One of the nice things about the start of any sports season is seeing the developing storylines.
Every year there’s a new star, a team that emerges as an upstart and, of course, there are those franchises or players that disappoint or underperform.
That’s especially true in amateur or collegiate leagues like the Canadian Hockey League where there is massive turnover from year-to-year and the players themselves are still maturing and developing.
This past week is a great example of that turnover.
Whereas last year the CHL was dominated by the Calgary Hitmen, Moncton Wildcats, Saint John Sea Dogs, Barrie Colts and Windsor Spitfires, new powers like the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Owen Sound Attack and Oshawa Generals have stepped forward.
In terms of hot new prospects, all the buzz surrounded Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall. New stars like Alain and Alex Saulier, Alex Aleardi and Jonathan Audy- Marchessault have already started to make some noise just weeks in to the new season.
Perhaps most refreshing is some signs of parity in the league. Teams that really struggled last season like the Halifax Mooseheads and Prince George Cougars are already doing better, guaranteeing more exciting and competitive hockey.
As long-time readers of this blog know, I’m pretty awful at predictions. Therefore, I won’t make myself foolish and try to make any kind of prognostication about the rest of the junior hockey year. What I will say is that I’m enjoying the new directions this season has already started to go in.
Friday, Oct. 1st 2010
QMJHL: GATINEAU OLYMPIQUES STUN DRUMMONDVILLE VOLTIGEURS
It was an unlikely victory for the Gatineau Olympiques on Friday night.
Maxime Clermont made 23 saves to stun the Drummondville Voltigeurs and lead Gatineau to a 3-0 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: ATTACK TURN THE TABLES ON KNIGHTS WITH WIN
The Owen Sound Attack got a monkey off their backs Friday night.
Joey Hishon scored twice for Owen Sound as the Attack earned a 4-2 victory over the London Knights in Ontario Hockey League play.
WHL:OIL KINGS PREVAIL OVER PATS IN PHYSICAL AFFAIR
The Edmonton Oil Kings pounded the Regina Pats in every sense of the word Friday night.
Cameron Abney scored twice and added an assist to help the Edmonton Oil Kings handle the Regina Pats 7-3 in Western Hockey League action.
Saturday, Oct. 2nd 2010
QMJHL: HYNES SCORES TWICE, VICTORIAVILLE EDGE GATINEAU IN OT
Brandon Hynes took charge of the Victoriaville Tigres' game Saturday night.
The 18-year-old winger scored twice, including the overtime winner, as Victoriaville snuck by the Gatineau Olympiques 3-2 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: MCKEGG LEADS OTTERS TO WIN OVER KNIGHTS
After surrendering 12 goals in their last two games, the Erie Otters looked a lot more confident Saturday night.
Greg McKegg scored two short-handed goals as the Otters stymied the London Knights to snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory in Ontario Hockey League play.
WHL:BEACH SCORES WINNER AS HITMEN EARN FIRST WIN OF SEASON
Last year's Western Hockey League champions are finally shaking off a slow start to the new season.
Cody Beach scored the winner and added an assist as the Calgary Hitmen beat the Moose Jaw Warriors 6-2 for their first win of the 2010-11 season Saturday night.
Sunday, Oct. 3rd 2010
QMJHL: ACADIE-BATHURST EDGES DRAKKAR IN SHOOTOUT
It took all kinds of extra time for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to come out on top Sunday afternoon.
Zach O'Brien, Gabriel Levesque and Bryce Milson scored in the shootout as the Titan sunk the Baie-Comeau Drakkar 4-3 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: GRAOVAC FINDING PLACE AS OTTAWA BEATS MISSISSAUGA
Tyler Graovac is gaining confidence as a key part of the Ottawa 67's attack.
Graovac had a hat trick as the Ottawa 67's stomped the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors 7-2 in Ontario Hockey League action Sunday afternoon.
WHL: WINTERHAWKS OVERPOWER HURRICANES
Sven Bartschi scored twice and Ty Rattie, Taylor Aronson and Ryan Johansen all had a pair of assists to lead the Portland Winterhawks over the Lethbridge Hurricanes 6-2 in Western Hockey League play on Sunday night.
Bartschi scored the first goal of the game and his first of the season and then scored on the power play in the third period.
The Western Hockey League is the very picture of dichotomy. Its Eastern Conference is locked in a struggle for dominance, while the West’s playoff picture is quickly coming into focus.
In the Prairies the Saskatoon Blades and Brandon Wheat Kings both have 84 points, with Saskatoon given the advantage with two games in hand.
The Blades edge might be short lived as Brandon is rolling, earning points in the last 11 games.
The Calgary Hitmen are in charge of the Central Division with 82 points and are white hot with eight straight wins.
The Hitmen and Wheat Kings are hitting their stride at the right time of year, climbing the standings and taking momentum into hockey’s second season. They will decide who is the hottest team in the league Monday night as Brandon will visit Calgary.
The Wheat Kings will have to keep a close eye on Brandon Kozun, whose 29 goals and 54 assists has the most points in the WHL. Brandon will also have to watch out for Tyler Fiddler who had two goals Friday night against the Prince Albert Raiders.
Despite the success of the Blades, Hitmen and Wheat Kings, no team in the East has booked tickets to hockey’s second season just yet.
Compare that knot to the WHL’s Western Conference where the playoff picture is almost completely sorted out.
