Saturday, March 24, 2007

Friday Night's OHL Opening Games

With Kitchener defeating Sarnia by the score of 6-4 on Thursday, seven other matchups had yet to take the ice as of early last evening. Because of scheduling issues, while the aforementioned teams have already played 2 games, 3 other matchups have not yet started their series. A litle odd perhaps, but everything should even out by the middle of next week.

Kitchener and Sarnia dueled for the second time in 2 nights on Friday. New location (the game was in in Sarnia), but same victor--this time Kitchener defeated the Sting by the score of 4-3. With Sarnia's phenom Steve Stamkos much more of factor in the outcome of the game, this time the game was played at much more of a post-season level. The Rangers' Steve Downie proved once again to be very important to that team's victory, but it was Justin Azevedo who proved to be the hero for Kitchener.

After the Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period last night, Sarnia scored 3 unanswered goals, and by the end of the second period, it looked like the Sting had a really good chance to win the game. The team was outshooting the Rangers, and netminder Peter VanBuskirk was playing really well in net. But against Kitchener, Sarnia plays best 5 on 5, so taking penalties is a very dangerous thing. The more room there is for the Rangers' players to maneuver, the more problems, Sarnia will have. That's exactly what happened last night, as Kitchener scored twice in the third period, first on the power play and then next on a 4 on 4, andjust as quickly, the game was over.

The situation is dire now in Sarnia, down 2 games to zip, with the next game (on Sunday evening) back in Kitchener. Sarnia was a long-shot in the series, and down by 2 games, it is an even bigger hill to climb to get to the second round.

There were 2 other Western Conference games on tap last night, including Stephen Colbert's favourite team, the Saginaw Spirit. The Spirit opened its series against the Soo Grehounds in Michigan and defeated the northern team by a score of 4-3. This was a tough game for Saginaw, who actually looked like they were lose going into the third period. Kudos to the Greyhounds who really almost played a perfect game against the much more stocked lineup of the Spirit. Defenceman Josh Godfrey had two tallies and top Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Jiri Tlusty had one for Sault Ste. Marie last evening. It was Ryan O'Marra, Tomas Zaborsky and Cody Bass (all NHL prospects in their own right) who scored for the Spirit. The series continues tonight in Saginaw, where the Spirit are expected to take a 2-0 lead.

In the final Western Conference series played last evening, London defeated Owen Sound 6-3. This was a much closer game than was expected, as the Attack just pounded away at London netminder Steve Mason, and the offensive gems of Bobby Ryan (who had a short-handed goal), Trevor Lewis, Howie Martin, and Bobby Sanguinetti all got on the board. But Attack netminder Anthony Guadagnolo is just not up to the challenge of the Knights' big guns. Plus there was Mason to contend with. Owen Sound got 48 shots through to Mason, but he stopped all but three of them. And the Knights David Meckler was just too much for Owen Sound (he had 4 goals, including an empty netter, and 1 assist). When the accomplishments of the London top line of Pat Kane, Sergei Kostitsyn and Sam Gagner are added (they gathered 7 points on the night), Owen Sound was just not able to keep up. It was Meckler and Mason who were the top stars of the night; scary really that the score was 6-3 and none of Kane, Kostitsyn or Gagne was a star. Just a note here that London is still without the services of Robbie Drummond and Kevin Montgomery, both of whom suffered injuries late in the season that could have them out for this entire series.

There was one surprise result in the Eastern Conference last night, as Sudbury defeated Mississauga. It is not good to wake a sleeping giant, and Mississauga has done just that. The Wolves Marc Staal had a goal and an assist last night and was the game's first star. Staal has had a difficult year, returning to juniors from the Rangers unexpectedly last fall, and never seeming to get completely on track; until last night, that is. Top players raise their game to another level in big games, and last night was an important game for the Wolves. Clear underdogs to Mississauga, Sudbury needed to make a statement, and this they did in their 5-4 defeat of the Ice Dogs. Staal was magnificent and the controversial AkimAlou was there, and did not lose his cool. Everyone chipped in; it was without question an excellent game for the Wolves. But not so for the Ice Dogs. Watching the game last night, I was reminded about how much Alex Pietrangelo means to this team. Pietrangelo has been out with an injury, and his ability to shut things down from the bluleline is sorely missed. Not only that, his offensive abilities are sorely needed by the team. One has to wonder, if he does not get back soon, will the team survive the round. The Ice Dogs did put 44 shots on goal last night, and both Oskar Osala and Stephan Legein looked very potent on the ice, but it is just not enough to offset Sudbury's weapons if Staal is going to contribute heavily. A very interesting series, stay tuned for game 2 on Sunday night.

Finally, it was no surprise that Oshawa downed Kingston, a team with a heavy heart. It was only 4 days after the mother of Chris Stewart passed, but that it took until 3:18 of the overtime period for the General's to put this one away must be giving the Oshawa coaching staff something to think about. Oshawa did win 3-2, but this should not have been a close game. Stewart, the captain of the Fronts, played in the game, but really was not himself all night. It's just that the Generals had an incredibly difficult time solving Fronts netminder Darly Borden, who came up very big in the game (39 saves on 42 shots). The surprisingly best player offensive player on the ice for the Fronts was overage winger Matt Auffrey. Auffrey was not a big offensive threat during the season, but he had a goal and an assist in game 1 and almost led Kingston to an upset. If he is going to produce offensively, we coudl have surprise here for sure. Especially since the Fronts were so successful in shutting down young phenom John Tavares. The star of the game for the Generals was not Tavares, but the top NHL prospect Brett MacLean. MacLean's 2 goals kept Oshawa in the game, while Tavares got only 1 assist. Kingston now gets a couple of days to regroup, and Oshawa gets to think about how to use Tavares in a way that he will be more effective. The series does not resume until tomorrow night, this time in Kingston.

