I had such high hopes for this one. A battle between two of the league's youngest and most talented rosters. While things this year have been up and down (due to the inexperience of the team's core players), you'd be hard pressed to a find game featuring more talent available for the 2012 Draft. Between the two teams, they had 14 players listed on Central Scouting's midterm rankings.
But it truly was a stinker. I'm glad I caught this one on t.v. as opposed to being there live as the Spits laid quite an egg. I read that after the game, Bob Boughner said it was among the worst losses he's ever been a part of. Pretty strong words.
The Storm got off to a quick start by scoring two goals in the first three minutes, and four in the first period. They never looked back from there, nearly doubling the shot total of the Spits in the process. Considering how important the game was (the Spits and Storm are among four teams battling for the final three playoff spots in the West), you'd have to worry about the effort level of Windsor. The final score was 6-0 for Guelph.
#3 - Andrey Pedan (Drafted by the New York Islanders)
I continue to be impressed with Pedan this season. I think he's definitely a solid pro prospect. His biggest asset is definitely his mobility in combination with his size and physicality. He's a very in your face player and was all over the Spits tonight, taking away time and space. But his offensive game has really improved this year, especially his confidence in rushing the puck. He's a very dangerous puck carrier because he's very strong on the puck and hard to strip once he gets going at full speed. One of his rushes lead to Scott Kosmachuk's 2nd period goal, where he took the puck from his own zone, blew past Alex Khokhlachev and fed a streaking Kosmachuk at the blueline (where Kosmachuk fired home a wrist shot once entering the zone). The last couple of times I've seen him, he's cut down on some of the undisciplined penalties too. But I'm told that this is still a bit of an issue at times. When he finds that happy medium between smart aggression and over aggression, he's at his best.
#4 - Matt Finn (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Had a really terrific game, showcasing his talents at both ends of the ice. Offensively, he was solid. He did a good job of moving the puck and is very poised with the puck in his own zone. When the Spits still had some fight in them in the first half of the game, he shook off the forecheck with ease, and never had any issues skating the puck out of trouble. On the powerplay, he has great vision and is a terrific playmaker. This was showcased on the last first period powerplay for the Storm. Finn took the puck at the point and fired a hard pass to an open Francis Menard near the faceoff dot, who then found Mitchell in the slot for the goal. Defensively, his most impressive play was definitely his breakup of an Alex Khokhlachev breakaway in the first. The Khok snuck behind the defense, but Finn hustled back (showcasing great closing speed) and lifted Khokhlachev's stick at the last second, stealing the puck away from him before he even got a shot away. The fact that he didn't have to take a penalty on the play was fantastic. Finn is inching ever so close to Cody Ceci for me in the race for the league's top draft eligible d-man.
#8 - Zach Leslie (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Had an absolutely fantastic game. I'm not sure he's as good as Craig Button thinks he is (been ranked in Button's top 50 for the better part of two months), but he's definitely better than CSS thinks he is (NHL Central Scouting didn't rank him). He's very cool with the puck and I think he's got a strong head on his shoulders when it comes to the offensive side of the game. I really liked how he got his point shot towards the net in the game. He got one assist from this (and should have had a second). In the first, he walked the line and fired a low hard shot on net, which Tyler Bertuzzi redirected past Jaroslav Pavelka. Later in the period, it was nearly an identical play, except this time his shot bounced around near the crease until Justin Auger cleaned up the garbage. He was also a little more physical than I had seen him previously. Leslie actually got into a fight with Kerby Rychel in the third after he was all over Rychel as he tried to carry the puck over the blueline and towards the net. After finishing him off along the boards, a visibly frustrated Rychel dropped the mitts. It wasn't a long fight, and Leslie was mostly hanging on for life, but it showed gumption. Leslie's defensive game is still a little bit raw, but he's turning into a real diamond in the rough for this draft.
