Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thoughts on Kingston and Mississauga from October 21

Originally I was only going to check out the beginning of this game just to see the "Don Cherry jerseys" the Frontenacs would be sporting, but it ended up being a good game and as such I watched the entire thing.

In case you didn't know, tonight the Kingston Frontenacs wore jerseys specialized designed by Don Cherry. They were quite interesting (one of Don's famous red plaid suits camouflaged as a hockey jersey). The jerseys are part of a promotion for the Canadian Armed Forces (more information), and more specifically the "Soldier On" program. Here's some information about the program...

Soldier On fund works to optimize the functional independence of ill or injured Canadian Forces personnel or former personnel by delivering programs and services and facilitating and integrating opportunities that support their full and active participation in physical fitness, heath promotion and sport. The Canadian Forces is committed to ill and injured personal and their loved ones, through programs ranging from excellent medical care, to vocational assistance to social support and counseling

The game worn jerseys will be signed by Cherry himself and then auctioned off on Ebay, with all the proceeds going to "Soldier On." Check the Frontenacs website for more information and as soon as I see the auctions go up, I'll be sure to include a link here too (after all it's a great cause). The auctions will run until the end of the month. EDIT - Here is the link for the bidding.

As for the game itself, it had a great pace. The Majors, coming in on a 3 game winning streak, largely dominated play for the first two periods and got themselves out to a 4-1 lead. The Frontenacs, losers of 3 of their last 4 coming in, managed to get a late second period goal and carried that energy over to the third period. It was in the final frame where the Fronts increased their energy level and really took it to the Majors, coming oh so close to sending this one to overtime. Ethan Werek appeared to score a goal with about two minutes left on a nice one timer in the slot, but it was waived off. Admittedly, Cogeco never showed a great replay of it, but it did appear to cross the line. Would have loved to see an overhead shot, or perhaps the whistle was blown too early as the puck squeezed under Carrozzi. Anyway you slice it, the Fronts did come up short at the end of the night and lost 4-3.

The Majors are playing really good hockey right now and are now on a 4 game winning streak. Best goals against average in the league right now, and it's easy to see why (well considering I've seen them play a lot lately). The whole team plays solid defense and rarely misses an assignment. All the forwards come back to help tie up their man and Cameron has really installed a great defensive concept on the ice. As good as they are defensively, they are so dangerous on the forecheck and do such a good job of controlling play in the offensive zone, which limits the time they actually have to play defense in the first place. I think they'll continue to get better and better and while the Colts are a great team, the Majors are the cream of the Eastern Conference crop for me.

The Frontenacs, like any team hovering around the .500 mark, are struggling to be consistent. It showed tonight too, as they're level of effort in the first period did not equal their effort in the third. If they can play teams as hard as they did in tonight's third period, they'll be fine. After a bit of a tough stretch recently, maybe some Fronts fans are panicking and worrying that the team is going to revert back to it's miserable place at the bottom of the East. Don't worry that won't happen. This is a good hockey team, and one that's suffering some injury problems right now (Gudbranson gone for 4 weeks, Werek missed two games this weekend with a charlie horse). It's early in the season and inconsistencies can often be attributed to the search for a team identity. One thing I did notice tonight though, and perhaps it serves as an explanation to why this team has struggled of late, is there appears to be a disconnect between the forwards and defense on the breakout. The Fronts had a really tough time getting the puck out of their own zone and a lot of that was to do with the lack of puck support from their forwards for their defenseman. Fronts defenseman also had a tough time connecting with Frontenacs forwards with the breakout pass, which lead to turnovers, icings, and offsides more than it lead to a break into the offensive zone. When the Fronts defenseman did rush the puck up ice (Lashoff and Doherty mostly), nothing came of it because it seemed the forwards were lagging behind the play, and again did nothing to help them create off their rushes. On one occasion, Brian Lashoff made a nice rush up the ice, but Ethan Werek and Michael Farrell were well ahead of the play offside, negating the rush. Obviously a lack of communication and read of the play, and Werek was obviously frustrated as he threw his hands up in the air after the whistle as if to say "what the heck is going on?" Being able to break out of your offensive zone is obviously a critical component to winning a hockey game and it separated the winning team from the losing one tonight. Frontenacs fans, is this something that has been occurring all season long?

Some individual player reports, mostly on the Fronts as I've beaten the Majors to death lately!

