Haven't posted a game report of my own in a little while as I've been busy and haven't been able to get to a game. I was able to catch this spirited tilt between the Colts and Wolves on Roger's Sportsnet.
Considering that the Wolves are one of the Eastern Conference's worst teams and the Colts the best, you might have guessed that this one would be a blow out. But for whatever reason Sudbury seems to play Barrie very hard. While Sudbury may have been slightly outplayed, the game was closer than the shot totals and the score indicate. If I'm Barrie, I'm hoping Sudbury escapes that 8th spot in the East, as I want to avoid them in round 1. The game was a physical affair that saw Barrie come out on top by a score of 4-1 on the strength of two power play goals and a goal + 2 assist night from new addition Alex Pietrangelo.
The Colts have really become like the Spitfires in that they've got so many players worth talking about, it's hard for everyone to make an impression good or bad. Here are SOME thoughts on a few players from each side.
Alex Pietrangelo (STL)
It's hard to name someone who's played only 7 games in the OHL this year as the league's best defenseman, but it's less hard when it's true. There is no doubt in my mind that Petro is the best defenseman in this league. He is head and shoulders above most other players on the ice. The way he thinks the game, the way he's playing at both ends of the ice. Tonight he controlled play at both ends. When he picks up the puck in his own zone, it's up ice within a matter of seconds. The speed at which he makes decisions is at an elite level right now. It's obvious that playing and practicing at the NHL level this season has made him a better player. On the powerplay he controlled the point with ease. Made an absolutely terrific play on a give and go with Alex Hutchings. Hutchings made a beautiful feather pass to Petro who then put it right back on Hutchings stick to the back of the net. He also scored on a beautiful shot from the point. Defensively he was outstanding. One play in particular really stood out where he broke up a two on one by Matias Sointu and John McFarland. He played it perfectly by staying in the middle and slowly fading towards the puck carrying Sointu, eventually closing in on him taking away the shot and sliding to prevent the pass. Sointu ended up having to take the puck around the net because Pietrangelo gave him nothing. Hands down the best acquisition at the deadline. Windsor should be kicking themselves for not getting him. One goal, two assists and the game's first star tonight.
Alex Burmistrov (2010)
Had a few nice rushes tonight, and a couple nice moves in close but nothing ever really came from it. Not his best game, but he still managed to be a factor offensively on some of his shifts and did a solid job as part of the penalty kill unit that held Sudbury 0 for 6 on the powerplay.
Alex Hutchings (TBL)
Had a tremendous game tonight. He's definitely one of the league's best penalty killers. He's so effective at closing in on opposing point players and reading passes. Manages to get his stick on a lot and really prevents defenseman from feeling comfortable back there. Scored two goals tonight, one the aforementioned give and go with Alex Pietrangelo where he made a nice feather pass to Petro over two opposing sticks, only to immediately receive the pass back for the shot into the open net as Alain Valiquette had been caught out of position. The second marker was a bit of a fluke one as Pietrangelo rushed the puck up ice and put it to the net where a streaking Hutchings had it go off of his skate. A borderline no goal call, but I'm sure the Colts are glad it counted. The Lightning made a great pick getting Hutchings where they did.
Kyle Clifford (LAK)
Clifford had an OK game. He was in the thick of things offensively but mishandled a bunch of really good opportunities. Defensively and physically he played a very strong game though. He's taken great steps forward this season offensively. He's taking the puck to the net with confidence, he's doing a better job of getting himself in scoring position and he's (for the most part) been able to capitalize on chances. However to take that next step he's going to have to do a better job of being an offensive force in traffic. By that I mean, as a big guy he's got to do a better job handling the puck and getting shots off with defenders close or on top of him. As an offensive player at the next level, he's likely going to spend most of his time near the net and he's going to have to be able to use his size to give himself more time and space to get better shots towards the net.