#19 - Hunter Garlent (Draft Eligible in 2013)
Honestly, outside of Aaron Ekblad, I'm not sure there has been a more impressive 2011 draft pick in the league this year. I'm really not sure about his NHL draft ranking at this point, because he's a little guy, but he's certainly impressive. Garlent actually reminds me a lot of how Gemel Smith looked last year. He's so noticeable because of how hard he works on and off the puck. He may be small and young, but he's fearless of high traffic areas and loves to get his nose dirty. Look no farther than him taking Nick Ebert to school along the boards in the first period, coming away with the puck and driving to the net for a flying, crease crashing goal. He seems to be a really smart player too and I think profiles well as a skilled playmaker.
#20 - Justin Auger (Draft Eligible in 2012)
I really like this kid and he's sneaking very close to my top 30 for the draft. He's got 6 goals and 3 assists in his last 9 games and is really coming into his own in the league. Best of all, he's a legit 6'7 and could stand to add more size to his frame. Auger is a really interesting player because he's not really your typical 6'7 forward. He uses his size to his advantage, but he's definitely not what I would call an in your face behemoth. So while he's not out there laying bone crushing hits, he uses his size to his advantage in the offensive zone. Especially in the cycle game, and in driving hard to the net. Every time I've seen him, he's been noticeable because of how well he works the boards down low and uses that big stick to dig out pucks and keep the play alive. His line with Tyler Bertuzzi and Ryan Horvat really tired out the Spits defense in the first couple of periods with their puck possession game. He also scored in the first, taking a pass from Tyler Bertuzzi in a goal mouth scramble and taping it into the back of the net. On the play, he beat Nick Ebert to the front of the net, showing how hard he is to move from his desired path. His skating isn't really all that bad either. Kind of wide and awkward looking, but he seems to find space relatively easy. If he keeps up a point per game pace for the rest of the year, there's no way he'll be taken where CSS currently has him ranked.
#23 - Zack Mitchell (Draft Eligible in 2012, second year eligibility)
Every other time I've seen Mitchell this season, I haven't really noticed him (to be honest), despite the fact that he leads Guelph in scoring. But he was definitely noticeable in this game. I was impressed by how he kept plays alive in the offensive zone with his stick handling ability. The Spits had a really tough time taking the puck off him as he had a real elusive/slippery quality about him. His two points showcased his high skill level too. On his first period goal, he took a quick pass in the slot from Francis Menard and quickly buried a wrist shot top shelf on John Cullen (who had replaced Pavelka). The puck wasn't on his stick long and he got a lot of mustard on the shot. In 2nd, he drew an assist after getting partial breakway and driving hard to the net. He was stopped, but Menard was there to clean up his garbage. Playing for a guy like Scott Walker is only going to help him round out his game (away from the puck and defensively), so you have to like his chances of getting drafted this year.
#24 - Scott Kosmachuk (Draft Eligible in 2012)
There's no denying that I love the way this kid plays the game. I went so far as to put him ahead of Jarrod Maidens in my midterm rankings. He's a really solid north/south kind of guy who plays both ends of the ice and has the skill the create and finish scoring chances. Most impressive on the night was his defensive play actually. He had a couple really nice plays coming back to tie up Windsor forwards to prevent scoring chances and won nearly all of his battles along the boards in his own end. He scored in the 2nd period on a wrist shot, although it wasn't the prettiest of plays. He took a pass from Andrey Pedan, cruised into offensive zone, cut to the middle to unleash a shot, but fanned on it. This actually helped him out because defender Adam Bateman overcommited on the play, so when he fanned on the shot, he actually found himself open in the slot with the puck still on his stick. Then he fired a low wrister through Cullen. He also earned an assist on Hunter Garlent's first period goal.
#40 - Garret Sparks (Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs)
Sparks was solid on the night. To be honest, he wasn't really tested a ton. But he did a good job of making sure Windsor didn't get themselves back in the game. Particularly impressive was his handling of the rebounds...or lack there of. He swallowed up the puck and looked good squaring up shooters from the point. Sparks has progressed well this year with increased ice time and looks like a solid selection by the Leafs. Next year will be a big test for him, when the Storm have a chance to be one of the better teams in the West.
