The first game report of the year comes from this beauty of a match up between the top two rated teams in the country right now (according to this week's BMO CHL rankings). London and Mississauga clashed at the Hershey Center (in front of a very weak crowd), with the top rated Knights coming out on top by a score of 6-3.
It was a great game that was a lot closer than the 43-26 shot advantage (for London) would make you believe. Turnovers and stupid penalties cost the Majors big as the Knights were able to capitalize on both. London looked fantastic offensively. Their forwards forced turnovers, created off the rush and controlled play along the boards. And the Knights came through with the win despite being severely undermanned on the backend. Captain and Habs first rounder Jarred Tinordi remains out with an eye injury suffered in a fight, while Kyle Flemington is suspended. Overage forward Colin Martin played a regular shift on the blueline (which isn't a crazy thought considering he's been quarterbacking the powerplay for a few years now).
Some player reports:
#2 - Olli Maatta (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
My first real look at Maatta and I was impressed. Seems like a really solid two way defenseman. Engaged forwards in the corners and in front of the net. He was able to win one on one battles in the corner and was composed with the puck. In the offseason, when I spoke to a European scout for my Import Draft review, I was told his skating needed some work. It looked pretty solid tonight, I thought. He's not to be confused with Ryan Murphy, but he seems to move pretty well. He had a few nice rushes up ice with the puck and was fine moving backwards and laterally on his defensive assignments. I was actually surprised with how involved he was offensively, considering his somewhat modest stat totals thus far. He was very aggressive in jumping up on the rush, in one case creating a goal finished off by Matt Rupert. He crept up into the slot area, showed some nice hands by sticking with a bit of a sloppy pass from Ryan Rupert and getting it to the front of the net following a 360 spin, which allowed the other Rupert to finish off the play in front of the net. The only negative was a bad turnover of his that resulted in a goal. He cut up the middle of the ice to rush the puck, but was stripped at the blueline by Sergey Kuptsov leading to a goal by Derek Schoenmakers.
#6 - Scott Harrington (Drafted by Pittsburgh)
A pretty solid game for Harrington who seems to have gotten back to the things that made him such a strong player in his first OHL season. Just keeping things simple. Played solid defensively, and didn't force plays up ice. Playing with a confident puck mover like Maatta probably helps a lot because it takes the pressure off him to be a big time offensive contributor.
#16 - Max Domi (Eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft)
The best player on the ice tonight. Domi was simply fantastic. He's going to be a star in this league, if he isn't already. Was incredibly impressed with all facets of his offensive game. He reminded me a lot of Steve Stamkos in the way that his quickness, elusiveness and skill combination makes him a threat to go from gliding around to putting a puck in the back of the net. He has those quick bursts of energy that make Stamkos such a special player. While Domi finished with only one assist, he set up numerous scoring chances and was constantly buzzing. The assist was actually on his least flashy play of the game, was he wristed a shot on net that generated a big rebound for Jared Knight to capitalize on. Perhaps the most impressive play was on a 3 on 2 where he showed tremendous poise with the puck. He took a drop pass at the blueline, carried the puck in, sucked in one of the defenders (showing tremendous patience) and then fed a beauty pass to Scott Harrington with the defender draped over him, to which Harrington blasted a shot on net that nearly beat Anderson. The only negative (which I'm sure he heard about on the bench after) was a play that you just can't make at the OHL level. Coming around the net with the puck in the offensive end, he threw a blind pass through the legs to the front of the net. Problem was none of his teammates were there, which lead to the puck escaping the zone for a 2 on 1 for the Majors (which fortunately for Domi, did not result in a goal).
#18 - Vladislav Namestnikov (Drafted by Tampa Bay)
Namestnikov had a very good game. He looks stronger on the puck this year to match his great speed and puck carrying ability. Namestnikov is especially dangerous on the powerplay, where he gets more room to work and he does such a good job of finding holes in the zone and his patience with the puck makes him very dangerous. He finished with an assist on Matt Rupert's second goal of the game.
#46 - Matt Rupert (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
If I wasn't looking for numbers, I don't think I would have been able to tell Matt and Ryan apart on the ice. They seem to play very similar games and have a similar skill set. Both were excellent on the night. Matt finished with two goals and an assist, the one off the aforementioned Olli Maatta 360 pass. He seems to be at home in front of the net and in the slot, which is great considering he's undersized. He also showed a real solid passing touch. The Rupert's combined for the first goal of the game on the powerplay on a very nice give and go. Ryan passed off to Matt at the side of the net, who then returned the favor to a cutting Ryan for the one timer.
#64 - Ryan Rupert (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
As mentioned, tough to tell the two apart when they're on the ice. Ryan had a goal and an assist. The goal was off the aforementioned give and go with his brother. Showed some great hands finishing off the play. He was also making some good passes with the man advantage, moving the puck quickly and efficiently. He earned his assist on the aforementioned play to Olli Maatta, finding him cutting to the net with a hard pass (that was a little behind him). The Rupert twins have definitely carried over their strong play from last season when they exploded onto the scene in London.
