Washington Power (2) vs. (5) Vancouver Heroes
March 28th, 2011
Well, there you have it. The two best teams in the AFHL are set to do battle in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
So which team to choose?
The Power, of course, are the favorites; they have been a powerhouse from day one this season. In September, the Heroes were picked by some to return to the Finals, but a moribund regular season saw them struggle at times despite a talent-laden lineup. They found a way to make it into the playoffs with the fifth seed.
So, technically, the Heroes are the underdogs, but potent ones. Their goaltending has rised to the occasion again this Spring and they head into the Finals with confidence after knocking out the first place Warriors.
While Washington deserves the favorite label, this series could surprise people.
Week 11 - Washington won 7-3.
Washington - Teemu Selanne (70 pts.)
Vancouver - Daniel Sedin (96 pts.)
WHY THEY'RE HERE:
Washington - Depth remains the Power's calling card. Even though Dany Heatley produced just a single assist in the last round vs. London, the rest of the offense barely skipped a beat. It also helps to have experience and the Power have plenty of that to go around, too.
Vancouver - Aside from the goaltending of Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov that has been close to perfect in this year's playoffs, the skill and vision of the Sedin Twins are key factors in elevating the play of every player on the team.
At first blush, one is tempted to suggest no team in the AFHL has as potent a 1-2 punch as Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin of the Heroes, but going into the Finals, Power forwards Patrick Marleau and Simon Gagne have been every bit as lethal. Teemu Selanne has proven himself to be a valuable trade deadline addition and if Dany Heatley wakes up soon, the Power will be all too powerful on offense. As for defense, the Power's top four of Boyle, Letang, Seidenberg, and Suter have more pure talent than Vancouver's top four. Edge: Washington
Washington's Roberto Luongo is playing the best hockey of his career, and Tim Thomas is still surpassing expectations. Vancouver counters with Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov. Given the fact Miller and Bryzgalov played in the Finals last year for Vancouver, they have lots of experience, so there are no surprises for them. Luongo and Thomas are new to all of this, but they have been nothing short of sensational through the first two rounds. Washington's third goalie, Dwayne Roloson, is a wild card and if he gives up some soft goals then he could be the rotten apple to spoil the bunch. Edge: Vancouver
This has the potential to be one of the best Stanley Cup Finals in AFHL history. The Power are a veteran team with depth that has an extremely low panic threshold. The Heroes' combination of the Daniel and Henrik Sedin is the league's best. After eliminating first place North Bay last round, the Heroes are oozing confidence and good karma. The players believe in themselves, but if I was the Heroes, I'd be concerned that Washington's Dany Heatley only has a couple of goals to this point in the playoffs. He could be on the verge of exploding.
DARREN PANG'S PREDICTION:
Washington wins 6-5.
Heroes GM, Power GM, and players talk Finals on AFHL Hour
March 28th, 2011
While players from the Washington Power and Vancouver Heroes met Monday morning with members of the media in Vancouver, the respective GMs of the teams and some players that will meet in the Stanley Cup Finals made guest appearances on the AFHL Hour with Commissioner Anthony Furino. The episode will be aired late Monday afternoon on Sirius Satellite Radio.
Kyle Kebert, who took control of the Heroes franchise from Ben Rauscher at the beginning of the season and has overseen a quick and remarkable turnaround, and Ray Irwin, a fixture at the top of the Power organization since its inception in the AFHL's inaugural year, were both given opportunities by Furino to address their fan bases with Game 1 starting on Monday night.
"I promise you an entertaining week of good hockey," Irwin said. "The guys are all focused and we're going to give it our best try to win the Cup. We're excited and can't wait for Game 1."
"Our guys are going to give everything they've got in order to win this Cup," Kebert said. "We think we have what it takes to do it. That's our feeling. We never thought it would be this difficult to get back but we're proud to have gotten back so fast."
