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11

Scramble for Playoffs

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The mad scramble for AFHL Stanley Cup Playoffs;

Montreal on the verge of first postseason berth

March 11th, 2014

There is one more week remaining in the 2014 AFHL regular season and playoff positioning is still largely unresolved.

How these races play out over this week could have deeper implications beyond which team will continue playing when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin next Monday.

Xtreme forward Brad Richards celebrates a goal he scored in last week’s win over San Diego.

With their dominating win over the San Diego Gulls last week, the Montreal Xtreme are all but assured of a playoff spot.

“I’ve been so nervous over these last few weeks,” said Montreal GM Keith Cancilla before a team practice today. “That was a big win last week so I think I can breathe a little bit.”

If they secure a playoff spot then GM Cancilla will probably receive several hundreds of emails and text messages on Sunday night, congratulations from across the hockey world, as well as from family and staff in Montreal: The Montreal Xtreme will be in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

It’s been a long five years for the Xtreme. The well-wishers understood Cancilla’s long slog through a four-year rebuild, the heartbreak and tragedies, league lockout, trade demands by players and fans, key injuries, trades and draft selections.

Pretty soon there will be shiny, crisp playoff tickets spread out in Cancilla’s office. If not for his decisive moves over the years — those playoff tickets would be a pile of mail from disappointed fans.

“We’ve been poised to make the playoffs this year,” said Cancilla. “There is no way we could let fans down. This has been an ultimately important year for this franchise.”

Montreal finished the first three seasons under Cancilla at the bottom of the standings.  

“We played hard, but we were always out of it by Christmas,” said forward Nate Gerbe, who is the only player left from the original 2010-11 roster. “After three and a half years of stockpiling draft picks, we were finally getting traction and almost made the playoffs last year.”

GM Cancilla did some major retooling last summer and he believes the timing was perfect.

“It can tear a team apart or bring it together like it did for us,” he said. “The new guys take jobs. They take ice time from other guys, but it worked here. Player roles were set for us going into this season. We had team meetings and I told each player, ‘This is why you are here, and this is what we need you to do.'”

Cancilla took criticism from some who said he gave up too much youth for several veteran star players, but Cancilla pointedly disagrees.

“For the franchise to be able to hang that first banner next year, regardless of what happens the rest of the way, is a big forward step for us,” Cancilla said. “Obviously we want to go deep in the playoffs. But the regular season is important, and whatever we paid for players — and at the time I didn’t think it was too much — I can sit here on Sunday night and say it wasn’t too much.”

 

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AROUND THE LEAGUE:

The Toronto Red Devils are going to finish the season with the top playoff seed and best record in the league for the first time in franchise history. The impressive part of this regular-season finish is the fact that Toronto has dominated the league with their top forward Steven Stamkos missing half of the year because of injury.

The Hamilton Firestorm are still in the battle for the final playoff spot and are danger of failing to qualify for the first time during GM Gates Imbeau’s tenure of three years. During that time, the Firestorm have become perhaps the most popular team in the AFHL, attracting so many viewers that they are among most-scheduled teams on NBC’s national broadcast and cable telecasts.

GM of the hottest team in the league, Mike Brunetta says he feels very confident about the Warriors going into the playoffs this year.  With a win over Comox Valley last week,  the Warriors have a chance to head into the playoffs with a 14-0-1 record in their last 15 matchups with convincing wins this season over the other four top 5 teams in the league.

Newly acquired center Derek Stepan of the San Diego Gulls is liking the west coast a lot more than the east coast. “The winters here are in the high 50s and there are broads everywhere,” he told a reporter after Tuesday’s team practice. “I get a new one every night.”

Ottawa Knights GM Ryan Armstrong says he and the rest of the Knights organization is very disappointed they will be watching the playoffs at home yet again. “Changes will be made this offseason to better this organization,” said Armstrong in a phone interview. “I think these changes will help us secure our first ever postseason berth next season.”

The London Mustangs are currently firing on all cylinders and GM Matt Plachta believes they are now in the driver’s seat for the last playoff spot. “Everyone in the starting lineup is contributing and putting up points,” said Plachta after last week’s matchup. “Lead by Giroux up front and four defensmen on the backend that are moving the puck well, from top to bottom the production has been great.  Goaltending has been the weak point all season with injuries and players holding out at the beginning of the season.  We finally found two guys that want to be here with Ben Scrivens playing as consistently well as any other goalie in the league.”

Although Twin City Vikings GM Phil Svoboda is already shining up his golf clubs, he’s feeling good about next season. “It’s been a partial rebuild season for us and in the end we didn’t have the chops to make the playoffs,” Svoboda said. “Bright future ahead, but may still be a year or two.”

The Philadelphia Crunch front office posted a special message to Crunch fans on the front page of their team website yesterday: “Once again the Crunch will watch from the sidelines but the team is progressing per the overall plan and we would like to thank the dedicated fans that are such an integral part of our Crunch family. We promise within 3 seasons you will be rewarded for your support!”

 

Categories : afhl

1 Comments

1
Montreal GM Keith Cancilla
March 11th, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Woo! Thanks Commish. And there were skeptics about the team making playoffs in the report card section. If I only had Kovalchuk and Radulov to add to the depth, I’d be alright. With 3 of my goalies on new teams, it adds a little bit of the underdog status for the playoff categores. Glad to have been successful with this rebuild, but now the question is…how successful?

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