I was lucky enough to take this one in tonight, because it was an excellent game. Hard to imagine that a match up between the 5th (Barrie) and 6th (Mississauga) ranked teams in the Canadian Hockey League would be anything other than fantastic.
This game had pretty much everything. Back and forth action; some outstanding goaltending; a few very nice goals; and even a fight. In the end, the Colts came out on top 5-2 thanks to a third period hat trick by Darren Archibald and some outstanding goaltending from Dalton McGrath. The win increases the Colts lead on the Central Division and Eastern Conference to three points and simultaneously extends their winning streak to 13 games. This Colts team is starting to look pretty unbeatable. Since the Brodie/Crawford deal, Barrie has held opponents to less than 1.5 goals per game and has not given up more than 2 goals in any of those seven contests. For a team that got a lot of attention for their offensive firepower, that deal has made them quite the defensive juggernaut too.
This brings me to Mississauga. Hard to really say something negative about the Majors because they've been just as strong this season and were 8-0-2 in their last 10 before tonight's division battle. I don't want to jump to conclusions after tonight's game, but considering how often I've seen the Majors (and the Colts) this season, I feel that I've got a good grasp on what this team brings to the table. I'm just going to come out and say it. Mississauga does not have the firepower or skill to hang with Barrie in a seven game playoff series. If tonight proved anything to Majors management, it was that they need to make a few additions in order to be able to beat the Barrie Colts in the playoffs. Barrie's forwards were too fast, too physical, and too skilled for Mississauga's defense to handle. And Mississauga's forwards are not skilled enough to be able to compensate for this disadvantage. The Majors had many great opportunities tonight, but they just couldn't finish. Again, the Majors are a great team and they have a great team concept, but I truly believe if they want to stay neck and neck with Barrie, they're going to have to go out and add another quality scorer and a quality two-way physical defenseman. That trade with Saginaw improved this Barrie team so much; the Majors have to go out and add something to stem the tide.
Some thoughts on individual performances...
Alexander Burmistrov (2010)
Burmistrov had a relatively quiet game tonight. He had a few nice rushes with the puck, was effective on the penalty kill, but didn't really get any chances in close to the net. On one of his rushes he did make a very creative play with the puck. He brought the puck up ice, and just before he hit the blueline, he faked a dump in, to which the defender bit (and backed off), and he was able to continue carrying the puck across the blueline and make a nice pass to a teammate for a shot on net. He finished with an assist and was +2 on the night.
Alex Hutchings (TBL)
I was really disappointed that he didn't get an invite to the Subway Super Series as it means he's not considered a candidate for Team Canada at the WJC's. However, I think he would have been a perfect candidate for the team. He's one of the best skaters in the OHL, he's a tremendous penalty killer and capable two way forward, and he's able to play any role needed of him. Since he's a 1990, it was his last kick at the can too. Oh well, you've got to soldier on and that he did tonight. Hutchings had a very good game. His speed creates so many chances, not for himself but for his teammates too thanks to forced turnovers. Had two partial breakaways, but was stymied twice by Majors defenseman David Corrente (making two very nice defensive plays). On the penalty kill, he did get a break on net alone though, but was robbed by J.P. Anderson with the paddle. He rang a shot off the goal post on that same penalty kill, as he cut across the blueline one on one with the defender and tried to go far side on Anderson. He scored his goal late in the game on a redirect that Anderson mishandled.
Nick Crawford (BUF)
Continues to be outstanding for Barrie since the trade. Playing solid both ways and really establishing himself was one of the league's top defenseman. The game's opening goal in the first period by Stefan Della Rovere was all Crawford. Controlled the puck at the point and made a beautiful pass to Stefan Della Rovere in front of the net for the wide open tap in. He's got outstanding on ice vision and just keeps the game simple. I have a hard time wondering what type of impact he'll have at the next level, but he's definitely playing some inspired hockey right now. Had 3 assists on the night and now has 10 points in 7 games with Barrie.
Stefan Della Rovere (WSH)
After a slow start to the season offensively, SDR has been much better over the course of the last month or so. He's back to playing that aggressive, pesky offensive role he cherishes and excels at. Tonight he was excellent along the wall and in the cycle, winning the majority of battles he engaged in. Finished off the aforementioned Crawford pass for the games opening goal. Got open in front of the net, took the pass and went around Anderson tucking it in on the backhand. Also received an assist on the late third period Alex Hutchings goal, making a nice pass to Hutchings in front of the net. Looks to be in good form as he tries to reclaim his role on Team Canada's checking line.
T.J. Brodie (CGY)
It's interesting to see him playing a bit of a different role in Barrie. While he's been underwhelming on the stat sheet, I don't think he's playing poorly. The pairing of Brodie and Crawford must have played AT least 30 minutes for Barrie tonight and Brodie saw time on the first powerplay unit. As always, he was solid with puck possession and makes smart plays to get the puck up ice. However, one thing I have noticed about Brodie is that at times he can become a little too narrowly focused with the puck in his own end. He'll try to do it all himself and skate out of the forecheck, rather than make the simple pass. This can lead to turnovers like it did on one occasion tonight. Defensively, I think he's playing much better and more consistent with Barrie, especially in defensive zone coverage. He got only his second point with Barrie tonight, but it was a beauty. On the powerplay, he regained possession of the puck along the boards, spun around at the point and fired a lob pass to Darren Archibald for a one time goal at the side of the net. Just a beautiful pass. Brodie also finished +3 tonight.
