There is nothing better than taking in a GTA battle between the Mississauga Majors and Brampton Battalion, so I headed to the Hershey Centre last night to take in the action.
It was definitely an entertaining and spirited affair (as are most meetings between Missy and Brampton). Lots of hitting, lots of fighting and lots of angst filled ruffling after the whistle. There was a lot of end to end action offensively, however perhaps in a negative way. Neither team could really get their offensive game going. Pucks were getting dumped in, but the cycle and possession game wasn't really working for either team, so it was simply a game of end to end action with few definitive scoring chances.
The Majors ended up winning the game by a score of 3 to 1. They got a couple of goals off loose pucks in front of the net and in the slot (by Derek Shoenmakers and Devante Smith-Pelly), and finished off the Battalion in a third thanks to a Rob Flick shorthanded goal.
Mississauga looked really strong defensively and the newcomers to the team are really starting to up their game and become more accustomed to Dave Cameron's style. The penalty kill looked especially good and the Battalion had a hard enough time gaining possession of the puck on the powerplay, let alone scoring. However, I still can't help but wonder if the Majors have enough offensively to take home the Memorial Cup. It's obvious that Cameron isn't tremendously happy with the play of the left wing slot on his first line with Casey Cizikas and Devante Smith-Pelly. Riley Brace and Mika Partanen traded shifts there, but I'm not sure either is the long term answer. I also can't help but wonder what a quality puck rushing, offensive defenseman would do to help *cough,* Ryan Ellis, *cough.*
The biggest thing you notice about Brampton is how good their young defense is...and will be. In two years, this could be the best defense in the OHL. Wind, Auld, Abraham, McIvor, Blujus and Bell are all young and playing quite well.
Here are some individual player thoughts:
#2 - Jordan Auld (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Auld plays in all situations for the Battalion and definitely sees a lot of ice time. He particularly looked good working the point on the PP with Spencer Abraham as he moved the puck well at the blueline. He also looked good defending off the rush and was able to neutralize the Majors attack. He did have a couple turnovers trying to do too much with the puck while trying to push the play up ice. Part of that could have been him trying to take some chances in order to get his team going offensively.
#5 - Spencer Abraham (Draft Eligible in 2011)
I continue to be really impressed with him offensively. He reminds me a lot of Geoffrey Schemitsch in Owen Sound last year. He controls the point very well especially on the powerplay. He's definitely one of the main reasons the Battalion powerplay is statistically one of the strongest in the league. His pass on the powerplay goal by Brampton was excellent, tape to tape cross ice through traffic, great find to Watters who roofed the puck. He also generally made some smart pinches to keep the puck in the zone, although did get burnt once, but came back hard to help negate the 2 on 1 the other way. He didn't see as much ice time 5 on 5, whether that suggests Butler isn't as confident in his defensive ability, I'm not sure.
#7 - Zach Bell (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Bell is very physical, however he was taking himself out of position to make a big hit, which is something that needs to be refined. However, for a big physical defender, he seems to be pretty mobile and defended off the rush well when he wasn't going for the big hit.
#10 - Philip Lane (Drafted by Carolina in 2010)
Lane has been a statistical disappointment so far this season. He was someone I was impressed with last year and thought he had the tools to really develop offensively, however there wasn't much there to speak of tonight. He wasn't really a factor.
#16 - Sam Carrick (Drafted by Toronto in 2010)
Carrick was probably Brampton's most dangerous offensive forward. He was working hard to get possession of the puck and often comes out of scrums with it on his stick. He had a great fight with Rob Flick, that lasted at least a minute and saw both players trading shots. It was a good time to fight as his team had just gone down 1-0 and had looked completely flat. However, he took a stupid penalty by shooting the puck after the whistle in the third period. Looked like he was just frustrated that none of his teammates were really up to his level last night.
#23 - Barclay Goodrow (Draft Eligible in 2011)
His skating looks better, although his explosiveness will need to continue to improve as he tries to take the puck to the net, but doesn't have the separation speed to get by defenders. However, he needs to be way more physical and lost a lot of battles for loose pucks along the boards. This is something nobody wants to see of a 6'2, 210lbs winger. He might not be playing with a ton of offensive confidence, as he had a couple opportunities to shoot the puck but elected to pass, one on an odd man rush that negated a scoring opportunity. He has a good shot (which I've seen him use previously), just needs to use it. He did drive hard to the net though, but needs to up the consistency of the rest of his physical game.