Furino opened his conversation with Kebert by relating a story from this past Sunday, when he was in attendance for the finale of Vancouver's 5-4 come-from-behind win over North Bay in the second round of the playoffs.
Walking around the concourse of the arena, he came across a fan wearing a Heroes jersey with the number 1 and "Rocky" on the nameplate. It summed up the level to which the fans have embraced not only the players but the entire organization, a dramatic shift from when Kebert took control of the franchise earlier in the season after former GM Ben Rauscher abandoned the team.
"We've been very, very fortunate... everyone says they have the world's greatest fans, but the fans in Vancouver have embraced this team," Kebert said.
While their return trip to the Finals guarantees they won't be lacking for fans anytime soon, Kebert pointed to a number of factors that helped the Heroes turn around their season after Rauscher abandoned them.
"Embrace your fans and really work with them," Kebert said in describing the Heroes' basic philosophy. "Our players have been great. They're in the community. They're around and they'll never stop and not sign an autograph. They are part of this vibrant city and it's terrific."
Power GM Ray Irwin said he hopes to bring the Stanley Cup to Washington after Furino pressed him about the significance of the Finals.
"Making it to the Finals is an incredible feeling," Irwin said. "It's such a difficult thing to do, and what you have to go through to make it to the Finals in this league is mind-boggling. And I think this is the greatest, greatest hockey league in the world, as you well know, and I think the playoffs in the AFHL are so much fun and they're good every step of the way. And if we can get through three rounds to win a Cup, it will be quite an accomplishment."
The Heroes are back in the Finals for a second straight year after losing to London last Spring, and they've done it in remarkable fashion. Their second-round win against the Warriors will be known as one of the most historic comebacks in the history of the AFHL.
"When we were losing in the last game I thought, well we made a good run, we made the good effort, but fate was against us and we weren't going to return to the Finals," Kebert said. "I resigned myself to that fact. And here we are on Sunday, trailing in the last game of the series, and lo and behold we come back to win the series 5-4, which to me even makes it more remarkable."
Irwin said his heart is full of mostly pride at what his team has been able to achieve on its postseason journey.
"This is the most amazing playoffs I think I've ever seen," Irwin said. "I could go on and on and on about all of the obstacles, all of the things that happened over the course of the year that have never happened before. It's pretty mind-blowing, and I told one of the reporters last night after the game when we beat London and won the series, that this is the most exciting playoffs ever for me and I really hope we win the Cup."
Also on the AFHL Hour, Furino talked with Mike Richards of the Power and Zach Bogosian of the Heroes.
"We've got to be ready for a rough and tough series with the Heroes," said Richards. "The Heroes have a nasty team and they play on the edge. They play in your face. From their first-line guys to their fourth-line guys, every guy wants to get nasty so it's going to be fun for me and fun for people watching. There is going to be a lot of skill, but there is also going to be some big hits, some pushing and shoving, some nastiness. Let's go, let's do it."
Richards' comments aren't surprising. The Heroes are a feisty bunch as evidenced by their previous encounters with the Deer Park Chiefs during the 'Rauscher Era'.
"It won't take long, not with these guys," Richards said when asked about how long it would take for some good old-fashioned hatred to develop. "I'm sure we're going to see some fireworks early on."
The Power played a physical series against London, but it never even came close to touching the proverbial line of nastiness. There was very little pushing and shoving after the whistles, zero borderline checks and not too much running into the goalies, but Washington is planning on the matchup with the Heroes to be the exact opposite of civility.
"It's part of hockey," said Richards. "Both teams can play physical, and we're playing for the Stanley Cup so we're going to do what we can to win."
To a point, Heroes' defenseman Zach Bogosian emphasized.
"It's going to be chippy, but it's not going to be anything dirty," said Bogosian. "You can't take a bad penalty in the Stanley Cup Finals. I think there is going to be a lot of hard, honest play."
That doesn't mean the hate won't start early.
"No, that won't be surprising at all," Bogosian said.