Saturday, December 4, 2010
The night of Friday, December 3rd 2010 will not soon be forgotten. The AHL’s newest franchise, Edmonton’s affiliate the Oklahoma City Barons made what will be an annual pilgrimage to Manitoba to battle the Moose. It’s a match-up of future members of Northwest Division rivals, and both franchises have some nice things to look forward to if today’s game was any indication.
Attending tonight’s game was a gathering of Winnipeg’s Oilogosphere community. Along with myself, the Junior Vice-President of Bubbling Under, were two superb commenters who I happened to first come to know from visiting Lowetide’s fine site. Providing witty insight, and scamming free beer off the fine-featured waitresses of our pre-game boozenglug was the irreverent Showerhead. He is a man I’ve come to know on a more personal level ever since we discovered we share a passion for the field of Environmental Sciences, and have since taken two University classes together. I also had the pleasure of meeting another wise commenter in Icecastles, a man who has likely seen more snow in his life than most 70-year olds have, and still manages to remain loyal to the Oilers. As quick with his humour as he is with his adept hockey commentary, it was a pleasure meet the man and share a couple hours of drinking and hockey. There was also a friend of Showerhead, whose moniker will be Chris, because he lacks a handle around the Oilogosphere that I know of. Chris was indispensible, providing more colourful commentary and, well, shelled out the money up-front for the tickets.
Said tickets, it should be noted, were primo. First row between the blueline and faceoff circle, Barons attacking zone for two of three periods. We were so close to the action that Shawn Belle was actually able to look like he was ignoring me when I yelled “TAKE A SLAPSHOT” at him before a faceoff. While it did make for a bit of a trying time identifying things like breakout structure and defensive posture of the Oilers prospects, Showerhead always had to be on his game to avoid a glass-rattling hit from Johan Motin up-ending his overpriced alcoholic beverage.
My initial thoughts on the size of these fine upstanding gentlemen as the game was in its infancy is that these are some large mammals we’re dealing with. Alex Giroux stood out in my eyes as being much larger than advertised. Alex Plante also remains one of the largest defensemen I’ve seen. But the player that stood out more than the rest was Manitoba’s starting goaltender, a rookie by the name of Eddie Lack. He’s Dubnyk-sized and then some.
The Moose have a lot of things going for them this year, but have been treading water in the middle of the pack in the North Division. They found an adequate replacement for first round draft pick Cory Schneider between the pipes in the aforementioned Lack, who interestingly enough is the son of the goaltending coach previously employed by Florida’s goalie of the future, Jakob Markstrom. The Canucks took a flyer on him this off-season, betting on his bloodlines and look to have another NHL-calibre goaltender in the fold. He impressed me with his positioning and puck-moving abilities. The Moose are a veteran-laden team up front for the most part, but also feature a tandem of young first rounders in Jordan Schroeder, who scored, and Cody Hodgson, who did not. Both had relatively unspectacular nights and had gone somewhat unnoticed by my counterparts. A conversation with Showerhead went as such:
Showerhead: Hodgson was a fairly highly touted draft pick, wasn’t he? He seems to have lost a lot of his career already.
Doritogrande: He’s coming back from a pretty serious back injury that limited his playing time last year. Think of him like JF Jacques, with talent.
The Barons are a nice mix of veteran forwards and green blueliners this year, and tonight was no exception. They iced the following line-up:
I’ll start with those I’ve identified as Bubbling Under’s prospects, and then talk a little about the team as a whole.
Linus Omark is one slick fucker. He’s got a reputation as a turnover machine and tonight was no exception. But as is the common refrain when Hemsky’s turnovers are mentioned, players that control the puck more are bound to turn over the puck more often. Omark’s linemates went out of their way to get Omark the puck, because he can do things with it. Created offense all night long by stick-handling through traffic, spotting the open man and outhustling his opponent to loose pucks. Did a lot of great work on the boards battling with men much larger than he, and showed off some impressive speed in a couple instances. Drew two penalties due to his hard work and constant motor. Clearly at the top of the AHL calibre players and wouldn’t look out of place on the Oilers. Oh, and he tried to pull his lob-shot out in the shootout. He started his attempt off with a spin-o-rama to pick up the puck and carry it in across the blue line. It made the four of us giggle with delight and want to have his babies. Okay, maybe just me. He’s an entertainer.
Chris VandeVelde was pegged as the de-facto checking center tonight, and was given the linemates befitting a player that the coaching staff wants in a defined role. He was able to saw-off the Moose top line of Hodgson-Volpatti-Shirokov with a little help from his friends. He showed good hustle, average speed and good skills in the faceoff dot. Although he appeared to defer to Milan Kytnar once in the third period when both young centers were on the ice together (a draw that Kytnar did win). Wasn’t shy in throwing his weight around in the corners either. Was the last Barons shooter in the SO and wasn’t able to impress, attempting to out-deke Lack only to run out of both time and space rather quickly. Wasn’t a good effort, especially with Reddox and Moran left on the bench.
