Really exciting and fast paced Wednesday night game between the Saginaw Spirit and Owen Sound Attack. A lot of back and forth action, plenty of scoring opportunities, some good hits, a couple of fights; really not much else you can ask for in a hockey game. Oh sorry, you wanted defense? Not here. Both teams struggled with defensive zone turnovers and man coverage, which lead to a total of 12 goals scored in the game. Thanks to a late third period fluke goal by the recently acquired Ryan O'Connor, the Spirit came out on top of this wild west shootout by a score of 7-5.
The Attack came out firing on all cylinders and took control of the game in the opening ten minutes, scoring three unanswered goals. They looked a lot like the team I expected them to be this season. But then the wheels fell off and Saginaw scored five straight goals during the second half of the first and first half of the second. Turnovers, soft man defense and a real lack of backchecking from the forwards really cost the Attack. I would attribute at least three of those five goals to the fault of the forwards who did not hustle back to the other end or tie up their man. Now I will give Owen Sound credit, they battled back and tied the game at 5, only to lose on a terribly fluke goal by O'Connor. The Spirit defenseman one timed the puck from the point, it went WELL wide, so wide in fact that the angle it took off the boards brought it right back behind Stajcer, going off his skate and into the net. Someone who didn't see the game might see the score and assume that Stajcer was weak for the Attack, especially considering he only faced 34 shots (an average night by OHL standards). But he was really solid. I would say at least half of those shots by Saginaw were outstanding scoring chances. Stajcer stopped at least five Saginaw players point blank in the slot. Two of the goals were complete flukes too; the aforementioned O'Connor game winner and Vincent Trocheck's first period goal where the puck went off an Owen Sound defenseman and bounced to a wide open Trocheck for the tap in. I think it's also important to note that Owen Sound played this game with only 5 defenseman, as they were without the services of Milan Doczy and Keevin Cutting. Tough to play one of the league's best offensive teams a man down on the blueline. Definitely a tough loss for Attack fans to swallow.
Saginaw, well what can you say, they're good offensively. One of the hottest lines in the OHL performed up to expectations as Josh Shalla, Ivan Telegin, and Jordan Skellet combined for 3 goals and 8 assists in the game. These guys have a ton of chemistry and are playing with a lot of confidence right now. However, as much as this win must feel good, I think it also has to raise some alarms to Saginaw's management and fans. Since the Brodie/Crawford trade, this team has given up 19 goals in 4 games and they were not sharp tonight. They had trouble containing Owen Sound off the rush and did not put enough pressure on opposing forwards in the offensive end. These are two things that T.J. Brodie and Nick Crawford do very well, and in their absence, the rest of the Saginaw defense needs to find a way to get it done or improve. While their offense might take them places in the regular season, you know the saying, "defense wins championships."
Thoughts on individual players...
Garret Ross (2010)
Second time I've been impressed with Ross this season. While he didn't pick up any points, he was right in the middle of several solid scoring chances on the rush. He seems to have very good straight ahead speed and it gives the opposing defense a hard time. Came flying down the wing, beating his man to the net twice, but couldn't finish on the cross ice feeds. His forechecking forced a few turnovers in the offensive end and I'd say he has a very good chance of developing into a quality energy player. If he could finish off more of those offensive opportunities, he might get serious consideration in June. Types of players like Ross who've got speed, and a willingness to do everything on the ice do have a tendency to get drafted.
Jordan Szwarz (PHX)
I thought Szwarz had a pretty quiet game. He's usually one of those players who's all over the ice, but he didn't seem to have his usual energy in this one. Took two undisciplined penalties to start the game, maybe that took him out of it a bit. He did score a very nice goal in the second period. Defenseman Brad Walch made a nice slap pass to Szwarz in front of the net for the redirect over Stajcer's pad. It was Szwarz's only point of the game.
Ryan O'Connor (2010)
He's got to be disappointed that Central Scouting didn't include him in their Preliminary rankings, considering his skill level and track record in the league thus far. He had a good game tonight I thought. Wasn't on the ice for a goal against, and did a very good job of moving the puck up ice. Had a few very nice rushes and I think he picks his spots to pinch and rush very well. In the first period he took possession of the puck behind the net on powerplay rotation and made a beautiful pass to Ivan Telegin in front of the net for the goal. His goal was obviously a fluke that I've already mentioned above, but credit to him for getting himself in position for the shot. Defensively I felt he was solid too. Made a real nice hit on Daniel Zweep and was one of the few Saginaw defenseman who showed they could handle defending off the rush. O'Connor finished with a goal and an assist and was +3.
