Game Preview: Thunder vs. Salmonbellies

by Gary Ahuja

It is a first-place showdown as the two hottest teams in the Western Lacrosse Association square off tonight at Queen’s Park Arena in New Westminster.

The 8-1 Langley Thunder – riding a seven-game win streak – travel to face the 7-1 Salmonbellies with a 7:30pm start time. New Westminster has won six straight, with the last loss being a 9-7 loss to the Thunder at Langley Events Centre back on May 31.

That game saw both Curtis Dickson (3+2) and Tristan Kirkham (3+0) score hat trick for Langley while New Westminster was led by two goals and five points from Mitch Jones. Frank Scigliano made 50 saves in the Thunder goal as his team was outshot 57-50.

Both teams are coming off victories against a common opponent as New Westminster went into Victoria on June 23 to defeat the Shamrocks 8-7 while the Thunder were 9-3 winners over the Shamrocks on June 28. Dylan Kinnear made his season debut, scoring twice and adding an assist while Church also had a two-goal, four-point game for Langley.

Up front, both offences are loaded.

Dane Dobbie is second in points (45) and tied for second in goals (24) and assists (24) while Robert Church is third in points (40) and tied for second in assists (24). Each player is averaging five points per game.

New Westminster’s Mitch Jones has an WLA-best 6.2 points per game, but he has missed his team’s last three contests. Haiden Dickson leads the team with 22 goals and 35 points while Kevin Crowley is second with 16 goals and 34 points.

The teams are very evenly matched as they are ranked 1-2 in offence, defence and goal differential with Langley leading the way thanks to 11.67 goals per game and 7.22 goals against with the Salmonbellies sitting second in both categories (11.38 and 7.38, respectively). The Thunder are at +40 in goal differential while New Westminster sits at +32.

Scigliano has played in all eight Thunder victories on the season, and he leads the WLA with a 6.02 goals against average and an .867 save percentage, while sitting second in total saves with 287.

The game may mark the season debut of veteran goalie Zach Higgins, who re-signed with New Westminster earlier this week. He will share goaltending duties with Neil Tyacke, who is 5-0 with a 7.44 GAA and .837 save percentage.

One area the Salmonbellies to have a statistical advantage through the first half of the WLA season is special teams as the New Westminster power play is first overall (21-for-37, .568) while their penalty kill comes in at No. 2 (11 goals on 39 chances, .718). Langley is third in both categories with 17 goals on 41 man-advantage chances (.415) and boasting a .711 penalty kill percentage as they have allowed 11 goals on 38 chances.

But in terms of goals scored via special teams (factoring in short-handed goals scored and allowed), Langley is tops at +11 while New Westminster is third at +8.

And with face-off success, Nathan Bell had been the primary player on draws for Langley and he is the only player (who has taken more than three face-offs) with a success rate above .600, going 100-54 (.649). The 100 won face-offs are also second in the league.

The Salmonbellies have used a combination of Anthony Courcelle (57-52) and Ryan Martel (29-22).