Wanting to see the return of Joey Hishon to the Owen Sound Attack line up, I caught this one on the OHL Action Pack tonight.
The first period and a half was a real snooze fest. Really sloppy, disjointed play. It was clear that both of these two teams were rusty from the holiday layoff. When the pace finally did pick up, these two teams traded powerplays and scoring chances, with the Attack eventually coming out on top by a score of 3-1. For a large portion of the game though, Attack goaltender Scott Stajcer kept his team in the game by making a few big saves (especially on Andrew Agozzino).
It was a tough game for the Dogs. Already shorthanded defensively because Jay Gilbert's sitting at home waiting for a trade and Dougie Hamilton is at the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge, the Dogs suffered two defensive injuries relatively early on in the game, to Reggie Traccitto and Keith Maisonville. As a result, they looked dead tired by the end of this one and just had nothing left in the tank, allowing the Attack to take control of the game in the later part of the 3rd period. I think defenseman Matt Petgrave must have played 80% of the third period (no joke). However, as tired as the defense looked, the forwards looked even more distressed. If Majors coach Dave Cameron likes to roll four lines, Dogs coach Mike McCourt likes to roll two. I'm not sure why he played his forwards into the ground tonight, but Friesen, Agozzino and Hamilton especially were out there every other shift and it was obvious that they were tired. On powerplays, these guys were playing the full two minutes (save maybe 10-15 seconds as the penalty ended), and then they'd be out there two shifts later. While the Friesen, Agozzino and Hamilton line is obviously the teams most dangerous, it doesn't hurt to give them a break. It only makes them more effective in the long run...or say at the end of the game when your team needs a go ahead goal.
The Attack just plain didn't deserve to win this one. They got lucky that Niagara looked so tired. They were very sloppy. So many passes failed to connect, breakouts failed to occur and most of their game was played in the neutral zone as they attempted to get the puck by a Niagara defense. Even on the powerplay, despite scoring two goals with the man advantage, they did not look strong. One goal on a wild goal mouth scramble, the other on a long winded screen shot from the point (with the third coming with the empty net). First game back from the break, but this team did not look like a unit with great chemistry. A lot of individual efforts and just general disconnect.
On to individual player performances...
Alex Friesen (2010, but 1991 born)
Already passed over in one draft, I'd be very surprised to see Friesen passed over again this year. He's progressed incredibly well this year and taken huge steps forward offensively. His speed and work ethic in the offensive zone make him a real tough guy to contain. He was generating chances for the better part of the first two periods, although was not able to put anything up on the board. Kind of a jack of all trades type of a player, he projects well as a potential energy player at the next level.
Andrew Agozzino (2010, but 1991 born)
Agozzino has been just as good this year for the Dogs. He's the new captain, and he's playing with a lot of determination. He had a few really good chances to score tonight but just couldn't beat Scott Stajcer. Two stymied one time chances at the side of the net (saved by a sliding Stajcer), and one partial breakaway. He's got very good instincts on where to be for scoring chances, getting himself in good position for goal opportunities. The question is whether he's got a serious chance of being selected in 2010, the second time around. While I think Friesen has a good shot, I'm not as confident about Agozzino's chances. I was fairly high on Agozzino last year, when he was pretty much the same player he is now, and he failed to get drafted then. Scouts seem to be enamored with progression, of which Friesen has seen. Agozzino is the same player he was last year and if it wasn't good enough for NHL scouts last year, why would it be now? I'm still pulling for him though.
Freddie Hamilton (2010)
Hamilton was kind of along for the ride with Friesen and Agozzino tonight. He didn't really have a great game. Had a few chances set up by his linemates, but failed to get anything off. He's never a liability on the ice, but I don't see the upside that NHL Central Scouting does, when they ranked him 17th among OHL skaters in November. He did earn an assist on Josh Moes powerplay goal, although the goal was manufactured by Moes and not necessarily set up by Hamilton directly.
Matt Petgrave (2010)
Quite frankly, as an NHL prospect, I prefer Niagara's Petgrave to Hamilton. He had a very strong game tonight, especially considering he probably played 40 minutes. He brings the puck up ice with confidence and effectiveness. Has kind of a hunched over skating stride, but his mobility is solid. He keeps the puck in on the powerplay well, although I'd like to see him shoot the puck more. Whiffed on a beautiful chance to score on a one timer, as he snuck in from the point but didn't get much on the shot. He did make a couple of bad pinches, but he hustles back to his zone and never gives up on the play. Defensively he was excellent. Not afraid to take the body despite not being overly large, and he's surprisingly effective in the corners and in front of the net. Saved a goal with a very nice defensive play early in the game by tying up Joey Hishon as he tried to put home an easy tap in goal off a juicy rebound to the side of the net. Every time I see him, he seems to get better.