Ivan Telegin (2010)
I have a feeling that this guy's stock for 2010 is only going to go up and up. He's got 7 goals in the 7 November games thus far. It's getting to the point where I'm not sure who I like better among the Russians, Telegin or Barrie's Alex Burmistrov. Telegin was fantastic tonight. He's listed at 6'3, 185lbs, but he looks thicker than that. I've watched him against Owen Sound and against Peterborough and both teams had incredible difficulty controlling him in front of the net. Simply put, he's a beast near the crease. His goal was scored just that way, the defense couldn't handle him near the net and he put home a pass from Ryan O'Connor. But I like his vision and playmaking ability too. While O'Connor's goal may have been a fluke, the cross ice feed by Telegin over two Owen Sound sticks to O'Connor for the one timer was not. He's also quite the complete player who does make an effort to backcheck, does a great job on the penalty kill and works the boards. Lastly, for a big man, he moves quite well and he's not afraid to take the puck right to the net. The complete package. Finished the game with a goal and two assists.
Josh Shalla (2010)
Whenever I've seen him play, I've always come away underwhelmed. Tonight Shalla had 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists), but it might have been the quietest five point night I've ever seen. It's pretty obvious that Shalla is one of those guys who's not flashy, and who you don't really notice much until you look at the score sheet and he's had a multi point game. Not the quickest player on the ice, nor the biggest, but he's definitely got good hockey sense and offensive instincts. Made a nice pass to Michael Sgarbossa off the rush for a goal in the second, and scored a goal of his own after wiring home a slapper past Scott Stajcer. He sealed the deal with an empty netter with 12 seconds to go. I'm still not sure what to make of him and what type of role he'd have at the next level.
Cody Sol (ATL)
Sol is one of those guys who has to step it up in the absence of Brodie and Crawford. While I thought he showed some things offensively, that's not entirely what he's there for (or was drafted for). He was on the ice for 4 of Owen Sound's five goals. For a guy with his size, he has to do a better job of tying up his man in front of the net, and punishing those in the crease. He was caught skating around on two of those goals, failing to pick up a man. Offensively I thought he was pretty good though, and as much as I said this isn't what he's there for, it is something he'll have to contribute with now that Saginaw has lost their two best offensive defenseman (Brodie/Crawford). He's got a huge shot and he picks his spots in putting it on net, and he made a couple nice plays to keep the puck in at the line. But he's got to step it up defensively.
Michael Sgarbossa (2010)
I felt like I didn't notice Sgarbossa that much tonight. Scored a goal off a nice feed from Josh Shalla in the second and added an assist on the Vincent Trocheck fluke goal. Sgarbossa was the one who shot the puck that went off the Attack player's back and right to Trocheck. He saw some time with Shalla and Skellet, as well as on the third line with Garret Ross and Vincent Trocheck. Likely still needs to adapt to a new team. Still, a goal and an assist isn't a bad nights work.
Edward Pasquale (ATL)
Despite getting the victory in this one, I thought Pasquale was out played by Scott Stajcer. While he's got a good win total, I think it's safe to say he hasn't had an amazing season thus far. It's been plagued by inconsistency. He's given up 15 goals in his last 4 appearances. The Attack were definitely trying to go high on Pasquale tonight, exposing his tendency to 1) go down early on shots 2) stay back too far in his net and not challenge shooters. Four of the five goals given up by Pasquale were high on him. It'll be interesting to see what Atlanta does with Pasquale next year, because I don't think he's ready for pro hockey. I'm willing to bet he returns for an overage season, be it with Saginaw or with another OHL team. Made 31 of 36 saves for the win.
Owen Sound Attack
Curtis Crombeen (2011)
I haven't seen Owen Sound play since earlier in the season, but it certainly seems to me that Crombeen has come a long way. Playing with a lot more confidence at both ends of the ice and I actually think he was Owen Sound's best defenseman tonight. Had a couple very nice rushes where he took the puck from one end of the ice to the other, and quickly. Making better passes out of his zone too. Before he was trying to force passes, but now he seems to be keeping things simple. I also liked what I saw defensively. Actually made a couple nice physical plays to separate his man from the puck along the boards, and shows good mobility in transition defense. Maybe it was just a good game from him, but he certainly seems to have progressed already.
Roman Berdnikov (2010)
Not that much to talk about really. I thought he played a good first period, but disappeared after that. More than likely he's still working on his conditioning after missing such a large part of the season thus far. In the first he forechecked hard and had a large part in the third Owen Sound goal by Myles Doan. His the Saginaw player along the boards, and forced the turnover that would eventually lead to Doan's goal on a goal mouth scramble. He also attempted to throw a few open ice hits, so he's obviously got a little sand paper to his game. We'll see how he looks a month from now when he gets his legs back.