WHL Friday Night Roundup

There were 8 games tonight in the WHL, as the playoffs began in each series. There was one major upset. And 3 of the games went to OT.

First, the upset. Red Deer completely dominated Medicine Hat, clobbering the the Tigers 6-2 before a very disappointed home crowd. The Rebels netminder James Reimer (TOR, 4th round, 2006) played an outstanding game, and in my opinion should have gotten a star of the game (he did not) for his 38 saves on 40 shots. The best two players of the game tonight were wingers Kirill Starkov and Martin Hanzal, who played together on both the power play and at even strength for the Rebels. Each was involved on 3 of the goals and they fed off each other nicely. What should be obvious to Medicine Hat in this series after tonight's game is to stay out of the penalty box. Each of Red Deer's 3 first period goals were with the extra man. So was one of the third period tallies. Not that Red Deer should ignore this advice. Both of the Medicine Hat goals came on the PP too. So disciplined play is should be the rule for both clubs going forward.

In the first overtime game, Prince George defeated Kamloops by the score of 3-2. This win really leaves this series wide open, because although on paper Kamloops has the edge, the Cougars Real Cyr can offset any offensive advantage that the Blazers have. He is definitely the key here for Prince George, and the Cougars netminder was fantastic tonight, stopping 35 of 37 shots. The problem is that the Cougars only were able to put 18 SOG the entire game, including more than 4 minutes of overtime. Centre Nick Drazenovic put put the puck in the net at 4:38 of the extra period, but no one player really took the offensive lead all night. Kamloops put a lot of shots on net tonight, but just could not solve Cyr. They will have to do so to win this round.

In a surprising game, it took an extra period for the Vancouver Giants to defeat the Chilliwack Bruins (the score was 5-4). The Bruins put only 10 shots on net the whole night, the problem for the Giants was, however, that Tyson Sexsmith had trouble staying focused and stopping the few shots he saw. He was replaced toward the end of the second period by veteran tender Blaine Neufed, who faced only 3 shots in almost 27 minues of play, but he was perfect. This allowed Vancouver the opportunity to win, which they did on a tally by defenceman Jon Blum. Blum had been unusually quiet all night, letting teammates Mario Bliznak and Spencer Machacek take the offensive lead, but the star blueliner came through and the Giants lead 1-0.

In another surprise, it took Brandon an extra period to dispatch Prince Albert by the score of 4-3. Brandon is without the services of star rookie Juraj Simek (out with an ankle injury), which can excuse the necessity of an extra period somewhat, but the real problem was the Raiders netminder Jesse Deckert, who played one of the best games of his WHL career. The overage goalie stopped 36 of 40 shots, and put on an excellent performance. For the Wheaties, winger Daniel Bartek scored twice in the contest, once short-handed in the second period and once in overtime, the game winner. Bartek has been more offensively productive lately, and if he really gets going in the post-season, Brandon will be hard to beat.

As expected, Regina thoroughly trounced Swift Current (4-0), giving NHL prospect Linden Rowatt his first post-season shutout. Rowatt stopped all 23 of the shots he faced. Not much more to be said of this game, or of the series, which is expected to be short and one-sided.

In one of the more interesting first round matchups, Calgary defeated Kootenay by the score of 2-1. In a battle of the goaltenders, both netminders (Dan Spence and Taylor Dakers) had a very good night and were the stars of the show. If either of these 2 players falters, it will guarantee victory for the other team, so the pressure is really on for both of these guys. The winning goal came off the stick of overage centre Derek Leblanc at 17:33 of the third period.

In another battle of the goaltenders, Seattle's Derek Yeomans faced 19 shots and stopped them all in the Thunderbirds 2-0 victory over Tri-City. His opposing netminder, Carey Price played a fantastic game as well, stopping all but one of 30 shots that he faced (an empty net goal was scored at 19:35 of the third period). The ony other goal was at 15:34 of the third period, when centre Bud Holloway capitalized on a power play to put the puck past Price.

The final game of the night saw Everett defeating Spokane 4-2. This series is supposed to be an easy win by the Tips and it certainly looked like it would be earlier tonight. Alternate captain centre Peter Mueller had 3 assists on the night, and winger Moises Gutierrez had 2 goals and an assist, but the biggest player on the ice was Everett's netminder, Leland Irving. Irving stopped 23 or 25 shots on the night, and kept making the stops, even when he had to perform some really awkward maneuvers to do so.

All games wil resume tomorrow night.

Friday Night QMJHL Roundup

Besides the 2 games reviewed below, Lewiston pulled off a very exciting 4-2 win over Shawinigan, Cape Breton beat St. John's 4-1, Baie-Comeau defeated Victoriaville 3-1, Val-d'Or clobbered Chicoutimi 8-2, and in the only overtime game of the night, Quebec downed Drummondville 4-3.

