Saturday, May 27, 2006

CHL Awards Announced at Memorial Cup Banquet

Alexander Radulov was named the 2005-006 CHL Player of the Year tonight. The 19-year old Quebec Remparts winger was a 2004 first round draft pick (15 overall) of the Nashville Predators, and his season can only be described as extraordinary. Radulov accumulated 152 points (61 goals, 91 assists) in 62 games during the regular season (leading the QMJHL), and continued his outstanding performance in the playoffs, garnering 55 points in 23 games (also leading the Q in total points). In Quebec's 3 Memorial Cup games, Radulov has 4 points, and tomorrow he will play in the 2006 Memorial Cup final game, which most likely will be his last in junior hockey.

Radulov was one of 3 finalists for the Player of the Year award. The other 2 were Wojtek Wolski of the OHL's Brampton Battalion, who scored 128 points (47 goals, 81 assists) in 56 regular season games, and then led his team into the playoffs (registering 18 points in 11 games). After Brampton was eliminated from the OHL playoffs, Wolski rejoined the Colorado Avalanche in their playoff run, and tallied 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) in 8 games.

The other finalist was the WHL's Justin Pogge. The Calgary Hitmen goaltender had a 1.72 GAA and .926 during the regular season, and although the Toronto Maple Leafs' 2004 third round (90 overall) draft pick was not selected as the CHL Player of the Year, he was named the Goaltender of the Year at tonight's banquet. Pogge had previously been chosen the WHL's Player of the Year.

A second participant in the Memorial Cup final game was also honored tonight. Nineteen-year old Keith Yandle of the Moncton Wildcats was named defenseman of the year. Yandle, a 2005 fourth round draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes had an excellent regular season, registering 84 points in 66 games. Although Yandle has had a less than stellar Memorial Cup, he shined in the playoffs, scoring 20 points in 21 games.

Other recipients of accolades included the Oshawa Generals' underager John Tavares, who was named CHL Rookie of the Year (Tavares tallied 77 points, including 45 goals and 32 assists in 65 games in 2005-06), and Jordan Staal of the Peterborough Petes, who was named the top CHL prospect in next month's NHL entry draft.

Will Desjardins of the Medicine Hat Tigers was given the Brian Kilrea Award (as coach of the year), and one of his star players, defenseman Kris Russell, a 2005 third round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, was named the CHL's most sportsmanlike player. The QMJHL's Pierre-Marc Guilbault (Shawinigan Cataractes) was honored as the scholastic player of the year; and winger Mike Angelidis of the Owen Sound Attack won the humanitarian award.

The Memorial Cup final game will be played tomorrow afternoon at 5 PM Atlantic Time and will be broadcast nationally on Roger's Sportsnet and RDS.

Moncton Defeats Vancouver to Advance to All QMJHL Memorial Cup Final

The Moncton Wildcats defeated the Vancouver Giants last night in the Memorial Cup semi-final game. The 3-1 Wildcats' win sets up an all-QMJHL final between the Wildcats and the Quebec Remparts at 5 pm local time on Sunday afternoon.

A couple of things were very obvious from the opening moments of last night's game. First was the ice. The Moncton Coliseum is not air conditioned, and although the heat has made it uncomfortable for fans and players in the previous games, it has not affected the ice and play as much as it did last night. When it's as warm as it was yesterday, the ice really is wet and the puck doesn't slide anywhere near as well. This gets worse later in a period as little ruts fill with with water all over the ice. It certainly affected the play in last night's game, by slowing play and causing errant passes.

Also very noticeable was the fact that Vancouver did not have the legs it had in Thursday's tie-breaker. The Giants just did not seem to have as much in the tank as they did against Peterborough. This resulted in fewer hits on the ice at the beginning of the game. Instead, some of the Giants' players chose to jaw off at Moncton's skaters as they were changing shifts. This was nowhere near as effective as executing some very big hits in the first few minutes of the game. This decision was not a good one, as it allowed Moncton to play their type of game.

Moncton came out in the first period with excellent skating legs, and early on in the period really controlled the play. Neither team scored a goal, but there were definite momentum swings in the period. Although the Wildcats were all over the ice to start the game, and dominated in the early minutes, Moncton played a bit of a loose game as time went on, and Vancouver actually outshot the Wildcats 13-7 in the first period. Wildcat goaltender Josh Tordjman made several outstanding saves in the later minutes of the period to keep the Giants scoreless.

The first period was also fraught with penalties, as it became apparent early on that the officials were intending on calling a tight game. However, after calling 8 penalties in the first period, the officials started to "let the boys play", and failed to penalize some serious infractions. Some flagrant penalties went uncalled, which in part led to a near brawl at the end of the game.

