Friday, May 12, 2006

Moncton Takes 3-2 Lead in QMJHL Championship Series

The Moncton Wildcats defeated the Quebec Remparts by the score of 3-2 in another overtime battle in Quebec tonight. This was the fourth overtime game in the 5 games played in the President's Cup series. Moncton has won 3 of them, and in fact, has required an extra period for each of their wins against Quebec.

Tonight both teams came out in the first period and basically skated up and down the ice. Although most of the early play was in the Wildcats zone, there was no flow to the game or scoring in the first period until Quebec's Alexander Radulov skated into the Wildcats zone, executed some fine moves with the puck, and, at 14:33, was able to put it past the Moncton netminder, Josh Tordjman. Radulov looks like a wizard with the puck, and he clearly was the most talented player out on the ice tonight, but he is going to have to change his game to be successful at the next level. Shorter shifts and better overall positioning are going to be a requirement for his advancement. That said, right now, he and Coach Patrick Roy may feel that he is Quebec's only chance to win the series, so Radulov has a free rein to skate all over the ice and not worry about his time or positioning.

Less than 2 minutes after Radulov's goal, the Wildcat's best player on the ice, Philippe Dupuis, skated into the Remparts' zone with the puck and looked as if he had overskated the net, when he reached back and put the puck past netminder Cedrick Desjardins. Although it would have been a nifty move had it been planned, Dupuis had actually skated too deep to the net and made desperate attempt to come back with the puck. Dupuis is also a great talent, but he too needs quite a bit of work. Several times he came down the ice and made a poor shot selection (from a bad angle or in too close to the net).

The period ended with the teams tied 1-1, and stayed that way through the second. The third period opened with Quebec defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic taking a lazy penalty, and a little more than a minute later (at 1:55), Moncton's Dupuis took a pass from defenseman Keith Yandle, and shoved the puck past Desjardins. It looked like the Dupuis' power play goal might be the game winner, when at 13:09, the Remparts were credited with a controversial goal. After several giveaways by both teams in the Wildcats' zone, the puck was shot toward the net, and winger Jordan LaVallee crashed into Tordjman, who wound up pushed into his own goal. The puck slipped by and it was ruled a goal. Although an interference penalty was just as likely as a goal, the off-ice officials reviewed the play and let the goal stand, so the game went to overtime.

The Wildcats did not require much OT to win the game though, as Moncton took the puck down the ice off the opening face-off, and Dupuis took a shot that hit the post. Winger Martins Karsums got the rebound and poked the puck into the net past Desjardins, all in 13 seconds of OT.

If this sounds like it was an exciting game, then I embellished it in the writing. There are 2 or 3 players on each of Moncton and Quebec that are very skilled and played a reasonably decent game, however, overall, the level of play was poor. There was no real team play tonight, just individual players skating up and down the ice hoping for the best. When a player was able to enter the zone, rarely were his teammates there to take a pass or to take defensemen out of the play. When either team went on the power play, there were no setups in the offensive zone, and skaters mostly just took shots from the outside, as they were skating in.

It was astonishing to me that these teams got this far and played this much of an undisciplined game. Both of Quebec and Moncton are going to play in the Memorial Cup Championship later this month, and if they don't pick up their play, both will be embarrassed by Vancouver and Peterborough. The skaters must start playing as a group, executing break out passes, and coming down the ice together on a rush. Additionally, all skaters must defend their own zone, with specifically assigned coverages. There was no evidence tonight that either team was able to execute these hockey basics. Let's hope that they learn quickly, as the opening game of the Championship is only one week away.

Moncton and Quebec continue their series in Moncton on Sunday evening.

Petes Sweep Knights to Take OHL Championship While Quebec Ties Series Versus Moncton in the Q

The London Knights jumped out to 2-0 lead in last night's game, but took too many penalties with their loose play, leading to defeat once again at the hands of the Peterborough Petes. The Petes won the game by a score of 4-3, taking the OHL championship J. Ross Robertson Cup in four straight games. This was a shock to all who watched OHL games this past year, as London was the clear favourite to win the series. I have to say that while I did pick Peterborough to win, it was very surprising to see London lose 4 straight.

