All 3 League Finals Began Friday Night
All three championship series began last night, and there were some great games to report on.
Let's begin the game reviews with the first game in the Quebec/Moncton series. Game one in this QMJHL battle went back and forth, but the Moncton Wildcats finally won by a score of 4-3 on an overtime goal by Wildcats' winger Tim Spencer. Spencer's goal came at 4:45 of overtime on even strength on a rebound off an attempted shot by teammate Philippe Dupuis. It was Spencer's first playoff goal, but credit also goes to Dupuis, who was just back from injury. If Dupuis can produce offensively for Moncton, it will making winning the series much easier, and if last night is any indication of Dupuis' condition, Quebec is in alot of trouble. Quebec, which has a top notch fire power in the persons of Alexander Radulov, Mathieu Melanson, and Brent Aubin, must stay focused and out of the penalty box if they want to stay in the series. Quebec's problems began early on in the game, when in the first period, both teams came out a bit tight. The Quebec Remparts clearly had the upper hand in shots (13 to 6) and scoring chances, but they failed to convert on any of these chances, so that the score was tied 0-0 at the end of the period. The failure to convert in the first period loomed larger as the Remparts took penalty after penalty in the second period. The team took a total of 11 penalties during the game, compared to 6 minor penalties taken by the Wildcats. As all but one of the goals in regulation time were scored with an extra man on the ice, the Remparts penalty taking excesses really hurt. Although neither team has a particularly effective penalty kill, and Moncton's seemed even more porous than Quebec's, the Remparts, who are the underdogs in the series need to exhibit much more discipline to win the championship. They can't give Moncton the extra man. If they continue to play so loosely, the series will be over in 4 or 5 games. Quebec gets a chance to redeem itself tomorrow night as the series continues at the Moncton Coliseum.
In the OHL, the championship series between the London Knights and the Peterborough Petes began in London. It took the better part of 2 overtime periods to decide this one, but in the end, it was Peterborough that defeated London by a score of 6-5. As I mentioned yesterday, I believe that the Petes have a real chance to defeat London if they stay out of the penalty box. They failed to follow my advice last night, taking 17 penalties on the night, including 6 in the first period alone, but they won anyway. A word of advice though guys, I would not try taking 17 penalties again against the Knights, because London's power play will eventually eat you alive. London discipline was not much better during the game, in that they took 12 penalties. If you don't have the game picture in your mind by now, picture stoppages for penalties every 2 minutes--not the kind of game anyone wants to see from two such talented teams. I do want to mention the fine play last night of several skaters and one goalie who had spectacular nights. First, London goalie Adam Dennis who came up with tremendous saves in the game, including a stop on a breakaway against eventual Petes' game hero Patrick Kaleta early in the second overtime. Dennis, an overager who was a late-round 2005 Buffalo Sabres pick, has shown that he is solid under pressure and is ready to move up to professional hockey next season. Right now, he needs players in front of him to clear the net, so that he can do his job. Unfortunately for him, last night was not a good night for London's defense, causing him to let in 6 goals (on 70 shots). If London wants to win this series, the defense must shut down Peterborough's potent offense. If the Knights were not aware of the enormity of the talent on the Petes team, they should be today. Adjustments are necessary, and it is up to Coach Hunter to come up with a new strategy to hold back the Peterborough offense. The second player who stood out to me was Kaleta, who scored the game winner in the second overtime. Lest you think this is a fluke, it was Kaleta who put in the game-winning overtime goal in the April 24, 2006 win over Barrie. Some players have the ability to finish at the right time, and Kaleta is one of those guys. Also a Buffalo prospect, Kaleta is a keeper. Finally, I want to mention the excellent play of two skaters, who, although they each took one minor penalty each during the night, showed why they are top prospects. Jordan Staal and Rob Schremp both looked like winners on the ice, and if either gets really hot, look out. Each of Staal and Schremp has the talent to take over a series. The next game will be played at Peterborough, tomorrow at 4 pm.
Finally, in the WHL, the Vancouver Giants leaped out to a 1-0 lead in its series against the Moose Jaw Warriors, by beating them 5-1. After Moose Jaw scored the first goal at 2:49 of the first period, it was all Vancouver. The Giants reeled off 5 straight goals with no answer from the Warriors. Without question the 2 players who stood out above all others were Vancouver's Dustin Slade and Gilbert Brule. Slade, the incredible goalie who has grown to expect shutouts in his playoff wins, was marvelous in net once again, turning away 26 of 27 shots. Brule, who had 2 goals and an assist on the night, is ready to return to his NHL team (Columbus) next season. If he can stay healthy, Brule will undoubtedly be a star.
News on the results of the OHL Priority Draft, which was held today, will be posted tomorrow.