It has become obvious that the Memorial Cup really needs to institute the 2 referee system. One ref and two linesman just do not enough eyes to keep control of the emotions that are displayed in this tournament. Many of these athletes are prime prospects for the NHL, and to allow possible injury due to non-calls is inexcusable. And given the failure to keep control over the last week, as well as the passions between the 2 teams in the finals during this tournament, one can only wonder what will happen tomorrow. Starting next year, this problem could be resolved by having the 2 ref, 2 linesmen system in place throughout the tournament.

The second period began with an early goal by Moncton defenseman Keith Yandle. At 4:33, Yandle, a 2005 fourth round Phoenix draft selection, uncorked a big shot from the point and put the puck past Vancouver netminder Dustin Slade, whose view of the shot was obstructed by alot of traffic in front of the net, on the stick side. It was Yandle's first point of the Memorial Cup,

It was Vancouver's Gilbert Brule who struck back at 10:36 on a wrist shot from the slot. Brule recover the puck in Moncton's zone and shot it over Tordjman's left shoulder. Brule has been the best player in this tournament thus far. Chosen the game's first star last night, Brule is am excellent skater and playmaker, and is currently the point leader in the Memorial Cup. With 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) in 5 games, it is easy to see why Columbus made Brule their first round pick in 2005. We have seen the last of Brule in the Canadian Hockey League, and, it is wonderful that he has given the country a glimpse at his greatness in this tournament.

Shortly after Brule's goal, he got speared by Moncton's Luc Bourdon and had to be helped off the ice by the trainer. As the referee did not see the infraction, no penalty was called, but it did affect the play for the rest of the game, as both teams got nastier. This had a big effect on third period action, which culminated in the brawl in the last 12 seconds of the game.

The third period began with the score tied 1-1, but at 6:18 of the period Matt Marquardt received a pass from Brad Marchand in the slot to put a rocket of shot past Slade. This game-winning goal was scored by Marquardt, but the whole play was made possible by Marchand, a 2006 NHL draft eligible, who took the puck off the boards, took a shot, recovered his own rebound, and then waited for Marquardt to be in position before passing it to him in the slot. It was an incredible display on the part of Marchand, whose stock is rising with each game.

The Wildcats added to their lead on an empty net goal by Moncton captain Christian Gaudet at 19:15, but the end of the game celebration in Moncton was marred by ugliness in the last minute, by a complete loss of discipline on both sides, with fighting all over the ice, including a Marc Fistric cross-check of Tordjman to the neck.

Moncton now has gained entry into its first ever Memorial Cup final, which will be played tomorrow at 5 pm Atlantic Time.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Vancouver Gains Entry into Tomorrow Night's Semi-Final

The Vancouver Giants finally played up to their abilities this afternoon, defeating the Peterborough Petes by a score of 6-0. Peterborough was completely overmatched by the power play of the Giants, who scored 1 goal with the extra man in the first period, 3 in the second, and 2 in the third. It seemed like the Petes never gained their stride this whole tournament, with only one win, 3-2 versus the Quebec Remparts on Friday night. No one or two offensive players ever stepped up to lead Peterborough to victory. And that is what is required in a Memorial Cup tournament. Today the Petes took one undisciplined penalty after another, as none of their star players, i.e., Daniel Ryder, Steve Downie, Jordan Staal, presented a real threat in the game.

Of particular concern was Peterborough's goaltender David Shantz, who was almost single handedly responsible for the win Friday night, saving 45 of 47 shots on goal, but just was not on his game today. He was slow in lateral movement and not square to shooters on many of the Petes' shots. Additionally, he completely lost his cool when things started to turn sour for the Petes. He took 3 penalties for going after opposing players, and eventually had to be pulled by his coach for his behaviour. It was disappointing to watch a netminder with so much talent have such an off day, and it raises questions about both his consistency and his temperament going to the next level. That is a worry that the Florida Panthers, who selected Shantz in the second round of the 2004 entry draft, will be wrestling with as contract negotiations with Shantz continue over the next week.

The first period of the game was one of the most physical I have seen in junior hockey. Both teams came out finishing all their checks and crashing the net. The period even saw the rare Memorial Cup fight between the Giants Milan Lucic and the Petes Craig Cescon. Thirteen seconds after Peterborough's Patrick Kaleta took an interference penalty at 16:12 of the period, Vancouver scored their first of 6 power play goals. Vancouver won the face-off and brought the puck into the zone, when Gilbert Brule passed across the net to defenseman Cody Franson, who made a back door cut to the net. Franson put the puck in the open side of the Petes net, and Vancouver was on its way.

