How Each Team Can Win The Division

by Steven Force

The Thorne Cup Playoffs begin this week, and each of the six Western Division teams are dreaming of long playoff runs, concluding at the Thorne Cup Finals in El Paso next month.  Here’s how each team can make that dream a reality.

Long Beach Bombers

The Bombers are the top team in the Western Division, and home ice matters a lot to the Bombers.  Their home record is similar to the elite teams in the WSHL.  It’s the mediocre record on the road that slowed down Long Beach this season, and kept them from clinching the regular season division title until the final weekend of play.  Good news, however, is that they won’t have to travel in the playoffs until a possible trip to the Thorne Cup Finals.  

The top teams in the playoffs are typically ones with older rosters.  The Bombers have the most 20-year-olds on their roster among the six Western Division teams.  They have 15 players who are going for one last chance at the Thorne Cup.

Ontario Avalanche

A hot goaltender can change a series, especially a best-of-three series.  Ontario has a goalie who can do just that in Filip Subrt.  After missing about a month earlier this season, Subrt had a good showing in his first few games back in action, going 2-2-0 with a 3.01 GAA and a 0.931 SV%. 

Ontario is a team with a very good top line, headlined by Jesse Zaharichuk and William Ma.  However, they don’t have the same amount of secondary scoring as a team like Long Beach.  So a deep playoff run will need hot goaltending mixed with the offensive firepower they do have.

Fresno Monsters

The Monsters have one of the most dynamic top lines in the entire league.  Daylon Mannon and Cody Key are two of the top scorers in the WSHL, and can take over a game offensively.  If those two can get hot in the playoffs, the Monsters have a chance at representing the division in El Paso in April.  

Fresno has been playing pretty well against some of the division’s top teams this season.  During a 10-game winning streak in February/March, the Monsters swept the Bombers and took two-of-three against Ontario.  In order to get to the Thorne Cup Finals, the Monsters will likely have to defeat both Long Beach and Ontario, so their recent play against those division rivals could give 

the Monsters some extra confidence in a playoff series.

Valencia Flyers

The Flyers overhauled their roster at the trade deadline last month, but they still have some dangerous offensive players on their roster.  The two keys to a Flyers playoff run will be the production of defenseman Daniel Klinecky and forward Dylan San Agustin.  Both are right around a point-a-game production, but will need to ramp it up in the postseason.  

Valencia has the fewest number of 20-year-olds on their roster, with only three.  However, there are multiple players who have been in the Thorne Cup Playoffs before, including on last year’s Thorne Cup Finals team, so that experience could be beneficial to the Flyers this year.

Phoenix Knights

When a team starts 0-13-2, it’s tough to climb back to a respectable record by the end of the season.  Phoenix did just that.  The Knights went 23-10-0 after November 1st, and cemented their spot in the five-seed going into the playoffs.  Throughout the season, Phoenix has shown the ability to compete with and defeat almost every team in the division, with the exception of Long Beach. 

If the Knights are to make a deep playoff run, it’ll be because of production from their top scorers.  They’ll be relying on production from Anthony Masanotti, Michael Caravella and Arunas Bermejo, who all have more than 50 points this season. 

San Diego Sabers

It’ll be an uphill battle for the Sabers to make a deep run, but they have a few positive signs heading into the postseason.  When given the opportunity, the Sabers know how to strike.  Their power play is just outside the top-10 in the league, and is when San Diego is most dangerous offensively.    

A playoff run is dependent on how much scoring from the blue-line the Sabers get in the postseason.  Their top scorers are all defensemen, and are a reason why the power play numbers are high, with San Diego filling up their power play unit with those defensemen.  

I’ll be making my weekly playoff predictions on Twitter, @Steven_Force_.  Who do you think will make it out of the Western Division?

Steven Force is the Western Division Correspondent.  You can find him on Twitter @Steven_Force_.