Before we get into a series analysis, let me just quickly review the game. Not surprisingly most of the 7 goals in the game occurred on the power play. While throughout the series I cautioned the Petes about staying out of the box and avoiding London's 5-forward power play, I should have also warned the Knights. Apparently, London's battle plan for this particular game was to play as close to the edge as possible, but their execution was poor, as they got called time after time for silly penalties. The Knights looked too hungry and too desperate last night, as they failed to play the disciplined defensive game that was necessary to win. Rob Schremp and Sergei Kostitsyn stood out for the Knights as offensive performers. Schremp's shot and passing abilities are of NHL quality. And Kostitsyn is a playmaker, who can finesse his way down the ice and finish in a way few can in this league. Each of them had a goal and an assist in the first 6:03 of play last night.

The problem for London was that the Petes then scored 4 unanswered goals, all in a 13-minute span of the first period. Trevor Hendrikx scored 2 goals, and Daniel Ryder, 1 goal and 2 assists. Steve Downie, Greg Stewart, Lubomir Stach, and Jordan Morrison all also contributed offensively. The Knights then tried to come back and tie the game up, but Petes goaltender David Shantz made one incredible save after another to keep Peterborough in the lead. The Knights finally scored late in the third period, when the Petes' Ryder was called for a delay of game for putting the puck over the boards in a desperate clearing attempt. During the ensuing power play, London pulled their goalie, who at the time was Steve Mason, to make it a six on four man advantage. Schremp was able to use his incredible shot to put the puck past Shantz, as the crease was filled with players blocking his vision.

Despite further strong efforts by London to tie the game up late in the period, the Petes defensive play was excellent, and they were able to hold the Knights off, clearing the puck out of their own zone time after time. Shantz was amazing, coming up big as the Knights peppered him continuously.

The Petes' Ryder was named the playoff MVP, as he had a fantastic playoff series, registering 31 points (15 goals) in 19 games. Ryder, a third round 2005 pick of the Calgary Flames really stepped up his game during the post-season and was a deserving recipient. I believe an equally good choice, however, would have been the Petes netminder, Shantz. If not for Shantz's outstanding play throughout the series, Peterborough would not be on its way to Moncton to challenge for the Memorial Cup.

The Petes' Patrick Kaleta's play throughout the series also bears mentioning. The 2004 sixth round pick of the Buffalo Sabres has turned into a fine all-around player, who can work his way down the ice, take the body when necessary, and score. Game after game, Kaleta stepped up and took the role that his team needed him to. The Sabres need to sign this kid immediately, or risk losing him on June 1. I am sure that the Sabres will ink him, but if not, there sure will be a lot of other NHL teams sniffing around.

The play of Steve Downie in this series also deserves mention. I must admit that he is not one of my favourite players, as I believe that he has serious emotional problems that have failed to be addressed by the powers that be. I understand that the OHL is in a spot with him, as Downie, a first round Philadelphia 2005 pick, has excellent offensive capabilities and a future in the NHL. Several suspensions for his outrageous acts this season have been meted out by the league. As I continue to wonder whether stiffer penalties were not in Downie's best interest in the long run, I must confess that he was one of Peterborough's best players in this series. Although Downie was responsible for a disgusting spear of an opponent in the third game of the series and probably should have been suspended once again, without him on the ice, the Petes would not have won the game last night. His puck handling abilities are amazing, and defensively he is really solid. The more I see of Downie, the more anxious I am that he gets the help he needs to control his game. Although the Flyers are not known for helping their players do this, Downie could be a tremendous addition to their organization, but only if he is not playing the role of "goon of the day".

As for the London players, statistically Schremp looks like he had an excellent post-season, as he was the league's leading scorer (47 points in 19 games). But the Edmonton Oilers first round 2005 draft pick was not up to par defensively . His positioning was often poor and his defensive decision-making was worse. There is no question that Schremp has the offensive talent to play in the NHL, but unless he improves his defensive game, he will never become the player that many expect.

