Saturday, May 20, 2006

Moncton Victorious Over Vancouver in Game 2

The Moncton Wildcats defeated the Vancouver Giants by a score of 3-2 tonight to take the second game of the Memorial Cup. The game had more of a professional hockey feel than last night's, as both the Wildcats and the Giants finished every check and looked for opportunities to take their opponents out of the play.

The Wildcats, who decided to all dye their hair blond, looked sluggish in the first period of the game. It only took a little more than one minute for Vancouver's Michal Repik to put the puck past the Moncton goalie Josh Tordjman and the Giants were up 1-0. Repik, who had missed the WHL finals with a concussion, looked very good at several points during the game, both positionally and with the puck. On his first period goal, Repik took a pass down low from teammate Tim Kraus and protected it from the Wildcats as he moved around the net to flick it in.

The Giants were very aggressive all over the ice in the first period, and Moncton was having a very difficult time keeping up with them. Almost all of the play was in the Wildcats zone, as the Giants outshot Moncton 10-2 in the period. Shot after shot was saved by Tordjman, who kept Moncton in the game. Over the first intermission, the Wildcats changed their strategy and the team came out much more aggressive, both at even strength and on the penalty kill. That change kept the Giants from scoring in the second period. Additionally, it started to wear Vancouver down, as the Giants started to take more penalties.

The Giants killed off a 5 on 3 early in the period, but were unable to keep Moncton off the board when, at 12:12, Vancouver winger Chad Scharff took an interference call for tripping Brad Marchand near the Vancouver net. The Wildcats were able to set their power play up in the Giants' zone, and very quickly, at 12:35, Moncton's sniper Philippe Dupuis took a shot from the circle to beat Vancouver netminder Dustin Slade up high.

Once the score was tied at one goal apiece, the hometown Moncton crowd became a factor in the game. There was bedlam at the Moncton Coliseum when, at 15:39, Marchand took a pass from Stephane Goulet and put it past Slade. Moncton had broken out of the Vancouver zone on a 4 on 2, and Slade was helpless in the face of Marchand, who was the trailer on the rush.

Vancouver, which was now down 2-1, tried to stir things up by starting a scrum on a delayed offside call that involved all the players on the ice. Instead of relying on the skill they had displayed early in the game, the scrum was the beginning of Vancouver resorting to undisciplined play. It almost really cost them toward the end of the second period, when Moncton went on another 5 on 3. It was only the outstanding play of Slade that kept Moncton off the scoreboard late in the period.

It was Mitch Bartley who got the equalizer for Vancouver at 1:39 of the third period. Repik and Vancouver star center Gilbert Brule were working the boards, when Brule shot the puck toward the net and Bartley redirected it into the goal. Tordjman had no chance on the play, and the score was tied once again.

The problem for Vancouver was that at this point, they were out of gas. The Giants began to be outworked all over the ice by Moncton, as Vancouver had slowed their play down considerably, and could not accelerate when needed. This led to another odd man rush on Slade. The Wildcats came down the ice on a 3 on 2, after the Vancouver defense got caught pinching deep into the Moncton zone. Dupuis passed the puck to the trailer on the play, Martins Karsums, and Karsums shot it up over the catching glove of Slade for the game winning goal.

After a very slow start, Moncton played a very smart game. Tordjman kept the team in the game for the entire first period, as the Wildcats did not come ready to play the tough game they should have known that Vancouver was going to bring. Because of Tordjman, the Wildcats were only down one goal at the intermission. What impressed me most about Moncton was their ability to adjust and get some jump in their legs. It was a different team that took the ice to start the second period. And it was not just one or two players who were outstanding. The Wildcats had half a dozen players who stepped up. The team's two top notch defensemen Luc Bourdon and Keith Yandle both played a very good game. Both were positionally sound, and as the game went along made better and better outlet passes. Bourdon particularly was a huge physical presence on the ice. Karsums, who has multiple game winning goals over the last 2 weeks, is a clutch player who came through again tonight. Dupuis is a star, who can make plays, score goals, and very importantly win face-offs. Goulet, who had two assists tonight, is a welcome return to the lineup. He missed the QMJHL final series due to a knee injury sustained in the playoffs against Gatineau.

I must comment positively also on the play of Adam Pineault, who did not register a point, but played a very solid hockey game. He has a very good shot, on-ice vision, and played a very good physical game. He may not be as flashy as Dupuis, but the 2004 second round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets has real NHL potential. While I do not see him being a linchpin in this tournament, his play is continually improving and it deserves recognition.

Vancouver was very disappointing in the last half of tonight's game. They played the first half perfectly and then fell off a cliff. From the moment that Moncton scored its first goal, the Giants skated like they were drugged. I don't know if it was the long layoff since the series against Moose Jaw, whether it was jet lag, or just adjusting to the new rules (which have not been implemented in the WHL), or some combination of the 3, but they looked horrible, particularly in the third period.

