I caught this one on the OHL Action Pack last night, but didn't have time until this morning to write about it. I haven't seen much of Guelph yet this season, so I figured what better game to watch than a Battle of Highway 7. Kitchener and Guelph are always bitter rivals in the Midwest Division and their match-ups make for entertaining hockey.
This one definitely looked like a match up of bitter rivals as it was a very spirited affair. A total of 52 penalty minutes were handed out and a total of 16 powerplays were given between the two teams. Albeit, the majority of those penalties were the result of some very undisciplined and lazy hockey from Guelph and Kitchener, however the point being that it was a scrappy game.
Neither team came into this one playing their best hockey of the season. The Storm were riding a 4 game losing streak, while the Rangers were a modest .500 over their last 10 (after starting the season so red hot). A lot of Guelph's problems this season can definitely be attributed to injury, as they've been without captain Matt Kennedy, Michael Latta and Peter Holland through stretches. Losing three of your four best forwards definitely makes life tough. However Kennedy remains the only one of the three still out of the line up (with a groin injury), meaning that the Storm should be able to start stringing some wins together soon. And soon was last night as they used a hat trick from Taylor Beck to propel them to a 7-4 victory over the Kitchener Rangers. The Storm will definitely be a dangerous team when all their players get back in the groove.
The Rangers however looked very sloppy last night. A lot of defensive miscues and undisciplined penalties. Kitchener's defense just got outworked and looked very weak along the boards and near the net as Guelph's forwards worked the cycle and found room near the crease. Any time a team lets in 7 goals, you might look to the goaltending, but Brandon Maxwell wasn't too fault for this loss. He had little chance on the majority of Guelph goals, which tells you his defense needs to step up. While Kitchener is obviously still a very solid team and a contender in the West, I think it should come to no surprise that they've been linked to adding another quality defenseman (Sam Lofquist before Guelph snagged him, and Taylor Doherty in trade talks).
Let's look at some individual performances.
John Moore (CBJ)
I've been underwhelmed with Moore in past viewings this season, but he was quite good last night. Seemed a lot more willing to use that skating to not only bring the puck up ice, but continue with it into the offensive zone. Had a couple very nice rushes into Guelph territory. His passing was very crisp too. He seems to have very good vision and anticipation of the play. Picked up a very nice assist on Chris MacKinnon's second period powerplay goal by firing a slap pass from the point to him at the side of the net for the redirect. Defensively there was some good, some bad. He was directly responsible for the J.P. Labardo second period goal. As Labardo (or Cody McNaughton one of the two) took the puck hard to the net, Moore was soft on them as he failed to move his feet and tried to use his stick cutting behind the net. Instead they blew by him, took the puck around the net and cut back out for the wrap around which generated the rebound J.P. Labardo eventually put home in the goal mouth scramble. However, later in the game he seemed to have learned his lesson. Taylor Beck tried to get through him to the net with a nice move and Moore took the man and put Beck hard into the net, knocking it off it's moorings. Defensively, it looks like its just a consistency issue where he'll need to figure out how to play the puck carrier hard every time.
Tyler Randell (BOS)
I thought Randell played a very solid game. His line with Andrew Crescenzi and Ben Thomson was the most consistent for the Rangers tonight, despite not getting on the board. He was very good along the boards and was a load to handle for the Storm defenseman in front of the net. Seems to be seeing time on the first powerplay unit right now too. Had a very nice assist on Matt Tipoff's opening goal of the game as he recovered a missed shot by Chris Mackinnon and fed a backhand pass cross crease to Tipoff for the tap in goal. For all intents and purposes, he has disappointed offensively this season though. Perhaps it's just a matter of confidence in his ability to use his size to generate scoring chances.
Ben Thomson (2011)
A Rangers 8th rounder this past year, Thomson has been a very pleasant surprise. He was recently named to Team Ontario for the Under 17's, so clearly others in the league have taken notice of him. He's a very big kid, already looks like one of the biggest Rangers forwards on the ice. He throws his body around and was solid along the boards as he and linemates Tyler Randell and Andrew Crescenzi dominated the cycle on several shifts. It'll be interesting to see his development going into next season. Could be a potential power forward.