A disclaimer before the Windsor reports. Definitely a hard game to give a ton of positive feedback about, so most of the Windsor reports are going to be pretty bleak or short.
#12 - Ben Johnson (Draft Eligible in 2012)
I felt like he and Brady Vail were probably the two best Spitfires on the night. He had a couple of noticeable shifts in the first couple of periods, where he kept the Storm pinned in their own zone by working hard along the boards. He's a noticeably quick skater and a hard worker away from the puck. Not really much else to say on the night.
#16 - Kerby Rychel (Draft Eligible in 2013)
Wasn't really noticeable in a good or bad way. Had a tough time finding space to operate offensively on the night and took his frustration out on Zach Leslie in a third period scuffle.
#17 - Michael Clarke (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Really didn't have a good game. In fact, Clarke has been going through a really tough stretch the past couple of months. He's got only a goal and an assist in his last 17 games and is a -11 through that. After such a strong start, it's possible he's hitting a wall in his first full OHL season. He was a -3 in this game...and was actually on for four goals against (one was a powerplay goal). The powerplay goal by Mitchell was actually a direct result of a poor play by Clarke. When Mitchell received a pass in the slot, Clarke was slow to tie him up and really didn't do much to prevent him from getting his shot off. Offensively, he really didn't do much at all. If he doesn't start picking up his game, he'll really begin to tumble down the draft charts in the 2nd half.
#22 - Nick Ebert (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Ebert was visible for all the wrong reasons on the night. The last time I saw Windsor play, it looked like he was starting to turn the corner a bit. But he was...really quite bad in the Guelph game. Three of Guelph's 6 goals could be directly tied to him. In the first, he was muscled off the puck in the corner by the 5'9 Hunter Garlent, who then escaped his clutches to take the puck hard to the net uninterrupted for a goal. Also in the first period, he failed to tie up Justin Auger as he drove to the net for a goal on a goal mouth scramble. Lastly, in the 2nd period he got caught out of position and Zack Mitchell broke in for a partial breakway. Ebert did well to get back, but didn't tie up Mitchell enough to prevent him from getting off a shot. Offensively, it was much of what I saw in the first couple of months of the season. A lot of forced long passes that failed to connect, and rushes up the ice that saw him create little. The biggest thing that has disappointed me about Ebert this year has been the disappearance of his physical game. Last year, he came into the league as a 16 year old not afraid of pushing bodies around in front of the net and capable of laying out bodies in the defensive zone. This year, I just haven't seen that element to his game.
#61 - Chris Marchese (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Invisible. Pretty clear the consistency issues that plagued him in Erie have followed him to Windsor. I know Windsor fans have been quick to point out that he may have conditioning/endurance issues. I saw nothing tonight to dispute that.
#89 - Alex Khokhlachev (Drafted by the Boston Bruins)
I kind of felt bad for the Khok in this game. He came out with a fair amount of energy and I felt like he was one of the only Spits to actually create things offensively in the first. But after he had that breakaway attempt thwarted by Finn in the first period, things kind of went downhill. He was less and less noticeable until he let Andrey Pedan go by him in the neutral zone late in the 2nd period. This obviously resulted in the aforementioned goal by Kosmachuk. From then on out, I don't think he saw much ice time then was apparently sent to the dressing room to sit out the third.
#97 - Brady Vail (Draft Eligible in 2012)
As I alluded to earlier, I felt like he and Ben Johnson were probably the best Spit forwards on the night. Vail looked good along the boards and on the cycle and had a few shifts where it looked like he might be close to getting Windsor on the board.
Unfortunately Tanner Richard and Brandon Devlin weren't playing in the game, as I would have loved to get another look at both of them. Richard is nursing some minor injuries, while Devlin has been suspended (controversially) for his apparently degrading marks towards Guelph's Tyler Bertuzzi.