Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thoughts on Niagara and Mississauga from October 1

The first game of the year from my "10 Games You've Got to Watch." Tonight the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors came to the small ice in St. Catharines to play the Niagara IceDogs. These two teams have long been bitter rivals, with the rivalry increasing when the Majors moved to the Hershey Centre a few years back.

Amazingly enough, this game didn't have a single fighting major. But that doesn't mean it was without penalties! There were a grand total of 16 powerplays tonight, the Majors receiving 10 of them. However, it was not enough to beat the Dogs who overcame a shot disadvantage of 52-24 to beat the Majors by a score of 4 to 2.

It's been a tough week so far for the Majors. First they got bumped from the CHL Mastercard Top 10 Rankings. Today they learned that Overager and Los Angeles Kings draft selection Michael Pelech would not be returning to the club this season (confirmation here). And finally tonight they got beat by the Dogs, despite heavily outshooting them.

Despite the heavily inflated shot totals, I felt that the Dogs outplayed the Majors tonight. The vast majority of the Majors' shots came from outside. A lot of weak shots and attempts to just put the puck on net. As solid as Ice Dogs goaltender Mark Visentin was tonight, he really only had to make a few difficult saves. It's not that the Majors weren't getting into traffic areas and creating offense, it's just that they had a hard time manufacturing serious scoring chances. The Dogs on the other hand made the most out of their scoring opportunities and did a good job on the cycle to give themselves room to shoot. It was generally a solid effort for the Dogs tonight, who are likely a better team than their 1-2-1 record heading into the game would indicate.

One thing that confused me for the Majors was the movement of defenseman Brett Flemming to forward. Originally I thought the Majors were playing with 7 defenseman and 11 forwards, but then I realized Flemming was indeed skating as a winger (mostly on a line with William Wallen and Jordan Mayer). Flemming is usually a player who impresses me with his speed and puck rushing ability from the back end, and I felt like the life was sucked out of him tonight. He just wasn't visible or effective as a forward and I don't understand why he was moved there. I also thought that they missed his speed and puck rushing ability from the back end. The Majors are usually a deadly team off the rush and in the transition game, but they struggled in that aspect tonight. Most of their scoring opportunities came from winning battles through cycling. If he was moved due to a logjam on the blueline, it's still a bit of a head scratcher for me, considering that guys like Josh McFadden and David Corrente are nowhere near the talent Flemming is.

Anyway, here are some of my general thoughts on player performances...

Mississauga St. Michael's Majors

Tim Billingsley (PHX)

Last time I reported on the Majors, I was pretty hard on Billingsley. He played a solid game tonight though. Billingsley played a simple and smart game and didn't try to do anything outside of his skill set. He took the body well and did a solid job off the rush in staying with his man and keeping him to the outside. I'd still like to see him play more physical, because I've seen him with a bit of a mean streak before, but as long as he can play a strong positional game defensively, he's fine. On the negative side, I'm still not quite sure he has the composure with the puck to advance to an NHL career.

Brett Flemming (WSH)
As I mentioned, he skated as a forward 5 on 5 tonight. He played the point on the powerplay though. Not much to say that wasn't said above. As a forward he wasn't very effective.

Casey Cizikas (NYI)
Cizikas didn't have the greatest of games. He had a couple nice moments in the offensive zone and still did a good job on the penalty kill, but he didn't play as aggressive as a style as he usually does. He usually skates hard and puts a lot of pressure on the opposing team, but he was fairly invisible tonight. Considering the solid start Cizikas has had to the season, tonight's performance was an anomaly for Cizikas (and likely most of the Majors players). He finished with an assist.

Joseph Cramarossa (2011)
Late 1992 birthday, Cramarossa was flying tonight. He hit everything in sight. He laid one really nice check on Reggie Traccitto as he tried to carry the puck over the red line. He did a good job by putting pressure on the Niagara puck carrier and looks to have some offensive potential. I can't help but think that Cramarossa will develop into a fan favourite in Mississauga.