Andrew Crescenzi (2010)
I continue to be impressed with this big Rangers forward. Playing in his first season in the OHL, Crescenzi seems to be finally gaining confidence in his offensive abilities. He's quite large (easily 6'4, 200lbs) and he plays that way. Uses his size to protect and puck and took it hard to the net on a couple of occasions, generating a scoring chance. He's kind of a big and awkward skater, but I wouldn't say his speed or acceleration is poor. Had one rush where he took the puck from the redline and beat all the Storm defenseman to the net, but couldn't beat St. Jacques. His play along the boards is excellent too, as mentioned about his line tonight. He's not putting up the offensive stats to generate NHL attention, but I do think he has potential.
Ryan Murphy (2011)
This guy is so talented. He will be a tremendous offensive defenseman in this league, something I've said in any of my viewings of him this season. Moves the puck up ice effortlessly. Skating and Puckhandling ability are definitely plus assets for him. He anticipates the play very well too though. He's one of those guys who seems to find the seam up the middle. Defensively, he's definitely improving. Off the rush, he uses his skating ability to stay in front of forwards and he's not afraid to play the body either. Along the boards, he's a bit of a warrior too. Was pushing and shoving in loose puck battles, even winning a few against bigger Storm forwards. However he does have some problems with bigger/stronger forwards near the net. Was unable to push Taylor Beck or Michael Latta off the puck on a few occasions, especially as they were moving in and behind the net. But he's young kid, and he's going to get stronger. The important thing is that he shows concern for the defensive end and has a bit of a physical intensity to him. All things that will likely be increased by the time he leaves this league. He finished with a secondary assist.
Jeff Skinner (2010)
Outside of a few shifts, Skinner was pretty invisible last night. As much as I like him as a draft prospect, his play without the puck in his own zone needs to improve. Got beat along the boards several times tonight and he needs to do a better job of tying up his man. Not his best effort.
Jeremy Morin (ATL)
I thought Morin was the best Rangers forward on the ice last night (even better than Chris MacKinnon and his hat trick). While his play in the OHL so far has been represented by his goal scoring ability, it was his playmaking ability last night that shone. Nearly every time he was on the ice, he was making things happen with the puck; making defenseman miss as he carried the puck in the offensive zone. In the second period, he deked around Peter Holland and Adam Comrie before passing it off to Chris MacKinnon for the tap in at the side of the net. I think the skating concerns have been overblown. He's not the world's best skater, but he has some elusive ability on the ice as evidenced by the amount of room he created for himself with the puck. Had a couple other very nice passes that did not amount to goal, but instead quality scoring chances. It's good to know that he's not just a one trick pony. Morin finished with 2 assists.
Brandon Maxwell (COL)
As I said earlier, Maxwell was not to blame for this loss. Wasn't the best game of his career or anything (far from it), but the majority of the 7 goals against were not his fault. One that was though, was Michael Latta's first period goal where Maxwell came out to play the puck, fanned on it and Latta picked it up and beat Maxwell on the wrap around before he could recover. He tried to make the fancy play instead of just flicking the puck to the corner. But he made some big saves in this one to keep it close for the majority of the first two periods. I like how he challenges shooters at the top of his crease and I like his quickness and mobility in the net. If it weren't for a couple of easy tap ins, redirects and pucks off other players skates, Maxwell would have had a solid night! Instead, he makes 31 of 38 saves and takes the loss.
Ben Chiarot (ATL)
Chiarot was excellent last night. He's a big body defenseman that actually uses his big body. The Rangers could just not beat him along the wall. While he is physical and does not hesitate to push and shove around the net, he's also smart positionally. On one occasion Jeff Skinner dumped the puck in and came flying into the zone for retrieval. Chiarot, knowing that Skinner could potentially beat him to the puck, angled Skinner away from it by physically engaging him and then blocking him with his body as he tapped the puck out to his forward to get the puck up ice. I like how he keeps things simple offensively too. Makes the smart pass, and does it quickly. He finished +1 in the game.
