Tuesday
Dec312013

Coach's Thoughts - Canada v Slovakia Dec 30th

by Brad MacArthur (@BradMacArthur)

Game 3 is in the books for Team Canada here at the 2014 U20 World Championships in Malmo, Sweden. A furious third period rally saw the Canadians climb back from a 3-1 deficit to win 5-3.

The game likely wasn't how the Canadian coaching staff scripted it. Jonathan Drouin took a head contact minor just seconds into the game and Canada fell behind 1-0 off a Slovak powerplay goal. Drouin, like his young superstar counterpart Connor McDavid, was not immune to Brent Sutter's wrath, remaining planted between the forwards and defense for several shifts while his teammates battled on. Curtis Lazar replied for Canada late in the period on a powerplay, Drouin's first shift back. Other than that early Slovak goal, Canada dominated the 1st period peppering the Slovak tender Samuel Baros with 21 shots.

The 2nd period was a nightmare for the Canadian side. Penalty after penalty at the worst possible times led to 5 on 4 and 5 on 3 situations. The upstart Slovaks took full advantage scoring two man up goals, with Zach Fucale very little chance on either. Team Canada could establish very little presence, and in fact scored their only goal of the period off of Anthony Mantha parked directly in front of Baros. Aaron Ekblad's shot from the point found it's way through, and Mantha was able to steer in the rebound to end the period 3-2.

With an energetic pro-Canadian side of over 2500, Canada came out with some jump and established a strong physical forecheck. The Slovaks stood tall until a turnover in deep in their zone resulted in Drouin pumping a one timer past an unsuspecting Baros. With the game knotted 3-3, the momentum shifted back in the Canadian favour. Nick Petan was the answer the rest of the way notching a powerplay marker, and empty net goal for the comeback 5-3 win.

Coach Brent Sutter was very polite after the game addressing media questions over the game officiating calling it "tight" saying he "didn't agree with some of the calls".

Sutter indicated that Fucale will get his second straight start tomorrow versus the USA.

Breakdown: Team Canada did an admirable job of staying consistent in their approach while facing a 3-1 deficit.  Canada was able to gain offensive rhythm by getting pucks to the net WITH traffic. That approach and the forwards retrieving rebounds and maintaining possession confused the Slovaks time and time again. That is going to be essential for success against US netminder Jon Gillies. He's big and takes up most of the net. He also moves fairly well, saving almost anything he is able to clearly see.  Team Canada will need to harness the energy the Canadian crowd gives them early to put pressure on the stingy US defense.

Canada needs a regulation win to clinch first place in the pool. If that happens, Canada would face the Swiss in the quarterfinals. A second place finish would mean a date with the Finns or Russians.

Friday
Dec272013

Coach's Thoughts on Day 1 of WJHC 

by Brad MacArthur (@BradMacArthur)

Day 1 of the IIHF U20 World Championships is now complete here in Malmo, Sweden.  Aside from the Swiss team giving the Swedes a fight for their lives, there were very little in terms of surprises.  The 5-3 Swedish win barely qualifies as a surprise, but something needed to be picked.  The heavily favoured Swedes with half a roster from the 2013 version had a rough time getting their game going, and the Swiss took full advantage. The matinee game at the Malmo Arena saw the Russians stomp on Norway 11-0.  Pool B over at the Malmo Isstadion witnessed Team Canada dump the Germans 7-2, while the US cruised past the Czech Republic 5-1. 

Germany vs Canada

The first shift for the Canadian side looked quite promising as they held possession and pressured the Germans almost immediately following puck drop.  However, it was Germany who took a 1-0 lead only 1:35 into the period off a deflection that fooled Jake Paterson after a face-off in the Canadian zone.  Team Germany looked to derail Canada by slowing the game down through the neutral zone.  Employing a 1-4 forecheck, the Germans were able to take the pace out of Canada’s game for about three minutes.  After that, Canada would not be held back.  If not for a fanned clearing attempt by Adam Pelech on a penalty kill situation, offence would’ve been hard to come by for the Germans.  The Germans never came out of their 1-4 forecheck, which was frustrating to watch.  They have some players who possess speed and were willing to engage physically. Why not unleash them at some point when things aren’t going as planned and see if there is a measure of success? Questionable call by the coaching staff. The likelihood is that the Germans will play Norway in the relegation series to determine who will be coming to Toronto/Montreal in 2015. What better way to try and stay in the top division than playing a high speed game against those top teams and getting better.