Jesse Blacker (TOR)
First chance to see Blacker with Owen Sound and I felt like he had a pretty poor game. While he is a very good puck rushing defenseman and has very good straight ahead speed, he seems to have tunnel vision with the puck. He gets the puck behind the net and makes his mind up that he's going to rush it. This "forcing" of the play lead to several turnovers and odd man rushes for Saginaw. He got beat quite badly off the rush on one play by Jordan Skellet too, as he got caught going for the hit, rather than skating with Skellet. He did get a little bit better as the game went along though. On the powerplay in the second period, he made a very nice pass to Bobby Mignardi at the side of the net, who then went to Garrett Wilson for the goal in the slot. He did a pretty good job of running the powerplay on the whole. But if he wants the big minutes (exactly what he's getting in Owen Sound), he's got to play smarter and better defensively. Finished the game with 3 assists, but a -1.
Garrett Wilson (FLA)
Was an absolute beast tonight for Owen Sound. Finished with a hat trick and a nice assist. He's taken quite a few steps forward this season. He's playing with more confidence with the puck, he's gotten stronger, and he's gotten quicker. His first goal was scored as he batted the puck out of mid air at the side of the net, off a rebound generated off a Steven Shipley rush to the net. His second goal was scored as he beat his man to the net, took a feed from Shipley in full stride and wired home a wrister past Pasquale. The hat trick goal was off a nice tick-tack-toe goal from Mignardi and Blacker (which I already mentioned), where Wilson finished off the play in the slot. His assist came off a nice find and pass to Bobby Mignardi for the one timer just inside the blueline. He had a couple other nice chances to score tonight too. Quickly becoming one of the better power forwards in the OHL.
Steven Shipley (2010)
Shipley was quite good tonight too. Used his size and speed to his advantage and did a good job to draw defensive attention to him. On Wilson's first goal, he won a puck battle off Josh Shalla in the corner and immediately took the puck right to the front of the net, generating a rebound that Wilson put home. Earned another assist off a nice pass to Wilson for his second goal. I like how he's becoming more confident in carrying the puck to the net. I still get bothered a bit by his lack of physical play though. There was one opportunity tonight that really caught my eye. The Saginaw defenseman had some trouble with the puck at his feet just to the side of the net. Shipley came in with speed, but instead of taking the body (the defenseman was straight on so it would not have been a dangerous engage), or engaging him physically to force a turnover, Shipley slowed up and tried to stick check him, allowing the Saginaw defenseman to compose himself and get the puck out of danger. I'm not asking him to be a power forward or a physical player, but I do expect 6'2, 200lbs forwards to use their size to force turnovers. He finished with 3 assists.
Geoffrey Schemitsch (2010)
Fresh off his interview with me (here), I thought Schemitsch had a pretty decent game. Some very good, some bad. The good first. I thought he did an excellent job on the penalty kill. He showed a little gusto in his game that I hadn't seen yet by being physical along the boards to retrieve the puck and stop offensive progress. He also made a couple really nice defensive plays off the rush, keeping the forward in front of him and using solid mobility and positioning to remove him from the puck. Had some big blocked shots too and gets himself in passing lanes, anticipating the play defensively. Offensively, he works the powerplay very well and does a great job of anticipating (again that word) the play and keeping the puck in the zone. He also had two very nice stretch passes that nearly resulted in breakaways. That shows vision. On the negative, the Jordan Szwarz goal was directly his fault as he failed to tie up his man in front of the net. This is something he needs to work on. Also, he had two terrible giveaways in his own zone, although neither resulted in a Saginaw goal. Had one bad pinch that resulted in a two on one too. But, he's a talented kid playing in his first OHL season from Midget. He's going to go through some adjustments. Considering all he's done thus far for Owen Sound, I'd say he's a pretty impressive prospect.
Scott Stajcer (NYR)
As I mentioned, he didn't play as poorly as his stat line might indicate. His defense did not help him out all that much tonight. Stopped quite a few point blank opportunities, being aggressive in challenging the shooter and decreasing their target. He controlled his rebounds well and did admirably in keeping Owen Sound in a game they didn't have as much business being in as they were. The two fluke goals I already mentioned didn't help his stat line either. Nor did that last one by O'Connor help his confidence or focus either. It was clear he was distracted at the end of the game as Mark Reeds tried to signal him to the bench for the extra attacker, but he wasn't paying attention. That really flustered the Attack's momentum with the extra forward and they weren't able to get anything going. I also worry about his read of the play at times. The second period Sgarbossa goal was not a strong one, as he reacted about 5 seconds too late to a cross ice pass to Sgarbossa for the one timer to the top of the net. While he wasn't likely to stop it, I'm curious as to why he was so slow to react to the play. Perhaps the Owen Sound defense screened his view of the pass? Either way, Stajcer deserved a better fate tonight. He made 28 of 34 saves and took the loss.
Anyone else out there with thoughts?