Jordan Mayer (2010, but 1991 born)
The more I watch the Majors (and Mayer), the more I think I'm realizing that the Majors offense runs through the speedy Mayer. He was one of the only Majors players who generated serious scoring chances tonight. He's got great wheels and he's really elusive on the ice. Despite being undersized, he doesn;t get pushed around. For his first goal, he showcased great hands in close by tipping the point shot beautifully and chipping his rebound over Visentin's pads. On his second goal he eluded the Niagara defenseman and took it to the net, shoveling it in between Visentin's pads and the post. Using his skating ability and fearless attitude, Mayer is not only one to watch for the Majors this year, but for June's NHL draft too. He finished with 2 goals.

Cameron Gaunce (COL)
Gaunce was solid tonight. As usual, he played a very quietly effective game. He doesn't make any plays that make you say "WOW," but he doesn't have to because he makes the smart choices at both ends of the ice. He runs the powerplay very effectively (and often plays the full two minutes), using his hard, low point shot to create scoring chances off his rebounds. Gaunce also picks his times to pinch in and/or rush the puck into the offensive zone very well. He increased the amount he was rushing as the game went on and as his team needed to gain entry into the offensive zone. Defensively he's generally a rock, although you'd always like to see him use his size to push people around. I'm pulling for him to get an invite to the Canadian WJC camp. He finished the game with 2 assists.

J.P. Anderson (2010)
Anderson didn't have the greatest of games. But he didn't have a lot of help either, with Niagara's goals coming off some nice individual skill efforts. The only goal I'm sure he'd love to have back was Niagara's first by Alex Friesen, which was a slapper that squeezed between his arm and body. He got pulled entering the third period after giving up 4 goals on 17 shots. His exit from the game was more a tactic to try and jump start the team by Dave Cameron, than it was punishment for poor play (at least in my opinion). Another performance you have to consider an anomaly.

Niagara IceDogs

Alex Friesen (2010, but 1991 born)

Where is the Alex Friesen from last season? The one who could use his speed to create scoring chances, but who couldn't finish them off. To his credit, he was fairly snake bitten too. I've never seen a player hit as many posts or get robbed by a nice save as many times as Friesen did last season. This year, he's capitalizing on his scoring chances and he's using his speed to create scoring chances for his teammates. He's also doing a lot more of the dirty work on the ice and is much more active on the cycle. This added aggressive aspect to his game has really elevated it to the next level. I hope he can continue to be as dynamic of a player as the season goes on. He finished the game with 2 goals and 2 assists.

Freddie Hamilton (2010)
Hamilton is a solid two way center. I really like the effort he gives defensively. He's also a good skater and does a good job of leading the rush into the zone as the center of the team's second line. Obviously you'd like to see him hit the score sheet more than he has, but if he continues to play a solidly efficient game, the points will come.

Chris DeSousa (2010, but 1990 born)
Like Friesen, DeSousa is off to a great start this season. Unlike Friesen, DeSousa is simply carrying over his solid play from last season when he scored 33 goals. Undersized, but not lacking heart. DeSousa grinds it out on the ice, outworking his opposition for the puck. He's got a really good head for the game too. He's a guy who can play in any situation and who really seems to find himself magnetically attracted to the puck. I only wish he was a slightly better skater, otherwise he'd be a shoe in for a professional career. He finished the game with 1 goal and 2 assists.

Andrew Agozzino (2010, but 1991 born)
We really need to come up with a solid nickname for the Dogs first line of Friesen, DeSousa and Agozzino. All of them are undersized, but they make up for it with hard work and a fair amount of skill. Agozzino was the quietest of the three tonight, but scored an absolute beauty of a goal. Friesen, from behind the net, passed the puck to him at the corner of the net near the circle and he absolutely roofed it short side on Anderson. Agozzino had a tiny hole to get it through with Anderson playing it more standing, and he just buried it. Great goal. It was his only point of the night.