I talk about the great capabilities of Sergei Kostitsyn above, and I believe that we are in for a treat next year as this Montreal Canadien's seventh round 2005 pick continues to develop. He has the potential to become an excellent NHL player, although I am not sure that London's system is the best place for Kostitsyn to develop defensively. Backup goaltender Steve Mason also looked excellent, in the 2 games in which he played this series. Draft-eligible this year, Mason will have improved his stock with his fine play over the last few days.

In the only CHL series left to be decided, Quebec defeated Moncton 4-3 in overtime last night to tie the QMJHL Championship Series at 2 games a piece. The star of the game was Quebec's Alexander Radulov, who had 2 goals and 2 assists on the night, and looks far superior to anyone else he is on the ice with in this league. He is explosive offensively, and along with teammates Brent Aubin and Mathieu Melanson, pretty much carry the team to victory. Throughout the night, Quebec looked much better prepared for the game, outshooting Moncton 43-23 in regulation. Ironically, it was Moncton's best player in this game, Phillipe Dupuis (who had 2 goals and 1 assist on the night), who took the penalty at 7:38 of overtime that led to Quebec's game-winning goal. A minute and 10 seconds later, Aubin shot the puck past Moncton's netminder Josh Tordjman for the score. The series will resume tonight in Quebec.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

CHL Awards Handed Out

In the last three days, Vancouver's Gilbert Brule has received three awards for his play over the last few weeks. Yesterday the Canadian Hockey League announced that it had named the Giants' center the CHL Player of the Week. It was the second week in a row that a Vancouver player was given the honor, as goaltender Dustin Slade was last week's award winner. Additionally, the WHL recognized Brule with two awards earlier this week. On Monday, it was announced that he was named the WHL's Player of the Week, and yesterday, Brule was named the WHL Playoffs MVP.

All of these awards are well deserved, as Brule has provided an incredible playoff performance. He is the league's top playoff scorer, with 30 points (16 goals, 14 assists) in 18 games. This is no surprise as Brule was by far the most talented skater in the WHL this season (he totaled 38 points in 27 regular season games). Brule is NHL-ready, and, in fact, but for early season injuries, the 19-year old first round pick (6th overall) in 2005 would have spent the entire year with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Also recognized over the last several days is the Moncton Wildcats' goaltender Josh Tordjman, who on Tuesday was named the CHL Goaltender of the Week for the second time this season. Tordjman is an undrafted overage netminder, who during the regular season managed a 2.31 GAA and a .915 save percentage in the very offensively minded QMJHL. He has played 18 playoff games, with a record of 13-4, a 2.29 GAA, and a .912 save percentage. As those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile know, I am quite high on Tordjman and believe he should get a tryout with an NHL team this fall. The more accolades he gets, the more likely this is to happen, so lets hope that the CHL continues to recognize his outstanding contribution to the CHL this year.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Vancouver Sweeps Moose Jaw to Win WHL Championship

The Vancouver Giants won their fourth straight game against the Moose Jaw Warriors last night by defeating the Warriors 6-3. The Giants took all four games in the series in a very convincing manner, and as WHL Champions move on to Moncton later in the month to compete for the Memorial Cup. At this time, Vancouver as to be the favourite to win the Cup.

I will devote more time to a Memorial Cup preview over the next week; right now, I will just provide a game review on last night's overwhelming victory. As usual, it did not start out that way, as Moose Jaw once again got the first goal of the game early in the first period on Dustin Boyd's seventh goal of the playoffs. Vancouver answered on the power play at 7:01 on its captain defenseman Mark Fistric's first goal of the playoffs. It was fitting for Fistric to get a goal last night, as he is an excellent leader of this club that consistently shut down the very offensively talented Warriors. Fistric (6'2", 232) is normally a hard-hitting defensive defenseman, so it was good to see the Dallas Star's prospect (1st round, 2004) get an opportunity for some individual accolades.

After Moose Jaw scored another goal early in the second period, Vancouver reeled off 3 straight scores late in the second period to basically end the game. Vancouver scored twice more in the third and Moose Jaw once, and the series was over.

As has often been the case over the last few weeks, Vancouver's Gilbert Brule was an offensive wizard in last night's game. He was all over the ice, making touch passes and generally making things happen for the Giants. After the game was over, Brule was named the WHL Playoff MVP after scoring 16 goals and 30 points in 18 playoff games. He really stepped up in this series against Moose Jaw, notching five goals and 12 points in the four-game series.

