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National Championships up for grabs in Montreal

After over 700 games were contested in fifteen cities and six provinces, across seven months of play, the 2015-2016 National Championship League season will come to a close this weekend in Montreal as the 16U and 19U National Champions are crowned at the National Finals. 

A field of 45 teams has been whittled down to just sixteen, with the four remaining clubs in each category just two victories away from becoming national champions.

16U Girls Preview

Semi-Final 1: Saskatchewan vs. CAMO - Friday May 27th @ 10:40am

CAMO – 1st Eastern Conference
Regular season: 19-1-0 (1st East), Playoffs: 2-0, GF: 284, GA: 145

Saskatchewan – 2nd Western Conference
Regular season: 10-0-10 (3rd West), Playoffs 2-1, GF: 173, GA: 207

Semi-Final 2: Fraser Valley vs. Dollard – Friday May 27th @ 12:00pm

Fraser Valley – 1st Western Conference
Regular season: 20-0-0 (1st West), Playoffs: 2-0, GF: 328, GA: 100

Dollard – 2nd Eastern Conference
Regular season: 2-1-17 (5th East), Playoffs: 3-1, GF: 152, GA: 243

Season series:

Fraser Valley: 6-0 vs Saskatchewan (22-6, 20-4, 22-6, 11-4, 14-8, 11-10), 0-0 vs. CAMO and Dollard

Saskatchewan: 0-6 vs Fraser Valley (6-22, 4-20, 6-22, 4-11, 8-14, 10-11), 0-0 vs. CAMO and Dollard

CAMO: 5-1-0 vs Dollard (15-2, 15-8, 6-6, 14-5, 12-8, 14-5), 0-0 vs. Fraser Valley and Saskatchewan

Dollard: 0-1-5 vs CAMO (2-15, 8-15, 6-6, 5-14, 8-12, 5-14), 0-0 vs. Fraser Valley and Saskatchewan

The 16U girls final four features two clubs that have been dominating their respective conferences all year, and two clubs that turned up their games in the playoffs to upset higher seeded teams and qualify for the Finals. The favourites are CAMO and Fraser Valley, each who are undefeated on the year. Fraser Valley is a perfect 20-0-0 while CAMO’s only blemish is a tied game. At the first ever National Finals last year, Fraser Valley and CAMO met in the semi-finals, and played one of best games of the year. Fraser Valley prevailed 13-12, ending CAMO’s perfect season on route to claiming the first ever 16U girls NCL Championship. The two clubs could very while meet again this year in the championship game, but each will have get past dangerous opponents playing their best water polo of the year.

Saskatchewan and CAMO will kick off at the National Finals at 10:40am on Friday. Saskatchewan’s improvement over the year can be shown through their games against Fraser Valley. In the first three games against Valley, Sask lost by 16 goals all three times. The two matches after that, the deficit was cut by more than half, with Sask losing by 7, and then by 6. Finally, in the gold medal game at the 16U Western Championships, Saskatchewan came within one goal of Valley. Saskatchewan will need that level of improvement to continue in order to overcome CAMO’s superb squad. Scoring goals against CAMO goalie Marianne Bouchard-Cote is never an easy task, as is keeping Apryl Gonzalez and Melissa Manel Matallah off the scoreboard at the other end of the pool. Saskatchewan will counter with the goal scoring tandem of Blaire McDowell and Breanna Dupperon, but it will no doubt take a full team effort to hand CAMO their first loss of the season.

In the 2nd semi-final, Fraser Valley will battle Dollard. Dollard is easily the most surprising entrant at the National Finals. After finishing last in the eastern conference standings with two wins, DDO reeled off three straight wins at the Eastern Championships to shock the field and qualify for the Finals. Strong defense and goaltending, with timely goal scoring was Dollard’s recipe for success at Easterns, and they will need to follow that formula to the letter in order to knock off Fraser Valley. Returning six players from the National Championship winning team, Fraser Valley has rarely been threatened all year. No team got within six goals of them until the Western Championship when they beat Saskatchewan by one. When Fraser Valley goes into high gear, it’s very difficult to stay with them, but that will be the challenge for Dollard.