Dougie Hamilton (2011)
The brother of Freddie, Dougie is a very solid defenseman. The Dogs 2nd rounder of this year, Hamilton is incredibly talented and looks to be one of the better OHL defenseman of the 1993 birth crop. He's got great size at 6'3 (and likely still growing) and is already playing a top 4 role for the Dogs. He controls the point on the powerplay, he makes good decisions with the puck and he's quietly effective defensively. Definitely an early player to watch for the 2011 NHL Draft. He finished with an assist.

Mark Visentin (2010)
What a difference a year makes. Visentin looked absolutely over matched in the OHL last season as an OHL rookie, but this year he's emerged as the team's number one netminder. A lot more composed in net, Visentin used to be prone to stretches of poor concentration. He'd play solid, then give up two real stinkers in a short period of time. This year, he seems to be a lot more confident in net. He's doing a way better job of controlling his rebounds too. A very impressive performance for him tonight, stopping 50 of 52 shots for the win. On the downside, he still needs to work on his glove. Nearly any goal that beats him, are ones glove side and he still seems to have a hard time holding on to pucks that enter his mitt. Maybe the Dogs should get him playing baseball.

That's it folks. Anyone else at the game with thoughts on either side?


Anonymous said...

Have to say your comments on this game, and your assessment of players poorly reflects the reality of it. (Mayer didn't even chip that first goal in, the Dog defender did!)... Missy only had "a few" scoring chances??? Vizzer's glove was bad??? What game were you watching?

Brock Otten said...

I'm not going to generalize here, but I always find it odd that when I give my thoughts on games involving the Niagara IceDogs, I always get flak from a fan or two who claim I know nothing. Yet any other team's fans seem to think my reports are bang on. I don't want to generalize here, because there are a lot of great Niagara fans. But it also frustrates me to no end.

Jordan Mayer, from the look I had, did chip that goal in. He made a nice re-direct on the point shot, Visentin made the nice reaction kick save, and then Mayer chipped the rebound in on a bit of a knuckleball past Visentin's glove hand. Now if you can show me a replay that shows otherwise and that a Niagara defended swung to chip the puck in his own net, please do so and I'll correct it. From the view I saw, Mayer chipped that one home after the nice re-direct.

As for Visentin, yes he has trouble with his glove hand. I'm not even sure why this is being disputed. I've seen this very fact disputed on the Niagara fan board several times. On two occasions he had trouble with the puck in his glove hand last night. One was a Majors shot from the wing that he wasn't able to close the glove on and as such gave up a rebound that he was thankfully able to cover before it created a second chance opportunity. The other being the "supposed" Mayer chip shot that he swung and missed on with his glove. Granted it was a bit of a knuckleball, but at the same time, I've seen a lot of goalies make that save. All through last year, the same things were occuring with "Vizzer." He has trouble closing the glove and has given up a lot of questionable goals as a result. Again, this is something I've seen brought up before, so not quite sure why it's an issue to you.

As for the Majors scoring chances, they obviously had opportunities, just through their shot total. But I said serious scoring chances. If you consider a ton of shots from the point and from outside with no traffic in front of the net, scoring chances, then that's your opinion. Visentin had to be sharp and I commended him for that. I talked about his improvement from last season, especially in focus and rebound control. But if you think that the majority of saves he had to make were difficult ones, I ask you in return. What game were you watching?

As for the assessment of players, who else do you have a problem with? I'd be glad to debate you on that as well.

As always thanks for the comments, but next time could you attach your name to it if you feel like attacking me. I like to know who I'm debating.

Dave Astles said...

Also, it seems to look like the "official" scoring sheet on thinks Mayer tipped it in because if an Ice Dogs defender did it would have been listed as an unassisted goal by the shooter. Just sayin'...

Brock Otten said...