The game tomorrow afternoon, between the Quebec Remparts and the Vancouver Giants, starts at 5 pm local Atlantic time. The game between the Moncton Wildcats and Peterborough Petes follows at 8 pm on Monday.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Petes Defeat Remparts in Game One of the Memorial Cup

The Peterborough Petes defeated the Quebec Remparts by a score of 3-2 in tonight's first game of Memorial Cup tournament. It was a very entertaining game, with lots of action, and both teams playing solid, basic hockey.

Without question that star of the game was the Petes' goalie David Shantz, who saved 45 of 47 shots. That said, both teams made major adjustments to their games to prepare for tonight. Quebec played a very tight game on defense, but yet got aggressive when given the chance. Most of the game was played in Peterborough's zone, so the Remparts were doing things right, but Shantz was incredible in goal. The Petes adjusted to the threat posed by Alexander Radulov, by covering him as tightly as they could. Although Radulov had some fantastic carries of the puck, the Petes held him pointless on the night. (It was the first time in the playoffs that Radulov did not have a point in a game.) Another potential star offensively for Quebec was Angelo Esposito, who looked like he could become a factor in this series for Quebec over the next few games. He played a much better offensive game tonight than he had against Moncton in the last week, and he may be getting used to the pressure of playoff hockey. If he does become a factor, it will require opposing teams to completely change their strategy against the Remparts, and we will see much more goal scoring in the upcoming days.

As for the game review:

The first period was scoreless, but it was clear from the start of the game that Peterborough's Steve Downie was going to be a force to be reckoned with. He forechecked and controlled the puck excellently. Also evident from the very beginning of the game was the experience of Remparts' goaltender Cedrick Desjardins. He seemed very steady early in the game, when the game was mostly played in the Remparts' zone and he was called upon to make a large number of difficult saves.

The first goal of the game did not come until 9:21 of the second period, when Peterborough's Jordan Morrison hit Downie with a pass in the neutral zone, and Downie put the puck over the blocker side shoulder of Desjardins. Desjardins was playing too deeply in his net, Downie saw it, and put the puck behind him.

At the start of the third period, the score was 1-0 Petes. Thirty seconds into the period, Remparts' defenseman Joey Ryan took his third penalty of the game. Peterborough had been playing very well, and things were starting to look bad for Quebec, when the Petes set up in the Remparts zone. Just as quickly, the Remparts winger Maxime Lacroix intercepted a Petes' pass and skated the puck into the Petes zone for a breakaway on Shantz. Shantz was not set and square to the shooter, so it was easy for Lacroix to put the puck past him to tie the score at one goal a piece.

The score remained tied 1-1 for approximately 9 minutes. Play during this time was mostly in the Petes' end, and Peterborough often was lobbing the puck out to clear. On one of those clears, Petes' defenseman Lubomir Stach elevated the puck out of his own zone, flipping it down the ice. The flip "pass" was received by his teammate, Petes' captain Jamie Tardif, just at the Remparts' blue line, and Tardif went in on Desjardins alone, beating him up high.

So Peterborough was up 2-1 when Bryan Young took a roughing penalty at 13:42, and the Remparts went on the power play. They set up in the Petes zone, with 3 Quebec players down low in front of the Petes' net. Defenseman Michal Sersen took a shot from the blue line, and it went off Angelo Esposito right in front of the net, to Joey Ryan at Esposito's left (and Shantz's right). Ryan, who needed some sort of redemption for the 3 penalties that he had taken in the game, was already at the end line with the puck when he banked it off the pads of Shantz into the net.

The goal, at 15:16, tied the score at 2 goals a piece, but Peterborough broke that tie only 13 seconds later, on a goal by Morrison off a great effort by Downie. The puck was sent into the Remparts' zone on the face-off, and Downie made an excellent play along the boards to keep the puck in the Quebec zone. Morrison picked up the puck and shot it past Desjardins from the slot. The Petes took the 3-2 lead on that goal at 15:29 and never relinquished it.

The Petes played exactly the game they wanted to tonight. A tight defensive game, biding their time waiting for offensive opportunities. A lot of the game was played along the boards, which is where Peterborough excels. Additionally, although he had no points tonight, the play of Jordan Staal was notable. He skated well, played excellent defense, and won face-offs. Although his name may not appear on the scoresheet, Staal's continued play in this manner will really help his team win games.

All-in-all, it was a very good night for the Petes. On the positive side for the Remparts, they showed that they can play a good positional game. But it will be very hard for Quebec to win games if Radulov is shut down, even if Esposito lives up to his potential.

