Sundogs get fresh start
The Daily Courier
PRESCOTT VALLEY - The Arizona Sundogs are back in the playoffs for the first time in two years despite finishing the regular season with a sub-.500 record.
Arizona (25-31-10) has struggled with a lack of consistency and effort throughout the year, so those are two key factors the Sundogs say they need to concentrate on if they want to have a chance at defeating first-round opponent and Berry Conference second-seed Bossier-Shreveport.
"We aren't the most talented team in the world, but when we work, we are pretty talented," defenseman and team captain Tyler Butler said. "Our hard work is going to take us as far as we want to go."
Arizona enters the postseason losing its last four games, but finished 6-6 in its last 12 to secure one of the league's 16 playoff spots.
Laredo and Evansville were the only two teams to miss the postseason.
The Sundogs will play a best-of-5 series against the Mudbugs (37-26-3), starting with two games away from home on Friday and Saturday.
Both games are set to begin at 5:05 p.m.
"There are quite a few miles between here and there, so certainly you don't necessarily look forward to the travel, but if you look at our record on the road, it's something that this group does well," said Sundogs coach and general manager Marco Pietroniro ,whose team finished with a 12-13-8 road record. It went 13-18-2 at home.
The Sundogs will return to Prescott Valley for Game 3 on Tuesday, at Tim's Toyota Center.
Game time is 7:05 p.m.
Arizona and Bossier-Shreveport didn't play each other in the regular season.
"Obviously not having played them,
looking at the tapes doesn't really give them justice," Pietroniro said. "But they are definitely a good defensive team, they have a good offense, they are a good all-around team and they
finished in second place for a reason."
The Mudbugs enter the playoffs winning nine of their last 12 games, and finished with a 19-13-1 home record. They were 18-13-2 on the road.
One of Bossier-Shreveport's strengths is its defense, as they have one of the top goaltenders in the league.
John DeCaro finished the season ranked fifth-best in the league with a 2.61 goals against average. He also had a .899 save percentage and was 20-12-1 in 33 contests.
"They are a hard-working team and they don't give up a lot of goals," Arizona defenseman Craig Macdonald said. "We are going to have to do everything we can to match their energy and get as many shots on goal as we can."
The Sundogs have also received solid goaltending this season, and will move into the playoffs with Doug Groenestege and veteran Scott Reid in net.
"Both of them have good experience," Pietroniro said. "Scott is a veteran, he's been in the league before and he's been an all-star. Doug has had some good seasons in the past in this league, so I'm very confident in both of these guys.
"Goaltending is big in the playoffs. Every time we have to kill a penalty, they have to be the best guys on the ice and I think they can provide that."
Groenestege tallied a 3.96 goals-against average, had a .885 save percentage and finished with a 5-12-3 record.
Reid, once the CHL's Most Outstanding Goaltender in 2003-04, joined the club March 21. He played just one game with the Sundogs, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Rapid City Rush March 25.
Goalie Levente Szuper was placed on injured reserve March 25, after sustaining an injury during the team's 8-4 loss to the Colorado Eagles on March 19.
A key to any successful playoff run is solid goaltending, and it some cases a hot netminder can propel his team to a championship, but Pietroniro thinks team chemistry will be the deciding factor for the Sundogs.
"We need to stick together as a group," he said. "I think that will bring some wins where you least expect it. When the guys stick to a plan and stick together, where the focus is the team, we are good."
"If we get down a goal or two, we need to stay together as a team and keep working," he said. "If we break apart, then it's essentially over, so as long as we stay together we'll give ourselves a chance."
Additionally, Arizona added forward Sean Muncy to its playoff roster on Monday.
Muncy split the 2010-11 regular season with the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, Missouri Mavericks and Texas Brahmas. He tallied 16 goals, 22 assists and 60 penalty minutes in 66 games.
"Shaun comes to us late," Pietroniro said. "He's a center, we needed another centerman to add a little bit more depth."