John Chartrand (2011)
I was surprised to see Chartrand get the start tonight over Mark Visentin. Petteri Simila is at the World Juniors as Finland's back up, and Chartrand was called up from Streetsville of the OJHL. He was the Dogs 4th rounder from 2009. Considering that when I heard he was getting the start and proceeded to check his Junior A stats this season (which aren't pretty), I was not expecting much out of him. But he was surprisingly strong. Made the saves he had too, kept his rebounds under control and looked generally calm in net. He seems like he could be the teams back up goaltender next season. The two goals scored against him were not really his fault. A wild goal mouth scramble and a screened shot from the point. Despite taking the loss, he was named the game's second star.
Owen Sound Attack
Garrett Wilson (FLA)
In the other times I've seen the Attack this season, Wilson had been a beast, but he was really quiet tonight. Outside of two very strong shifts, he wasn't noticeable to me. On one of the shifts he took a very nice feed from Steve Shipley and rang one off the post. And on the other, which just happened to be late in the third period, he did a good job to block a point shot and beat the Dogs defender to the loose puck for the open net clincher that made it 3-1. Still like the progression he's made this season.
Joey Hishon (2010)
Definitely was better than when I had seen him earlier in the season. But it's clear that he doesn't seem to have his full legs under him just quite yet. He was probably the best Attack forward on the night though (which isn't really saying much). Generated a few scoring chances off the rush and did a much better job of trying to use his teammates than he was earlier in the year. Did a good job on the penalty kill too, putting one off the crossbar on a shorthanded rush as he used the Niagara defender as a screen. A solid performance, but not an outstanding one.
Steven Shipley (2010)
For Steven's sake, I think I need to watch all of Owen Sound's games. He seems to play well when I'm watching. He didn't have an amazing game or anything, but was effective and had a few very good shifts. I was particularly impressed with his work on the penalty kill where he showed a lot of heart blocking shots and outworking Niagara players for loose pucks. His play away from the puck does seem to be improving, even if he could stand to use his size more to his advantage. He also had a shorthanded chance to score, breaking in and beating Andrew Agozzino (who was on the point) wide to the net, but a backtracking Matt Petgrave managed to lift his stick at the last second preventing a serious scoring chance. He was credited with the first Attack goal on the goal mouth scramble, where he simply shoveled the puck into the net. I still don't think the Attack are using him correctly though. I find him to be much more successful as a winger who can use his size to take the puck to the net from the outside lanes. He was also being used on the point on the powerplay again, which just does not work. He needs to be down low.
Geoffrey Schemitsch (2010)
I thought Schemitsch played another strong game. While he had some struggles in bringing the puck up ice and starting the rush (like every Attack defenseman), he did manage to break through into the offensive zone on a few occasions and picked his spots to pinch effectively. Defensively he was very solid, and did a good job on a couple odd man rushes, on one occasion taking the passing lane away from Andrew Agozzino and then collapsing on him forcing a poor shot attempt. He scored the game winning goal on a very good powerplay for him. Did a great job to keep the puck in the zone a couple of times, then managed to get the puck back and let a wrister go that found its way past Chartrand. He's got points in his last 6 games and is really heating up again. I'm very curious to see where Central Scouting has this guy when they release their rankings in a couple of weeks. I'm starting to wonder if I'm drinking crazy juice because I'm the only one talking about this kid.
Roman Berdnikov (2010)
Was not impressed by Berdnikov at all tonight. Was set up a few times by Joey Hishon or Bobby Mignardi and failed to get a shot off. The puck was rolling on him all night and he just had a really hard time. Took a lazy hooking penalty in the offensive zone out of frustration too. Playing with Hishon and Mignardi on that first line is a great opportunity for him, but he's going to have to play better than he did tonight to stay there.
Jesse Blacker (TOR)
Blacker had maybe the best game I've seen him play this season, which isn't really saying much. He was still only average on the night, but at least he seems to be limiting his turnovers. Still had one really bad one that resulted in Andrew Agozzino's partial breakaway though. If he could harness his raw abilities, he really could be quite an outstanding player. His combination of speed and puck handling ability makes him tough to stop once he gets up to full stride. Had a few nice rushes that generated scoring chances tonight. He was quiet defensively too, which is a good thing. One thing that I've noticed this year though is the absence of Blacker's physical game. Last year with Windsor, he was the type of defenseman who had the ability to lay a big hit, but I haven't seen that from him this year.
Scott Stajcer (NYR)
Stajcer was outstanding tonight. He really won this one for his team. Made several key saves in the first two periods to keep his team in the game, robbing Andrew Agozzino point blank a couple of times. One was a very nice save as he slide cross crease to rob a one timing Agozzino (who did fail to elevate the puck though). His rebound control was very strong tonight too. While Owen Sound has struggled with consistency, Stajcer has been largely effective for the last couple of months (after starting the season very poorly). Here's hoping he can continue to play well and that Owen Sound continues to climb up the standings of the Western Conference. He was the game's first star and took the win.
Anyone else with thoughts?