The MVP award was well deserved, however, I am rolling my eyes at the naming of last night's 3 stars. All three stars were ridiculously given to Moose Jaw players by their home press. None of the players that got the honors deserved them. Why not give out awards for best players on the home team at the end of the night separately, instead of making a mockery of the star system? The way it was done last night is a complete farce and only makes the press look like a joke.

The Memorial Cup playoff begin in Moncton, NB on May 19. With both the host team Moncton Wildcats, and the Quebec Remparts to represent the Q, Vancouver awaits the completion of the Peterborough/London series to find out which team will represent the OHL at the tournament.

Petes Go Up 3-0 in OHL Series v. London

The Peterborough Petes made it 3 games to none in the OHL Championship series against London last night, defeating the Knights by a score of 3-2. The game was exciting as the level of play was very high throughout the evening, as the teams skated from one end of the ice to the other. London had many more scoring chances than Peterborough early in the game, and the difference in the game was without a doubt Petes goaltender David Shantz. Shantz, a 2004 Florida Panther 2nd round pick, was incredible stopping shot after shot on four London first period power plays, including an extended 5 on 3.

After the Petes went into the dressing room with a 2-1 lead at the second intermission, London started to play desperate hockey. They finally scored the equalizer at the 15:00 mark on the first playoff goal (and point) of defenseman Andrew Wilkins. It looked like the teams were going to their third straight playoff game when, with 30 seconds left in regulation, the Petes Steve Downie showed the skill that got him selected as a first round Philadelphia pick last summer. He came down the ice with the puck, and wound up feeding a nice little pass to center Jordan Morrison (Pittsburgh Penguins, 7th Round, 2004) just outside the blue paint. Morrison was able to push it past Knights' goaltender Adam Dennis, who was playing hurt, for Morrison's second score of the night and the game winner. Morrison has quietly been having an excellent post-season, racking up 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists) in as many games.

The Petes will attempt to close out the series at home on Thursday night.

Quebec Defeats Moncton for First Win of Series

The Quebec Remparts turned their home ice advantage into a win last night, as the team got an early lead and hung on to defeat the Moncton Wildcats by a score of 3-1. After the first two games took overtime to decide, Quebec looked dominating last night, as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead and held on for the win. The Remparts took the ice with lots of passion and their skating legs, as for the first time in the series, they outworked the Wildcats and took the lead on 22 first period shots. Moncton, on the other hand, looked sluggish and had a hard time keeping up with the Remparts continuous first-period barrage. The slow-footed Wildcats took 6 of the 8 first period penalties, and were a man down for both of Quebec's first period goals. The Remparts added another power play goal in the second period, on a goal by winger Brent Aubin (assisted by Joey Ryan and Alexander Radulov). It was Aubin's 23rd point and 10th goal in the playoffs. Radulov, who had 2 assists on the night, has the CHL leading 49 playoff points. Defenseman Ryan, a top prospect in the upcoming NHL draft, has 10 points in the playoffs and a plus/minus of +16. The post season has been a great opportunity for him to showcase his talents for the upcoming draft, and he has delivered. Projected to be selected in the second round, Ryan has the defensive ability and grit to make it in professional hockey.

Moncton woke up in the second period, and started to pepper the Remparts netminder Cedrick Desjardins with shots, but only one puck got past the veteran goalie. That goal came on the power play when Adam Pineault, drafted in 2004 by the Columbus Blue Jackets, took a shot on the feeds from defenseman Andrew MacDonald and Luc Bourdon and slammed it past Desjardins. It was Pineault's 3rd point in the series, and 14th goal in the playoffs.