The Tri-City Americans, Vancouver Giants, Portland Winterhawks, Everett Silvertips and Spokane Chiefs have all clinched postseason spots.
Further, on Saturday night Portland beat Prince George 3-1, eliminating the Cougars from contention. This means that of the 12 teams in the West, half already know how they’ll be spending the playoffs.
The Seattle Thunderbirds will probably join Prince George soon, as they haven’t won a game since Jan. 9 when they, of course, earned a 3-1win over the Cougars. Since then it’s been 10 regulation losses and three in overtime.
That leaves it up to the Kelowna Rockets, Kamloops Blazers and Chilliwack Bruins to claim the final three postseason berths.
Friday, Feb. 12 2010
QMJHL – Quesnel leads Val-d’Or to win over Montreal
Alexandre Quesnel put the Val-d'Or Foreurs on his shoulders Friday night.
He scored back-to-back goals to lift the Foreurs to a 3-2 win over the Montreal Junior in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action. (See more...)
OHL – Generals get pounded by Majors as Brace scores twice
Riley Brace and the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors were happy to take advantage of the slumping Oshawa Generals.
Brace scored a pair of goals and added an assist to lift Mississauga to a 6-0 win over Oshawa in the Ontario Hockey League Friday night. (See more...)
WHL – Hitmen run streak to seven straight with win over Raiders
Tyler Fiddler and the Calgary Hitmen continue to roll.
Fiddler scored twice, including the winner, to lead Calgary to a 3-1 win over the Prince Albert Raiders in Western Hockey League action on Friday night. (See more...)
Lefrancois scored four times and had two assists to lead the Rimouski Oceanic to a 9-6 win over the Halifax Mooseheads in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action Saturday night. (See more...)
OHL – Whalers’ Seguin scores OT winner to beat Sting
When the Plymouth Whalers are in a tight game they know they can rely on Tyler Seguin.
Seguin scored twice, including the overtime winner, as the Plymouth Whalers topped the Sarnia Sting 5-4 in Ontario Hockey League action Saturday night. (See more...)
WHL – Cougars eliminated from playoffs with loss to Winterhawks
It's no surprise to Western Hockey League fans: the Prince George Cougars won't be making the playoffs.
With a 3-1 effort the Portland Winterhawks officially knocked Prince George out of the WHL post-season Saturday night. (See more...)
QMJHL – Tigres drop Chicoutimi as Pulin earns 75th careers win
Kevin Poulin made history as the Victoriaville Tigres rolled to a win Sunday afternoon.
Poulin made 17 saves as Victoriaville dumped the Chicoutimi Sagueneens 7-1 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action. (See more...)
OHL – Hodgson scores first two if season as Battalion down Petes
Cody Hodgson is getting back into the swing of things.
The Vancouver Canucks draft pick scored his first two goals of the season as the Brampton Battalion shut down the Peterborough Petes 4-0 on Sunday afternoon in Ontario Hockey League play. (See more...)
The Toronto Maple Leafs edged the Nashville Predators 4-3 Monday night, getting a late game-winning goal from young Phil Kessel, Brian Burke’s shiny acquisition, the cornerstone of the Age of Truculence.
Since he started playing for the Leafs (about six weeks after the trade that brought him to Toronto from Boston) he has scored 15 goals and 13 assists, and is easily the best player on the Leafs.
But I think the trade has been a terrible mistake. He doesn’t have enough help on the ice, he’s not a franchise player, and ultimately, the price was too high for Toronto.
Don’t get me wrong, he is a great player. He finds open space, sees plays developing and makes intelligent decisions with the puck. He can score from anywhere in the offensive zone and demands that the other team cover him tightly, giving his teammates room to breathe.
Unfortunately, his teammates don’t seem to know what to do with that space. As a result, opposing defences have begun to take advantage of the Leafs lack of depth. They have, as defensive coaches say, begun to cheat on Kessel.
Defensive strategy relies heavily on reactive responses to an offence. Obviously, a good defence reacts to where the puck is, where the players are. But because Toronto does not have a strong secondary scoring threat, defences have taken to sealing off Kessel as soon as he’s on the ice. They know that should he pass the puck, the Leafs probably aren’t going to be able to score.
Now, there are some players who would be able to overcome that, who could make the players around them better. The kind of players that only need to be identified by their surnames: Gretzky, Lemieux, Crosby, Ovechkin, Brodeur, Roy. Unfortunately, Kessel just doesn’t belong there. He’s a very good hockey player, but his shoulders aren’t broad enough to carry an entire franchise.
And that, ultimately, is why trading two first round picks and a second round pick was too much for Kessel.
That’s an awfully high price, jeopardizing the Leafs for the next five or more years. Frankly, I’m not sure that I’d trade that much for any of the franchise players mentioned above, let alone Phil Kessel.
With the Leafs toiling near the bottom of the standings, the trade looks even worse. There’s a good chance that the division rival Boston Bruins landed themselves a top three pick that could mean Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, both quality players that would’ve helped the Leafs considerably, and at the rookie maximum salary instead of Kessel’s $27 million over five years.
When there were rumours that Toronto was going to trade with the Boston Bruins, that Burke might land Kessel, a proven sniper, I was ecstatic. At last, the Leafs were going to start to turn it around. Most people I knew thought that too, but my good friend Ruben and my dad both held out, saying that it was a bad trade. It took me a while, but now I see it too. Phil Kessel is a quality player, but the price the Maple Leafs paid was way too high.