Wenatchee, WA – The Northern Pacific Hockey League’s regular season has come and gone. After last weekend, the first round of the NPHL’s 2016 playoffs have now come and gone. Well, what’s next? With only two teams still standing, it’s time for the NPHL’s 2016 Cascade Cup Championship series! The #1 Wenatchee Wolves (3-0-0, 6 points) are set to face the #2 Bellingham Blazers (3-1-1, 7 points) for not only a season worth of bragging rights, but for the chance to be crowned the NPHL’s champion.
These two franchises have quite the history between one another. During the first round of the playoffs last season, the Blazers edged out the Wolves in a series that took a full five games to decide the victor. Then during this season, the Wolves won all eight meetings against the Blazers. But don’t be fooled, just because the Wolves captured all eight victories doesn’t mean they weren’t close games. In fact, most of the teams’ match ups down the final stretch of the season were decided by one or two goals.
As the Blazers prepare to take on the Wolves this weekend to start this series, the two-time Cascade Cup champions do know a thing or two about winning championships. In the program’s first two years, the Blazers won two straight championships. Then the team made it back to the championship series in their third year, which was last year. But the Blazers fell short of winning the cup after being beat by the West Sound Warriors.
Yes, the Blazers have made four straight Cascade Cup championship appearances, which includes this year, in the program’s first four years. There’s something to be said for that, especially when it all happens under the same head coach in Mark Collins.
But that was the last three seasons, and the present is what matters now. During the teams’ previous eight matchups, Karson DeRego, Justin Sullivan, and Sam Vizenor all shined against the Wolves. DeRego holds a team high of five points against the Wolves; but he is closely followed by Sullivan and Vizenor, who have three and two points – respectively – against the Wolves this season.
DeRego and Kevin Duncan will be two interesting players to keep an eye on during this series. DeRego led the NPHL in total points scored during the regular season, and he played well during the team’s five-game series against the Eugene Generals. As for Duncan, he may have the sweetest shot for any defenseman in the league. Duncan doesn’t just have a hard shot, but he also lays the hammer down in the defensive zone. Duncan’s veteran presence could be a huge factor for the Blazers since he has been with the team for all four seasons.
Mark Collins, the Blazers’ head coach, discussed what the Blazers will need to do to come away successful this weekend. Collins said, “for this series, we will be executing the flying V system versus the Wolves in order to disrupt them. We may only have some veterans on the team, but our depth is from the team as a whole. We may be the underdog, and that is fine. We will work hard and see how things shake out. Coach McKelvie has a quality program and we will have to be at our best. We will be doing everything different, starting from our pre-game routine to our game plan and so on.”
As for the Wolves, the team has had the best season the NPHL has ever seen, at least in terms of win percentage. The Wolves were able to skate away from the regular season with just a single loss, which came at the hands of the Generals. As previously stated, the Wolves and Blazers met last year in the playoffs and the Wolves took the Blazers to five games before losing the final game.
Well, since then, the Wolves have certainly made massive improvements. If a one-loss season doesn’t demonstrate this, then I’m not quite sure what will. One of the biggest components for the Wolves this season has been scoring by committee and the team’s two goaltenders in Bronson Moore and Max Flynn. Flynn and Moore have been two of the Wolves’ best players this season, while also being two of the three best goalies in the league.
Against the Blazers, Moore has played five of the eight games while Flynn has played three games. Moore has allowed four goals against the Blazers, while Flynn has allowed five. Both goalies have also recorded a shutout against the Blazers. Moore’s four goals allowed gives him an almost unheard of .80 goals against average while facing the Blazers.
But for the Wolves’ offense, Richie Stickle, Thomas Hendry, and Brayden Durante have all played phenomenally against the Blazers. Stickle leads the team with 12 points, which breaks down evenly to six goals and six assists. As for Hendry and Durante, both players have recorded eight points each.
Hendry has been more effective when it comes to scoring as he has found the back of the net for six of his eight points. Whereas Durante has found more success sharing the puck as he has scored five of his points from assists while playing the Blazers.
Ryan McKelvie, the Wolves’ head coach, commented on what the Wolves must do to come away successful against the Blazers. McKelvie said, “we’ve been preparing all season long for this; so, not a lot will change in terms of how we play. But, hopefully, we will be doing what we do, since we’ve done it all year and we have been working on it all season. Playing against Bellingham, we are going to want to out work them and be more disciplined. But also playing our game and sticking to our game plan will be just as important.”
This series will begin on Friday, March 25th, at 4:15 pm (PST). Then this series will continue on the following day, March 26th, at 2:30 pm (PST). These first two games will be played at the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee, Washington. Then games three and four will be held in Bellingham, Washington, at the Bellingham Sportsplex on the following weekend.
Tune in to the NPHL’s website after the conclusion of each game for a full recap!
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