All prognosticators had Lewiston blowing Shawinigan right off the ice, but that is not what happened tonight. After a scoreless first period, the Cataractes scored 2 in the second on goals by defenceman Adam Bourque-Leblanc and the team captain, winger Patrick Bernier. Just before the end of the period, the Lewiston player to watch, David Perron, came through on the power play to pull the MAINEiacs within one goal, but the score remained 2-1 in favour of Shawinigan through almost the entire third period. Lewiston is a team that is fabulous with the extra man, and twice in the last minute and a half of the final period, the MAINEiacs were able to convert on the power play, which enabled them to win the game. Perron got his second and third goals of the night at 18:35 and 19:06, and the Cataractes were completely demoralized. Lewiston finished the game off with an empty netter at 19:34; the team scored three goals in the matter of a minute. What a finish for what is generally thought of as the best team in the league. The 2 players of the game were the fantastic Perron and the Shawinigan netminder, Kevin Maletto, who practically stood on his head tonight. He was beaten twice in a minute at the end of the game, but for most of the contest, he was spectacular. In total, Maletto faced 31 shots, with 28 saves. That said, if Shawinigan wasn't done with before this, tonight's game was an unbelievable letdown for the Cataractes. Don't expect them to get this close to winning a game in this series again.

Cape Breton showed how dominant they can be with the extra man tonight. The Screaming Eagles have 3 top offensive threats and all three of Paul McIlveen, James Sheppard and Cam Fergus were productive in the Cape Breton 4-1 win tonight over St. John's. After the Fog Devils got the first goal on a shot by Tim Spencer, Sheppard put the game winning goal past Ilya Ejov; then McIlveen added 2 more for good measure. CHL News did not mention the name of Dean Ouellet to the list of potential top producers for Cape Breton. But the third year winger was fourth in total points on the team in the regular season, and he is definitely a threat during this series Tonight he had 1 goal and 2 assists.

The Victoriaville/Baie-Comeau game started as expected. Just a minute and 13 seconds into the contest, the Tigres Benoit Doucet scored with the extra man. But that was the end of the Victoriaville scoring for the night, as the Drakkar took over the game. The hero of this game was Baie-Comeau's netminder Michael Dupont, who faced 31 shots and only allowed 1 goal against. The Philadelphia Flyers' 6th round pick last summer had a very mediocre regular season (31-23, 3.68 GAA, and .875 save percentage), but now appears to have really stepped up his play for this series. When Dupont plays like he did, the 2 goals of winger Joakim Jensen and the 1 of centre Alexandre Picard-Hooper are enough to win and win they did. Francois Bouchard, CHL News' player to watch in this series, had 2 assists for Baie-Comeau in the contest. He is still a key to this series, and if Dupont shows up every game, this series could easily become an upset.

Like almost every game played tonight, the losing team scored first in the game between Val-d'Or and Chicoutimi. The Sangueneens overage centre Alexandre Imbeault scored both of the goals in the first period to put Chicoutimi out front. Just before the period's end, however, the Foreurs Marc-Andre Cote got his team on the board. Then came the second period and 3 shorthanded goals for Val-d'Or; two of them were off the stick of defenceman Kris Letang. Letang was expected to be pivotal in this series, and it looks like he will be, but of equal importance looking ahead to the next 3 games, is the Val-d'Or goaltender Jeremy Duchesne, who was very solid in net (22 SOG, 2 GA). This series, which resumes tomorrow before moving to Chicoutimi, has the potential to be a sweep for the Foreurs. That is, if Val-d'Or can go into the very tough barn in Chicoutimi and take 2 games.

In the final game tonight, Quebec Remparts and the Drummondville Voltigeurs faced off in what is the most equal series among the 8 in the Q. Therefore it was no surprise that tonight's game went to OT. The lead in this game went back and forth, and then into the extra period. For Quebec, the team that won the game, the Bashkirov brothers were a constant threat on the ice. Between the 2 brother, they had 5 popints in the game. And Kelsey Tessier, who got the game winner at 3:43 of OT, just keeps raising his game higher and higher. Tessier is an incredible prospect, who has totally exceeded all expectations this season. For Drummondville, top prospect Derick Brassard had an excellent night. Brassard was injured for most of the season, but he came into this game healthy and with a 7-game regular season scoring streak. He has a huge amount of talent, and if Brassard can stay healthy during the playoffs, he can make a diference. Tonight, he had a goal and an assist, was named the game's first star (by the partisan home press), but he was just horrible in the face-off circle. Usually very good in that category, Brassard does need to win more than 50% when he takes draws. Stay tuned in this series; even though Quebec has the one game lead, anything can happen here. The series continues tomorrow in Drummondville.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Halifax Ties Series With Moncton

After losing the first game in Moncton on Wednesday, the Halifax Mooseheads struck back tonight, defeating the Moncton Wildcats by the score of 5-1. In a game marked by lots of ugliness in the third period, the Mooseheads showed that they have the ability to win and not be intimidated.

The game started off intensely, but not with any indication that it would wind up being extremely physical. There were no goals at all in the first period, and not that many scoring chances. The game began to get quite chippy in the second period, when the Mooseheads scored 3 unanswered goals, but the Wildcats did manage one goal at the end of the period, so it was 3-1 going into the third.

After both Halifax's Jakub Voracek and Logan MacMillan each scored in the third to make it 5-1, the game got out of control. The officals tried their best, but it got very ugly in the third period, as fights broke out 3 seperate times, and 4 players got game misconducts.

As far as outstanding players went, the player of game was without question Voracek, who had 2 goals and 2 assists on the night. After an excellent game on Wednesday night, he had an even better one tonight. I can't say enough about his skills and his potential. If Voracek continues to play at this level, he could carry this team past Moncton, particularly if the Cats don't get their emotions under control.

