Despite being a little full from indulging (or gorging) at the pizza hut buffet (seriously, is there a better deal out there? 8 bucks! That's it. And best of all, you don't have to eat for 24 hours after), I took in the Wolves/Majors game this afternoon. For our American friends (like the Sharks fans reading for an update on Michael Sgarbossa), it's our Family Day and a holiday.
I had really high expectations coming into the game, with these division rivals jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference. And the game didn't disappoint. It's also great to have a big crowd at the Hershey Centre (an uncommon event).
The Wolves largely dominated play for the first period or so and lead after one period thanks to a top shelf wrister from the red hot Michael Sgarbossa. But a boneheaded penalty by Ryan Hanes in the second period really turned the game in Mississauga's favour. Hanes broke his stick trying to fight with a Majors player (can't remember who) off the rush, then held him up to prevent him from going to the net. It was a pretty obvious call. But then he started jawing at the official and got an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Majors scored twice on the 4 minute powerplay and never looked back. Those 2 goals really sucked the life out of the Wolves, who were never the same after. They started to gain some momentum back in the 3rd period, but Josh McFadden killed that with a stupid hit from behind in the corner that lead to a 5 minute man advantage (and a game misconduct for him).
The win was huge for the Majors, who now move into 6th place in the Eastern Conference.
Here are some individual performance thoughts:
#3 - Justin Sefton (Drafted by San Jose)
Not a terrific showing for Sefton. He had some issues offensively and was relatively ineffective at helping out the offense. Couldn't hold the puck in at the point a few times and his ability to get his shot through hasn't really developed as I figured it would this year. He was his normal physically imposing self, throwing his weight around in the defensive end. But he was exposed off the rush a few times (once badly by Mika Partanen), and showed that his mobility hasn't really improved all that much. He just needs to keep his feet moving to stay in front of forwards so that he can use his size (be it physically or by forecheck) to keep them to the outside. His partner Josh McFadden also had a brutal game defensively, which didn't help him out all that much either as he scrambled to cover up his mistakes.
#14 - Nicholas Baptiste (Draft Eligible in 2013)
I've been really impressed by what I've seen of Baptiste this year. He's already a very well rounded player and I really like his size and speed combination. For a big guy, he really moves well. He used that speed on the penalty kill to get himself a breakaway after Trevor Carrick's stick exploded at the point, but failed to score on the wrister. He also used his speed effectively to get to loose pucks in the corner and on the forecheck. And while he wasn't overly physical in today's game, I've seen him really throw the body around. I'd love to see the Wolves use Baptiste more on the wing with Sgarbossa and Leivo (instead of Schoenmakers or Pancel). Baptiste is definitely going to be a much talked about prospect next year.
#27 - Joshua Leivo (Drafted by Toronto)
I've certainly seen Leivo better this year, as he had just an OK game. He may only be listed at 6'1, but he looks much bigger on the ice and he's very hard to remove from the puck. His puck protection is very good and he has the hands to be able to avoid stick checks on his way to the net. While most of his drives saw him kept to the perimeter today, he didn't go without trying. He's progressed very well this year after exploding late last year, so the Leafs should be very happy with his selection.
#44 - Charlie Dodero (Draft Eligible in 2012, but second year eligible)
Easily one of the most improved players in the OHL this year. He's gone from being a very replaceable part to one of the top defensive defenseman in the OHL. He's got good size and is very solidly built. He just doesn't lose very many puck battles, and he has the mobility to stay with forwards off the rush. The greatest display of that today was when Sergey Kuptsov tried to get by him on the outside (not the easiest forward to contain once he gets going), but Dodero stayed right with him, separated him from the puck and finished him off hard on the end boards (leaving Kupstov slow to get up). His offensive game remains a bit of a work in progress, but he has the skating and puck handling ability to skate the puck out of trouble in his own end, rather than simply dump it out. There's a reason why this guy was rated by Central Scouting on their midterm rankings.