Sam Lofquist (2010, but 1990 born)
What a find this guy has been so far for Guelph. He played a TON last night and in every situation. He was outstanding. Lofquist, a former member of the USNDP and Minnesota Golden Gophers, has stepped right into Guelph's line up as someone who can play in all situations. He's got great size, he's solid positionally, he was physical in the defensive end, he moved the puck up ice well by pass or carry, and he controlled the point on the powerplay like a 3 year OHL veteran. I liked his mobility on the back end too, as I didn't expect him to be the type that could carry the puck into the offensive zone based on what I'd read about him at Minnesota. He picked up three assists on the powerplay and I really liked the way he moved the puck smartly and was able to get his point shot through. Put a nice low shot on net for Matt Sisca to tip in to start the third period. While he may not have been getting the playing time at Minnesota to show what he's capable of, if he keeps playing like this, he'll quickly get back on to the NHL radar.
Peter Holland (ANA)
Holland was pretty good last night. His skating looks improved (wasn't poor to begin with) and he was able to cut through Kitchener's defense. When the puck is on his stick, he's able to keep control very well and shields the puck with his frame. That makes him very hard to knock off the puck when he's in full stride. Had four assists on the night, two of which were very nice plays to set up Taylor Beck for a tap in at the side of the net. However, he still leaves me somewhat underwhelmed. I'm not entirely sure why, but there's something missing. He still needs to play harder without the puck and along the boards. Was one of the only Guelph forwards last night who didn't have their way with the Rangers defense on the cycle. Was really soft on Jeremy Morin during his pass to Chris MacKinnon on their second period goal. Weakly waved his stick at Morin as he blew by him. At the next level, that type of weak play without the puck won't cut it. He doesn't have to develop into a power forward, but adding a little sandpaper to his game could go a long way.
Michael Latta (NSH)
Latta is just a very solid player. No real flaws in his game, but at the same time, nothing that he does exceptionally well. He's not the biggest guy, but he's very strong and that makes him very hard to contain in the cycle. He brushed off Ranger defenseman numerous times in the offensive end in order to gain possession or keep possession of the puck. He scored a nice goal by taking the puck off Brandon Maxwell and beating him on the wrap around. Defensively and physically, he's a solid contributor too. Dropped the gloves with Dan Kelly, coming to the aid of a high sticked teammate. For everything he does well, I'm not sure his skating has improved much. He still looks a bit sluggish entering the offensive zone, and it prevents him from being a more dynamic player. Once he's able to gain puck possession, he outworks and outhustles the opposition, but in terms of being a factor in transition, he is mostly not. That being said, for all the things he does well, he should be able to carve out a career in the NHL for himself. He also finished with a secondary assist on the night.
Taylor Beck (NSH)
Beck has exploded offensively this season and I think it's easy to see why. Not only has he gotten stronger (and more equipped to play his style of game), but his skating has visibly gotten better. He was a factor on the rush with the puck on his stick and he generated more than a few scoring chances by taking it hard to the net. While none of his 3 goals on the night were spectacular, he put himself in good position to score the goal. His increased strength and skating ability has increased his elusiveness on the ice and he's now able to create more room for himself offensively. Was absolutely Guelph's best forward on the night and looks to be turning himself into quite the excellent NHL prospect.
Adam Comrie (FLA)
Comrie was quietly efficient last night. Paired with Ben Chiarot (mostly), they kept the game very simple and did a good job of getting the puck up ice quickly to their forwards. Comrie did a good job defensively, save the Jeremy Morin dangle. On the play he got caught turning around and Morin went right by him. However, he also got lost defensively in coverage as he was caught standing around looking at Morin while Chris MacKinnon slipped past him for the tap in. Overall though he did a good job of winning battles in the corners and keeping Ranger forwards away from the front of the net. Wasn't spectacular, but he played a very calm and collected game. I'm interested to see if he makes the United States WJC team.