First time watching both of these teams this season, and since there were quite a few guys I wanted to catch a glimpse of on both sides, it was almost overwhelming to keep up. It was actually a very entertaining game that saw a lot of good scoring chances at both ends of the ice. The Petes looked good as they managed to snap a four game losing streak (in which they'd given up 23 goals in those four games). Jason Missiaen had a really solid game as he looks to get back on track after a string of really poor starts. The Spirit got a lot of opportunities but just couldn't bury them, while some sloppy defense cost them the game despite outshooting the Petes 42-11 in periods 2 and 3.
Some thoughts on some of the players on both sides...
Nick Crawford (BUF)
I thought he played a really strong defensive game. He's only moderately sized (6'1), and he's not a physical defender, but he does a very strong job as a positional defender. The Petes forwards had a tough time getting by him on the way to the net and did a good job in picking up his man in coverage, tying him up and not allowing a scoring opportunity. I was also impressed by the way he won battles in the corners, just by out maneuvering Pete players and using his stick to get the puck out. Offensively, I thought he struggled a bit though. Made a few questionable decisions with the puck early on and had a few giveaways. Settled down as the game went on and made a couple nice plays later in the game to keep the puck in the offensive zone. But overall I was somewhat underwhelmed by his offensive abilities. As a quietly effective defender, perhaps I was looking for more flash and dash to his game than I should have been. He finished with an assist.
Garret Ross (2010)
I actually really liked what I saw from Ross, as he played on the Spirits' top line with Jordan Skellett and Josh Shalla. Not a big winger, but he brings a lot of energy to the ice. I thought he looked more impressive than his two linemates. He took the puck to the net hard on a couple occasions and created scoring chances off rebounds. Looked like a really solid skater because of these rushes and his work on the forecheck. Had a couple good offensive opportunities in the slot too, but couldn't beat Missiaen. Not sure how long he stays on that first line, but if he does, his energy will no doubt lead to some offensive production and he could be a guy to watch for June's draft.
Jordan Szwarz (PHX)
Has been underwhelming on the stat sheet so far this season (as it was expected he'd be an offensive leader for the Spirit this season). But I thought he played a really good game and was probably Saginaw's best forward with Ivan Telegin. I was a big fan of his for the draft last year and admit he's a bit of an enigma. When he's on...like he was tonight...his speed and energy in the offensive zone leads to offensive opportunities. Not a big guy, but he's elusive on the ice and seems to find the scoring areas really well. As an example, scored a side of the net goal on a beautiful slap pass from T.J. Brodie. He got himself in good position and was wide open for the redirect/tap in. Like any developing energy player, he needs to remember that in order for him produce offensively, he's got to play his game every shift. He finished with a goal and an assist.
Tyler Murovich (Overage Free Agent)
I really like Murovich and I'm pulling for him to earn a professional contract this year. From what I've been told, he was close in Columbus/Syracuse this offseason. Just to give you an idea of the type of player Murovich is, on one shift, he blocked a hard point shot from the point with his shin, dropped to the ground in pain. He proceeded to get up, re-enter play and no more than 10 seconds later he forced a turnover by the Saginaw bench by throwing a big hit on a Petes player trying to get the puck back into the offensive zone. All heart. He's one of the better two way forwards in the league and I think he has an underrated offensive game. His goal was a weak one five hold that Missiaen would like to have back, but he had a few other offensive opportunities tonight that just missed. He'll never be a scoring line player in the NHL, but many teams need the type of heart and character he brings to the ice.
Jordan Skellett (Overage Free Agent)
Finally exploding offensively in the league this season, I thought Skellett was disappointing. He had a couple nice shifts, and showed some good things with the puck, but overall his performance was underwhelming. He is definitely an excellent playmaker and that's his bread and butter. Made a very nice pass to a streaking Ivan Telegin for the Spirit's opening goal. Made a couple other nice passes too, especially from behind the net where he tries to control play. On the downside, I felt like he overhandled the puck on several occasions that led to turnovers and just looked like he was trying to force the play. I think he's a good junior hockey player, but I can't see him having an extended professional hockey career.
