Photo provided by: Mark Mauno
#5 PHOENIX KNIGHTS @ #4 VALENCIA FLYERS
Best-of-three series/all games at Ice Station – Valencia, CA
GAME 1 Thursday, March 15 7:15 p.m.
GAME 2 Friday, March 25 7:15 p.m.
GAME 3* Saturday, March 26 8:45 p.m.
Valencia 5-3-1, 11 points
Phoenix 4-5-0, 8 points
September 29 Valencia 9 @ Phoenix 2
September 30 Valencia 4 @ Phoenix 1
October 1 Valencia 4 @ Phoenix 0
January 11 Phoenix 0 @ Valencia 5
January 12 Phoenix 5 @ Valencia 9
January 13 Phoenix 5 @ Valencia 3
February 9 Valencia 2 @ Phoenix 5
February 10 Valencia 3 @ Phoenix 5
February 11 Valencia 4 @ Phoenix 5 (OT)
Valencia – Valencia is used to skipping past the first round, as it secured a bye in each of the previous three seasons. The Flyers are coming off a Thorne Cup semifinal loss last season to Idaho. They actually lost to Long Beach in the Western Division finals but qualified for the tournament as the wild card team. Valencia has made it to the division finals on four separate occasions over the last six seasons but has had its season end there each time.
Phoenix – The Knights have missed out on the playoffs twice in the last four years, including last season when they finished in seventh place in the then-eight-team Western Division. Phoenix hasn't had much success in the postseason other than 2013-14, when they won the Mountain Division and made it all the way to the Thorne Cup semifinal, falling to eventual champion El Paso. While the Knights franchise hasn't done much in the postseason, the Phoenix Polar Bears' seven Thorne Cup titles from 2001-10 are the most in WSHL history.
Head coach: Josh Berge
25-22-4, 4th place – Western Division
242 GF / 215 GA
VALENCIA SPECIAL TEAMS
POWER PLAY 54/221 (24.4%, 8th in WSHL)
PENALTY KILL 139/289 (73.5%, 18th in WSHL – 9 SHG)
F Dylan San Augustin (19-22-41), F Tristan Warr (15-16-31), F Jacob Ulestig (14-15-29), F Alex Yuk (1-6-7 in 11 GP), D Daniel Klinecky (20-31-51), G Zachary Everett (8-4-0/3.56/.896), G Mack Willy (1-7-1/4.35/.895)
Head coach: Colten St. Clair
23-26-2, 5th place– Western Division
171 GF / 240 GA
PHOENIX SPECIAL TEAMS
POWER PLAY 37/235 (15.7%, 20th in WSHL)
PENALTY KILL 170/215 (79.1%, 13th in WSHL – 11 SHG)
F Anthony Masanotti (40-16-56, most single-season goals in franchise history), F Michael Caravella (13-38-51), F Andrius Bermejo (15-35-50), F Nolan Twerdoclib (11-21-32), F Ian McCollum (18-11-29), D Chase Gillaspie (2-11-13), G Rhett Bruckner (16-8-2/4.06/.889
After the first month of the regular season, who would have guessed that these teams would match up in the first round? The Knights were reeling, searching for their first win of the season while the Flyers seemed to be the only competition Long Beach had for the top spot in the Western Division. Much has changed since then, and Phoenix and Valencia are set to engage each other in the playoffs for the first time.
For these two clubs, it really is a tale of two halves of the season. After realizing it likely wouldn't be able to contend for the division crown, Valencia chose to tear down its roster and build for the future. Phoenix, on the other hand, recovered from a disastrous start to the season that saw it drop its first 15 games to show it possesses much more talent than its overall season record would indicate.
One look at the season series gives a clear representation of what happened over the last five months. Valencia dominated early, winning the first five games, but Phoenix came back strong and took the last four contests, including a 5-4 overtime thriller on February 11. If that game was any indication of what this series will be like, then WSHL fans will be in for a treat when the pucks drops on Thursday evening.
The Knights have not had playoff success recently, failing to win a postseason series in each of the last four seasons. Overall, Phoenix has either missed out on the playoffs or fell in the first round in five of its six years of existence. Led by 40-goal scorer Anthony Masanotti, the Knights are looking to flip the script this year and take down the Flyers.
Valencia's roster was littered with veteran players prior to the trade deadline, but the club did not meet its own high expectations. That resulted in a fire sale that saw long-time Flyers such as WSHL all-time leading scorer Jakob Kranabetter and four-year veteran Dawson Keay depart for other contending teams around the league.
This series features two clubs in very different situations that are still quite evenly matched. The up-and-coming Knights are a great matchup for the Flyers, who are in the early stages of a rebuild but still feature plenty of talent, including offensive-minded blueliner Daniel Klinecky. The 20-year-old collected 51 points in the regular season, putting him just outside the top five in scoring among defensemen in the league.
Heading into the series, it would be a surprise to see either team win back-to-back games. The matchup seems destined to go the full three games, and both clubs are fully capable of advancing to the Western Division semifinals. Valencia's hometown fans will give it a slight edge in a series in which neither team seems to have a clear advantage, but the Knights are hungry for playoff success and will be a tough out.