With everyone on the edge of their seat, the series will continue on Sunday in Moncton. Stay tuned.

PEI Scores 5 Goals to Defeat Acadie-Bathurst

The Rocket captain David Laliberte scored 2 goals and added an assist in PEI's 5-3 victory over Acadie-Bathurst in Charlottetown tonight, but the final result was far from a sure thing until the last minute of the game.

From the start of the game, PEI was peppering Acadie-Bathurst's netminder Brant Miller with shot after shot, but it was the Titan that scored the first 2 goals of the game. The Rocket's goaltender Antoine Lafleur looked very shaky and by the end of the first period, the visiting team led 2-0.

But 20 seconds into the second period, PEI struck back. The game's first star, winger Geoff Walker scored on a pass from linemate Guillaume Doucet and, the Rocket were only down by one. Lafleur looked like a different netminder in the period, much steadier andplaying with much more confidence. Doucet himself scored a second goal late in the period, and the game was tied 2-2 going into the third.

Titan overager Thomas Beauregard, who was second in points overall during the regular season, scored on a feed from Martin Bartos at 6:02 of the third period, and once again Acadie-Bathurst was on top. The Titan lead was short-lived, however, as just a minute later Rocket winger David Laliberte scored the first of 3 unanswered PEI goals (the last was an empty netter). Laliberte, who had 2 goals and an assist in the third period, and his team did not look back, and now have a 1-0 lead in the series.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Downie Excels in Kitchener's Win Over Sarnia

Steve Downie was obtained just for this purpose--to give the Kitchener Rangers the edge in the playoffs. With 2 goals and 2 assists, Downie was the undisputed first star in the Rangers 6-4 win over the Sarnia Sting. Downie was flying on the ice, making things happen throughout the game. It was a good thing for the Rangers that he was around, because the team was making defencive faux pas all night and would not have won without him.

In fact, Sarnia opened the game with 2 goals on 2 power plays before the Rangers struck back. Both teams paraded to the sin bin (there were 8 minor penalties in the first period alone), but even when there were no calls, the defencive play was not up to playoff standards, particularly early on. The Rangers were on a 5 on 3 man advantage when they scored their first goal. It would be the first of 2 for centre Nick Spaling on the night, and the first of 4 unanswered goals by Kitchener.

Leading 4-2 halfway through the game, more Kitchener defencive lapses allowed Sarnia to tie the game at 5:30 of the final period. But the Rangers still had some gas left in the tank, and scored 2 quick goals to take a 6-4 lead. The Sting did not seem to have the same jump in their step and, once the Rangers led by 2 late in the third, the game was out of reach for the Sting.

Of note for the Sting was the play of defenceman Marc Katic (a top prospect for this summer's NHL draft). Katic played a smart game throughout the night, as he both took care of his own end and produced offensively (2 goals on the night). Additionally, despite taking 2 penalties, blueliner Nick Tuzzolino looked good on the ice (no points, +1).

But it was Downie's night, as he proved once again how talented he is, and how he can turn it up a notch when it really counts. Kitchener made the right move trading for him at the deadline. There must be a lot of smiles among Rangers' management tonight.

OHL Playoff Preview--Western Conference

The Western Conference will open its games tonight in a showdown between the Sarnia Sting and the Kitchener Rangers. Sarnia's Steve Stamkos makes everyone around him better and one should expect that the Sting will be competitive in this series, however, I just don't believe that Sarnia can defeat the Rangers over the course of the series. Kingston doesn't allow many goals (due to the outstanding play of its netminder John Murray as well as the defensive mode of the team), and they can score enough to win against anyone in the league. Until the last game of the season, Kitchener had an 8-game win streak, and scored an average of close to 5 goals a game during that period. If Sarnia gets off to a quick win, things could be possibly be different, but I really don't expect that to happen.

The Owen Sound Attack take on the London Knights in the first round starting tomorrow night, and we expect this series to be short and sweet. Owen Sound has not put together a decent win streak since mid February and lost the last 3 games of the regular season. Bobby Ryan and Trevor Lewis are the team's big offensive threats, and they are just not up to the task of taking on London's defence over the course of a 7 game series. More importantly, despite having some big names on the blueline, the Attack's defence is pretty porous. It will be up to overager Tony Guadagnolo to stop the Knights between the pipes, and this will be a very tall order. The big three London forwards, Pat Kane, Sam Gagner, and Sergei Kostitsyn, can score against almost anyone. Expect them to put on a real show in London Friday, and to continue the barrage until this series is over.

When Guelph takes on Plymouth on Saturday, it is bound to be exciting, as both teams have a load of talent. Unfortunately, Guelph's talent probably won't be completely playoff-ready until next year, while in the Whalers you will be watching a team that is poised to fight for a league championship this year. The OHL has quite a few excellent goaltenders this year, but there is no question that the netminding duo in Plymouth has been spectacular of late. In March Michal Neuwirth had 3 wins, 1 overtime and 1 shootout loss, with a GAA of 1.36 and a save percentage of .961. Jeremy Smith, who well may be the top netminder in this year's NHL draft, has won 12 of his last 14 appearances, with only 1 loss. The Whalers have only lost 3 games since February 1st, so it is not a pretty picture for the Storm. Although Guelph may win 1 game from the Whalers, I don't expect this to be a long series.