Phil Cornet showed some hustle and a lot of try, but wasn’t much of a factor. He also didn’t get much ice-time so it wasn’t like much else could be expected about him.
Milan Kytnar was effective in the time he was given. Good positioning and faceoff skills. His speed is somewhat lacking at the AHL level and will hold him back from going any farther in his career.
To see Teemu Hartikainen on the fourth line was, to be honest, a shock. He got some extra time on the PP but didn’t put it to good use tonight. He was faster than I thought given most of the scouting reports knock his top speed. He’s also a battler along the boards and is willing to go into traffic with the puck. Drew a penalty by keeping his feet moving. A so-so effort in the shootout. He’s got a long way to go apparently, but he’s on track.
Taylor Chorney....The four of us had a nice comment on him when we noticed his jersey number. #4...check. Taylor...check. Chorney...damn. So close. To be truthful though, he was rushing the puck in a style similar to Edmonton’s current #4 tonight. It didn’t really work that well unfortunately. He was in good position most of the time tonight, but was caught flat-footed a couple times and took a careless tripping penalty in his zone. If my eyes were good tonight, he and Plante were facing the top two lines of Manitoba for a good chunk of the night.
Alex Plante is, as mentioned, a large mammal. He was good positionally except for a twenty-second stretch late in overtime where he made two successive mistakes. He was able to use his speed and physical prowess to make up for the first, throwing the Moose attacker to the ice in a rather impressive forearm shiver. He was taken wide about 15 seconds later and wasn’t able to recover, and was forced to take a hooking penalty to negate a dangerous scoring chance. Made up the second PP unit with Chorney but seemed tentative to unleash his shot from the point, preferring to pass to the sideboards time and time again.
Johan Motin knows how to finish checks, but doesn’t know how to stay out of the sin-bin. Took two penalties tonight for hooking/tripping infractions that could have been avoided through better positioning and speed. He’s regressing as a prospect in my opinion, not only due to the influx of new prospects to the system, but his own mental mistakes.
Jordan Bendfeld drew into tonight’s game, and holy hell did he make an impact. I’ll assume something’s up with Richard Petiot because a veteran presence would have helped tonight. Bendfeld’s shining moment came when he popped a moose forward center-ice just as he was receiving a pass. He came high and brought an elbow to the player’s head which resulted in an immediate whistle. That still didn’t stop former first round pick Ryan Parent from attempting to blind-side the forgotten prospect. Even though he didn’t seem prepared for the act of goonery, Bendfeld emphatically dropped Parent with a couple of quick haymakers. Two minutes for elbowing, two for roughing and a pat on the back from the entire Barons team.
Jeff Petry was an impressive physical specimen, both in his size and his skating ability. What surprised me was that he and Shawn Belle were kept away from the Moose’s top players at even strength. I had thought that Petry was taking on tough opposition but this wasn’t the case tonight. It is important to note however that the Petry-Belle tandem was the first over the boards on both SH and PP chances, and that’s a good sign for the young prospect. Maybe they’re taking the lessons learned from Chorney (throwing the kid into the deep end and hope he knows how to swim), and are bringing Petry along slower at EV but with added special teams responsibilities. Was relatively high-event tonight, on the ice for both Barons goals and one goal against.
A note on Gerber. He’s exactly what this team needs in net, especially with a blue-line as bereft of veteran presence as this one. He was solid tonight and came within a perfect Sergei Shirokov shot over his glove-hand from extending the SO. He’s also got a great mental attitude, as was demonstrated perfectly during the second period. The rowdies near us decided this was the best time to start the ever popular let’s-try-and-say-the-goalie’s-name-in-a-mocking-fashion trick. Hilarity ensued.
Showerhead: Stupid people. Gerber’s unbreakable!
Doritogrande: Uh...didn’t he break his neck last year?
The Barons veteran forwards, to finish off my synopsis didn’t show up ready to play tonight, with the exception of Liam Reddox. The ginger was everywhere and was gifted the game’s first goal courtesy the best pass Marco Rosa has ever made. Note: Rosa plays for the Moose. Reddox had a full five seconds in front of Lack to deke seven different ways, finally and mercifully putting the puck five-hole. Giroux managed an assist on a nice pass to Belle coming into the zone late, but didn’t create much more offense than that. Moran was even more invisible. These two, along with Ryan O’Marra have to be better if they hope to take the second game of the back-to-back tomorrow night.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed the game as much as I did.