For the Canadians there have been questions surrounding Matt Dumba and the defensive corps.  One aspect of their game that created some offense was the timing of some well placed rushes down the ice. At least 3 times, Dumba created an opportunity by taking the first step and driving down the ice.  Pelech and Ekblad had at least one each that comes to mind as well.  To be successful in this tourney, Canada will need to keep that dimension of offense going, challenging teams to answer.

USA vs Czech

2-0 USA just over two minutes into the game was all the scoring needed to walk away with this game.  A very disappointing Czech effort from the goaltending out to what should’ve been a better forward group. ’97 born Pavel Zacha was the lone Czech bright spot in his limited time on the ice.  The big bodied youngster did not shy away from the dirty areas on the ice or some of the more physical US players such as Stefan Matteau.  He’d be a dynamite addition for CHL teams looking for an import player.  Question would be if the teams could get him to come over.

Jack Eichel was overall fairly strong for the US. He created opportunities and there is no question he is going to be a gem.  A kink in his game would likely be his maturity level to make team first decisions. A strong US backcheck led to a 3 on 2 the other way.  After being forced wide, Eichel elected to take a poorly placed shot with no traffic, and no net drive coming in as most of the US were changing.  Later on in the period, Eichel again created an opportunity with a terrific move to the net, dropping the Czech defender to his knees and out of position. Rather than hit the late player driving the net, a low percentage bad angle shot was selected. Again, Eichel has a ton of upside and will likely work those decisions out of his game.

Monday
Dec232013

OHL Draft Eligible 3 Stars - Week 14

by Dominic Tiano (@DominicTiano)

Roland McKeown, Kingston FrontenacsThe holiday break is upon us and week 14 of the Ontario Hockey League season has come to a close marking the unofficial half way point of the season. That means it’s time to look at the 3 stars for last week among players eligible for the National Hockey League Draft.

1st Star – Roland McKeown – Kingston Frontenacs:The Frontenacs’ defenseman scored three goals and added four assists while finishing with a plus 5 in two games. On Thursday, McKeown scored once and added two assists as Kingston beat the hometown Peterborough Petes 4-1. McKeown was named the games third star. On Friday, McKeown added two more goals and two assists as Kingston travelled to Ottawa and beat the 67’s 8-5 and was named the game’s first star.

2nd Star – Cristiano DiGiacinto – Windsor Spitfires: In the only game of the week for the Spitfires, DiGiacinto scored three goals and added an assist and finished with a plus 4 as Windsor defeated the Saginaw Spirit 11-6. DiGiacinto was named the game’s first star.

3rd Star - Andrew Mangiapane – Barrie Colts: The Colts also played just a single game and Manqiapane scored twice and added two assists in that game as the Colts defeated the Sarnia Sting 7-2. He was named the game’s second star. This is the second time Mangiapane has been named one of our three stars for the week. 

Monday
Dec232013

Christian Dvorak, London Knights - Prospect Profile

by Dominic Tiano (@DominicTiano)

Christian Dvorak, London KnightsThe 6’0, 180 pound winger is a native of Frankfurt Illinois and played his midget hockey for the Chicago Mission and was an offensive force. During the 2011-2012 season he played in 28 games for the Mission U16 squad and put up 21 goals and 24 assists. That led to Dvorak being selected in the first round, 6th overall, by the Chicago Steel in the USHL Futures Draft. The Knights then selected him in the 8th round, 163rd overall, in the OHL Priority Selection.

The following season Dvorak played in 58 games for the Mission U18 team and scored 35 goals while adding 57 assists. He also played in 31 games for the Mission in the High Performance Hockey League scoring 19 goals and 33 assists. Dvorak made the jump to the USHL and played in 9 games for the Steel scoring twice and assisting on three others.

Dvorak had visited several US colleges in the summer of 2012 and eventually chose and committed to playing for Wisconsin. But in August 2013 Dvorak backed out of his agreement and chose to sign with the Knights of the OHL.