Game 2 of the Memorial Cup will feature the Vancouver Giants against the host team, the Moncton Remparts. The game will begin at 8 pm Atlantic Time tomorrow night.

URL To Watch Live Internet Feed of Memorial Cup

For those not able to watch the Memorial Cup games on either Rogers Sportsnet or RDS television, the url to watch on the internet is:

Memorial Cup Preview--Part 4

The Memorial Cup starts tonight at 8PM Atlantic time with the OHL champion Peterborough Petes taking on the QMJHL runner-up Quebec Remparts. The Remparts are the long-shot to win the Cup, but anything can happen in a 10-day tournament.

If you are not already aware of it, learn how to spell and say the name Alexander Radulov. Without a doubt, the 6'1" winger is the biggest asset that Quebec has on its team. Barring injuries, he will also have a huge career in the NHL, so watch him now and see a legend in the making. Radulov led the CHL in total points, both during the regular season (152 points, including 61 goals, in 62 games), and during the playoffs (55 points in 23 games). Expect him to continue to put points on the board during this tournament.

Radulov does have weaknesses that can be exploited by his opponents (including playing overly long shifts and out of position), so it is possible that he may be held to a mere mortal total of points. Possible, but not likely. The question is, will Radulov's points be enough to win the Cup? It was not enough in the recently completed President's Cup series, so we must look beyond this star player to see why.

On the positive side, Radulov does have some offensive support in forwards Mathieu Melanson (40 points in the playoffs) and Brent Aubin (27 points), as well as in offensive defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Michal Sersen. But none of these four players is a game breaker in the way that Radulov is, and because the team is built around him, when pressure is on, the puck is given to Radulov. So, if one of the other participant teams in the tournament can stop Radulov, Quebec will have to change its strategies to win.

Quebec also has two defensemen that can be tough in their own zone, which will be necessary for the Remparts to be competitive over the next 10 days. Both Joey Ryan and Guillaume Veilleux had plus/minus ratings in the double digits against QMJHL playoff opponents. Veilleux, an undrafted big tough 1986er, had an excellent season for the Remparts, for the first time showing some offensive abilities along with an edge (22 points and 125 PIM in 66 games). While he has not continued his offensive production in the playoffs, and at times he has mishandled the puck in his own zone, he can be a factor in this series if he steps up. Joey Ryan, eligible for the draft next month, is a tough guy, who can play. During the regular season, he logged 2002 minutes in the sin bin, while tallying 24 points. Ryan played extremely well during the playoffs, registering 10 points in 23 games, while only taking 29 PIM and maintaining a plus/minus of +13. Ryan has looked good on the puck, has excellent on-ice vision, and can skate. The ability to play himself into a first round pick in the NHL Entry Draft next month may motivate Ryan to put on a once in a lifetime performance.

On the minus side, goaltending is an issue for the Remparts. Cedrick Desjardins is the weakest of the four netminders playing in the tournament. If he can raise his level of play to that of the other 3 goaltenders, Quebec has more of chance to win, but he must stop giving up bad goals to do that.

Additionally, Quebec has to play a tighter game to defeat opponents from the WHL and OHL. I said this about Moncton yesterday and I repeat it today. Solid, basic play is necessary to win in this tournament. If Quebec can adapt to that kind of game, they do have a chance.

Finally, no preview of the Quebec Remparts would be complete without mention of the team's most famous name, that of Remparts' coach and part-owner Patrick Roy. Roy has shown that he has talent behind the bench, unfortunately, though, some of his passion for the game has overflowed into outbursts that are distractions to his team. It will be up to him to set an example for his guys, and become the real asset that everyone knows he can be. If he does that and Quebec plays a tight game, ... well we will just have to see.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Memorial Cup Preview--Part 3

The Moncton Wildcats are the host team for the 2006 Memorial Cup, and despite their free pass to the tournament, the Wildcats fought very hard to achieve the title of QMJHL champions.

Moncton is an explosive team, led by offensive dynamo Philippe Dupuis. In his fifth QMJHL season, Dupuis, a Columbus Blue Jacket 2003 fourth round pick, can make things happen on the ice. He is Moncton's go-to guy, and for the Wildcats to have any shot at winning the Memorial Cup, he has to have an outstanding tournament. Dupuis will most likely get his feeds from Phoenix Coyote fourth round pick in 2005, Keith Yandle. Yandle is a fantastic offensive defenseman (and in my opinion, Phoenix got a total steal in him), and he has really hit his stride in the playoffs. He looks much more comfortable out on the ice than he did earlier this season, and he seems to be able to find Dupuis and teammate Martins Karsums by feel rather than sight.