In the final OHL first round series, Saginaw takes on Sault Ste Marie starting tomorrow night. This will be an interesting series, but not a close one. A month ago, I would have said that it was very possible that we can see an upset here, but the Spirit have played inspired hockey since mid-February. On paper, Saginaw is an immensely talented group, maybe more than any other team in the league, but because there was such difficulty getting playing time, some of the team members did not hit their stride until late in the season. Now the team has gelled (the Spirit have won 10 of their last 12 games) and it is formidable. The number of top notch players is so high that I venture a guess that Saginaw's 4th liners could play on several other team's first or second line. Not that the Soo are a bad team, they are much younger, more inexperienced and just not as talented. Expect the Greyhounds to battle valiently though; no one can question the team's work ethic.

OHL Playoff Preview--Eastern Conference

Tonight the OHL playoffs begin, and earlier this afternoon, the league posted 2 playoff previews (one for each conference). While not as comprehensive as the one posted for the WHL, the previews are certainly worth looking at. Check them out at

In the Eastern Conference, the Barrie Colts will begin their series with the Brampton Battalion in Barrie on Saturday evening. This series should be pretty easy for the Colts, who were the best team in the conference during the regular season,and finished the year with a 7-game win streak. Barrie relies on Bryan Little to carry alot of the team's scoring, and he will have to contribute quite a bit, but winning the series will depend on stopping Brampton's potent offfense. Goaltender Andrew Perugini has been solid for Barrie for most of the season, but he did falter somewhat in February and, at that point, looked very beatable. That is when rookie tender Michael Hutchinson proved that he is a future star between the pipes and an able backup now. However, the 18-year old Perugini regained his form this month, finishing the season on a 6-game win streak. Brampton came on strong in the last few weeks of the season, however, under pressure this young team does not really match up with Barrie. Players to watch for Brampton, however, are the outstanding rookie Cody Hodgson and the always dangerous John Hughes. A surprising offensive threat in this series could be the Battlion's centre Graham McNabb, who had a great game against Oshawa last weekend to end the season and has had an excellent month thus far.

The Ottawa 67s don't begin their series against Belleville until Monday night. On paper the Bulls look invincible far into the playoffs. However, over the past two months, there were 2 occasions where Belleville lost 3 games in a row, so the Bulls could be vulnerable. Unfortunately, for Ottawa, Belleville handed them a rseounding loss just last week, and I don't think that the Bulls will come out slowly Monday night in Yardman Arena. Overage forwards Tyler Donati, Tyler Doig and Andrew Gibbons, as well as netminder Kevin Lalande all are experienced players, and each should be ready for the post-season. When NHL prospects Shawn Matthias and Matt Beleskey are added to the mix, it will make it extremely difficult for Ottawa to keep up with the Bulls firepower. Even though the odds are against the 67s in this series, the team's top forwards Logan Couture and Jamie McGinn should be lots of fun to watch. But in the end, don't expect Ottawa to win more than 1 game at most.

The Mississauga Ice Dogs/Sudbury Wolves series could be one of the more exciting in the first round or it could be a complete dud. Both teams have quite a bit of firepower and some question marks. First of all, Akim Alou is due back in uniform for Sudbury tomorrow night in Mississauga, and Sudbury needs to have him playing well to win. For all the problems between Alou and the Wolves, the team must realize that it does not have a chance without Alou's skill in the lineup. If the winger can play up to his potential (which is enormous) and both the player and the team keep it together long enough to get through the playoffs, or at least this round, the Wolves have a chance. If not, they can pretty much pack it in. Even with the excellent overager Jusin Donati, the recently NHL-signed Nick Foligno and 2 outstanding blueliners in Jon D'Aversa and Marc Staal, it is not enouogh against the Ice Dogs. Mississauga's players have some of the best plus/minus ratios in the league, and they can score, sometimes at will. So the Wolves need Alou, and a focused Alou. Whether or not they get it is anyone's guess. Mississauga has a half dozen players who could be big offensive threats in this series. Plus the team will have Andrew Loverock in net and Aex Pietrangelo on the blueline (when he comes back from injury). Pietrangelo had a +40 plus/minus rating to finish the season, but has not played since March 11th, and Loverock, who took over pretty much all of the goaltending duties when Lucas Lovsinger was injured in February, has just gotten better and better. Since March 7th, Loverock has played in 6 games, won 5 and lost one in a shootout. So unless Alou really contributes to Sudbury's offense in a big way, it will be very hard to beat the Ice Dogs. With the enigma that is Alou, the outcome is anybody's guess.

The Oshawa Generals will face off against the Kingston Fronts tomorrow night, and it will be with a heavy heart that the Fronts take the ice in Oshawa. Star forward Chris Stewart's mother passed away unexpectedly earlier this week, and Stewart is not with the team as of this afternoon. Even without Stewart's absence and the pain and shock of a fellow players' loss, Kingston was at a disadvantage here. John Tavares is exactly the kind of player that can take over a series and with the town on a high from the Stephen Colbert Day events earlier this week, the Generals will have alot of support. The longer this series goes, the better the Fronts chances of winning, but the team will have to overcome both emotional stresses and the best player in the league to do so.

Moncton Looks Strong in First Game of QMJHL Playoffs

In last night's game between Moncton and Halifax, it was the rookies that played a huge role. The Wildcats defeated the Mooseheads in the first game of the Q playoffs by the score of 6-4, and just as predicted, the game was a very exciting one.