Kingston Frontenacs

Taylor Doherty (SJ)
I can see where Fronts fans frustrations are coming from. Doherty is still an enigma on the ice. When I saw him earlier in the season, he was one of the best players on the ice. Tonight, well there were some cases of frustration. The reason you can get frustrated watching him is that he obviously is incredibly talented and capable of so much more. He has these flashes of brilliance. For instance tonight he had a couple really nice rushes where he used his size (and relatively strong straight ahead speed) to go end to end and drive to the net. I also think he does a good job of getting his shot through to the net and had a view flashes of defensive solidity. On loose puck battles, I like his ability to use his size to get players out of position in order to come away with the puck. But with those flashes of a player who could be a dominant defender in the league, you get plays that make you scratch your head. Like when he took the puck from behind the net and tried to rush it up the ice by cutting out directly in front of his net (obviously a big no no). Two forecheckers were right on him and he's fortunate he managed to get out of the situation alive. Later, he got exposed defensively on a Casey Cizikas rush that generated William Wallen's 3rd goal (and the game winner). Cizikas took the puck wide on him and beat him to the net. It makes you question his hockey sense to an extent, because you see a player with a lot of innate qualities, but you wonder if he's got the head to use them.

Alan Quine (2011)
Second time I've seen Quine this year and both times he's been relatively noticeable (although more so tonight than before). He seems to be getting better and better from what I'm hearing and is easily one of the most noticeable 1993 born players in the league. He seems to have a real nose for the net and was buzzing around it all night. I also like his fearlessness, as he goes into the corners, forces turnovers and goes to the net. I think he's got a real strong goal scoring potential in the league and he seems like one of those players who can make things happen in close. He finished with an assist.

Nathan Moon (PIT)
I understand he had a really great weekend of games recently, which is great to hear after he struggled to start the season. He didn't have a good game tonight though, at least in my opinion. As much as Doherty's frustrating to watch, Moon is more so. I'm glad I'm not the only one noticing this either, as the Fronts announcers mentioned their frustration with his "selfish" on ice play. He really needs to start following the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle. It's like he always has to make that extra move with the puck that gets him into trouble. On one occasion, he had the puck behind the net on a bit of a scramble. The Majors defense was scattered and disoriented. He brings the puck on a wrap around, has a teammate wide open in the slot for a pace, but was so focused on trying to score, he continued the wraparound and put it right into Carrozzi's pads. End of the offensive opportunity. In the third period he got absolutely LEVELED by David Corrente. He tried to bring the puck into the offensive zone all by himself, failed to get around Corrente and then got drilled hard into the boards as the Majors defenseman pushed him off the puck. Admittedly, this seemed to completely fire him up and not long after he managed to score the goal (by showing nice hands in close on a juicy rebound) that brought it to within one. But he shouldn't need to be motivated in that way, but hasn't that been the Nathan Moon story his entire junior career? He finished with a goal.

Brian Lashoff (DET)
I've read and heard that Fronts fans have been disappointed with his play this season too. Admittedly, I've been underwhelmed by his offensive production this season. With the way he played in the AHL to finish last season, I think a lot of people had really high expectations for him. Perhaps that has gotten to his head too, as he looked like a guy trying to do too much with the puck tonight. Lashoff is a great defenseman when he plays a solid two way game with a bit of an edge, but he appears much more offensively focused this season (which is odd considering the stats don't back it up). His rushes became predictable and he feel victim to the Majors forecheck at times. Defensively, he did play pretty solid, but took two bad undisciplined penalties, one because he was out of position in defensive zone coverage. Like Moon, he needs to keep things simple and play within his game. He did have an assist on Derek Froats goal by getting a nice low wrist shot through a crowd (which Froats redirected).

Derek Froats (2010)
Really impressed by what I saw from Froats and Corey Durocher tonight. Froats was all over the ice. Not the biggest guy, but he's one of those prototypical energy guys. Motor always running, everywhere on the ice. On one specific occasion, he won a battle along the boards off a good forecheck, got the puck to a teammate, teammate turnover it over to which he managed to skate over, lift the stick and steal the puck back and put the puck on net. Showed soft hands on the Brian Lashoff redirection. These types of guys always generate NHL draft attention and Froats could be no exception.

Corey Durocher (2010)
As mentioned, Durocher was excellent as well on a line with Froats. Seems like a similar player, but has the size Froats doesn't a 6'3. Was winning battles in the corners, threw a couple nice hits and did a very good job disrupting puck distribution on the forecheck. He has four points in his last seven games, including an assist tonight and like Froats, could generate NHL draft attention.

Ethan Werek (NYR)
I thought he was the best player for the Fronts tonight. Just returning from a deep bruise injury on his leg, Werek did look a little sluggish at times and I think it's obvious he's still in some pain. The good news was that it didn't really effect his play. He created a lot of scoring chances tonight, especially in close. Thought he tied it up late in the 3rd after one timing a nice shot five hole in the slot, but the goal was disallowed (either because the puck never crossed the line or because the whistle was blown before it did). A few shifts earlier, his missed an easy goal on a 2 on 1 chance, but he was on his off wing and couldn't handle the one time pass that kind of hopped over his stick. I still think this guy should have been a first rounder in 2009. He earned an assist on Moon's third period goal.