Vancouver made it 2-0 at 2:57 of the second period, after Peterborough's Downie took an undisciplined roughing penalty. Frankly, this goal should have been called off, as Vancouver's JD Watt interfered with goalie Shantz, who was on his back when the Giants' Brule put the puck into the net past a helpless Shantz. Vancouver scored 2 more goals in the period, and then 2 in the third to take the game.

Two players in particular played an outstanding game. First and foremost, Vancouver's offensive leader, Brule. He did it all this afternoon, being credited with 2 goals and 3 assists. Brule just keeps getting better and better in this tournament, which is what great players do. They step up when it is needed. Brule has done just that, and I get excited when I think of what tomorrow night's semi-final game might bring.

The other player that had a wonderful game was Franson. After being selected by Nashville in the second round of the 2005 draft, Franson (6'4", 205) had a breakout season. In 70 regular season games, Franson tallied 55 points. That total was third overall in the WHL among defenseman (teammate Paul Albers was first with 62 points). He continued to produce during the playoffs, where he led all defenseman in the league with 20 points in 18 games. Like Brule, Franson just keeps getting better, as this afternoon, he had a hat trick and an assist, a 4-point game. The future look bright for this offensive defenseman and for Vancouver, as he has at least one more year in the WHL.

Tomorrow's semi-final will feature the Giants against the host team, the Moncton Wildcats. If the Giants are not completely exhausted, which certainly is a possibility, it should be an excellent game. The game will begin at 8 PM Atlantic Time.

CHL Player Signings and AHL Playoff Appearances

Over the last few days all eyes have been on the Memorial Cup, and if you are looking for reviews of those games, please scroll down. Let's not neglect, though, the current play of CHL members in the AHL playoffs and the six NHL signings of CHL players that have taken place over the last week.

Just yesterday 2 players were inked to NHL entry level contracts. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk, a 2005-06 member of the WHL Kamloops Blazers signed a three-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers. Dubnyk had been the Oilers' first round pick (14th overall) in the 2004 NHL entry draft, and has just completed his fourth season as a Blazer. The 20-year old (6'6", 208) netminder accumulated a 27-26-1 record this season, with a 2.54 GAA and a .912 save percentage.

The OHL Erie Otters' winger Michael Blunden also signed an NHL contract yesterday. The Chicago Blackhawks signed Blunden to a 3-year deal, after drafting him in the second round (43rd overall) in last summer's NHL entry draft. The 19-year old Blunden (6'3", 213) had an excellent season with the Otters. In 60 2005-06 games, he tallied 84 points (46 goals, 38 assists), ranking first in total points on his team and 16th overall in the league. The fourth year Otters' player was eligible and did join the AHL Norfolk Admirals (on an ATO) in late March, because the Otters failed to make the OHL playoffs. Blunden took good advantage of the opportunity, making 12 appearances for the Admirals (including in 1 playoff game), scoring one goal and 5 assists, while maintaining a plus/minus of +4.

On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced the signing of their eighth round 2004 pick, the WHL's Justin Keller. The 20-year old Kelowna Rockets' left winger (5'11", 190) just completed his third, and best, year with the Rockets, registering 88 points in 72 regular season games, plus he tallied 9 points in 12 playoff games. The gritty, two-way player led Kelowna in total points this season and placed fifth overall in the WHL.

In a much anticipated signing, Boston finally inked the Moncton Wildcats' Martins Karsums (5'10", 190) to an entry-level contract on Monday. Karsums, a star of the post-season in 2005-06, had been drafted by the Bruins in the second round (64th overall) in 2004. He had a breakout season offensively in 2005-06, even before his playoff run, as he more than doubled his production of last year. In 49 2005-06 regular season games, he accumulated 65 points (34 goals, 31 assists) and a plus/minus of +25. Karsums continued his fine play into the playoffs, where he registered 26 points in 21 games, including 7 game winning goals. And just this past Saturday, Karsums scored the game winning goal in the Memorial Cup game against Vancouver. He has stepped up to be a clutch player for the Wildcats, and the only surprise in this signing was that Boston waited so long to ink the winger.

The Bruins also announced the signing of the Gatineau Olympiques center David Krejci. I guess it was fitting that the Karsums and Krejci signings would be announced at the same time, as they were drafted by the Bruins back to back in the 2004 draft. Krejci was selected number 63, in the second round, and was the Bruins first pick in the draft. Although he played part of last season for the Olympique, 2005-06 was the 19-year old Krejci's first full season in the QMJHL. He put up very good numbers during the season (81 points in 55 regular season games) and then exploded offensively in the playoffs. In 17 playoff games for Gatineau, Krejci (5'11", 180) tallied 32 points, while maintaining a plus/minus of 0. With another year of junior eligibility, we may really see a star in the making in the Q next year.