#71 - Chris Tierney (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
I was actually impressed with Tierney in the minimal time I saw him play last year in an injury plagued season. This is like his first OHL season, essentially. He's had a great start to this season and he had a very good game. The one thing that always stands out to me about Tierney is his stickhandling ability. He really has the puck on a string and is constantly maneuvering around the opposition. He was very active on the forecheck tonight and was out there forcing turnovers. He had a big role in Dane Fox's unassisted goal, even if he didn't get an assist on the play. Tierney did draw an assist on Andreas Athanasiou's third period goal though. He also saw substantial penalty killing time and looked good doing it.
#74 - Dane Fox (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
I was actually really disappointed when Fox was sent home this offseason because I was quite impressed with his play at times last year. But fortunately, he was welcomed back to the team and has gotten off to a great start this season. Like Chris Tierney, Fox was very active on the forecheck and helped to force a lot of turnovers. He capitalized on some terrific work by his line (Tierney and Horvat) at the tail end of the first, when he took a terrible dump attempt from Stuart Percy and put it to the back of the net with a nice top shelf back hand. He's always in on the rough stuff too and plays the game on the edge. He's a very effective player and definitely a potential top 3 round draft pick this year IMO.
#77 - Josh Anderson (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
While he was held scoreless, I liked what I saw from Anderson tonight. He looks to definitely have some offensive potential at this level (as his preseason performance would indicate). He's definitely got some speed coming down the wing and he's not afraid to pay the price in front of the net for scoring chances (he looks a little bigger than the 6'1 he's listed at). He had a bit of a tough time controlling the puck at times and is going to need to add some strength to make him a more consistent offensive threat, but there's definitely potential there.
#86 - Andreas Athanasiou (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
I was a little bit underwhelmed by Athanasiou tonight. At this point, I'm not seeing a huge progression from him last year, to him this year. That's not necessarily a terrible thing. But I was kind of hoping he'd round out his game a little bit. He's still most effective off the rush where he can use his speed to beat defenders to the outside. But he wasn't as visible when the offense set up in the zone. He also got outmuscled off the puck in the corners a few times. He's a terrific goal scoring prospect, but I think there's a reason why he's gotten off to a bit of a slow start (at least slower than what many had anticipated, myself included). And that reason is that he hasn't really rounded out his game to the point where he can be a consistent offensive threat. He'll need to find a way to use his speed when the game slows down/bogs down.
#97 - Jared Knight (Drafted by Boston)
Knight was definitely terrific tonight. He was typical Knight. Buzzing around the puck, throwing the body around, and putting the puck in the net. He found a juicy rebound in the slot off a Max Domi shot to deposit his lone goal in the game. A definite highlight was his thunderous bodycheck on Dylan Demelo in the neutral zone. You could have measured the distance DeMelo flew with a walking meter stick. Knight looks quicker and stronger this year and is going to have a monster season.
Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
#2 - Dylan DeMelo (Drafted by San Jose)
DeMelo had a really rough game with his partner Stuart Percy. The first goal was his fault, as he failed to follow his man (Ryan Rupert) to the net on the give and go. He had a really rough time with the Knights' forecheck and just couldn't get the puck out of his zone or win a battle along the boards.
#4 - Trevor Carrick (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
Liked what I saw of Carrick tonight. He kept things simple and did a good job of moving the puck quickly out his zone to avoid the London forecheck. He was also relatively sharp in running the point on the Mississauga powerplay. While the points haven't really been there yet, if he keeps playing well, they should come. He certainly has the bloodlines (Jake and Sam) to be a legitimate OHL player.
#13 - Sergey Kuptsov (Eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft)
Wow, this guy is a beast. He is absolutely huge. And as a late birth day, he's got the potential to get even bigger. His first few steps aren't incredible, but once he gets going, he's actually quite an elusively quick player. Not to mention that he's damn hard to stop. He had a couple of plays where he just powered himself to the front of the net with the puck, generating a scoring chance. He seems to love parking himself in front of the net and makes a giant screen for the opposition. But he's also got hands and made a few really nice passes. He was physical, played both ends of the ice (including the PK), and earned an assist by forcing a turnover by cutting off Olli Maatta as he cut up the middle of the ice and feeding the puck to Derek Schoenmakers for the breakaway. Very impressive performance.
#28 - Stuart Percy (Drafted by Toronto)
I'm a huge Stuart Percy fan. This was the worst game I've ever seen him play. I'm sure he'd be the first one to tell you that he flat out stunk tonight. He had three bad turnovers in his own end, one of which lead to the Dane Fox goal. He had a ton of trouble with the Knights forecheck and speed. He also took a bad penalty when Andreas Athanasiou got him flat footed and took him to the outside, leaving Percy no choice but to trip him up. Just not a typical Percy performance. On the positive, he looked much better on the powerplay where he seems to be doing a better job of getting his shot on net and making quicker decisions with the puck.
Also on a Majors note, it is now obvious to me as to why Riley Brace has gotten off to such a good start this year. He's grown possibly the greatest mustache in the league (visual evidence here, although I'm not sure it does it justice). A little Movember power?