Ivan Telegin (2010)
Our friend Alessandro Seren Rosso will be happy to hear that Telegin looked very strong in tonight's game. Been looking forward to seeing him play. Scored a beautiful goal on a pass from Jordan Skellet, as he was hit streaking towards the net. He took the puck on his stick, kept skating, made a nice deke around Missiaen and slid it home on his forehand. Later in the game he had a breakaway opportunity but was obviously hooked by Jamie Doornbosch and couldn't get a shot off (of which no penalty was called and it sent Spirit coach Todd Watson into an extreme fit of rage). On a few other players he showed good speed, especially acceleration for a big man. He shifted back and forth between center and wing and saw a good amount of time on special teams. On the powerplay he was being used as a screen in front of the net and did a good job to hold his place. Seems to be the model of consistency so far this season, being held pointless in only 2 games.
Josh Shalla (2010)
Truthfully, he was invisible for most of the game. Towards the end, he had a couple nice passes and showed a willingness to go to the net for a rebound. But I don't have much to offer on him. After the first period, I actually had to check to see if he was playing because I noticed him that little. He finished a team low -3. I'll need to see him again.
Cody Sol (ATL)
I thought Sol was pretty brutal tonight. Definitely didn't look like an NHL draft pick. On the positive, he was physical and threw a couple really good hits, unfortunately a few of those took him out of defensive position. With the puck in his own zone, he was terrible. Gave it away several times as he tried to throw the puck up the middle of the ice. However he did look somewhat comfortable playing the point in the offensive zone and he really has a hard shot (which you'd have to expect considering his size) that he actually gets through to the net well. But for a guy who's bread and butter is supposed to be as a strong physical stay at home defenseman, he needs to tighten some things up.
T.J. Brodie (CGY)
Brodie was absolutely electric offensively tonight. He got better and better as the game went on too. His skating ability is so good from the back end, just an explosive player. On one occasion he picked the puck up at the blueline and went by three Petes players to the net in what seemed like a split second. It was a loose puck that he picked up near the boards and then accelerated to the front of the net, but only got a weak shot off. Had a few other nice rushes tonight too. His assist to Jordan Szwarz was a thing of beauty; a slap pass right to Jordan Szwarz at the side of the net for the easy tap in. Completely fooled the Petes defense and Jason Missiaen. On the downside, he was careless with the puck on a few occasions. Made poor reads in trying to rush up ice and skated into traffic giving the puck up. He definitely needs to pick his spots better. He also looked lazy at times in the defensive zone. While he can be a solid positional defender, he looked really lazy on Adrian Robertson's second period goal. He failed to tie up Robertson as he went hard to the net, leaving him with a redirect on a cross ice pass. If he fails to tie up forwards like that in the NHL, he'll be eaten alive. A ton of talent here though and I think a serious candidate for the Canadian WJC team.
Edward Pasquale (ATL)
Not sure if Pasquale's poor start statistically has been as a result of poor play in front of him, or poor play by him. But he wasn't incredibly sharp tonight. He looked really slow in his net, especially in terms of reacting to offensive plays. On David Quesnele's goal to open the game, he got himself so far out of position on the flop that he had no chance to stop Quesnele's shot. He had trouble with another shot late in the game as Matt Puempel tried to bank it off him and into the net. He was still on his knees after an original shot and failed to get back up to cover the post. Luckily enough the puck hit the post. The other four goals were tricky ones for Pasquale to stop, but good goalies put themselves in position to at least make a few big saves and Pasquale made none of those tonight. Perhaps all the trade rumours surrounding him have effected his play. He made 24 of 29 saves and took the loss.
Matt Puempel (2011)
The Petes recent first rounder looked very good tonight. Was all over the ice and did a good job of working puck possession with Ryan Spooner and Pat Daley. Was effective off the rush and scored a really nice goal off a feed from Pat Daley from behind the net. Daley hit Puempel with a pass after he beat his defender to the net and put it home high blocker side. His other goal was a beautiful tip in off a Chris Buonomo point shot. Showed great hands and coordination on both goals. Recently returning from a concussion, it doesn't look like he's missed a step. Finished with 2 goals.