Karsums, who was recently named MVP of the QMJHL Championship Series needs to continue his hot play. The Boston prospect had 26 points in the playoffs, 65 points in the regular season and is the heart of the Wildcat offense with Dupuis, Adam Pineault, and Yandle. Pineault is another Columbus prospect (there are 3 in the Memorial Cup; Gilbert Brule is also a Blue Jackets' draft pick), who can step up offensively. Although Pineault was not much of a goal scorer in the most recent series in Quebec, he had 4 helpers in 6 games and had a plus/minus of +4 on the series.

Moncton has some depth at forward, as each of Brad Marchand, Jerome Samson, and Christian Gaudet are capable of scoring goals. So there is no question, that Moncton has the fire power to put the scores on the board. That, their host team advantage, and their coach are the team's greatest strengths.

The 21-year-old Josh Tordjman is as solid as any netminder in the Q this year. He looks confident in net, and he has the maturity not to be shaken in the big games. However, he is a question mark when facing great talent. For example, Alexander Radulov tallied 11 points against Tordjman in 6 games. What will happen when he faces the equally fantastic Brule is anyone's guess. Any hope of Moncton winning the Cup will depend on Tordjman playing as well as he ever has.

Can one ever say enough about Ted Nolan's coaching ability? Anyone who has read my blog for awhile knows that I have the greatest respect for Nolan's coaching abilities, and that I believe that the QMJHL has been incredibly lucky to have him behind the bench in the league. Moncton owes a lot of its success to Mr. Nolan's systems and handling of his players. He knows how to get it done under intense pressure and how to take some of the pressure off his players. Whether that will translate into a win is anyone's guess, as the Wildcats have several weaknesses that could kill any success.

First, they tend not to play a sufficiently defensive game to compete on an every day basis with the likes of Vancouver and Peterborough. Both of those teams are highly disciplined (although the Giants are not as used to some of the penalties that will be called in this tournament) and, if Moncton plays like they did in game #5 of their series with Quebec, they may get run right out of their own building.

Good, solid positional play is a requirement in this tournament. Run and gun won't work, so adjustments are necessary. Additionally, it is very important that Moncton be able to complete the breakout pass. They did a better job of this in the final game against the Remparts, but their previous loose play will not win games.

The home ice advantage is an intangible that is hard to measure. The very involved loyal Moncton fans were delirious when the team won the President's Cup over the weekend, and they will be rooting hard for the host Wildcats over the next 10 days. One always hopes that this will be a positive thing, and not make the players over charged up or feel too much pressure. This is where Nolan should shine, as he knows exactly what his players will be going through and how to handle these situations. Whether the Wildcats can execute for him and for their city is the big question of the next 10 days.

Schremp Apologizes for Misbehaviour at Last Week's OHL Final Game

The Edmonton Oilers defeated the San Jose Sharks last night to entitle the team to play Anaheim for the Western Conference championship, and all concerned should have been rightfully shouting for joy. But one of their star prospects, Rob Schremp, who joined the team after the completion of the OHL playoffs last week, had some left over business that he took care of late last night. In an apology to all involved in last Thursday's OHL final (portions of which have been posted on the NHL website), Schremp said: "I am bitterly disappointed that our team has been eliminated from our quest for the Memorial Cup and disappointed in myself as a result of my actions during our final game....I apologize to the Peterborough Petes, (OHL commissioner) David Branch, my teammates, our coaches and especially, the many fans who were in attendance last Thursday in Peterborough." Additionally, as to the officiating, Schremp added, "I have complete respect for the people who officiate the games and everyone who works so hard to make the OHL a terrific league." said Schremp.

Schremp ended with "[m]y time with the Knights has taught me to take full responsibility for my actions on and off the ice, and I sincerely hope this ... will convey my regret."

While the apology was late in coming and certainly prompted by his new team, it pretty much covers what was required to remove any embarrassment to his team, city, and the OHL. We all know that Schremp has lots of talent, and whether he actually learned something from this incident will be apparent shortly as he starts his professional career.

CHL Announces the Availability of Live Internet Feed of Memorial Cup Games

Today the CHL announced that it has partnered with INSINC to livestream all Memorial Cup games for fans who are not able to watch the television broadcast on Rogers Sportsnet or RDS. The cost to view each game is $6.95 (CDN) plus applicable taxes.

Fans can connect to the Internet broadcast through the CHL's official Web Site, at, or the QMJHL official Web site, at

My experience with INSINC over this past season has been excellent, and it is well worth the small cost to watch the games. If there are any problems with your connection, contact INSINC right away, as they will help you work it out immediately.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Memorial Cup Preview--Part 2

The first game of the 2006 Memorial Cup tournament will be played in Moncton on Friday night, and the first two combatants will be the OHL champion Peterborough Petes and the QMJHL runner ups, Quebec Remparts. The game will begin at 8:00 PM, Atlantic Time (one hour earlier than EDT for all folks in the States not familiar with time zones further east). Although broadcast on television nationally on Rogers Sportsnet, the game will not be available on livestream video for the non-Canadian audience. UPDATE: YES IT WILL! CHL FINALLY MADE THE DEAL. SEE ENTRY ABOVE. All the games in which the Vancouver Giants participate can be heard live at, but as for the other games, I am still digging to get more info as to where they can be heard.

