Saturday, April 22, 2006

The fight for the CHL championship, the finals of which will be held in Moncton, NB from May 19-29, 2006, continued last night.

In the Western Hockey League, the race to the WHL championship is between Everett and Vancouver in the West, and Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat in the East. The Eastern and Western Conference Final series began last night, and there were 2 very exciting games played. Moose Jaw won 3-2, on a third period goal by Steven Gillen. Gillen, an undrafted big center, who really came on offensively this year, is a player to watch for in the future. In the Western Conference game, Vancouver beat Everett 4-2. The first star in that game for Vancouver was Nashville Predators' prospect, Cody Franson, who set up teammate Kyle Lamb's game-winning goal. But to me the player that excited me the most was Spencer Machacek, who scored the first goal of the game (and got an empty netter in the third period). In his first year with the Giants, this late 1988er (eligible for the 2007 draft) registered 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 70 games. He has continued his tear in the playoffs accumulating 11 points in as many games. A good size (6'1", 172), with nice hands, Machacek is a player that should be on everybody's radar for the draft next year.

The Eastern and Western finals also began in the Q last night. In the East, Ted Nolan's Moncton Wildcats are battling the Gatineau Olympiques. Moncton beat the Olympiques 4-1 in a game that was less close than the score even indicated. Not surprisingly, Moncton players were awarded all three stars in the game, with Columbus prospect Adam Pineault getting first star for his goal and assist on the night. In addition to the great game that Pineault played, I have to mention the work of Wildcat goalie Josh Tordjman, who saved 25 of 26 shots on the night. Tordjman, an overager who is in his 4th year in the QMJHL, has had a really nice couple of months. He played his entire Q career in Victoriaville, until traded to Moncton earlier this season. Under the tutelage of Nolan and his staff, Tordjman has blossomed. Somebody should consider giving him a shot at training camp this fall.

In the Western Conference of the Q, the Patrick Roy-coached Quebec Remparts beat the Acadie-Bathurst Titans 7-2. The Titans were completely overwhelmed by Quebec's offensive prowess. In addition, the Titans starting netminder, Maxime Joyal, looked terrible in this game. The replacement goalie, Anaheim 2003 7th round pick Gabriel Bouthillette (never signed), really was no better in facing Quebec's onslaught. Remparts winger, Maxime LaCroix, who went undrafted in 2005, received the first star of the game. I particularly like the play of the game's third star, Mathieu Melanson, who was picked by Minnesota in the 2003 draft but never offered a contract. This overager put on a show in the Q this year and should be displaying his skills in some NHL camp this fall. Look for him, as he has made tremendous strides in upgrading his skill set.

Unlike the other 2 CHL leagues, the OHL began its conference finals on Thursday night. In the East, it is the Barrie Colts facing the Peterborough Petes. In the West, the Guelph Storm battles the London Knights. London and Peterborough are heavy favorites to win their conferences and go on to play for the J. Ross Robertson Cup.

Before telling you what happened in last night's game, lets talk about Thursday night's action. On the first night of the conference finals, the game winners were the favorites, with London beating Guelph 5-3 and Peterborough edging Barrie 4-3. In the Western Conference game, the Russian prospect Sergei Kostitsyn, who was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens last summer, had 2 goals including the game winner. Named the game's first star, this winger had a tremendous rookie OHL season for the Knights. Although his performance was overshadowed by the numbers put up by teammates Schremp, Bolland and Hunter, look out for Kostitsyn, who has been excellent all season and is lighting up the lamp in the playoffs. His 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in 12 playoff games is second in team points to Schremp. Also deserving mention is this game is diminutive center Raphael Rotter, who looks shorter than his listed 5'8", but plays a big gritty, in-your-face game. An undrafted 1987, Rotter came from Austria to play North American hockey this season and accumulated 47 points (11 goals, 36 assists) in 62 games for Guelph. In 12 playoff games thus far, he has 11 points, including a goal and an assist on Thursday night.

In the Thursday night Peterborough/Barrie game, which went into overtime, kudos go to Peterborough goalie David Shantz (the game's second star), who stopped 60 of 63 shots. Shantz, a prospect in the Florida Panther organization, looked good in net for the Petes during the entire year, managing a 2.87 GAA and .915 save percentage and 2 shutouts in the regular season. Offensively, the player of the game was Dan Ryder, the Peterborough center, who was drafted last summer by the Calgary Flames. Named the game's first star, Ryder had 2 goals Thursday, including the overtime game-winner.

Last night's only OHL game saw the Guelph Storm take revenge on London, clobbering the Knights 7-1. Storm goalie Ryan MacDonald deserves high praise for keeping the offensively minded Knights shut down. But the Storm defense also did an excellent job, giving London only 20 shots. Lets be honest though, it appeared that London was a bit unprepared for play last night. On a positive note, the game last night confirmed my belief that Kelsey Wilson, one of my favorite undrafted players should be given a try-out by an NHL team willing to take a chance on a winger who is a talented offensively and plays a nasty game. At 6'1", 217, Wilson had a breakout regular season (69 points in 67 regular season games, with 196 penalty minutes) and has continued to perform well in the playoffs (14 points in 12 games). In last night's game, he played on both the power play and at even strength and registered his first ever hat trick in the OHL playoffs.

Well that's all for today. Enjoy.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Welcome to my blog. As a writer covering the New York Rangers and the OHL for Hockey's Future (, and the Toronto Maple Leafs for Inside Hockey (, I report on games and provide insight on prospects and players. I started this blog to be able to provide more real time information and opinions on what is happening in the Canadian Hockey League. Going forward, I will discuss the road to the 2006 Memorial Cup, player eligibility, drafting issues, and ownership/expansion. Constructive comments are welcome.