Nick Crawford (BUF)
Not very often you hear the stat line of 4 assists combined with the phrase "poor game," but I think that's what we're dealing with tonight. I like Crawford, but he didn't play particularly well tonight, even if he did come away with 4 assists. He could have been the reason for about 4 or 5 Sudbury goals tonight. Pretty much every good chance Sudbury generated tonight came as a result of a poor play by Crawford. A few turnovers in his own end with the puck, one really bad one where he failed to look behind the net before passing there to a lone Sudbury player waiting for the puck. A couple bad pinches where he got himself caught up ice, like the first Sudbury goal by Eric O'Dell where Alex Burmistrov was forced to cover for Crawford in front of the net as he trailed the play, or the two on one where Pietrangelo made the nice play on Sointu due to the fact that Crawford caughed up the puck at the blueline and then got caught up ice. To his credit, Crawford has been outstanding for Barrie since his trade from Saginaw, and if you can play a bad game and still rack up 4 assists, you can't REALLY be that bad can you?
Matt Kennedy (CAR)
Great to see Kennedy back on the ice already after the Kassian hit. He played a pretty strong first game back too. He's not a flashy player, but he gets the job done. I'm hoping Carolina still gives him a contract because he deserves it. He'll likely not be much of a factor offensively the rest of the way through the season due to the role he's playing on the Colts, but he has offensive talent. He can shoot the puck and he can drive it to the net with effectiveness. I think he'll make a fine pro hockey player as long as he can stay out of concussion trouble.
T.J. Brodie (CGY)
He didn't hit the scoresheet, but I thought he played an excellent game tonight. Made smart decisions with the puck and had a couple of real nice pinches that resulted in scoring chances. Every game he seems to find a way to the front of the net for a scoring opportunity. His acceleration is so strong it makes him very elusive in coverage, especially in transition. Defensively he was excellent. One play in particular stood out as a rushing Sudbury player attempted to take the puck at him one on one, but Brodie stood in front of him skating backwards and eventually engaged him and took the puck off him. Instead of just chipping it away, he took the puck around the net and started the rush up the other way. No points but a strong game from Brodie.
John Kurtz (Overage Free Agent)
When I eventually release my top available overage free agents list, this guy will definitely be on it. He's had quite an excellent year, but due to Sudbury's struggles it's kind of been overshadowed. Kurtz is basically your stereotypical lunchpail type forward. Works hard in all areas of the ice, but definitely has a scoring touch around the net. Made the nice pass to Eric O'Dell for the game's first goal after beating Alex Pietrangelo to the loose puck behind the net and quickly feeding O'Dell at the side of the net for the tap in. He constantly looks to go hard to the net, whether the puck is on his stick or not. With his size and ability to play both ends of the ice, I'll be surprised if he doesn't at least get an AHL contract next season.
John McFarland (2010)
Didn't have a strong game. I gotta admit. I used to be a defender of his after seeing him play so many strong games over the course of the past couple of years (especially internationally), but ultimately it comes down to the fact that I haven't seen him play a good one in a while now. I think you have to be concerned with the lack of progression in his game this year. Whether it be a lack of motivation playing in Sudbury or just a player who's game has peaked, I'm not quite sure. He's going to have to have one heck of an Under 18 Championship to save his draft stock I think. If he struggles at that tournament (assuming the Wolves are out of playoff contention following round one), he could very well see himself out of the first round IMO.
Jared Staal (PHX)
Another guy you've got to be concerned about. 6 goals this year. Six! As a 1990 born high draft selection, that just doesn't cut it. He was completely invisible tonight. If his name wasn't Staal (as harsh as this sounds), I'm not sure he'd be getting himself a contract. Better players in this league have certainly found themselves in this contract limbo situation.
Eric O'Dell (ATL)
In some ways, I kind of feel bad for Eric O'Dell. He's clearly Sudbury's best offensive player, and defense's realize this. He doesn't really get a lot of room to work out there as teams constantly seem to be double teaming him whenever he touches the puck. He's a high class offensive player and when he gets the room to work, he produces. If he were on another team with a more offensive system and a better supporting cast of players, I think we'd definitely be talking about him as a top 10 scoring player in this league. Scored Sudbury's only goal tonight after finding himself open in front of the net for a tap in goal off a feed from John Kurtz behind the net.
Anyone else catch this one on Sportsnet tonight?