#31 - Dennis Saikkonen (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Saikkonen is a very athletic goaltender, definitely butterfly style (my first time seeing him play). He moves very well in his crease and made a few nice saves going side to side, especially on Justin Shugg off a feed from Casey Cizikas at the side of the net. Looked like a sure goal, but Saikkonen read the play very well and had the agility to get over to steal a goal. He also sees the puck really well through traffic and is aggressive in coming out to the top of his crease. The big minus appears to be rebound control, as he had a really tough time hanging on to the puck. Derek Shoenmakers goal was off a juicy rebound and he'll need to work on controlling pucks off his upper body in particular.
#2 - Dylan DeMelo (Draft Eligible in 2011)
DeMelo really impressed with his play at both ends of the ice. He played in all situations including the top PK unit with Marc Cantin. He defended really well off the rush, and was physical when he needed to be (including putting down a Brampton player coming over the blueline). He also got into a fight (with Dom Alberga) which shows a scrapyness to his game. DeMelo was also poised in bringing the puck up ice or making a stretch pass and looks to have really refined his game from a year ago when he wasn't making a big enough impact to stick in the OHL as a 16 year old.
#4 - Justin Shugg (Drafted by Carolina in 2010)
Shugg didn't get on the board, but had a good game. He looks more confident with the puck now and is trying to make things happen with the puck on his stick (had a couple of nice end to end rushes into the offensive zone). He was robbed of a goal by Saikkonen (on the aforementioned slide cross crease). But maybe most impressive was that he did an excellent job on the PK and is rounding into a very good two way player.
#5 - Stuart Percy (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Percy played another excellent game. I've heard whispers about scouts worrying about him not having elite skating ability, but I don't see it, I think he moves well. He defends very well off the rush. He had a couple of one on one opportunities which he shrugged off, in particular one against Stephon Thorne, where he stayed with Thorne, didn't let him pass and then Thorne got a weak shot off which went behind the net, but Percy stayed in front of him and angled him off of getting his rebound too and sent the puck away up the ice the other way. He's also physical when he needs to be, not afraid to throw a good hit (a dimension added to his game this year). He did have a few turnovers in his own end when trying to force passes up ice, so he'll need to be more careful and pick his spots better.
#11 - Casey Cizikas (Drafted by NYI in 2009)
Cizikas did tremendous work on the PK, and is definitely one of the best in the OHL. One thing I've noticed this year is that he has a lot of confidence offensively right now and is starting to become more creative in the offensive end...see the dipsy doodle around a defenseman in the slot to set up Shugg. He has also upped his physical game and is throwing his body around and going hard to the net. Cizikas has transformed himself into one of the most well rounded players in the league. He picked up an assist on Smith-Pelly's goal, but didn't really have any impact on the play per say.
#23 - Devante Smith-Pelly (Drafted by Anaheim in 2010)
He did well to try and get the cycle going, but the Brampton defense did a good job of containing him. He still needs to work on his speed to become a more efficient player off the rush, as he's still largely a complimentary offensive player. He also needs to increase his physical play on every shift, instead of a couple of big hits throughout the game. It's about finding a balance between physical play and offensive creativity, something every physical, yet skilled forward goes through. He did score a nice goal by picking up a loose puck in the slot and hammering it home with a slap shot.
#26 - Rob Flick (Drafted by Chicago in 2010)
It might sound redundant, but great work on the PK. He scored a nice shorty by stealing a pass to the middle of the ice by Kyle Perreira and going in on a breakaway. He's always a physical presence, and had a great fight with Sam Carrick (as mentioned). Offensively he's making things happen through hard work and has showed this year that he has the hands to finish off chances in close to the net.
#34 - J.P. Anderson (Signed by San Jose)
Anderson wasn't really tested tonight at all. Even on the powerplay, Brampton had trouble getting things going. He faced only 19 shots, but the majority were weak and to his pads. The lone goal by Ian Watters was a shot wired top shelf off a cross ice pass. Anderson had no chance.