#61 - Nathan Pancel (Draft Eligible in 2012)
I've seen him play a few times this year now, and he's yet to hit the score sheet in those games. So it's hard for me to jump on his band wagon, as many others are right now. But it is easy to see why he's putting up some points. There's definitely some explosive skating ability in there, maybe not in terms of high end speed, but his first few steps looks quite good. He had a bad turnover in the neutral zone, but before the opposing player could really even get going, he had turned around, skated back and rubbed out the Majors player taking the puck back. For those that have never really seen him play, he's actually more aggressive away from the puck than you'd expect. He did have a few other costly turnovers in the neutral zone though, one leading to an odd man rush the other way. He needs to make quicker decisions with the puck and get stronger to win some of those battles in the corners. Still a very intriguing player for the draft.
#92 - Michael Sgarbossa (Signed by San Jose)
He's just ripping apart the OHL right now and has become one of the league's most dangerous offensive players. He had a terrific first half of the game, but seemed to run out of steam in the second half. For a smaller guy, he's incredibly strong. I was incredibly impressed by a play he made in the first period, when he came off the wall with the puck, fought through two Majors players towards the net (with them practically draped on his back) and still managed to put a shot on net. He also scored in the first period off a laser of a wrister to the top shelf, short side. As the game went on, he got a little sloppy with the puck and had a few nearly costly turnovers (with one brutal turnover that lead to a clear shot in the slot for a Majors player, as he peeled back with the puck in his own zone and fired a blind back hand pass up the middle). The question I ask myself now is whether he'll be able to play center at the NHL level. I'm inclined to think he might be better suited to the wing at the NHL level to take advantage of his speed and skill coming off the boards and down the wing. But he's ready for the next step.
#66 - Johan Mattsson (Drafted by Chicago)
I've been really impressed by Mattsson this year. He's a quality goaltender. He gets himself in good position to cut off the angles for shooters and he really controls his rebounds well. Anything in the chest, he's able to corral and he generally kicks out low shots to the corner. He absolutely could not be faulted for the goals scored against him in the game. One was a deft deflection in front of the crease. The second a bang/bang play from behind the net where his defenseman left a Major wide open in front of the net. The third, he made a tremendous toe save on a partial breakaway, but none of his defenseman took the trailer on the play who cleaned up the rebound to the top shelf. While he took the loss, he stopped 35 of 38 and was impressive.
#2 - Dylan DeMelo (Drafted by San Jose)
DeMelo had a strong game for the second time in a row that I've seen him play. The last few times, I've been impressed by how he's turned up the dial on his physical play. He's starting to really enjoy rubbing guys out along the boards and is being more aggressive in front of the net. Offensively, he's keeping things simple in his own zone (something I've accused him of not doing in the past) and he's making better decisions on the point of the powerplay. DeMelo was on the ice for all three goals the Majors scored today, assisting on one (a secondary assist where he fed Riley Brace for a point shot that Jamie Wise tipped in). While I'm still not sure about his NHL upside, I think he's definitely progressed well, not only from the end of last season to this, but from the start of the season to this point.
#4 - Trevor Carrick (Draft Eligible in 2012)
I like that they've split up Carrick and DeMelo, and it's increased Carrick's opportunity to carry his pairing offensively. He's starting to carry the puck out of the zone more and is gaining the confidence to bring the puck over the blue line. He certainly has the poise and skating ability to do so. Just that created a goal in the second period, where he took the puck end to end, found Kristoff Kontos behind the net, who subsequently found Jamie Wise in front of the net for the goal. His rush drew the defense to him as he carried it deep, causing the confusion in Sudbury's coverage in front of the net. Defensively, he was as solid as always. His mobility and physical abilities make him difficult to get around and he puts himself in good position to make plays in front of the net. I definitely think this kid is worth a pick in the top 100 of the draft.
#16 - Kristoff Kontos (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Kontos played a quietly very solid game. His skating has definitely improved a lot over last season, and he's able to use it as a weapon to carry the puck deep into the zone. He certainly likes to have the puck on his stick and excels offensively when he does. His play away from the puck still leaves a bit to be desired for me (at least in terms of consistency), but I think there's definite potential there. He showed some solid playmaking ability and vision in the second by finding Jamie Wise in front of the net for his 2nd goal of the game. Kontos was also quite good on the penalty kill and played quite a bit a man down. Definitely a strong effort from him.