The Wildcats pulled out to an early lead and dominated the first period. By the end of the period, the score was 3-1, and the Moosehead's rookie netminder, Mark Yetman, looked so shaky (poor positioning and rebounds, rebounds led to all the goals) one had to wonder whether the night was going to turn into an embarassment. After Yetman let in 3 of Moncton's first 12 shots, including 2 goals to fellow freshman CHLer Murdock MacLellan, his play did level out , but it was touch and go there early on.

Halifax does have the offensive ability to make this an exciting matchup, and the Mooseheads roared back in the second period, tieing the score on 2 goals early in the period and really making a game of it. Moncton rookie Jason LePage had taken a penalty late in the first period, and Colby Pridham's took full advantage of the extra man and put the puck past the other rookie in net, Nicola Riopel. After another Moncton penalty, winger Bryce Swan evened up the game, but the tie was short-lived. The Wildcats scored 2 goals in the last half of the second period, including one on a steal by newcomer Maxime Lincourt (who came over from Val-d'Or at the trade deadline), and the die was cast.

Halifax did score their 3rd power play goal of the night at 4 minutes into the third period (on Pridham's second goal of the night and Jakub Voracek's third assist), but neither team was able to get a lot of shots through to the goaltenders late in the period, so it was 5-4 until Halifax pulled Yetman in the last minute of the game, and Moncton winger Chris Moorehead scored an empty netter at 19:31.

Some thoughts on the game and the series:

First, as indicated above Yetman has to settle down. The 18-year old netminder has only been with the team since early January, and looked very good in February. But the newfie goaltender has had a less than stellar March, and he did not look at ease last night. If Halifax is going to have a chance to win this series, Yetman will have to dig deep, get over his nerves, and step up his play.

Second, Moncton needs to stay out of the penalty box. Well, actually both teams need to, but the Moseheads have a particularly potent power play, as was shown last night, so disciplined play is necessary if the Wildcats want to continue winning these games.

Third, the rookies playing in this series will have a great impact on its outcome. It is very possible that Moncton will rotate goaltenders between Riopel and the more experienced Jhase Sniderman, but it is first year players are critical to both teams. The rookie that caught my eye particularly last night was the aforementioned Voracek, who is a top prospect in this spring's NHL draft. As he proved last night, Voracek's on-ice vision and passing abilities are some of the best in the league. He can steal the show in this series, so Moncton needs to be aware of where he is on the ice every second he is playing. That said, there is no question that first year errors can easily happen under playoff pressures, so it will be very interesting to see who thrives under the pressure and who, if anyone, of the close to a dozen critical rookies between the 2 teams succombs to the intense pressure and scrutiny of post-season play.

Finally, besides the excellent play of Voracek, two others stood out for me. For Moncton, it was the 18-year old first year winger, MacLellan, who scored 2 goals last night. Not usually a prolific scorer, the diminutive forward from Nova Scotia showed the hands that got him last summer's try out. The other player was Halifax's Colby Pridham, who had 2 goals and an assist. A native of PEI, Pridham is in his first full year with the Mooseheads. Not the highest ranked by far among the Mooseheads offensive specialists, Pridham played a very solid game last night, particularly on the power play.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Oshawa Celebrates Stephen Colbert Day Without Colbert

It was a great Stephen Colbert Day for Oshawa yesterday. Lots of events and joy to go around. The mayor was there, Don Cherry was there, but Stephen Colbert was not. No question that Colbert has done great things for the OHL (and for Saginaw and Oshawa, in particular) with his banter, but few (besides Cherry) have publicly said what needs to be said about his failure to show in person last night.

Yes, Colbert sent a previously recorded message. But he made a big deal about Oshawa making March 20 Stephen Colbert Day on his show; he has made fun of Canada regularly; and he has let all of us know that he does not think much of Oshawa and the Generals. He participated in a bet with Mayor Gray (whose birthday was yesterday), something that no doubt raised his television ratings, as well as endeared him to many (including all of us who love the OHL). But absent being terribly ill, or his family members being on their last breath, what excuse does he have for not showing up to the festivities last night?

Lest Colbert not know, it is only an hour's flight from Newark Airport or LaGuardia in New York to Pearson in Toronto. If he travels commercially, Air Canada has 17 non-stop flights a day between the 2 cities (not to mention the number that US airlines have, in case Colbert prefers to travel on a red, white and blue carrier). Then its only less than an hour on the 401 (okay, maybe 2 or 3 hours if the traffic gets bad, but there are always helicopters), so what was the problem?

What this does is to send the message that he is happy to use the OHL when it serves him, but won't go out of his way when it does not. It tells his mostly young fans that they can do likewise in their own lives when it is inconvenient for them to go out of their way. I am sure that it is not a message that the OHL is trying to send its young players while it prepares them for adulthood. I know I am very disappointed with how Colbert chose to handle this; I am just as sure that others are too, but won't say so publicly. Shame on you Stephen. You are a role model for youngsters and we adults expected better.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

WHL Playoff Preview

The league put out a great comprehensive preview earlier today and CHL News does not want to repeat what is in there. It is definitely worth checking out. Catch it at

Of course, the league will not tell you its opinion as to what will happen, so we'll do that here. All the series begin on Friday night, and all are availalble to watch on the internet.

In the first series in the Eastern Division, Prince Albert will be the visitor in its first game against Brandon. I don't know how to put this nicely, but this series is expected to be over quickly. Prince Albert is no match for the Wheaties, and no amount of digging in will work for the Raiders here. Let's just hope that the pounding the team will take in this series will not negatively affect some of the youngster's confidence for next season. The Raiders are going to be a very good team during the 2007-08 season, so whatever happens over the next week or so should be taken as what it is, a preparation for next season.

