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.
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?