--- Jared Tennant for Harrington Sports Media
Photo provided by: Mark Mauno
#6 SAN DIEGO SABERS @ #3 FRESNO MONSTERS
Best-of-three series/all games at Gateway Ice Center – Fresno, CA
GAME 1 Friday, March 16 7:00 p.m.
GAME 2 Saturday, March 17 7:00 p.m.
GAME 3* Sunday, March 18 10:00 a.m.
Fresno 5-1-0, 10 points
San Diego 1-5-0, 2 points
October 13 Fresno 5 @ San Diego 2
October 14 Fresno 6 @ San Diego 0
October 15 Fresno 1 @ San Diego 3
February 8 San Diego 2 @ Fresno 6
February 9 San Diego 0 @ Fresno 12
February 10 San Diego 3 @ Fresno 7
PREVIOUS PLAYOFF MEETINGS
Fresno and San Diego have met in the playoffs on three separate occasions, all when the Sabers were known as the San Diego Gulls. The Monsters swept the three series, all of which were Western Division semifinals.
Fresno – The Monsters have a history of long playoff runs, but they have failed to make it to the division finals in each of the last two seasons. Prior to that, Fresno qualified for the division finals in five of six seasons, winning the division playoffs three times. The Monsters have yet to win a Thorne Cup. The closest they came was 2013-14, when they fell to Idaho in the Pacific Conference finals.
San Diego – San Diego has not won a playoff game in the last three years. Its last postseason victory came in 2014-15, when it took down Long Beach in the Western Division quarterfinals before falling to Fresno in the semis. Through seven seasons of existence, that remains the Sabers' lone playoff series win.
Head coach: Kevin Kaminski
33-17-1, 3rd place – Western Division
298 GF / 189 GA
FRESNO SPECIAL TEAMS
POWER PLAY 56/253 (22.1%, 12th in WSHL)
PENALTY KILL 254/307 (82.7%, 9th in WSHL – 33 SHG)
F Daylon Mannon (75-75-150, WSHL leading scorer), F Cody Key (53-86-139), F Deivids Tempelmanis (31-43-74), D Cory Hurtubise (12-37-49), D Logan Domogala (10-29-39), D Daniel Goodwin (12-27-39), G Max Karlenzig (13-3-0/3.51/.900)
SAN DIEGO SABERS
Head coach: Petr Kankovsky
5-42-4, 6th place – Western Division
112 GF / 312 GA
SAN DIEGO SPECIAL TEAMS
POWER PLAY 46/218 (21.1%, 13th in WSHL)
PENALTY KILL 128/178 (71.9%, 21st in WSHL – 4 SHG)
F David Grindstaff (14-16-30), F Brad Larson (8-12-20), D Karel Kankovsky (15-34-49), D Michael Kolarik (19-23-42), D Ondrej Imrich (12-24-38), D Biko Neuenschwander (7-15-22), G Zachary Hale (3-21-2/5.38/.875)
The Fresno Monsters have put together quite a second-half run. With 15 wins in their last 17 contests, including a 10-game winning streak, the Monsters would be a tough first-round draw for any team in the WSHL. The San Diego Sabers, who are more talented than their record would indicate, will have their hands full in this best-of-three series.
The Monsters have proven they are fully capable of beating any team in the league. In mid-February, they pulled off a pivotal three-game sweep of division-leading Long Beach, and they needed all three of those wins to keep themselves in contention for a first-round bye.
For all of their struggles this season, the Sabers have given every team in the division some quality games. In the second half, a talented core of blueliners headlined by Karel Kankovsky, Michael Kolarik, and Ondrej Imrich has given San Diego a fighting chance in the majority of its recent games.
"It's gonna be a battle," said Monsters Head Coach Kevin Kaminski. "I expect San Diego to throw everything at us, so we have to be focused and prepared for 60 minutes. Play our game, use our speed and physicality, and keep our composure."
Kaminski knows the Sabers' roster has talent, and he isn't planning on taking them lightly during this weekend's series.
"We just have to play very solid, defense-first hockey," Kaminski continued. "Frustrate them offensively, and when we get our chances, relax and finish."
One of Fresno's biggest advantages in the series is the fact that it has two of the league's best players in Daylon Mannon and Cody Key. Mannon, a rookie playing for his hometown team, surpassed Ogden stud Matius Spodniak in points on the final day of the regular season. The 18-year-old became the first player in league history to score 150 points in a single season.
"I don't think it was his goal to lead the league to start out the season, but once he got confidence, he kept it up for 51 games," Kaminski said. "It has been great for us to have a guy with such great offensive instincts. He owes a lot to his line mates, Key and Tempelmanis, especially Key. They knew where they were at all times and connected from day one. It was fun to watch."
Key, who just completed his best season with the Monsters, is in third place on the WSHL's all-time scoring list with a 121-198-321 career scoring line. The four-year veteran fell six points shy of tying Tomas Nemeth for second on the list.
If San Diego wants to have any chance in this series, it will need to limit Mannon and Key's production and force the Monsters to rely on their secondary scoring options. The Sabers also need to capitalize on their power-play chances. Their power-play unit produced similar results to Fresno's at an above-average 21.1%, and establishing the power play early on the series could be what San Diego needs to push the momentum in its favor.
--- Jared Tennant for Harrington Sports Media
Written By: Jon McBride and Posted on: The Ogden Mustangs News