Tyler Beskorowany (DAL)
Beskorowany played a solid game. He faced a ton of shots tonight and made some really good saves to keep his team in it. On the first goal, he can't be faulted as Devante Smith Pelly used Taylor Doherty's skate to bank the puck in. The first Wallen goal was a bit weak though, as he cut across the middle of the ice and caught Beskorowany cheating on the pass a bit, putting one over his shoulder blocker side. The second and third Wallen goals were scored off tough rebounds that his defenders failed to clear. While his stats this year haven't been tremendous, I don't think it's a reflection on how he's been playing. He definitely still needs to work on his rebound control, as he tends to make the first save but needs to do a better job of freezing the puck or doing his best to direct the puck away from the slot. He made 44 of 48 saves and took the loss.

Mississauga St. Michael's Majors

Casey Cizikas (NYI)
Probably the best game I've seen Cizikas play this season. He was really solid tonight and is developing into one of the better two way players in the league. Had some really good chances in the slot after managing to get himself open, but failed to hit the net. Late in the second period, he took the puck hard into the offensive zone, protected the puck with his body, beat the Kingston defender and managed to get a shot on net that generated a rebound for William Wallen to scoop up. He's such a tremendous penalty killer too and his anticipation working the top of the box is excellent, always finding a way to get his stick on the puck. He finished with 2 assists on the night.

Devante Smith Pelly (2010)
He's getting better and better, and the line of Cizikas, Wallen and Smith-Pelly is really clicking well for the Majors right now. While I've always liked him as a player and prospect, I have at times questioned his offensive potential. I was wrong to do so and I was wrong to leave him out of my early top 30 for the NHL entry draft. As I conversed with a commenter in my last Majors game report, Smith Pelly has a lot of potential as an offensive possession kind of player at the next level due to his strength down low and general agility. He finished with a goal and an assist. The goal, as mentioned, went off Taylor Doherty's skate, which Smith-Pelly definitely did intentionally.

William Wallen (2010, but 1991 born)
The Majors leading scorer finished the game with a hat trick as a member of that aforementioned Majors first line. I like him as a player and I think he has very strong offensive instincts. He is really smart with the puck and as such has been seeing some time quarterbacking the powerplay. But as an undersized water bug kind of player, and a guy who isn't the world's greatest skater (although he's not a poor skater by any means), where does he fit in the grand scheme of things at the NHL level. I'll be really interested to see how he performs at the World Juniors this year, where he'll likely be a top 6 forward.

Chris Carrozzi (ATL)
The OHL's hottest goaltender outside of Troy Passingham, Carrozzi has forced the Majors hand and actually appears to be the "starter toujour" over J.P. Anderson. He takes away the bottom of the net really well, although in unconventional means at times (aka flopping or stacking the pads on his side), but he gets the job done. Like Beskorowany, he needs to work on his rebound control, as the last two Fronts goals were scored off juicy rebounds. He made 31 of 34 saves for the win.

Anyone care to chime in? Here are some highlights of the game, in case anyone wants to see some of the plays in question.


Anonymous said...

Hey Brock, excellent report as usual. Keen observation on the Fronts O/D disconnect, and I also agree with your calls on Moon & Doherty. Speaking of Cherrian smoking attire, yes, looks like Smith-Pelly had his society debut in Ottawa :)

Btw, 1st class job by the Fronts & Cherry!!! There will be a significant contribution from the jersey auction to the Soldier On fund:

Anonymous said...

btw, is this Billy Burke's first stint as a (assistant) coach in elite level hockey?

All things Cherryesque seem to be dancing my in head ... or maybe it's just the ales ;-)

Brock Otten said...

Thanks for the comments!

Since joining Cizikas and Wallen on that "first" line, Smith-Pelly has been absolutely on fire. Good to see since originally, I wasn't entirely sure he had a lot of offensive upside. This bodes incredibly well for his NHL draft stock.

As for Billy Burke, as far as I know it would have to be since he still played for Queens last year. Definitely an interesting choice to add to the staff, although I agree completely with the reasons given. The Dogs released a statement that said Burke was added as an assistant to help with the communication and understanding of young players. For junior teams, I think this is a tremendous idea, having a really young coach on the staff who's not far removed from being a player himself. Having someone on staff who can so closely relate to his players has to be an asset.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brock, good point. Reminds me of Sean Murphy in the Shwa ... I'm not sure where he's at now, however he seemed to do a good job.