As another, albeit short, season winds to an end we have the little matter of the Asia League Championship to tend to.
Anyang Halla will head into their 4th Asia League playoff final in a row but will face off against an unfamiliar foe, the Oji Eagles, who will be appearing in their first final since the 2013-14 season. At the start of the playoffs, everyone and their dog had money on a third Halla Sakhalin final. But after a couple of rousing performances in Takomakai, the underdogs etched themselves out a 3-2 win over the heavy favorites.
Oji will come into the game on the back of 8 playoff games, having also played a qualifying round against the Nikko Icebucks to get into the semifinal. They seem to be peaking at the right time in the season too with some of their big players coming to the forefront in the postseason, most notably Stephane Veilleux, Barry Tallackson and Shuhei Kuji. All three players have been posting impressive numbers in a small number of games.
|Stephane Veilleux||GP: 28 G: 8 A: 8 TP: 16||GP: 8 G: 4 A: 2 TP: 6|
|Barry Tallackson||GP: 28 G: 5 A: 12 TP: 17||GP: 8 G: 3 A: 1 TP: 4|
|Shuhei Kuji||GP: 26 G: 12 A: 15 TP: 27||GP: 8 G: 4 A: 3 TP: 7|
In between the pipes, Yuta Narisawa has improved on his regular season stats in the postseason too.
|Yuta Narisawa||GP: 24 GAA: 2.27 SVS%: .923||GP: 8 GAA: 1.95 SVS%: .937|
Halla are also on a decent run coming into this game. Despite having lost the first game of their semifinal series they picked up 3 wins in a row to earn their place in the finals. Seemingly suffering from some Olympic hangovers, it took a full strength Halla team a couple of games to shift up through the gears and get back to a team that looks like they could potentially win a third championship in a row.
Unsurprisingly, Matt Dalton has been the standout player for Halla again, maintaining his .942 save percentage from the regular season.
|Matt Dalton||GP:20 GAA: 1.78 SVS%: .942||GP: 4 GAA: 1.50 SVS%: .942|
At the other end of the ice, no one player has been out and out leading the teams in goals. For the majority of the season, the third line has been heavily relied on for goals, outscoring the first line 24 goals to 18. In the postseason, the goals have been spread throughout the team, Brock Radunske being the only player to hit the back of the net more than once.
This looks like it could be an interesting tie. Both teams seem to have generated some momentum at the right time. Oji’s extra playoff games and participation in the Japan cup could definitely push things in their favor with the extra match fitness, especially with a lot of Hallas non national team players not getting much in the way of match practice for close to 3 months.
Oji have been relying on their 2nd line for a lot of their goals whereas Halla have been depending on their 3rd line to hit the twine for them. A lot of these games could come down to the strength in depth of both teams, which would give Halla the edge. Halla’s main concern will be their power play conversion which has been very poor as of late. Obviously, they need the goals from the PP but consistently failing to pick up points with an extra man on the ice can be very demoralizing for a team.
Prediction: Halla to make it 3 in a row (3-1).
In the regular season, Halla had a 3-1 record over the Eagles and I think that could be the case again in the finals. I can see the Eagles picking up a win at home, possibly catching Halla flat-footed in the first game, but overall I think Halla will have too much for them, having 3 strong lines and a good special team.