Friday night will also be the beginning of the series between Swift Current and Regina, in Regina. The fact that Swift Current has had a wonderful month of March thus far is great, but the playoffs are another animal all together, and it is my belief that the Broncos are not quite ready to play at the Pats' level at this point in the season. While it is certainly possible for Swift Current to win at least one game (particularly at home), this series is almost a certain win for Regina.

If these 2 series wind up as expected, it sets up a great match-up between Regina and Brandon, a series that could reasonably go either way.

In the Central Division, the Red Deer Rebels pull into Medicine Hat for the series first game on Friday. Medicine Hat is one of the strongest teams in the league (in my opinion, it is currently the number one team) and it is a shame that Red Deer, a very good team, has to face them this early. Unfortunately, for Red Deer, it will be very hard to come out on top here. The team is pretty much outmatched at all positions. But miracles do happen, so it is possible, for the Rebels to win this series, but every single bounce will have to go their way.

The Kootenay-Calgary series is one that I am very anxious to watch. While on paper Kootenay should win it pretty easily, the Hitmen have some very potent weapons, so I am expecting that the netminders are going to get a huge amount of work in this matchup. Whichever of Taylor Dakers and Dan Spence is on for this series could be the difference here. The first game (in Kootenay) will set the tone. If the Ice run away with the game, it will be difficult for Calgary to come back and win at least one in the Ice's home barn.

In the BC Division, the very accomplished Vancouver Giants will host the expansion Chilliwack Bruins. Kudos to the Bruins for making the playoffs in the team's first year of existence, but frankly, the team has no chance of making it past the first round. Vancouver already has a berth in the Memorial Cup because of its host status, but the Giants should have no trouble getting into the second round strictly on merit.

The Kamloops-Prince George series is the one of the Western Conference matchups that should prove very interesting. Both teams have been inconsistent this season and there is no clear favourite here. The first game in Kamloops should set the tone of the series. If Prince George either wins or keeps the game close, it is my prediction that the Cougars have a great chance to win. However, if the first game is a blow out, it will be very hard for Prince George to come back and take 4 games from the Blazers.

In the US Division, Everett will host the Spokane Chiefs, which on paper is another no-brainer. However, the Chiefs had quite a bit of success this season against the Silvertips, so some other media outlets believe that this will be an interesting series. Let's be honest here though, this is the playoffs, and in my opinion Everett will take their game to another level. The Chiefs will almost certainly not be able to keep up. Spokane may be able to take 1 or 2 games, but in the end, it will be the Tips moving on to the next round.

In the final series, the Seattle Thunderbirds will play the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick on Friday. This series is a toss up in my mind. I see it as a battle of the goalies, and whichever of Seattle's Carey Price and the Americans' Derek Yeomans brings his "A" game to the first round can win the series for his team.

QMJHL Playoffs to Begin Wednesday

Yesterday the Q announced the playoff matchups and schedule for the first round.

In the Eastern Division, Lewiston will play Shawinigan in the first round. Sounds strange to have Shawinigan in the Eastern Division, but for the purposes of the playoffs, one Western Divison team must be bracketed in the east (because there are 7 eligible teams in the eastern division, and 9 in Quebec). The first game of the series will be played Friday night in Lewiston, and there is no question that Lewiston is the heavy favourite in the series. The player to watch in this series is MAINEiacs forward David Perron, who has been on a tear over the past few weeks. Perron is a top prospect in this coming NHL draft (currently ranked # 31 by ISS) , and is expected to raise his game even more during the playoffs. Shawinigan has lost its last 3 regular season games and has not looked good in those losses. The Cataractes have their work cut out for them facing Lewiston. It is expected to be a quick series.

Cape Breton will take on St. John's, with the first game in Sydney this coming Friday night. The Screaming Eagles won 2 of the 3 games these two teams played last month, however, this matchup is not a sure thing for Cape Breton. The Fog Devils have quite a bit of talent, so anything is possible here, but Cape Breton is still the heavy favourite to win. Players to watch for St. John's include centre Jean-Simon Allard, who has had a wonderful sophomore season and is currently ranked # 82 overall in this June's NHL draft, and defenceman T.J. Brennan, who was QMJHL rookie of the month for February, and has been on fire since the first of the year. Cape Breton's overagers Cam Fergus and Paul McIlveen are going to have to keep producing offensively. They did all season, and if Minneosta Wild prospect James Sheppard also continues to put the puck in the net, the Screaming Eagles will be hard to beat.

Moncton's series with Halifax will begin in Moncton on Wednesday evening. This is the Eastern Division series that may produce an upset. As although Moncton is ranked higher than Halifax, the regular season series between the 2 rivals was tied and Halifax has been known to break out and score a lot of goals. This will be a great matchup, and will be available to watch on the internet, so don't miss it (go to either the Moncton or Halifax websites and watch for free, courtesy of Aliant). Players to watch in this series include winger Jakub Voracek for Halifax, who was by far the team's points leader this season, and Matt Marquardt (CBS, 7th round, 2006) for Moncton. Voracek is likely to be a top 5 pick in the NHL draft in Columbus and had an outstanding March (14 points in games). Marquardt scored 4 goals in one game for the Wildcats earlier this month and has explosive potential. If these 2 fail to produce, however, Moncton will be very vulnerable.