The final signing of the week is that of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds' star and captain Taylor Kennedy, who was inked to a multi-year contract by the Pittsburgh Penguins last Friday. The 19-year old Kennedy (5'10", 183), a center, was the Penguins fourth round (99 overall) pick in the 2004 draft, and has just completed his fourth season with the Soo. During the regular season, Kennedy was the Greyhounds' top scorer, tallying 70 points (22 goals, 48 assists) in 64 games.

In addition to the signings, four members of the 3 CHL leagues have been involved in the AHL playoff race in the last week. Three OHLers and 1 player from the WHL have each played for one of the four semi-finalists for the Calder Cup.

Last night, the Milwaukee Admirals were crowned the Western Conference AHL Champions, and 19-year old Ryan Parent was a part of the lineup. Parent was signed to an ATO after the Guelph Storm were eliminated from the playoffs last month. The big defenseman (6'2", 183) is not an offensive dynamo, but he has played very solidly for the Admirals in 4 games over the last week. He will now take his game to the Calder Cup finals, against either the Hershey Bears or the Portland Pirates. With one year of junior eligibility left, Parent, a first round 2005 draft pick of the Nashville Predators, will either have to play in Nashville next season or more likely be returned to juniors.

Also on the Milwaukee roster for the playoffs, but not on the ice last night, is the Windsor Spitfires' prolific scorer, Cal O'Reilly. O'Reilly (5'11", 180), a 2005 fifth round Nashville pick, played 2 regular season and 10 playoff games with the Admirals. He has not looked as good in the games he played in the AHL as was hoped. Absent an outstanding performance in the fall training camp, O'Reilly, with one more year of junior eligibility, will be returning to the OHL.

Two CHL players are involved in the Hershey/Portland series, which will be decided on Tuesday night (May 30). Owen Sound's captain, and the second round overall pick in the 2005 NHL entry draft, Bobby Ryan has made an excellent transition to professional play. In 18 playoff games for Portland, Ryan has 8 points (1 goal 7 assists), but more than just his point total has been the fact that, at times, he is without a doubt, Portland's best player on the ice. The 6'1", 221 winger, whose drafting was far overshadowed by the Pittsburgh pick of Sidney Crosy, had a very successful OHL season prior to playing in the professional ranks; in 59 games, he accumulated 95 points (10th overall in the OHL). Although, Ryan has another year of junior eligibility, he will most likely play in Anaheim next fall.

The last player to be involved in the AHL playoff semi-finals, this time for the Hershey Bears, is Calgary Hitmen big defenseman Jeff Schultz. Schultz, who at 6'7", 225, is one of the tallest players in junior hockey, and has been in the Hershey lineup for 7 playoff games. In those games, he has garnered 4 points and only 4 PIM. The 20-year old is a solid defenseman (a plus/minus of +20 during the regular season), who can hit, but does not take undisciplined PIM. He also has some offensive ability and a really good outlet pass. In 2005-06, Schultz accumulated 40 points (7 goals, 33 assists) in 68 games. Schultz has completed his junior eligibility and will probably remain with the Bears next fall.

There are many expected signings over the next week, as the rights to sign most 2004 players expire on June 1. As the signings happen, CHL news will bring them to you.

Now back to the Memorial Cup coverage; the tournament continues with the tie-breaker game this afternoon at 4 PM Atlantic Time.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Quebec Beats Moncton and Wins Berth in Memorial Cup Final

Tonight the Quebec Remparts defeated the Moncton Wildcats by a score of 4-3 to gain a place in Sunday's final Memorial Cup game. Even prior to the game tonight, Quebec and their coach, Patrick Roy, were so disliked in Moncton, that 2 RCMP officers were posted near the bench during the game just in case there was an incident. Much of the anger resulted from some very inappropriate comments that Roy made over the last few days regarding the Wildcat team and their goaltender Josh Tordjman. Trash talking is not the norm in this tournament, but occasional words have been known to pass between teams and coaches. Lately Roy has taken junior coaching to new lows, and one can only imagine the anger and disappointment of the host Moncton fans tonight as the Wildcats were outplayed by the Remparts, and subject to some questionable calls by the officials.