With 99 points in the regular season, the Peterborough Petes had the second best record in the Ontario Hockey League. The team was second only to the London Knights, who the Petes swept in the championship series to get to the Memorial Cup. Unlike the Vancouver Giants, who I previewed yesterday, the Petes have a much more balanced team, and that is their greatest strength. Center Daniel Ryder was the Petes leading scorer in the playoffs, and was named the championship series MVP last week. His 82 points during the season, also led Peterborough, but ranked 20th overall in the league. A great stickhandler, who makes good on-ice decisions, Ryder was a third round draft pick of the Calgary Flames last summer. His continued production and leadership on the ice will be necessary for the Petes to win this tournament.

Although a controversial member of the Petes, Steve Downie's continued gritty, controlled play will be crucial to his team's success. If you ignore one incident during the series against the Knights (and I will not get involved in the argument as to whether or not Downie should have been suspended for spearing), Downie played the solid, strong on the puck, aggressive game that made him the first round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers last year.

Another Peterborough player to watch is winger Patrick Kaleta, who was all over the ice during the playoffs. If the Petes needed him to negate an icing, he chased down the ice, if they needed a score, Kaleta was the trailer on the play who crashed the net. His effort is amazing, and he is a finisher. The playoffs have been a showcase for his skills and effort, which hopefully will gain him a real look by the Buffalo Sabres, which drafted him in the sixth round of the 2004 playoff.

Other skaters to watch are center Jordan Morrison, and wingers Liam Reddox, Frederik Naslund, and the team captain Jamie Tardif. Defensemen Lubomir Stach and Trevor Hendrikx have also played very well during the playoffs (Stach had 18 points in 19 games with a plus/minus of +12, and Hendrikx had 15 points with a +2 rating), and need to continue both their production and solid defensive play for Peterborough to win the Cup.

The player of whom much was expected, but has not made a big splash in the playoffs, particularly in the series against London, was Jordan Staal. Projected to go in the top five in this year's draft, Staal scored 2 goals in one game and accumulated 16 points in 19 games in the playoffs, but his overall play against London was uninspired. Other than occasionally showing good positioning, Staal did not perform like a top 5 pick is expected to. If Staal picks up his game in the Memorial Cup, the Petes really have a chance to go far in this tournament.

But, in the end, everything will hinge on the goaltending of David Shantz. He will have to make some exceptional saves to stop the likes of Gilbert Brule, Philippe Dupuis, and Alexander Radulov. He made them against the offensive powerhouse London, and he needs to repeat that fantastic performance over the 10-day tournament.

The Petes greatest strength, its ability to get scoring from more than one line, is also their greatest weakness in this tournament. So far, no one skater has taken over a series for the Petes. However, if one of Peterborough's skaters, Staal perhaps, gets really hot and shows the exceptional skill of the elite players in this tournament, and Shantz can made those out of the ordinary saves, Peterborough can win the Memorial Cup.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Memorial Cup Preview--Part 1

The final leg of the quest for the 2006 Memorial Cup begins on Friday in Moncton. Four teams are still in the hunt--the WHL Vancouver Giants, the OHL Peterborough Petes, and two teams from the QMJHL, the Moncton Wildcats and the Quebec Remparts. Each day over the next four, I will give a brief overview of one of the teams, including their strengths and weaknesses. During the tournament, I will provide game reviews and other interesting tidbits.

First, lets review the schedule. The first game is on Friday night, and the round robin portion of the format will last through Wednesday, May 24. At that point, if necessary, there will be a tie breaker game on Thursday evening. The semi-finals are on Friday evening and the finals on Sunday at 5:00 PM Atlantic Time. This is the first year that the teams will be given a day off on Saturday the 27th to get ready for Sunday. This scheduling change makes the tournament much more equitable, as certain teams have previously played up to 3 games in 3 days in previous years. We are more likely this year to see the best overall team win the Cup than in the past.

A brief history of the Memorial Cup follows,* so if history bores you to tears, please scroll down to the next paragraph. The first Memorial Cup was played in Toronto in 1919 and involved 2 teams playing for the championship. In the early days fights and rowdiness were common, both on and off the ice, but by the 1930s things had settled down somewhat, with the Memorial Cup attracting very large crowds in either Toronto, at the Maple Leaf Gardens, or Winnipeg. At that time, four teams (east v west) squared off in a best of 5 series (the best of 7 series was not instituted until the 1940s). In 1972, the tournament adopted the round robin format, with teams from each of the 3 regions participating. The Peterborough Petes, whose coach was Roger Neilson and included the likes of players Bob Gainey and Colin Campbell, advanced to the final game that year, but lost to a team from Cornwall. In 1983, the Memorial Cup was played in the United States for the first time. From that year on, the host team was automatically a participant in the tournament, and the field was expanded to four teams. Last year, the host team, the London Knights, won the Memorial Cup, defeating the Sidney Crosby-led Rimouski Oceanic. It was the second straight year that the host team won the Canadian Junior National Championship.

