Friday, June 27, 2014

2014 Conference Championships Preview and Predictions

Each team has played 400 minutes in the MLU regular season, and in some instances a little bit more, but now we are less than 36 hours away from finding out which two teams will be playing for the second MLU Championship. Only one thing is for sure heading into the games this weekend is that this year will have a completely different feel than last year.

The Eastern Conference features two teams that were here last year, and both feel confident heading into this weekend. The DC Current had to fight and claw in 2013 just to make it to a winner-take-all game to end the regular season and make it to the playoffs, before eventually losing to Boston. This year they have controlled the Eastern Conference with an impressive 9-1 record, using both their high-flying offense and layout first oriented defense to carry them thus far. On the opposite side of the field the Boston Whitecaps 2013 campaign had dynasty written all over it. When the season was said and done they were 12-0 and MLU Champions, no squad had even came close to knocking off the champs that had a +59 point differential in the regular season, but my how things have changed. This season Boston finished at a disappointing 5-5 needing a little help from DC to even put them in this game. However this team has been in this game before and knows how to win a championship.

The Western Conference will showcase two teams that will be making their playoff debuts this weekend in the Portland Stags and Vancouver Nighthawks. Coming into this season both teams had the opportunity to make heavy strides in the Western Conference and even compete for the championship with both San Francisco and Seattle losing some key players on their clubs. In fact coming into this year, the Nighthawks who were 3-7 the previous season, were heavy preseason favorites to be the top team in the West. The season then started poorly for Vancouver starting 2-4, but have now strung together four straight wins and have full momentum heading into this game. Their opponent, the Portland Stags, had a entire reversal from their previous season when they went a dismal 1-9. They are now heading into the Western Conference Championship with home-field advantage and an 8-2 record, going from last to first in the matter of months.

2014 Record: 9-1                                                                                                         2014 Record: 5-5
Home Record: 5-0                                                                                                      Away Record: 1-4

Star Players:                                                                                                                       Star Players:
Alan Kolick: 44Pts, 14G, 30A, 94.6%, 6Ds                                                            Jeff Graham: 47Pts, 27G, 20A, 96.8%, 4Ds
Markham Shofner: 41Pts, 11G, 30A, 85.6%, 5Ds                                            Brandon Malechek: 43Pts, 17G, 26A, 89.8% 1D
Peter Prial: 39Pts, 23G, 16A, 93.0%, 9Ds                                                            Josh Markette: 42Pts, 14G, 28A, 91.0%, 5Ds
Jeff Wodatch: 34Pts, 22G, 12A, 97.4%, 2Ds                                                        Jack Hatchett: 17Pts, 11G, 6A, 88.2%, 17Ds
Calvin Oung: 13Pts, 6G, 7A, 93.4%, 9Ds                                                                  Jim Foster: 30Pts, 19G, 11A, 95.8%, 3Ds

Head-to-Head Record: DC Current lead 2-1
Week 2: DC defeated Boston 18-17
Week 3: Boston defeated DC 17-12
Week 9: DC defeated Boston 21-16

The Lowdown:
Interesting match-up between the DC Current and the Boston Whitecaps for the Eastern Conference Championship. In the three games that they played this season, one was controlled by Boston, one was controlled by DC, and one was an exceptional game that went back and forth that would eventually be the Whitecaps first loss in franchise history. With that all being said, the combined score of all three games is DC 51, Boston 50; extremely close and very difficult to predict. Going into this game the Current are riding a seven game winning streak (3 NY, 3 PHI, 1 BOS) and have outscored opponents 165-122 in the process of that streak. Boston on the other hand is 1-2 over their last three outings and needed the Spinners to lose in the final week of the regular season to make it to this championship. In their games against each other this season Peter Prial (DC) and Jeff Graham (Boston) have been the workforce for their respective teams, minus the Week 3 game where both players missed the match-up. Prial, who is still undefeated in every game he has played in the MLU, earned 12 points total in both games, while Graham had 11 points. For those that do not know, Peter Prial played for the Whitecaps last season, becoming an MLU Champion, and also held the Goals Scored in a Single Season title with 35, before Brendan Wong recorded an incredible 48. Now Prial plays for DC and has made a huge impact as seen in the stats above, creating a rivalry between both of these teams. This will be the eighth match-up where the Current play the Whitecaps and it has the potential for an incredible game. Oh also do not forget that both of these teams have MVP candidates in Alan Kolick and Josh Markette in just another reason to make sure you see this game. Something has to give for one of these teams, but expect one of the most entertaining games of the entire season.

My Pick: DC over Boston 22-20

2014 Record: 8-2                                                                                                         2014 Record: 6-4
Home Record: 4-1                                                                                                      Away Record: 2-3

Star Players:                                                                                                                       Star Players:
Cody Bjorklund: 41Pts, 26G, 15A, 88.9%, 5Ds                                                  Brendan Wong: 64Pts, 48G, 16A, 88.0%, 4Ds
Eli Friedman: 39Pts, 19G, 20A, 95.9%, 5Ds                                                      Morgan Hibbert: 26Pts, 7G, 19A, 87.8%, 20Ds
Jeremy Norden: 30Pts, 2G, 28A, 93.3%, 3Ds                                                   Gagandeep Chatha: 31Pts, 23G, 8A, 86.8%, 1D
Topher Davis: 19Pts, 6G, 13A, 93.5%, 14Ds                                                           Aaron Loach: 29Pts, 9G, 20A, 89.7%, 2Ds
Mark Burton: 32Pts, 18G, 14A, 88.5%, 2Ds                                                        Kevin Underhill: 28Pts, 6G, 22A, 92.5%, 5Ds

Head-to-Head Record: Portland Stags lead 2-1
Week 1: Portland defeated Vancouver 23-21
Week 7: Portland defeated Vancouver 19-16
Week 10: Vancouver defeated Portland 20-18

The Lowdown:
At the end of last year's season it would have been pretty hard to imagine that the two teams who failed to make the playoffs would wind up in the Western Conference Championship the next year. Despite who wins, both teams should consider the 2014 campaign a success, but lets face it, both teams want to win. When these two teams play each other you can expect a thriller with every game so far being decided by three points or less. However when you look at the two teams they could not be more different.  The Portland Stags have one of the strongest lineups in the West, this year 15 of the 26 players that played recorded at least 10 points. With Timmy Perston being gone for most of the season, Cody Bjorklund and MVP candidate, Eli Friedman, have led the team from the start; but looking at the stats you can't help but notice how great they are for a majority of the roster. On the Vancouver side of the disc, they have some strong players on offense and on defense, I'm mainly talking about Brendan Wong and Morgan Hibbert, both MVP candidates and both players who led the MLU in statistical categories. Wong has recorded 22 of his 64 points against the Stags this season, a large imprint since they have only played three times this season, and has shown that he steps up for Vancouver. However for Portland there has been a different player to step up and lead the team each game! Numerous players get into the action and make an impact for the team. Whilst looking into the head-to-head match-ups, it must be taken into account that the Week 10 battle was the second of the weekend for Portland and the night before had already clinched a playoff spot, letting the coaches rest some of their star players. With that all being said, I still expect another great game between the two squads.

My Pick: Vancouver over Portland 25-24

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