowYOUDoneIt have respectable stats, and could provide the performances necessary to win games against a tough first round opponent.
The Verdict: none of the stats of either team scream domination, but I feel like the physical play of the Rampage will wear the Condors down and keep them grounded. Expect the Condors to squeak a few wins out here, but not much more than that. Rampage win 4-2.
Series 4: Rockford Ice Hogs (2) vs. Iowa Wild (3).
How the fuck did either of these teams make the playoffs?
Rockford Ice Hogs: after shitting on Sportsgeek all season long, karma bit me in the ass as the Ice Hogs secured the second spot in the Central division and we walked away empty handed. Rockford finished the season with 58 points, and while they scored a respectable 255 goals, their goals against total was alarming (276, second highest among playoff teams). Krazy-try deserves a Les Cunningham nomination, scoring 160 points in 41 games and motivating an offensive core that includes Nick_X, Wr3cked, and FUQT.
Iowa Wild: the worst team in these Calder Cup playoffs, the Wild finished their season with 51 points and took the third seed in the lowly Central division. With 290 goals against, they have the worst defense in these playoffs, and were outscored by 89 goals in the regular season (eighth largest negative differential). Nightstalker and the SP alumni team in the West have the weapons to fight in these playoffs, as Lo-Max and Randy could make a difference offensively, and Pliskin might be able to steal some games in between the pipes.
The Verdict: Two teams with respectable rosters are going head to head here, but it's hard to imagine that Rockford loses this series. However, I'm a man of consistency, so I'm gonna take another chance to shit on Rockford. Enjoy it. Wild win 4-3.
Well that was a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I did a little more work than I had initially expected to, but now it's dinner time. I think I got a stuffed crust frozen pizza in my freezer that's calling my fat ass.
After two months of hard work while constructing, deconstructing, developing chemistry with, and dealing with bullshit, sixteen teams are now presented with the opportunity to win sixteen more games and secure their spot in VGAHL immortality (or, storage in the database). We've got some clear favourites, evidenced by the statistical data provided, but also the potential for some Cinderella stories in these playoffs.
Good luck to all the teams this week. It's a shame I couldn't be there with you, but I'll leave a few words of advice: stay calm. You'll run into some adversity early on, but don't let that derail you from your path. Stay on course, stay focused, and go win a Calder Cup.