Darren Archibald (2010, but 1990 born)
This guy is just phenomenal. I'm going to make a pretty blunt statement here, but I think he's the best power forward in the OHL right now. The guy has 8 goals and 12 assists in his last 11 games. He hits hard (crunched Stuart Percy hard into the boards tonight), he drops the gloves, and he's very skilled for a big man. His best asset might be his wrist shot which is very hard and very accurate. He uses his size and speed to allow him space to get it off too. I'll run over the goals he scored to accumulate his third period hat trick. First one cutting down the wing on a 2 on 1, he absolutely wired a wrist shot over a sliding Stuart Percy and over J.P. Anderson's shoulder to the back of the net. Second goal was off that beautiful Brodie lob pass on the powerplay. But he showed incredible hands at the side of the net to finish off the pass by one timing it over Anderson's shoulder yet again. Hat trick goal he found a loose puck in the slot and wired top shelf yet again. Puck was on his stick and to the back of the net in a split second. Did I mention he also hit the crossbar in the first period too? Did I also mention he saved an easy tap in goal with some excellent work on the penalty kill by lunging with his stick to disrupt a pass to an open man at the side of the net? Darren Archibald is a beast in this league, plain and simple.
Dalton McGrath (2010)
Simply put, McGrath was outstanding tonight. Maybe the best goaltending performance I've personally witnessed this season. Admittedly, there was some luck involved, but the old adage is you've got to be good to be lucky. I think maybe it's time we realized this guy might actually be good and in the shadows of starter Peter Di Salvo. He was an award winner and all star in Junior A last year, he was excellent in the OHL preseason and he's been tremendous in limited action during the regular season. He's started only 4 games, but he's won all four of them and he hasn't had a save percentage under .913 in any of them. Made two absolutely outstanding saves tonight. Went post to post and robbed Devante Smith Pelly at the side of the net with the blocker. Later, used the blocker again as Blake Parlett had an open net to shoot at but McGrath managed to somehow keep the puck out. To be slightly negative, he does have some rebound control concerns, as he doesn't yet have the ability to control the shots he stops. But the important thing is that he's stopping them. He cuts down the angles and makes himself big in the net. He seems to have good mobility, especially laterally. As a late 1991, McGrath is first time eligible for the NHL Draft in 2010 and if he can start to get a few more starts, he might work his way on to a few radars, if he hasn't already. McGrath made 40 of 42 saves for the win.
Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Stuart Percy (2011)
I thought he was the Majors best defenseman tonight, despite being a -3. As a 1993 rookie, his progress thus far has to be a positive for Majors management. Made a very nice defensive play on Stefan Della Rovere as he tried to get by him with the puck on the way to the net, but Percy stood his ground and got the puck off him and out. Also made a very nice play on the Archibald two on one goal. He forced Archibald to shoot by cutting off the pass, and then very nearly blocked the shot attempt, but credit to Archibald for the very well placed shot. This rookie was definitely not to blame for the loss tonight.
Tim Billingsley (PHX)
Had a very poor game. A couple bad turnovers in the first period, combined with blown coverage on the Stefan Della Rovere goal got him off to a bad start. To start the third, he took a sloppy tripping penalty to cope with making a bad pinch and getting caught in the zone. This led to Archibald's powerplay goal that made the game 3-0 and put it out of reach for the Majors. Billingsley has to be better.
Brett Flemming (WSH)
Thought he played a quietly effective game defensively despite being -2 on the night. Shows glimpses of being a physical defender, I wish he'd be more consistent in that department. Was a non factor offensively tonight though, which has to be a big part of his game. Not his best or his worst effort though.
Casey Cizikas (NYI)
I thought Cizikas was Cizikas tonight. Some solid penalty killing, a couple scoring chances in close to the net. Overall the Colts defense did a pretty good job neutralizing him though, especially the Brodie/Crawford combo. Did take a really lazy penalty in the first period though, while the Majors were on the powerplay.
Devante Smith-Pelly (2010)
I thought Smith-Pelly was easily the best forward for Mississauga tonight. He was robbed a few times by Dalton McGrath, especially on the play I mentioned where McGrath slid across the crease to make the save with the blocker off Smith-Pelly's shot attempt. He scored a nice goal with a big slap shot near the faceoff circle that McGrath was unable to glove just above his pads. I definitely don't understand why he was left off the NHL's Central Scouting Preliminary list, but if he continues to play well and hard, I'm sure he'll find his way into the mid season rankings.
Cameron Gaunce (COL)
Gaunce played a solid, if unspectacular game tonight. He seems to be cutting down on the defensive zone turnovers that were plaguing him a bit in the early part of the season. Last two times I've seen him, he's been relatively mistake free. I also like the progress he's shown in the physical aspect of his game this year. Seems much more willing to throw the body and had a couple nice hits (including a nice hip check) tonight. He finished with assists on both of the Majors goals but didn't really influence them greatly.
J.P. Anderson (2010)
Anderson was OK tonight. I still really like him as a prospect, but he's got to make some adjustments as he's been underwhelming to start the season. Not the biggest goalie, Anderson is definitely not afraid to challenge shooters and come well out of his crease to make a save. However, one thing I've noticed about Anderson is that his posture in net is hindering him. Maybe I'm crazy, but he seems to compact himself and hunch over a bit when he's challenging shooters. Rather than standing tall (or tallish to still give himself a chance to be ready to go down into the butterfly) to take away more of the upper part of the net. All three of Darren Archibald's goals were scored up high on Anderson and that seems to be a pattern I'm seeing from every team this year. He's definitely a very athletic goaltender though and he does well to control his rebounds and take away the bottom of the net. His pads are incredibly quick and he reacts very well to the play. Still though, some of the same concerns I have about Anderson are the same ones people had about Mike Murphy, and we all know that Murphy wasn't the highest NHL draft pick. Anderson made 24 of 29 saves and took the loss.
That's it for tonight's game. Anyone else see this beauty or have thoughts on anything I've said? Is Darren Archibald the best power forward in the OHL? Is Barrie that much better than Mississauga?