Moncton opened the scoring at 15:42 of the first period on a goal from Wildcat winger Jerome Samson. Samson, who went undrafted last summer, is a speedy skater with good hands. He received a kick pass from Wildcat captain Christian Gaudet off a face-off deep in the Quebec end. Samson was in the slot when he let a quick shot go toward the net, and it found its target behind goaltender Cedrick Desjardins.

Less than 4 minutes later, just before the period ended, Quebec's tremendous top line of Alexander Radulov, Angelo Esposito, and Mathieu Melanson combined to tie the score. It was Melanson who got the goal off the rebound of an Esposito shot. All three forwards got points on the goal, but the beauty of the play was in watching them coordinate their attack. The line was relentless, and Moncton was completely unable to handle them on the play.

Radulov took a penalty in the early seconds of the second period, but Moncton was unable to score a goal on it. In fact, tonight Moncton showed the worst power play that I have seen in this tournament. The team has only one goal with the extra man throughout the 3 games in which they have played, and the problem is a combination of positioning, puck handling, and finding the seams. All these problems are not easily fixed by the coaching staff, but an attempt needs to be made to address them immediately, if Moncton wants to get to Sunday's final.

Very shortly after the power play ended, Moncton had a goal called back. Adam Pineault, who is on fire in this tournament, took a shot, and it deflected off of the stick of the defender Jordan LaVallee. It then hit the stick of Wildcat Matt Marquardt, who was swiping at the puck in a downward motion. The puck was redirected past Desjardins into the net. After a review, which looked to me like a goal, it was ruled no goal. To my eye, it seemed clear that when Marquardt hit the puck with his stick, the stick was already below the cross bar, but the officials saw it differently and the score remained tied at 1-1.

It was not long after the Moncton "no goal" that Quebec got their first go-ahead goal. Maxime Lacroix, one of Quebec's stars in the Memorial Cup, took a pass from LaVallee at the top of the crease and pushed the puck past Tordjman for the goal. Lacroix had been doing what he seems to do with ease in this tournament, and that is be where the puck is. Including tonight, Lacroix has 2 goals and 2 assists in the tourney, which ties him for the team's lead in Memorial Cup points with Esposito and Radulov. The highly under-rated Lacroix went undrafted in 2005, his first year of eligibility, but with his excellent showing here and a 47 point in 70 game season, he is likely to be selected by an NHL team in next month's draft. With each Memorial Cup game Lacroix looks more and more comfortable, so watch for him on Sunday.

Samson got his second point of the night at 18:47 of the second period on an outstanding play from behind the net. Samson was doing a great job controlling the puck and just threw it out in front of the net, where Gaudet was standing. Gaudet took the little pass and put it past Desjardins, who looked like he was playing too deep in his net. The score was tied once again; this time at 2 goals apiece.

Moncton played well in the third period, outshooting the Remparts 14-6. Unfortunately, there was a series of non-calls on obvious Quebec penalties, and 2 of the Remparts 6 shots went into the net. This was not all Tordjman's fault, ad it was an off-period, and an off-night for both of the Wildcats' top defensemen, Keith Yandle and Luc Bourdon. Giveaways and just poor puckhandling were common, and a team just can't win when its top defenseman cannot come through. That said, as the night went along, the officiating was less and less consistent, and Quebec got away with more and more holding penalties that really afftected the game. I also was appalled that, in the last minutes of the game, a Wildcat stick that looked intentionally aimed at Desjardins head and found his ear was not called. There is enough bad blood in Moncton out on the ice (and behind the benches). The officials really need to keep things under control, and while I understand that the officials desire to let the players decide the game, the failure to call late game penalties cans sway the game just as much, and a young player with an otherwise long career ahead of him can get seriously injured.

The first goal of the third period happened so fast, if you blinked you missed it. The Wildcats' Yandle misplayed a puck along the boards off the opening face-off of the period, and the puck was picked up by the Remparts' Melanson. He spotted Radulov all alone in the slot, and flicked a pass to him. Tordjman was no match for an unguarded Radulov from the slot, and very quickly (13 seconds into the period), Quebec went out ahead once again by the score of 3-2.

Although Moncton was able to even it up at 2:49 on a nifty little behind the back pass of the end boards from Adam Pineault to Philippe Dupuis in front of the net, the breaks just were not going Moncton's way. After defenseman Andrew Andricopoulos took a holding penalty at 14:02 of the period, Moncton had a very good power play. They were unable to score, but at least the Wildcats were able to move the puck around in the Remparts zone. As Andricopoulos came out of the box, he was trying to go to the bench, when the puck hit his stick. He took it, and skated toward the net and behind it. In a very pretty little move, Andricopoulos put the puck out front of the net, and it went in off one of the Moncton players that as standing just above the crease. It was a beautiful play by Andricopoulos, who is another player that was ignored in last year's NHL draft. Hopefully, someone will notice him this year and select the offensively minded gritty defenseman.

