Bane of Forge’s season next in NAHL finals
The Pittsburgh Forge lost only nine games all season on the way to playing in the North American Hockey League championship series, which starts at 7:30 tonight at the Neville Island Sports Center.
Three of those defeats came in four regular-season games versus the Texas Tornado, the Forge’s opponent in the league’s championship series, the Robertson Cup.
Texas coach Tony Curtale doesn’t think that has much to do with the best-of-five championship series, mostly because the teams haven’t played since Oct. 4, a 4-1 Texas victory.
“That was all early in the season. At this age level, the kids change a lot in five or six months,” Curtale said. “I don’t think (those games) mean a lot.”
Pittsburgh beat Texas in the semifinals a year ago, then lost to Detroit Compuware in the finals. Defensemen Dylan Reese, Brandon Warner and Denis Kirstein, wingers Sean Berkstresser and Andy Brandt and centers Mike Handza and Chris Lawrence are all back from that team.
“I’m sure they will want revenge,” Forge coach Jay Varady said. “There are no glaring weaknesses on that Texas team.”
Regular season Western Division champion Texas (41-13-2) defeated Detroit in three games in the semifinals, while the Forge (51-9-4), who won the Eastern Division, swept the Danville Wings in two games.
Forward Bill McCreary led the Tornado in scoring during the regular season (27 goals, 33 assists) and leads in the playoffs (four goals, three assists).
Texas goaltender Dave McKee was named first-team All-NAHL, but Eddie Neville has played every game in goal during the playoffs, compiling a 4-1 record and 1.13 goals-against average.
“I think we’ve been good defensively, which is always a key in the playoffs,” Curtale said. “We’re known as an offensive team. We’re pretty well rounded.
“They are a really good team. The two right teams made the finals.”
Lawrence led the Forge in scoring during the regular season with 30 goals and 32 assists, but he has been relatively quiet in the playoffs. His linemates, John Dingle and Jim Gehring, started to find their offensive games in the semifinals. Reese was a standout against Danville even before scoring the winning goal in triple overtime of Game 2.
“Dylan was very good in that series, as he has been all year,” Varady said. “Gehring and Dingle came alive. It was exciting to see those guys have a little success.”
Pittsburgh does have the advantage of opening the series with three home games, though the fourth and fifth contests would be played in Texas, if necessary.
“We’re comfortable playing on the road,” Curtale said.
North American Hockey League Championship