The Quebec/Moncton series continues in Quebec on Thursday evening.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Vancouver One Game Away from Taking the WHL Championship

With the Vancouver Giants' 2-1 victory over the Moose Jaw Warriors last night, the Giants are one game away from winning the WHL championship and a trip to Moncton to battle for the Memorial Cup. The game was much closer than the teams' first 2 battles earlier this week. Both clubs played an extremely defensive game, and Moose Jaw looked much better at home in this game than they had in the previous 2 on the road. There was no scoring at all in the first period, with the clubs trading penalties and killing off the power plays nicely. When Vancouver defenceman Jonathan Blum took a hooking call at 1:29 of the second, the Moose Jaw power play went to work. It gave the Warrior's big winger Troy Brouwer a chance to stuff the puck past Vancouver goalie Dustin Slade for the first goal of the game. This was the third game in a row that Moose Jaw opened the scoring in the game. As happened in the previous 2 games, Vancouver came roaring back. Late in the second period, one of Moose Jaw's star players, Blair Jones, took a high sticking call, and was sent to the box. It was Vancouver's fourth power play on the night, and thus far they had looked anemic. But not this time as Gilbert Brule took a feed from defenceman Paul Albers and shot the puck toward the goal. Winger J.D. Watt, who had been quiet in the playoffs, took the rebound and poked it past Warrior goalie Joey Perricone to tie the score. Watt then scored another similar goal in the third period, and the Giants had their third win in four days.

Troy Brouwer, the Warriors prolific scorer during the regular season (102 points in 72 games), has only 2 goals against Vancouver, and has not been the force that Moose Jaw needs him to be to beat the Giants. Brouwer really needs to step up his game tonight to allow Moose Jaw to avoid elimination. The other Warrior that needs to pick up his game is the aforementioned Mr. Jones, who was a fourth round 2005 draft selection of Tampa Bay. Jones is an excellent playmaker and finisher, but he has only managed to score 2 points in this series. Credit the Giants' defence for holding both Brouwer and Jones to a limited amount of offensive chances. Both of these guys are going to have to have a big night tonight (and stay out of the sin bin) for Moose Jaw to win.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Moncton Defeats Remparts Again in OT

For the second straight game, the Quebec Remparts were tied with the Moncton Wildcats at the end of regulation time. And for the second straight game, the Remparts went home empty-handed. After last night's 3-2 defeat, the series moves back to Quebec, where the Remparts hope the results will change.

When Quebec reviews the tape of last night's game, Coach Patrick Roy, who was incensed at the calls during the game, will have to consider changing the team's game plan. The Remparts took 7 penalties, which was far too many considering how Moncton plays, and although it did not directly hurt Quebec in goals against, it left the Remparts short handed for much more of the game time than it did Moncton. If Quebec is going to beat a very strong Moncton team, it must stay away from penalties and give their offensive powerhouses, i.e., Alexander Radulov, Mathieu Melanson and Anthony Esposito, more time to work their magic.

During last night's game, there was lots of back and forth action, with the teams exchanging goals throughout the game. It was Moncton who had the first and last goal, so the victory was theirs, but the game could have gone either way. Melanson and Radulov each scored for Quebec, and Christian Gaudet, Matt Marquardt, and Martins Karsums each put the puck in the net for Moncton. Karsums, a 2004 second round pick of the Boston Bruins, continues to look good in his offensive production for the Wildcats. He now has 13 goals and 9 assists in the playoffs, which is sixth in overall playoff points in the league. Often forgotten among some other big name players on his team, Karsums is steadily improving his game and may really become a very good professional player over time.

Quebec has the ability to turn this series around, but it must play a very disciplined game. The team should be and is playing to win, even though whatever the outcome of this series is, both teams are going to Moncton to play for the Memorial Cup. If Quebec does not win in this series, there is very little chance of them winning the Cup. Hopefully, Coach Roy will help the guys put it all together and play an inspired game on Tuesday night.

Peterborough Wins Second Straight in OT

The Ontario Hockey League's championship series moved to Peterborough on Sunday afternoon, and with some sparkling play and a controversial overtime goal, the Petes defeated the London Knights 4-3. Peterborough now leads 2-0 in the series and looks better and better in its quest to go to Moncton to compete for the Memorial Cup.

London was actually in trouble before the game started, as their star goalie Adam Dennis was injured and unable to go. Although backup netminder Steve Mason is an excellent goalie, and a top prospect eligible for this year's NHL entry draft, he has not been called upon to play much this season, and certainly not in a clutch situation like starting a game in the finals. He did a good job for the Knights, and if not for the Petes' overtime goal, Mason would have had a save percentage over 90%.

