NCAA hockey is done for the year, only 12 CHL teams across Canada are left alive in the playoffs, the RBC Cup draws ever closer, the USHL playoffs have reached the semi-finals, the WHL Bantam draft is ten days away and the U18s in Belarus have reached the playoff round with Canada no where to be found.
Even if two thirds of the teams we follow have hung them up for the year there is still a ton to talk about. Here are some thoughts kicking around my cranium lately...
The QMJHL semi-finals have Moncton up two games to none on Drummondville while Saint John has the same lead over Victoriaville. If the Wildcats and Sea Dogs keep winning and get to the final it will be the first time in history that the QMJHL final will feature a Battle of New Brunswick. It might also be the first time that the final didn't feature a team from the Province of Quebec... I tried to find out for certain but I'm not sure.
As a guy who comes from New Brunswick (old CFB Chatham, closed now but near what has become Mirimichi) and still holds the Province in special regard, I'm excited about the possibility of a Moncton/Saint John final. The rivalry would be great to watch and I also think it would be great for the continuing growth of hockey in the region. We're seeing more and more New Brunswick kids getting to higher levels and that's a sign that expansion throughout the Maritimes and to Saint John has worked.
Saint John's a terrific little city with a great rink. I've got my fingers crossed for the Memorial Cup in 2012 going to Harbour Station because I know I'll be making the trip out for that one.
- Moncton has scored 10 goals against Drummondville, beating Jake Allen (STL) 9 times and adding an empty netter. Allen had only allowed 15 goals against through the first two rounds of the playoffs before meeting up with the Wildcats.
- Saint John import Stanislav Galiev (Photo: NHL.com) has 15 points in 11 games. The Russian is eligible for the 2010 NHL draft is expected to be taken in the first round.
The Kitchener Rangers have a 3-0 series lead over the heavily favored Windsor Spitfires in the Western Conference finals. The Rangers were overlooked by most, even against the London Knights in the previous round before they took out Nazem Kadri's club. No one is going to make that mistake again.
- Kitchener has scored 17 goals against the Spitfires through the first three games of their series. German Philipp Grubauer started games 1 and 2 but Troy Passingham got the nod in game 3 for Windsor. The spitfires have dominated the shot count in the series to this point - 160 to 105. Windsor's fewest shots in a game against the Rangers has been 45, Kitchener's highest shot count in the series came in game 2 when they recorded 41.
- Offensively for Kitchener, 2010 eligible Jeff Skinner is leading the way. His 27 points is tops in the OHL playoff scoring race although it should be pointed out that he's played 16 games compared to the guys in Windsor or Barrie who have played just 11 because of sweeps earlier in the playoffs. Still, Skinner's stock just continues to rise. (Photo: Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
- Speaking of the Barrie Colts, they finally lost a game after sweeping their way to the Eastern Conference finals. Goalie Mavric Parks has the best SV% (.943) and GAA (1.87) of the netminders still playing in the OHL.
Everything is knotted up in the WHL playoffs, both the semi-finals are tied after two games. The Calgary Hitmen and Brandon Wheat Kings split at the Saddledome and now head to Manitoba while the same holds true for the Tri-City Americans and Vancouver Giants, the latter becomes host for the two games.
- Calgary's Brandon Kozun (LA) and Vancouver's Craig Cunningham share the lead in playoff scoring with 20 although the Giants have played fewer games than the Hitmen. Fellow Giant Brendan Gallagher has 19 points. The Vancouver duo may be listed as 5'10 and 5'8 respectively but are Giants when it comes to the offence for the team and it wouldn't surprise me to see both of these guys invited to pro camps this summer, possibly together.
- The Brandon/Calgary series features 3 prospects of the LA Kings is Kozun, Brayden Schenn and goalie Martin Jones.
- Tomas Vincour (DAL) scored a pair of game winning goals in the series against Portland including the series clincher in game 6.
- At 5'8 and 165 lbs, Tri-City goalie Drew Owsley is proving that, at least at the junior level, small goalies can still get it done. The Lethbridge product has the league's best SV% (.928) and GAA (2.20).
- With the way Portland couldn't keep the puck out of their own net i wonder if the team grew to regret trading 20-year-old Kurtis Mucha to Kamloops back before Christmas.
Doyle Cup (BCHL vs AJHL)
The Vernon Vipers are the defending National Champs in Canadian Jr. A hockey and currently hold a 2-1 series lead over the Spruce Grove Saints. The first three games were played in the Edmonton bedroom community but now the scene shifts to Vernon for the rest of the series.
I had a chance to watch game one on Friday, a 6-5 overtime win for the home side. I talked about that game HERE. Yesterday I had a chance to speak with a few of the marquee players as well as their coaches a couple of hours before pivotal game 3.