Whew, the history lesson is over, and we can move on to a team preview. With 100 points in the Western Hockey League during the regular season, the Vancouver Giants were the top ranked Western Conference team. The team's record of 47-19-0-6 ranked third in overall points in the WHL. The Giants were unstoppable during the WHL playoffs, losing only 2 games of the 18 they played, and got stronger and stronger as time went along. In the WHL semi-final and final series, Vancouver did not lose a game.

Vancouver's offense is built around 5 skaters, Gilbert Brule, Cody Fransen, Paul Albers, Mitch Bartley, and Spencer Machacek. Fransen and Albers are offensive defensemen who can make things happen on the ice. It is rare for a junior team to have two such able offensive guys on the blue line at one time. Bartley and Machacek, wingers on a line with center Brule, are really dependent on Brule to make the play, but they are excellent position players on an outstanding top line. It is Brule that makes this team go offensively, and it will be the chore of opposing teams to shut him down, if they want to beat Vancouver. Vancouver's weakness, which is a problem among many junior teams, is that after the first line, offensive production falls off precipitously.

Along with excellent offensive abilities, the Giants' management has built a team that can play defense extremely well. None of the current team members had a negative plus/minus for the regular season, and for the most part, lazy penalties are not taken by this disciplined team.

Add in the goaltending of Dustin Slade and the team is my favourite for the Memorial Cup. Slade has had an incredible playoff run, 6 shutouts, and 12 straight wins since a 1-0 loss against Portland on April 7, 2006. Only 3 times in 18 playoff games has Slade allowed more than 2 goals. He is without a doubt the best goaltender in this tournament and, if his level of play anywhere near approaches his play over the last 2 months, Vancouver will win the Memorial Cup handily.

* This history is available on the internet, but a good book on the Memorial Cup (although somewhat outdated) is "The Memorial Cup, Canada's National Junior Championship," written by Richard M. Lapp and Alec Macauley. It is definitely worth picking up a copy if you have any serious interest in the history of the tournament.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Moncton Takes President's Cup; Karsums Named MVP

It took 6 games of play, but last night, the Moncton Wildcats defeated the Quebec Remparts by a score of 3-2 to take the QMJHL championship. It was the franchise's first President's Cup, and it seemed only fitting for the team to wait until they were on home ice to win the championship and share their joy with the whole city.

Both teams played good, solid hockey last night, and the game was much cleaner and more enjoyable than the one they played in Quebec on Friday night. Only 9 penalties were called all game, and although it can be said that the officials decided to let the guys play, the lack of penalties had more to do with a higher level of play than any decision on the part of the officiating crew.

Quebec drew first blood at 2:07 of the first period, when Remparts defenseman Michal Sersen shot the puck from the slot past Wildcats' netminder Josh Tordjman. Sersen, a Pittsburgh Penguin 2004 draft pick, is an excellent offensive defenseman, and although he has been relatively quiet in this series (1 goal, 2 assists), he garnered 21 points (3 goals, 18 assists) in 23 games during the entire QMJHL playoffs. This follows an outstanding regular season, where Sersen accumulated 79 points (22 goals, 57 assists) in 63 games, while maintaining an amazing plus/minus of +56. He ranked second among defensemen in scoring in the league, behind Moncton star defenseman Keith Yandle (84 points in 3 more games), and was named the QMJHL Defenseman of the Month for December and the Defensive Player of the Week in early February. Sersen is ready to begin his professional career after playing in the Memorial Cup.

Moncton struck back to tie the score at 1-1, when Moncton's winger Jerome Samson put the puck above the shoulder of Quebec's goaltender Cedrick Desjardins at 6:48. Samson, who went undrafted in his first year of eligibility in 2005, had an excellent game on the ice last night. During a breakout 2005-06 regular season, the 5'11", 175 winger scored 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) in 62 games, with a plus/minus of +17. An NHL team should consider him when looking to make a late round selection in next month's draft.