It's a shame when such a good game is decided on a goal that should have been called off, but that is exactly what happened yesterday. The Petes' captain Jamie Tardiff came down the ice with the puck, attempted to put the puck past Mason and pushed the defender into the goaltender. Mason fell which left the whole left side of the net open for winger Fredrik Naslund to put the puck over the outsprawled netminder. Although it clearly looked like there should have been a penalty to Tardiff, the goal was reviewed in Toronto (as all playoff goals are) and was allowed. Luckily the series is not over and the Knights have a chance to come back, but it was disheartening to watch an excellently played game be decided on a bad goal.

Prior to the overtime goal, the game was an exciting match between two fantastically talented offensive powerhouses. The game stopped and started with the call of 21 penalties in the first 2 periods, which was necessary given the amount of boarding and just un-needed aggressive play that was taking place. The result was that the first four goals took place with an extra man on the ice. At 18:41 of the second period, Peterborough's Patrick Kaleta, an indispensable member of the team, put a puck past Mason at even strength. It was a beautiful goal, where most of the work had been done by linemate Lubomir Stach, and it capped off an excellent period for the Petes. It was London that came out swinging in the third period, putting 14 shots on Peterborough's net and scoring the equalizer at 3:37 of the period.

It was Rob Schremp that scored that third period Knights' goal, which was fitting, because Schremp had the type of game that brings a smile to the face of anyone who has ever watched hockey. Weaving in and out of the lanes, around defenders, finding teammates he could not even see on passes, Schremp looked like a wizard on the ice. Both of his goals in the game were on incredible shots that were unstoppable. Schremp, is a first round 2004 draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers, is a volatile, highly talented offensive player. If London is to come back and win the series against Peterborough he and teammates David Bolland and Dylan Hunter must really step up and take over the next few games.

On Peterborough's side, the player of the game was Daniel Ryder. A third round 2005 pick of the Calgary Flames, Ryder has stepped forward in the playoffs and become a powerhouse for his team. Including his 2 first period goals last night, in 17 playoff games, Ryder has 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) and a plus/minus of +11. Additionally, Jordan Staal gets better and better with each game. The 2006 draft eligible center is an excellent puck handler, can hit, and does well on face-offs. With each passing month his draft ranking goes up. Ranked in the top 10 by all the draft predictors, it is likely that he will be one of the first 5 picks in the draft.

As for the series, I say again that Peterborough needs to stay out of the penalty box to win. The Knights took more penalties than the Petes this game and it really hurt them. Particularly the play of Ryan Martinelli and Kris Belan needs to improve. Six penalty minutes for each of these guys really hurt the Knights yesterday. If the Knights play a disciplined game and got their offense going, they are a better team than the Petes, but that is a big "if", and thus far, it's the Petes who have outplayed London.

The series continues Tuesday night in London.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

2006 OHL Priority Draft Review

All 15 rounds of the Ontario Hockey League Priority League Draft were completed yesterday, and as expected, the Sarnia Sting used their first pick to select Markham Waxer Minor Midget Steve Stamkos.

Stamkos, a center, had been seeded first on pretty much everyone's ranking list, having had an outstanding season for the Waxers. He scored 105 goals and 92 assists and led the Waxers to an undefeated season and to the OHL Cup Minor Midget Showcase Tournament championship in March. Stamkos has great hands and on-ice vision. If he has one problem that could hold him back, it is that he needs to bulk up a bit if he wants to play for Sarnia next season. At 6'0", 160 pounds, he needs to get stronger on the puck to play in a league with mostly older guys. There is no doubt that Stamkos will do just that, and barring injury, he will be a force in this league, if not next season, then in 2007-08.

The Oshawa Generals chose Michael Del Zotto, the draft's second pick, who also came from the Minor Midget Waxers. According to the OHL, this was the first time the top 2 picks came from the same team. Del Zotto, a defenseman (6'0" 190), scored 30 goals and 90 assists in 73 games in 2005-06. He also registered 90 PIM. He is an excellent puck handler and swift skater, in addition to being aggressive in his own zone. Whether he can hold his own in his own zone will be the question over the next couple of years. Overall, Del Zotto is an excellent addition to an Oshawa club in desperate need of talent on the blueline.