Chris Buonomo (2010)
I liked Buonomo's game tonight. He seems to be one of those under heralded draft eligible defenseman the OHL has to offer this season (Petgrave, Levi, Chiarlitti, etc), and one has to wonder if he can separate himself from the pack. He's not that big, but he plays with an edge and appears to have a lot of mobility from the back end. Defensively he was solid too, and I didn't notice any real mistakes. Showed an ability to get his point shot to the net on the powerplay, like he did on Matt Puempel's redirect. He did have some turnovers with the puck in his own zone as he tried to force passes up ice. In this case, he needs to either get confidence in bringing the puck up himself, or make smarter, less rushed passes.
David Quesnele (2010)
Had an absolutely fantastic game. I really liked the way he was around the puck all night. Was good in the corners, showed no fear in going hard to the net, was active on the forecheck. Just all over the ice. On his first goal he did a good job of finding the puck in a crowd and putting it to the back of the net. On his second goal, he went hard to the net and took a pass from Joey West from behind the net; one timing it past Pasquale. Made a tremendous pass to Adrian Robertson for his late second period goal, going cross ice to hit the streaking defenseman through T.J. Brodie. I thought he was the best Petes player on the ice tonight, finishing with 2 goals and an assist.
Ryan Spooner (2010)
Throughout the first two periods, Spooner was the best player on the ice. His speed and tenacity without the puck is refreshing to see. On one occasion he took the puck hard to the net, got a shot away, kept skating behind the net, came out and stole the rebound away from T.J. Brodie by lifting his stick and then got another shot away, drawing a penalty from Edward Pasquale after on a frustrated slash. Drew two secondary assists thanks to hard work along the boards in keeping the puck moving to his teammates. He did disappear in the third period though, but did enough in the first two to make a serious impression.
Adam Sedlak (2010)
I thought Sedlak played a very strong defensive game. Nothing flashy, but just a solid defensive presence. Stays with his man well and shows good mobility. Also showed a willingness to play a quiet physical game, tying up his man and clearing the front of the net. Didn't really see a lot offensively, but with solid size, mobility and defense, he's likely to attract NHL draft attention.
Jamie Doornbosch (2010, 1990 born)
Not the best game I've seen Doornbosch play. Looked a little lethargic defensively tonight. Got caught standing still a few times, in particular against Ivan Telegin on his goal and his breakaway attempt. But he moves the puck up ice well and has good offensive instincts. I wonder if he'll get NHL attention at the draft this year if his strong offensive season continues.
Barron Smith (TOR)
I thought he played a pretty good defensive game tonight. Like the Spirit's Cody Sol, he can take himself out of the play going for the big hit, as he did a few times, but he also clears the front of the net well and seems to excel in the defensive zone. His partner Chad Lowry really struggled tonight and got exposed a few times off the rush, to which Smith had to bail him out. He's definitely never going to put up the offensive stats his father did in the NHL, but he could have a future as a 5-7 guy at the next level.
Jason Missiaen (MTL)
Still a hot and cold goaltender, Missiaen needs to find a way to perform consistently. He's either a sieve or a wall and nothing in between. Tonight he was a wall, after struggling in his past few games. Obviously his size is his biggest strength, but he actually moves well in his net for a big man (at least in my opinion). Takes away the bottom of the net really well with his pads, which seemingly can stretch from post to post. If only he could strengthen his five hole, which he gave up a weak goal to Tyler Murovich on, then he'd be unbeatable down low. I like how he still challenges the shooter too, which really takes away the top of the net too. Sometimes with bigger goalies, they're content to stay back in their crease. On the downside, Missiaen definitely needs to work on controlling his rebounds. I think close to half the shots he faced tonight were off rebounds he gave up. Your classic 2nd and 3rd chance opportunities. Luckily enough he was up to the task in stopping them, but the Spirit were also unable to get those chances up over his pads. I really think there is potential there if a team is willing to be patient with him. Made 45 of 48 saves tonight and got the win.
As always I welcome your comments and questions and would love to hear from those who've seen the Spirit or Petes more than I have.