16U Boys Preview

Semi-Final 1: Saskatchewan vs. Mavericks – Friday May 27th @ 1:20pm

Saskatchewan – 1st Western Conference
Regular season: 18-0-0 (1st West), Playoffs: 3-1, GF: 283, GA: 123

Mavericks (Black) – 2nd Eastern Conference
Regular season: 13-0-5 (2nd East), Playoffs: 2-2, GF: 276, GA: 168

Semi-Final 2: Pacific Storm vs. Dollard – Friday May 27th @ 2:40pm

Dollard (Black) – 1st Eastern Conference
Regular season: 16-0-2 (1st East), Playoffs: 2-0, GF: 384, GA 177

Pacific Storm – 2nd Western Conference
Regular season: 15-0-3 (2nd West), Playoffs: 1-1, GF: 347, GA: 131

Season series:

: 4-1 vs Pacific Storm (14-10, 12-9, 10-6, 12-13, 16-3), 0-0 vs. Mavericks and Dollard

Pacific Storm: 1-4 vs Saskatchewan (10-14, 9-12, 6-10, 13-12, 3-16), 0-0 vs. Mavericks and Dollard

Dollard: 5-0 vs Mavericks (24-15, 22-9, 16-9, 13-7, 14-9), 0-0 vs. Saskatchewan and Pacific Storm

Mavericks: 0-5 vs Dollard (15-24, 9-22, 9-16, 7-13, 9-14), 0-0 vs. Saskatchewan and Pacific Storm

Much like the 16U girls division, the 16U boys National Finals seem to be shaping up to be a rematch of last year’s Championship. In Calgary last May, Saskatchewan faced off against Dollard in the gold medal match with everything on the line. Saskatchewan would prevail 17-9 on that day, and all season long it has looked like 2016 was destined for a rematch. Both Saskatchewan and Dollard have led their conferences from start to finish this season. Saskatchewan was 18-0-0 entering the playoffs before a shootout lose to Pacific Storm ended their chances at a perfect season. In a tough eastern conference, Dollard finished 16-0-2 before winning both of their playoff games at the Eastern Championships. Dollard is led by Jeremie Cote, who many consider to be the best pure goal scorer in the 16U category, while Saskatchewan is anchored at the other end of the pool by goalie Brody McKnight. If those two are to face off in the finals, Saskatchewan and Dollard will have to get through the strong squads of Pacific Storm and Mavericks. Pacific Storm have been somewhat overshadowed by Saskatchewan in the west this season, but make no mistake, this is a very good team. Storm played a fantastic game in knocking off Saskatchewan in the 1 vs 2 game at the Western Championships, and while the rematch in the finals did not go the way they planned, Dollard should be expecting a serious challenge when the two teams square off in the semi-finals. Mavericks have been similarly overshadowed in the East. Despite finishing 2nd in the conference, few people around the league considered them a favourite to qualify for the Finals at Easterns. After losing the 1 vs 2 game against DDO, Mavericks played a fantastic game of in holding off the Ottawa Titans in a semi-final shootout, before giving Dollard a run for their money in the gold medal game. Mavericks have a couple great goal scorers in Amir Nebytov and Bor Tanasijevic, and Komninos Kotzambasis can make saves that leave people shaking their heads. Mavericks will definitely be a dangerous opponent for Saskatchewan in the semi-finals.