Acadie-Bathurst will battle PEI in Charlottetown starting on Friday. These 2 teams are ranked numbers 4 and 5 in the division and this should be a hard-fought tight series, as it was in the first round last year. But it is my prediction that the result will be the same, i.e., Acadie-Bathurst will win. PEI ended the season on a 5-game losing streak. The player to watch is overager David Laliberte for the Rocket. Laliberte set a team record for both goals (50) and total points (98) this past weekend. With the team's other top scorer, Brett Morrison, out with a broken finger, alot of the pressure will be on Laliberte. For the Titan, overage winger Thomas Beauregard and centre Mathieu Perreault (WAS, 6th round, 2006) have both torn up the league this year. Unless 18-year old PEI netminderAntoine Lafleur can stop them, it will be a very disappointing series for the Rocket. Lafleur, who is currently expected to be a late round selection in the upcoming NHL draft, can really help himself in the eyes of scouts by playing a very solid series against Acadie-Bathurst.

In the Western Division (while CHL News is aware that the Q has renamed this division for the name of its corporate sponsor, we refuse to call a division by that name; where will it end? Next the league could be named for a corporation), number 1 seeded Val-d'Or will meet Chicoutimi on Friday night at home. It is expected that this will be a victory fo the Foreurs, but one never knows. Val-d'Or is coming off of a 3-game losing streak at the end of the season (granted the backup goaltender Raffaele D'Orso was in net for 2 of them, but the 18-year old netminder did a good job in the first game, but lost it anyway, 2-1). They looked very shaky in those games, and team scoring leader Jerome Samson (undrafted), who came over from Moncton near the trade deadline, and blueliner Kris Letang must really be offensive forces on the ice for the team to win. Not helping is the fact that the team will temporarily be without the services of blueliner Sebastien Bisaillon, who was called up on an emergency basis by the Edmonton Oilers over the wekeend. Even more importantly, though, to win, Jeremy Duchesne (PHL, 4th round, 2005) must be steady in net. Chicoutimi can score goals, so it will be up to Duchesne (and the Foreurs defence) to keep the Sangueneens as quiet as is possible. For Chicoutimi, the most potent threat comes off the stick of centre David Desharnais. Small and sneaky, Desharnais has amazing stickhandling abilities and on-ice vision. A pleasure to watch, he will make the series an interesting one.

In the second series in Quebec, Baie-Comeau will take on Victoriaville. The series begins in Victoriaville on Friday for the first of 2 games in the city on 2 consecutive days. And the story here will hinge on the play of the big netminder Jean-Christophe Blanchard. Just yesterday named the Q's Defencive Player of the Week, Blanchard had a GAA of 3.14 and a save percentage of .912 for the regular season. Odd that he is not expected by ISS to be drafted this coming spring, but if he has as good a series here as he has been playing of late, there will be some scouting buzz surrounding the 6'4", 175 lb goaltender. Offensively watch for winger Benoit Doucet, who scored a hat-trick against Gatineau Friday evening, and Morten Madsen, who had a 6-game scoring streak to end the season. For the Drakkar, it is the regular season league leader in scoring Francois Bouchard (WAS, 2nd round, 2006) that is the player to watch on the team. After a scoring drought earlier this month, Bouchard has still been a bit tepid, but fear not, as he is a big game player and is expected to raise his game accordingly. It is important for him to do so, as any hope Baie-Comeau has to defeat the Tigres will hinge on him.

The series between Gatineau and Rouyn-Noranda does not start until Sunday because of arena scheduling issues. When it does start in Gatineau, the home team, will be led by Claude Giroux (PHL, 1st round, 2006), who recently returned after being out of 2 weeks, and Slava Trukhno (EDM, 4th round, 2005), who was signed to an NHL contract this past January. Both players will have to hold off a surging Rouyn-Noranda team. The Huskies won 6 games in a row to end the season, beating the likes of Gatineau, Val-d'Or and Victoriaville. Important players for Rouyn-Noranda include Jean-Philippe Levasseur in goal (ANA, 7th round, 2005) and the red-hot winger Yannick Riendeau (expected to be a late round draft selection in Columbus this June). Don't be surprised if the Huskies win this series, and if they do, they could be a cinderella team this tournament.

In the final series, Drummondville will take on the Quebec Remparts. This series will start on Friday in Drummondville and should be very exciting. The Voltigeurs finished the regular season on a 7-game win streak and can score a lot of goals. The team's netminder, Pier-Olivier Pelletier (PHO, 2nd round, 2005) had a 6-game winning streak while he was in net to end the regular season. He can be erratic at times though, so the very high-scoring Remparts may be able to get to him. Quebec has many weapons, including the rookie brothers Roman and Ruslan Bashkirov, who can each find the net with ease. On the rise with the Remparts is Kelsey Tessier, a 2008 NHL draft-eligible centre. After a great showing in the Winter Games, Tessier came back to his QMJHL team infused with confidence and it showed. In the last 4 regular season games, Tessier recorded 9 points. He is one of the top players to watch in the entire Q's post-season. Also on offense is one of the top 2007 NHL draft prospects Angelo Esposito, who looks like he may actually fall out of the top 10 rankings for this summer's draft unless he makes a good showing in the playoffs. Kept out of the last regular season games for mild concussive symptoms, Esposito has not been impressive all year. Now there are rumours that he is considering another profession, so if he does not play well, and with the passion of a player whose first love is hockey, his stock will drop even further.

More reports as the series begin. Good luck to all.