A big surprise in the top ten of the draft was the selection of James Livingston by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the fifth pick overall. In 2005-06, Livingston played for the York Simcoe Express Minor and Major Midget squads. While playing for York Simcoe, Livingston, who is a 6'1", 185-lb winger, scored 25 goals and 32 assists in 51 games. Good along the boards, with fine skating ability and more than competent puck handling skills, this pick is a little questionable. Hopefully, the Hounds did not get suckered in by Livingston's size, and he will perform up to their expectations.

Of note are players were not picked as high as they were projected to be drafted. The top US player in the draft was unquestionably Phil McRae. Currently a member of the US National Development team, McRae has another year of commitment to that program, and had hinted that he might not report to the team that drafted him. So although he had been ranked in the top 5 potential draftees, he dropped to 20th overall, picked last in the first round by the London Knights. This is the perfect team for him, both because of family connections to the team (his father is a minority owner of the team), and because the team wisely chose players in later rounds that McRae would enjoy playing with. If we don't see him play with the Knights next year, he will definitely join the team in 2007-08.

Another US player falling in the draft order was Robert Czarnik. Originally ranked in the top 5, he was chosen by the Oshawa Generals in the sixth round. The 5'11", 175 pound, right winger, played in 49 games with the Detroit Honeybaked 90's Minor Midgets, scoring 39 goals and 53 assists with 66 PIM. Although he may play in the OHL, Czarnik has previously committed to the University of Michigan, so he dropped like a stone in the draft.

In a final note regarding London's drafting yesterday, the Knights chose another Hunter in the third round in the person of Dale Hunter's son Tucker, a 6'0", 170 center. Mark Hunter also picked his son Garrett, a 5'10", 165, left winger, in the sixth round of the draft. Mark Hunter confirmed the obvious yesterday, saying that any rumours that the family intended to sell the team were completely false.

For a full list of all drafted OHL players, see the Ontario Hockey League website (at the links on the right hand side of this page).

Vancouver Goes Up 2-0 in WHL Championship Series

The Vancouver Giants took a commanding lead in their series with the Moose Jaw Warriors last night, beating the Warriors 7-5 in a battle that could easily have been called the Gilbert Brule Show. From the opening minutes of the game, Brule was fired up, and it did not take long for him to score his first goal of the night. After Moose Jaw's Ian McKenzie drew first blood at 3:26 of the first period, Brule scored his 14th goal of the playoffs on feeds from linemates Mitch Bartley and Spencer Macacek. All three of these forwards have played extremely well in the post-season, and I have heaped praises on each independently in the last two weeks. But when they play together magic happens. It is Brule, however, that makes the line work, and last night, he was everywhere. With 3 goals and 3 assists on the night, he once again showed why he was a top ten pick in last year's entry draft. If not for several serious injuries last fall, Brule would still be playing professional hockey, but since he returned to juniors, Brule has dominated his peers. Without him, the Giants are a good, but unexceptional, team; with Brule, Vancouver is virtually unbeatable. That is not to take anything away from goaltender Dustin Slade, who had an off-night, but no Brule would have meant that the Giants would be on summer break right now.

Although Moose Jaw was outmatched last night, Warrior center Dustin Boyd played an excellent game for his team. Named the game's third star, Boyd deserves mention for his two goals and for his on-ice presence. One of Boyd's goals came on a penalty shot at 1:25 of the third period. Vancouver had not been effective on its own power play, when Boyd got the puck, broke away down the ice, and was skating in on Vancouver goaltender Slade, when Giants' defenseman Jonathan Blum hooked Boyd down. Boyd, who is ranked by Hockey's Future as the top Calgary Flame prospect in the system, looked like the natural goal scorer that he is, easily putting the puck behind Slade. Boyd had an incredibly successful regular season offensively in 2005-06, registering 90 points, including 48 goals, in 64 games. Fourth in scoring in the WHL this past season, Boyd is a smart playmaker, with great hands, who knows how to stay out of the box (he only accumulated 34 PIM during the entire season).

The Vancouver/Moose Jaw series moves to Moose Jaw on Monday night.