From Spruce Grove I chatted with defenceman Dillon Simpson, the 6'1 and 200 lb blueliner who is headed to North Dakota next year. Vernon's wonder twins, brothers Kellen and Connor Jones, were good to talk with at the same time. You'll be able to hear both conversations on this week's edition of The Pipeline Show (April 20th). (Photo: AJHL.ca)
The Jones twins are headed to Quinnipiac and after getting to watch them play I think the Bobcats will be happy with their incoming freshmen. These are a couple of talented players headed to the ECAC. According to coach Mark Ferner and what he told me yesterday, the twins make coaching easy for him - "It's easy when your best players are also your most dedicated." They certainly were exciting to watch.
It was interesting to hear different opinions on Vernon forward Sahir Gill. Gill was with the Vipers last year when they won the National title but he began this season in the USHL with the Chicago Steel. He returned to the BCHL before the trade deadline but his decision to leave the Vipers and then to pull the chute in Chicago definitely raised some eyebrows. He's eligible for the 2010 NHL Draft and should get some consideration - he was a point-per-game player in the USHL, has 15 points in the BCHL playoffs and is headed to Boston University. However, Gill is going to have to be prepared to answer tough questions from scouts and NHL teams in regards to why he "bailed on two teams in less than a year". (Photo: USHL Images)
The RBC Cup is set to be held in Dauphin Manitoba fromMay 1-9th. The hosts won the MJHL and as a result the SJHL winner will get an automatic bid; that will be either the Yorkton Terriers or the La Ronge Ice Wolves who are tied 1-1 in the final. Spruce Grove and Vernon have been ranked as the #1 and #2 teams in Canada for most of the season.
The Green Bay Gamblers and the defending champion Indiana Ice are tied 1-1 in one semi-final while Omaha and Fargo are in the same situation on the other side of the bracket.
Anders Lee (NYI) was named as the league's top rookie and he currently leads the USHL in playoff scoring with 10 points in 5 games for Green Bay. The 6'2 product of Edina Minnesota is headed to Notre Dame next year along with teammates David Gerth and Steve Summerhays the latter being named USHL Goaltender of the Year.
Jaden Schwartz finished the season as the league's top point getter with 83 points in 60 games. The first year player couldn't will his team past the first round though but he did score 3 goals in 3 games against Omaha. I find it a little bit interesting that Schwartz, with 83 points, didn't win the rookie of the year award but assume that Lee, who had 66 points, may have got the nod because of his +38 rating compared to the Canadian's -6. (Photo: USHL Images)
World U18 Championship
Schwartz would have been on Canada's entry if Tri-City hadn't made the USHL playoffs during the final weekend of regular season play. I don't know how much he would have helped Team Canuck in Belarus but considering the hockey power is headed for the relegation round... he sure wouldn't have hurt their chances at all.
Yes, that's not a typo. Canada will have to play in the relegation round to keep it's status as a top tier nation at the U18 level after finishing 4th in their pool after preliminary round play. Losses to Switzerland, USA and Sweden and almost zero production from some key players has resulted in one of the most disappointing performances for Canada at the annual event.
I mentioned last week that I wouldn't be surprised to see Brett Connolly lead Canada and the tournament in scoring - he has 1 goal, no assists and 10 PIM. Kootenay forward Max Reinhart has amassed 37 PIM in just 4 games!
Canada's top scorers are Greg McKegg with 6 points, Jordan Weal who has 5 and Quinton Howden with 4. Sudbury forward John McFarland scored a hat trick in a 11-3 rout of Belarus but hasn't hit the score sheet in the other games. Netmider Calvin Pickard has a .887 SV% and 3.71 GAA in what people hoped would be his breakout performance on the international stage.
The two teams that are sitting on top of their respective pools are Sweden and Finland. Teemu Pulkkinen (FIN) and Johan Larsson (SWE) lead the event with 12 points. Russian Evgeny Kuzentsov leads his country with 4 goals and 8 points. Mikael Granlund (FIN) has 9 points, Jason Zucker (USA) and Rocco Grimaldi (USA) have 5 points.
The tournament's top goalie thus far has been Jack Campbell who sports a 95.24 SV% and 1.34 GAA for USA, the only goalie with a average below 2.00. (Photo: Pekka Mononen IIHF/HHOF Images)
USA will play the Czech Republic, the winner gets Finland in one semi-final. On the other side, Russia and Switzerland renew acquaintances with the winner taking on Sweden.
WHL Bantam Draft
I don't have much to say here but the series that Dean has been posting (here, here and here) scored rave reviews with one WHL scout I spoke with recently. The scout, who isn't involved in Dean's ongoing project of gathering Bantam Draft profiles and insights, said the series has been "pretty much bang on the money".
The Draft goes April 29th at West Edmonton Mall. It's not really a spectator event so don't bother trying to get there or anything. You can follow along a whl.ca but also know that Alan Caldwell does a great job of blogging during the event at his Small Thoughts At Large.
All I want is some information packets at the draft itself so that those of us who don't have the time to go scouting bantam hockey can have some idea of who is who when we get to the 4th round.