19U Women Preview

Semi-Final 1: Saskatchewan vs. Golden Horseshoe – Friday May 27th @ 4:00pm

Saskatchewan – 1st Western Conference
Record: 10-0-10 (3rd West), Playoffs 3-0: GF: 217, GA: 197

Golden Horseshoe – 2nd Eastern Conference
Record: 9-2-9 (2nd East), Playoffs: 2-2, GF: 261, GA: 284

Semi-Final 2: Pacific Storm vs CAMO – Friday May 27th @ 5:20pm

CAMO – 1st Eastern Conference
Record: 19-1-0 (1st East), Playoffs: 2-0, GF: 342, GA: 137

Pacific Storm – 2nd Western Conference
Record: 19-0-1 (1st West), Playoffs: 1-1, GF: 264, GA: 138

Season series:

Saskatchewan: 1-5 vs Pacific Storm (7-13, 10-13, 6-7, 7-10, 6-8, 15-13), 0-1 vs CAMO (6-20), 0-1 vs Golden Horseshoe (12-13)

Pacific Storm: 5-1 vs Saskatchewan (13-7, 13-10, 7-6, 10-7, 8-6, 13-15), 0-1 vs CAMO (5-17), 1-0 vs Golden Horseshoe (13-11)
CAMO: 6-0 vs Golden Horseshoe (21-7, 22-11, 13-6, 20-5, 17-7, 21-9), 1-0 vs Saskatchewan (20-6), 1-0 vs Pacific Storm 17-5

Golden Horseshoe: 0-6 vs CAMO (7-21, 11-22, 6-13, 5-20, 7-17, 9-21), 1-0 vs Saskatchewan (13-12), 0-1 vs. Pacific Storm (11-13)

The 19U Women’s Finals differs from the 16U categories in that it has a clear favourite, CAMO. Like Saskatchewan, and Fraser Valley at 16U, the 19U CAMO Women will also be looking to defend their 2015 National Championship in Montreal, and given their regular season performance, they are in a great position to do so. CAMO is a combined 8-0 against the three other teams competing at the National Finals, and won all of those games handily. Offensively, CAMO doesn’t have one player or two players that do all their damage, but instead have 6-8 players who can carry the goal scoring load when necessary. This creates a challenge for other teams because they can’t focus their defense on one or two players, as they will get burned elsewhere. Stopping CAMO offensively is only one part of the challenge. Goalie Clara Vulpisi rarely gives up an easy goal against so opponents have to captilize on their chances. Pacific Storm will have the first shot against CAMO at the National Finals. Storm had a fantastic season in their own right, finishing 19-0-1; however, a lose to Saskatchewan in the Western Finals dropped Storm to the #2 seed, and gave them the unenviable match against CAMO in the semis. Their one match this season was a 17-7 win for CAMO at the February 19U Crossover in Surrey. While the score was not that close, Storm knows they did not play their best game that day. The pressure will be on CAMO at the Finals so Storm can embrace the underdog role and play with nothing to lose. It wouldn’t be surprising if this game was a tighter affair than some may expect.

The other semi-final pits Saskatchewan against Golden Horseshoe and features two teams that have been peaking at the right time. Outside of to CAMO, Golden Horseshoe hasn’t dropped a game to an opponent since early February. The GTA squad likes to get out and swim and their games usually involve lots of goals. Saskatchewan’s shots better find the target or Golden Horseshoe could pull away early in this one. Saskatchewan had everything come together for them at the Western Championships. After finishing at .500 on the year (10-0-10) Saskatchewan finished the Finals with three straight victories to claim the title. Each game from the quarter-final on was more impressive then the last, with all three phases of the game coming together at the same time. The final against Pacific Storm was easily their best performance of the season, with Saskatchewan shaking off their 0-5 record against Storm to earn a 15-13 win. Sask will hope they can peak once more and find the two victories necessary to make them National Champions.