The Wildcats were not able to respond to Andricopoulos' goal, and so the game ended with the score 4-3. Quebec moves on to Sunday's final. Moncton, who is 2-1 for the tournament will play on Friday night, against the winner of tomorrow night's tie-breaker between Vancouver and Peterborough.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Vancouver Avoids Elimination By Defeating Peterborough 4-2

The Peterborough Petes lost their second game in as many nights tonight, as the Vancouver Giants avoided elimination from the Memorial Cup by beating the Petes 3-2. It was a desperate game for the Giants, who needed to win to make it into Thursday night's tie breaker game. With their win, the Giants will face either Peterborough or the Quebec Remparts. If the Remparts win tomorrow night, the tiebreaker will feature a rematch of tonight's game. If, however, Quebec loses tomorrow, then the goal differential in tomorrow's game will determine who plays on Thursday. These tie breaker rules are a bit confusing, but, we will have a game on Thursday night as each team has won at least one game in the tournament. More on the tiebreaker rules tomorrow night, after all the games are played, and it can be determined who plays when.

The best thing about tonight's game was that each team played 60 minutes of hockey. (That was not the case for Vancouver in their first two games, as the team looked exhausted after approximately 40 minutes.) The problem for the Petes was that 60 minutes of play did not amount to much offense. Playoff star Daniel Ryder did score a goal on a beauty of a slap shot, but neither Jordan Staal nor Steve Downie was a force in this game. Without the 2 of them, Peterborough does not have a chance to win.

Both goaltenders, David Shantz for the Petes and Dustin Slade for the Giants, played outstanding games. Both were peppered with shots at different time during the game, and both were virtually unbeatable, keeping well shot pucks out of the net, making spectacular saves one after another.

But only one team can win, and netminders cannot get goals for their team. So the difference in the game has to be a skater, and in tonight's game, that difference was Vancouver's Gilbert Brule. Scoring two goals on the night, Brule scored on 2 separate rushes that showed his amazing abilities with the puck. On the first goal, in the second period, Brule came in the zone alone and beat the defensemen, shooting from the slot past the outstretched glove of Shantz. The other goal, even more exciting, came at 8:42 of the third period, and wound up being the game winner. Teammate winger Garet Hunt had taken a charging penalty at 7:45 of the period, but as Peterborough was preparing to set up in the Giants' end, Brule stole the puck and skated in a zig zagging course down the ice. With two defenseman trying to get the puck away from him, Brule skated back against the grain, and wristed the puck past Shantz high on the blocker side. It was a beautiful goal, from a player whose skills are only matched in the tournament by Quebec's Alexander Radulov (whom we will see tomorrow night).

The game opened with lots of up and down skating, and a controversial call of no goal. The Petes' Downie had passed to winger Greg Stewart, who appeared to put the puck past Slade. Slade caught the puck in his glove, which looked like it may have been over the goal line, but the replay was inconclusive, and the score remained 0-0.

That is, until Jonathan Blum, Vancouver's excellent rookie (2007 NHL draft eligible), was working the point on a power play, and shot the puck from the point toward the Peterborough goal. Blum, who appeared extremely nervous in Vancouver's first game, has picked up his game since. His heavy shot hit third line center Brett Parker, who, at 15:07 of the first period, shot the puck up high over Shantz and into the net.

It was almost 5 minutes into the second period, when the Giants made it 2-0 on the first of Brule's goals. However, after going up 2-0, the Vancouver Giants took some very undisciplined penalties, which eventually led to a Peterborough goal.

The first penalty was the result of a very dirty hit by Giants' winger JD Watt on Justin Soryal. The hit, which was ruled "checking from behind", resulted in a 5 minute major penalty and a game misconduct for Watt. After Watt's penalty, the Petes' captain Jamie Tardif took one of his own, as he interfered with the goaltender Slade. Actually, he did not interfere with Slade, but Slade put on a excellent show to get the call, so part of Watts' penalty was negated. Not enough though, as only a little over a minute later, Vancouver's Milan Lucic took a goaltender interference penalty himself.

Tardif's penalty expired, and Peterborough was on a 2-man advantage, when the Petes set up in the Giants' zone. Staal took a pass down low in front of the net, and he attracted 2 of the 3 Vancouver skaters on the ice. Both Vancouver players blocked Staal's shot and were down on the ice when Tardif pushed the puck past Slade along the ice.