The score was tied at one goal apiece when the second period opened, and the players really started to pick up their intensity. Before Moncton scored their go-ahead goal late in the period, two Wildcat goals were called off. On the first, Sersen took a penalty and the Wildcats got possession of the puck after the face off. They came down the ice on the power play, and Yandle was able to get the puck to winger Brad Marchand, who was standing in front of the Remparts' net. Marchand, who is only 5'9" tall, reached up and knocked the puck past Desjardins into the net. Because Marchand is not very tall, there was some question as to the height of his stick when it touched the puck. But when the play went upstairs for review, the puck was determined to be tipped in with the stick above the cross bar, so the goal was disallowed and the score remained tied.

A few minutes later, another Moncton goal was called off. The Wildcats had skated into the Remparts' zone on an odd man rush, passing the puck between Martins Karsums and Yandle. As Karsums crashed into the net, it was ruled that his skate had a distinct kicking motion directing the puck into the net. Although this was a somewhat controversial call, it did not change the momentum of the game, as less than a minute later, Moncton's star center Philippe Dupuis shot the puck over Desjardins' shoulder into the short side of the Remparts' net.

Moncton made it 3-1 early in the third period on a quirky goal off the stick of Karsums. Columbus Blue Jacket prospect Adam Pineault had taken a shot from Desjardins' right, which Desjardins stopped, but the puck bounced into the air. Karsums came crashing into the net and poked the puck out of the air into the net. That goal was critical, as a 9:10 Christian Gaudet interference penalty allowed Quebec an extra man. Eleven seconds later, the Remparts' very effective power play put the puck past Tordjman. The shot of the Remparts' Brent Aubin actually looked like it hit the cross bar and popped right back out, but it was called a goal. Unbelievably, given the game circumstances, the Quebec goal was not reviewed and play continued with the score 3-2.

The result was in doubt until the very last seconds of the game, as the Remparts were aggressively attempting to tie the score. They even used some questionable tactics to try and get the rest their top line needed (see my discussion below), but nothing worked and the Wildcats won their first championship series 4 games to 2.

After the game, Martin Karsums was named the series MVP and given the Guy LaFleur Trophy for that honor. Karsums was a 2004 second round pick of the Boston Bruins, who is as yet unsigned. With 5 goals and 2 assists in the series, he was outstanding in the clutch. This follows an excellent season, where he registered 65 points (34 goals, 31 assists) in 49 games. The left winger is a natural goal scorer and if the Bruins don't sign him by June 1, they will lose all rights to him. With such a short supply of talent in the Boston Bruins' system, one would think they will sign him in the next week.

I must make one comment before I close today. This addresses an issue that the powers that be need to look at. There were 2 coaches that over the last few games used delay of game tactics to get rest for their top players at critical moments late in games. One incident happened in Peterborough last week, when the London coach, Dale Hunter, kept switching his goalies in and out of the game to gain rest for his top line. The other happened last night, when Quebec coach, Patrick Roy, requested that a play be reviewed when there was no question that he knew the play did not result in a goal. The purpose was to bring his players to the bench so that he could show his team members a play he wanted them to execute. He had no interest at all in what the officials were deciding about the play he questioned. Later on each face-off, Roy's players delayed setting up.

These delay tactics should not be allowed by the leagues. When it becomes apparent that a coach is trying to delay a game for his team's advantage, he should be warned. If it happens again, a delay of game penalty should be assessed. While we certainly hope that such calls don't decide important games, we also don't want coaches taking unfair advantage of the rules. It is scary to think what the coaches are teaching their young players by engaging in such tactics. Let's nip this in the bud, and, if the leagues have to, teach these coaches the hard way how to be professionals.

All three Canadian Hockey League championship series were fun to watch, and generally, the level of play was excellent. I look forward to the Memorial Cup series, in which Moncton, Quebec, Vancouver, and Peterborough will compete. The tournament starts this Friday in Moncton.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Recent CHL Player Professional Signings and Call-Ups

There has been a spate of CHLers signing entry-level contracts over the last 10 days. Additionally many players have been added to NHL clubs or AHL affiliates to join in the playoff run.

Shortly after the OHL London Knights were defeated on Thursday night, Rob Schremp was recalled by the NHL Edmonton Oilers. Before the Knights' star center could recover from his team being swept by Peterborough and his subsequent controversial actions, he was on a plane to Edmonton to work out with other Edmonton NHL prospects. Schremp, whose junior eligibility ended with the Knights' playoff run, must have been glad to get on that plane, as he needed to escape Ontario as soon as possible. Always an emotional player, Schremp incurred 2 double minors at the end of the final OHL playoff game for acting out on his personal disappointment against the opposing team and the officiating. His actions at the end of the game and his subsequent press musings regarding the OHL officiating were ugly and should not be tolerated by the OHL or by the Knights. There has been no official apology by Schremp or by the Knights, but the whole incident has left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Every day that goes by makes an acknowledgment of Schremp's poor sportsmanship less likely, but letting actions such as Schremp's go without apology mars the reputation of the club and the league.