Well Mayer definitely did tip it on net from the point shot and Visentin made the initial save. From there, it sure looked like Mayer swung around and chipped it over Visentin. It's still possible that a Dog defender chipped it in from the rebound, as because of the initial tip, Mayer would have been the last Major to touch the puck. That's why I asked to see the replay.

The more telling sign about the goal from the official scorer, is that assists were given on the goal. If a Dog defender did hit the puck into his own net, Mayer would have still received the goal, but no assists would have been given.

Anonymous said...

Not attacking you personally by any means! Don't ask "Anyone else at the game with thoughts on either side?" if you feel a contrary opinion is a personal attack.. I guess I should have been more sensitive or tactful with my with my comment, so for that, I apologize... but I didn't feel your comments were (in my opinion) reflective of what I saw, and not just regarding Visentin. For instance, this continuous reference to our "undersized" players. They may be under six feet but they play big! Just seems to me you emphasize this aspect. Also, I don't agree with your assessment of some players on both teams but I will never publicaly publish a negative comment regarding a player, even anonymously, so no contest there... I submit.

Now, regarding the goaltending... with the recent rule changes regarding goalie equipment, most, if not all goalies are experiencing increased "glove rebound". Just ask Carey Price. I think Visentin's glove is certainly more effective than implied and definitely not less effective than "average". He made a number of exceptional glove saves... certainly more than "allowed glove side goals" and rebounds. Baseball?? I mean.. really?! It was nice to see the kid have a GREAT game stopping a rediculous number of excellent scoring chances... not "just" a "vast majority from the outside". Once again, I saw something different. In fact, the "vast majority" of shots had a big blue shirt or two standing in front of him and if not for the rebound control, the score would have been much different. That's what I saw.

I also think J.P. is entitled to an "off game" now and again which is extremely rare for him... and I agree he didn't play poorly either. We're talking 17 shots... he had plenty of "help" but the bounces didn't go his way that night. Not an "uncommon" experience with all goalies. No excuses or more "help" needed, he'll be perfectly fine, in fact, he'll continue to be outstanding.

Regarding the Mayer first goal... I did review a replay as I have it recorded and it sure looks like the defenseman's stick hit the puck while trying to bring it back after missing it on his initial swipe at it. The cogeco commentator even mentions it after the replay... but hey... no biggie, just a "bad bounce" (or good one from Mayer's point of view of course!)... So I've seen the replay and that's my opinion.

Nevertheless, now that I know you are troubled by contrary opinions by anonymous fanatical Ice Dog fans, I will refrain from expressing my opinions on your blog in the future, and once again, I apologize if you feel it was a personal attack.

Brock Otten said...

No need to refrain and in fact I hope you continue to publish opinions. My only wish was that you took the time to write what you just wrote in your reply, compared to what you originally wrote to me.

As for the undersized players. No question they play bigger than they are and that is part of the reason why they are so effective. However this blog is slanted towards an NHL future point of view. It's meant to give fans a take on what to expect of their teams NHL prospects, or current NHL draft prospects. Thus, the likes of Friesen, DeSousa and Agozzino are undersized if you look at it from under that microscope.

The same can be said about negative comments. Again, my intent with this blog is to provide scouting reports for fans who didn't see the game or who want to know more about the players playing capabilities. Every player (at this level) has their faults, as well as their strengths. I try to hit on both.

On J.P., I totally agree. Not sure if you read my comments wrong or not, but if you've read anything previous on the blog you'd know I'm a huge fan of his. That's why I said his performance was an anomaly.

And for the record, the only reason I felt it was a personal attack, was because of the general tone of your first response, followed by the question "What game were you watching?" Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I don't want to stop you from sharing it on this blog. I only hope that in the future, you communicate your thoughts the way you did in your 2nd reply, as to your first. Because that makes for good conversation on the topic and it shows people that there are different ways to view the game, not one necessarily being correct.