With this goal, Peterborough drew within 1 goal of the Giants, and if this game was to be a repeat of the Giants' last two, Vancouver was about to collapse. But Vancouver did not tire tonight, and although the Giants took 2 penalties early in the third period, Brule scored that incredible short handed goal, and the Giants went up 3-1. Peterborough was able to come within one goal of Vancouver, when at 10:53, the Petes' scored on an excellent shot off the stick of Daniel Ryder, but Peterborough failed to draw even in the closing minutes as Vancouver's defense played the full game tonight.

Tomorrow night's game between the Quebec Remparts and the Moncton Wildcats will mark the end of the round robin portion of the tournament. As no team will have been eliminated, all 4 teams will have a chance to win the Cup going into the tiebreaker on Thursday night. As predicted, this year's Memorial Cup is very tight, and any team can win. One has to think that, at this point, the host team Moncton, which has won 2 games already, is the favourite to win the Cup. If the Wildcats win again tomorrow night, they will be very tough to beat on Sunday.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Moncton Takes Game 4 Beating Peterborough 4-2

The Memorial Cup host team and QMJHL champion Moncton Wildcats are guaranteed a place in Friday night's semi-final, after defeating the Peterborough Petes by a score of 4-2 tonight. After the start of the game was delayed 20 minutes so that Rogers could show the end of the Blue Jays game, the crowd of more than 7,000 was treated to a fun game, with lots of up and down action.

From the beginning of the game both teams came out firing, and there were some fine performances from players on each team. Of particular note again was Moncton's Adam Pineault, the Columbus Blue Jacket prospect, who was all over the ice tonight. He may have gotten only one point on the scoresheet (a weird goal that got past the glove of Petes' goaltender David Shantz), but he hit one goalpost with a rocket of a shot, showed excellent stickwork, and was skating incredibly well. He was without a doubt the best player on the ice. But he had some competition for that honour from teammate Brad Marchand, the 2006 draft eligible center, who showed excellent positioning with soft hands, and scored the fourth goal of the night on a little backhand shot over Shantz. The other outstanding Wildcat player on the ice tonight was Stephane Goulet, who recently returned from injury. A point producer in the Cup, Goulet had 2 goals tonight and 2 assists on Saturday. Goulet, a seventh round Edmonton Oilers' draft pick in 2004, has really stepped up his game this season and has impressed all that have watched him in this tournament.

For the Petes, the best player on the ice tonight was Steve Downie. No matter what one says about Downie's disposition, no one can ever doubt his talent level, nor how he really shows up for big games. The first round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers takes his game to another level when he has to, and he certainly did so tonight. Cycling beautifully in the offensive zone, and protecting the puck when he had possession, there is no question that Downie is an artiste, and if he can only overcome some of his emotional problems, he could become a first rate player at the next level.

As far as the game went, it looked like there would be no goals at all in the first period, when Moncton drew first blood at 19:41. Goulet got the goal off a Shantz rebound. Goulet had gone to the net after making a pass to Luc Bourdon, and was there when the puck came to him on the open side on the rebound.

Peterborough struck back on the power play in the second period, as Downie zig zagged up the ice and took a low shot at the Wildcats' Josh Tordjman. Tordjman appeared to stop the puck, but it dribbled slowly through his legs. As it slipped through, Downie, who continued to skate to the net, tapped it into the goal. It was a controversial goal, as replays showed the whistle had already blown and the goal should have been waved off.

Nontheless, the goal stood, just over a minute later, Moncton retook the lead on another questionable goal. Moncton defenseman Maxime Belanger took a shot from the point, and Goulet redirected the puck with his stick into the Petes' net. It looked as though the stick might have been above the crossbar, but the review was inconclusive, so that goal stood.

The last goal of the second period came on Pineault's weird floating shot from the point that got past Shantz. That goal, which made the score 3-1, turned out to be the game winner.

The Petes' got within one on a beautiful goal by Greg Stewart, the 2004 8th round Montreal Canadiens draft pick, at 3:12 of the third period. Stewart stole the puck in the neutral zone and skated it into the Wildcats' end. Using Bourdon as a screen, Stewart shot the puck up high on Tordjman, who just could not react in time to make the save. Marchand's beautiful backhand flick made the score 4-2 at 15:26, and although Peterborough had several good scoring chances in the last 5 minutes of the game, they just could not put the puck past Tordjman.