In any case, Schremp, who was drafted by the Oilers in the first round (25 overall) in the 2004 entry draft and signed to an entry-level contract last October, did not play in Friday night's Oilers/Sharks game and is not expected to be involved in the playoffs. Schremp will be working out with other young Oilers' prospects, improving his conditioning and game.

Several other NHL signings of CHL stars were also announced on Friday. The Calgary Flames have inked one of their long-shots, Adam Cracknell, to an entry-level contract. Cracknell, who went undrafted in his first year of eligibility, was selected by the Flames late in the final round (279 overall) of the 2004 entry draft. He did not have a particularly good season for the WHL Kootenay Ice in 2004-05, but came back for his overage year and tore up the league. Cracknell, a 6'2", 215 winger, was second in overall scoring during the regular 2005-06 season, tallying 93 points in 72 games, while maintaining a plus/minus of +29. Had the Flames not signed Cracknell to an NHL contract by June 1, the winger would have become a free agent.

Two players from the Q were also signed at the end of last week. The Phoenix Coyotes announced that the team signed Halifax Mooseheads' winger Kevin Cormier (6'2", 232) to an entry-level contract. The 2004 sixth round draft pick (168 overall) has been a physical force in the QMJHL for two season, never taking less than 200 PIM in each. In 2005-06, Cormier also registered 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) in 69 games of play. It is most likely that Cormier will start his professional career with the San Antonio Rampage, the Coyotes' AHL affiliate. There he will join a group of big young aggressive forwards.

The last NHL signing announced on Friday was of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens' winger Stanislav Lascek. Lascek (6'0", 191), a Slovakian-born third year CHLer, was second in the Q in regular season scoring with 135 points (47 goals, 88 assists) in 64 games. The fifth round 2005 pick was overlooked in his first year of eligibility, but the Lightning look like they got a real steal with him. Lascek has played excellent hockey in the past 2 World Junior Championships and just tore up the QMJHL this season. He was named a Second Team All-Star for his performance throughout the year, Offensive Player of the Week in September, Offensive Player of the Month in November and recorded a seven-point game (2 goals, 5 assists) in March. The young winger will probably join the AHL Springfield Falcons, who are much in need of offense, in the fall.

Also signed to professional entry-level contracts last week were the WHL Regina Pats' center Petr Kalus, and two players from the Ontario Hockey League Guelph Storm, Ryan Callahan and Ryan Parent. Kalus is a Czech center who was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the second round of the 2005 NHL entry draft (39 overall). After being drafted by the Bruins, Regina selected Kalus in the first round of the 2005 Import draft. He had an excellent freshman season accumulating 58 points (36 goals, 22 assists) in 60 games. Kalus' scoring numbers placed him second among rookies overall in the WHL during the regular season, and tied him for first in total points on the Pats. The 6'1", 192 will be given a shot at making the NHL team in the fall. If he falls to win a roster spot, he has another year of WHL eligibility.

Ryan Callahan, the OHL Storm's captain for the last 2 years, was signed by the New York Rangers this week, as well as to an amateur tryout contract by the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. Callahan, a fourth round (127 overall) 2004 draft pick, had been offered an AHL contract last fall, but instead chose to return to Guelph for an overage year. Callahan put up excellent numbers this season, 84 points in 62 games, and was recently named the OHL's Overage Player of the Year. Callahan reported to Hartford, which is in the second round of the AHL playoffs, on Thursday, but although he is working out with the team has not yet played for the Wolf Pack. Callahan definitely has a chance to make the Rangers out of training camp, but it is more likely that he will start next season in Hartford.

Parent was signed to a 3 year entry-level contract with the Nashville Predators on Thursday. A first round draft pick (18 overall) in 2005, Parent (6'2", 183) had signed an amateur tryout contract with the Milwaukee Admirals the week before. Parent was a third-year defenseman for the Storm this past season, tallying 21 points in 60 games, and playing a gritty hard-nosed game. Parent has another year of eligibility left, and is likely to return to the Storm next fall.

Several other CHLers are involved in the AHL playoffs. Currently playing under amateur tryout contracts are the Halifax Mooseheads' David Brine and Chicoutimi Sagueneens' Patrick Coulombe for the Manitoba Mooseheads; the Calgary Hitmen's Jeff Schultz for the Hershey Bears; the Windsor Spitfire's Cal O'Reilly for the Milwaukee Admirals; the Owen Sound Attack's Bobby Ryan for the Portland Pirates; and the Barrie Colts' Jakub Petruzalek, Portland Winter Hawk's Brandon Dubinsky, Sudbury Wolves' Marc Staal, Halifax Moosehead's Franklin MacDonald and the Guelph Storm's Ryan MacDonald for the Hartford Wolf Pack. Over the next few days, I will discuss how these players have adjusted to the professional game.