Winnipeg Jets scout Max Giese was the Steel’s Director of Player Personnel and told SB Nation at the time:

"Christian is a highly skilled, offensive forward who can score and make plays equally well. He has dynamic hands and great offensive instincts both with and without the puck. We liked Christian as a bantam and this past summer at the Select Festival and USHL Combine when he was seen as an undersized player. He has grown 3 inches this year and he is willing to play in the dirty areas, attack the net, and push the pace. He’s an adaptable player who has been productive this year with any set of linemates and in any setting, and he makes those around him better with his heady play. He has also shown the ability to elevate his play in big games. Gino Cavallini and the Chicago Mission coaching staff have done a great job of preparing him for the next level and Christian is the type of character kid from a great family who we are excited to add to our organization."

Because of the depth the Knights possess, playing for them won’t give him the quality ice time he’d get playing somewhere else. But with London he’ll have a deep playoff run and a Memorial Cup birth that will get him playing against the best competition. And playing for a coach like Dale Hunter, he’ll become a more solid three zone player and better prepared to play at the next level. Let’s face it there aren’t many OHL coaches who can better prepare a player for the NHL.

Thursday
Dec122013

Troops May Be The Key for Locke

by Brandon Sudeyko (@intheoradio)

Kyle Locke, North Bay BattalionA scenary change is never a bad thing. And when a team decides that the future is now some choices need to be made. A week ago the Guelph Storm loaded up with Kerby Rychel and Nick Ebert. With the addition of Ebert, Guelph now had 8 defenceman on their roster. And with the addition of Garrett McFadden, the Storm’s first round pick from this past OHL draft it made Kyle Locke expendable.

Locke was in and out of the lineup last year for Guelph. Sometimes used as a forward due to injuries. Kyle was sent to the Cambridge Winterhawks of the GOJHL  where he was able to get ice time and play at his natural position, defence. The Winterhawks went deep into the playoffs, making it to the Sunderland Cup but falling short. Locke was looking to parle that experience into a roster spot this season. Things didn’t look the best for him out of the gate but a spot was there. Enter Steven Trojanovic, Phil Blatisberger, the aforementioned McFadden and then Nick Ebert… and all of a sudden he is back in the pressbox. Guelph loaded up to make a strong push this season and concluded that Locke would not be in their plans.

Enter a trade to North Bay. With the OA graduation of Cameron Wind, Zach Bell refusing to play for the team this season (reasons you can completely understand), and Mark Raycroft being dealt, it left a defensive hole on the team that they have been managing to fill, but still needed a body.  Kyle now has an opening.

Say what you want about the style of game Stan Butler coaches, you cannot argue the fact that he develops players properly and teaches them a complete game. Whether or not they are able to move on to the pro ranks is up to the individual. But Butler can take an average defenceman with potential and take them to the next level or even the one after that. There is a long history of forwards and defenceman, and even an argument for the goaltenders he has had to prove this point.

Lets take a look at last year’s D-corp. Cameron Wind over his 5 seasons with the team went from being a poor skater who would be beaten by the faster skaters, to a player who worked the angles, used his stick and would punish along the boards. Zach Bell, you could argue had the same deficiency, slow feet, but he worked hard to over come that. Bell would sacrifice his body, use an active stick, control a forward anywhere on the ice. Together that pair would be considered one of the best D pair in the league. Marcus McIvor entered the league as a puck mover who would utilize a quick shot and his speed to create offence, but had defensive holes in his game. After a season and a bit, he became a sound defenceman who could still make a smart outlet pass and understand that it is defence first, and the offence will come next. Dylan Blujus is a rare example to Butler’s case, as many had him pegged as an NHL Draft pick the moment he entered the OHL. In any event, playing under Butler’s system would round out his game and bring consistency to his game.

Those are just current examples but the list can run deep, and again it works for forwards too.

Kyle Locke may be a forgotten second round pick and may not get a sniff when it comes to scouts looking for draft dark horses. If he buys into the system, the 6’1” 200+ pounder will soon be playing strong D, utilizing his body more, understanding how to win a foot race, and even earning a few points like he use to do in Minor Midget as a member of the York Simcoe Express. This is an opportunity that he has been looking for and one that shouldn’t be taken likely. Everything is earned with Butler, and if he wants to earn ice time over Riley Bruce or Kyle Wood, that rests on his shoulders. Locke may be an unknown to some, but that should change in a few months of play in North Bay… if he seizes the opportunity.