This sets up a very interesting game between Peterborough and the Vancouver Giants tomorrow night. Vancouver has yet to win a game and desperately needs to win to stay in the tournament. However, after losing tonight, if Peterborough does not win tomorrow, it will have a very tough time getting to the finals. Both teams will be throwing caution to the wind, and it should make for a very physical edgy game.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Quebec Stuns Vancouver in 6-3 Win

The Quebec Remparts scored 5 unanswered goals in a little over a period to take game 3 of the Memorial Cup form the Vancouver Giants by a score of 6-3. It is the second game in 2 days in which the Giants were dominant for more than the first half of the game, and then fell apart after the opposition scored.

The Giants scored their first goal twenty seconds into the game, on a pass from Gilbert Brule to Mitch Bartley. Bartley was breaking in on the Remparts' net, when he took the pass and quickly pushed the puck past Quebec goaltender Cedrick Desjardin. Very shortly thereafter, Vancouver almost made it 2-0 as Spencer Machacek hit the Quebec goal post on a shot.

The first period was laden with penalties, with the teams trading sins. After the Giants winger J.D. Watt took a hooking penalty at 15:59, Quebec attempted to set up in the Vancouver zone. Brule intercepted a pass and went in on Desjardins 2 on 1 with Bartley on the wing. Instead of passing to Bartley, Brule shot the puck high on the glove side of Desjardins, surprising the goaltender, and putting it past him at 16:14 of the period.

At the period's end, it was 2-0 Vancouver. The Remparts looked terrible during the first 20 minutes, failing to execute break out passes, not skating and not responding to the trap-like game that Vancouver started to play after it took the lead.

Quebec came out a bit stronger after the first intermission, as they started to make some adjustments. But it took until the team's first goal at 13:23 to get some jump in their game. Rookie phenom Angelo Esposito was on a line with Quebec's star player Alexander Radulov, and both came down the ice into Vancouver's zone. Esposito took a shot on goal that Slade stopped, but Slade gave up a rebound, and Radulov was right there to put the puck past the out-stretched netminder. This Remparts first goal changed the whole tenor of the game.

But before Quebec totally took over the game, Vancouver was to score one more goal. Quebec took 2 penalties at 14:40 and 15:09, enabling the Giants to go on a 5 on 3 advantage. The Giants took advantage of the 2 extra men, and were finally able to get their first power play goal of the Memorial Cup at 15:39. Defenseman Paul Albers took a shot from the point, which went in. Although it looked like the puck was redirected by one of many players in front of the net, the goal was given to Albers, and at that point, the score was 3-1 Vancouver.

Vancouver was still playing a decent game, but after the Remparts began peppering Slade with shots in the last minute and a half of the period, and one of those shots went in (Mathieu Melanson from Esposito and Andrew Andricopoulos at 18:58), it was like someone took all the air out of Vancouver's game and the team was playing in slow motion. The result was 4 more unanswered goals by Quebec (including an empty netter in the last 1:02 of the game).

After scoring the tieing goal on a 5 on 3 advantage at 37 seconds into the third period, Jordan Lavallee scored the game winner at 9:38, off a skate pass from Maxine Lacroix. Lavalle was one of 3 Remparts in front of Giants' goalie Slade and had an open side of the net to easily put the puck into. It was a crushing blow to the Giants, who just could not keep up with the Remparts in the latter stages of the game.

The Remparts are an explosive team, and they certainly showed character in not giving up when they were dominated during the first 2 periods, but this was as much about Vancouver's collapse in the second game in a row as it was about Quebec. Vancouver just did not play a full 60 minutes. Yesterday I wrote about the reasons why the team might have had difficulty playing well, but today I saw a team that just does not know how to play when the going gets rough. The team I have seen play in the tournament is just not the same team that played in the WHL playoffs, and I am not sure why that is.

In any case, now 0-2 in the Memorial Cup, Vancouver has little chance to win the Cup. Not only is this a huge disappointment for this year, but Vancouver will be the host team next year, and will not have the services of Gilbert Brule (who will be a professional). It could get very ugly for the host team fans next year.

As for Quebec, it is still not clear to me that the Remparts have a real chance to win the Cup. Radulov looked good this afternoon (2 goals), and so did Esposito (with 2 assists). Others, Melanson, Brent Aubin, Lavallee (with 2 goals), and Lacroix also stepped up. However, in my opinion, it is Cedrick Desjardins who will be the linchpin, and that is if and only if Radulov and Esposito are able to continue their offensive barrage. Desjardins will have to take his game up one more notch for the Remparts, and make outstanding saves in some of the very tough games ahead. Desjardins has previous tournament experience and that should help him, but whether he is up to the task remains to be seen.

Tomorrow night's game between Moncton and Peterborough has an 8 pm Atlantic Time start.