19U Men Preview

Semi-Final 1: Pacific Storm vs CAMO – Friday May 27th @ 6:40pm

Pacific Storm – 1st Western Conference
Record: 18-1-2 (1st West), Playoffs: 2-0, GF:429, GA:238

CAMO – 2nd Eastern Conference
Record: 19-0-2 (1st East), Playoffs: 1-2, GF: 469, GA: 240

Semi-Final 2: Calgary Torpedoes vs. Toronto Golden Jets – Friday May 27th @ 8:00pm

Toronto Golden Jets – 1st Eastern Conference
Record: 15-0-6 (2nd East), Playoffs: 2-0, GF: 357, GA 249

Calgary Torpedoes – 2nd Western Conference
Record: 12-2-7 (3rd West), Playoffs: 3-1, GF: 323, GA 276

Season series:

Pacific Storm: 4-0 vs Calgary Torpedoes (18-13, 13-8, 19-11, 21-13), 1-0 vs CAMO (16-15), 1-0 vs Toronto Golden Jets (17-11)

Calgary Torpedoes: 0-4 vs Pacific Storm (13-18, 8-13, 11-19, 13-21), 0-1 vs CAMO (13-23), 1-0 vs Toronto Golden Jets (16-14)

Toronto Golden Jets: 2-3 vs CAMO (14-17, 12-17, 13-23, 19-17, 19-17), 0-1 vs Pacific Storm (11-17), 0-1 vs Calgary Torpedoes (14-16)

CAMO: 3-2 vs Toronto Golden Jets (17-14, 17-12, 23-13, 17-19, 17-19), 0-1 vs Pacific Storm (15-16), 1-0 vs Calgary Torpedoes (23-13)

The 19U Men’s competition in Montreal will start off with a bang as the 1st semi-final will be the Pacific Storm against CAMO in a game many thought would be for the National Championship. The best game of the NCL regular season could very well have been the match these two teams played in Surrey at the 19U Crossover in February. The game had a little bit of everything: lead changes, comebacks, last second drama, in what was a 16-15 victory for Storm. Both teams were on pace to meet in the Finals after finishing 1st in their respective conferences, but the Toronto Golden Jets flipped the script in recording a pair of shootout victories at the Eastern Championships to send CAMO to the Finals as the 2nd seed. Storm is heading into the Championships hoping to avoid a repeat of last-year where they came heartbreakingly close to the title, before losing in a shootout to St-Lambert. If this year is to be different, they will need to play their best game right off the top to have a chance. CAMO too will have to play their best game of the year to beat Pacific Storm. Missed opportunities like the ones that cost them against the Jets must be avoided if they are to knock off a Storm team that features two of the top four goal scorers in the 19U NCL this year. The 2nd semi-final, and the final semi-final on National Finals Friday, will feature the Toronto Golden Jets against the Calgary Torpedoes. If the game is somewhat overshadowed by the semi-final that precedes it, the Golden Jets probably won’t mind. The Toronto boys have embraced the underdog role this season, and that was especially true at the Eastern Championships. After having dropped their three regular season games against CAMO, the Jets recorded not one, but two shootout victories over CAMO. Blake Carnevale scored timely goals, Marko Avdalovic played great defense in the hole, and Igor Jovanovic was incredible in the net. If the Jets can maintain that kind of level at Nationals, they will be a team to be reckoned with. The Torpedoes are another team that turned it on during the playoffs. After finishing as the 3rd seed in the West, Calgary faced a tough road to the National Finals. The Torpedoes would have to win three straight games just to qualify, including a semi-final against a rested opponent. Calgary passed the test with flying colours, recording wins against Edmonton, Saskatchewan, and Calgary Wild to earn their place in Montreal. In the gold medal game, the Torpedoes proved they can play with the top teams as well. Calgary stuck close to Pacific Storm through three quarters of play, before fading in the final frame, no doubt fatigued from a long weekend of games. The Calgary Torpedoes will be a tough out at the National Finals.

The 2015-2016 are shaping up to be a fantastic event. Each of the sixteen teams that have qualified have truly earned their chance to compete for a national championship, battling through a rigorous and demanding qualification process that began last November. The National Finals begin Friday May 27th at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Please see the NCL schedule for exact times and locations.



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