Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Wild Wild West

Griffin Reinhart (Edmonton Oil Kings)
A month from now we will be talking about the various league playoffs for the prospects as we switch over to the post-season. In the meantime the kids are playing their backsides off as their teams are jockeying to earn the best possible spot in the playoffs and Friday night had some solid performances.

First Star Griffin Reinhart Edmonton Oil Kings

People use the term "game changer" way too much these days and it's meaning has gotten a little lost. If you judge a prospect by the numbers he puts up then odds are that Griffin Reinhart (NYI 2012 1st) is someone who you think isn't a "game changer" but trust me Griffin Reinhart does change games when he is in the lineup. The captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings missed three games over the last week due to "being under the weather" and yes the Oil Kings clearly missed their leader.

Edmonton is in a dogfight with the Calgary Hitmen for the top spot in the WHL's Eastern Conference and both teams entered Friday's games tied in points and Edmonton earning the tiebreaker because of wins. The Oil Kings were hosting the Swift Current Broncos who are in a dogfight of their own for playoff seeding and this was had the playoff atmosphere to it.

Swift Current got on the board first when they scored a shorthanded goal just 2:54 into the first period grabbing a 1-0 lead that caught Edmonton off guard. Reinhart would help his team get that goal back when he set up Lane Bauer with just a sweet feed right into the slot that Bauer cashed in to tie the game at 1-1 at 8:56 of the first period. It was Reinhart's 15th assist of the season and 18th overall point.

In the 2nd period it was Reinhart dropping his gloves with Swift Current's Dakota Odgers that in my book charged up his teammates as Reinhart doesn't fight very often (just his 2nd fight this season) and the Oil Kings found their swagger. Edmonton would score the go ahead goal at 17:05 and then followed it up with another goal 1:35 later at 18:35 to grab a 3-1 lead.

Edmonton would add one last goal in the 3rd period to finish off the 4-1 win as Griffin Reinhart would be named the game's first star. Reinhart just missed out on the Gordie Howe Hat Trick with an assist and fight but not the goal. Edmonton extends their unbeaten streak to 4 games as they remain ahead of Calgary in the WHL's Eastern Conference.

If Reinhart isn't in the NHL next season then sorry the Islanders need to do some serious housecleaning as Reinhart should not be in the WHL the way he plays defense. Unless the Islanders want to repeat the Niedereitter disaster where they managled his development then they need to find a spot to develop Reinhart in the NHL.

Mackenzie Skapski (Kootenay Ice)
Second Star Mackenzie Skapski Kootenay Ice

By all rights the Kootenay Ice should have defeated the Spokane Chiefs in regulation 2-1 as Mackenzie Skapski (NYR 2013 6th) really only gave up just 1 goal but the scoreboard will record the Ice defeating the Chiefs 3-2 in the shootout. That is okay because in the shootout Skapski is even better than he is in regulation as the Chiefs discovered when Skapski stopped all 4 of their shootout attempts to improve to 2-24 on the season. Skapski leads the WHL with a 5-1 record when playing the shootout round.

Skapski stopped 25 out of 27 shots during regulation against the Chiefs as he won his 4th straight start and 14th in last 15. The Chiefs scored 2 goals that really only one should have counted and the others the Ice players left Skapski out to dry. The first goal was on a Spokane power play and Skapski got run over in his own crease and should have been blown off for goalie interference. Skapski was face down on the ice when Spokane scored a basically empty net goal. The other goal which tied the game at 2-2 and sent the game to overtime came also on the power play only Spokane had just about everyone in the crease hacking away at the puck while Kootenay's defenders were nowhere to be found.

Still Kootenay wins and remains 3 points behind Medicine Hat in the race for the 4th seed in the WHL's Eastern Conference. Skapski improves to 25-14-2-1 with a 2.61 goals against and a 0.920 save percentage. By the numbers Skapski is 6th in the WHL for wins, 7th in goals against, and 3rd in save percentage. Not bad for a goalie who was 10-11-2-1 when 2013 ended (15-3 in 2014).

Ryan Pulock (Brandon Wheat Kings)
Third Star Ryan Pulock Brandon Wheat Kings

It is not often when a player's team loses a game but yet earns a star but Ryan Pulock (NYI 2013 1st) of the Brandon Wheat Kings deserved a much better fate than seeing his team lose to Adam Tambellini and his Calgary Hitmen 5-4. The Wheat Kings would need to add 2-3 players to be just shorthanded as their lineup has been battered by injuries and Pulock is playing way too much trying to help his team remain alive in the playoff race.

Pulock scored his 19th goal of the season but he is just not getting any support and while he was named the game's 2nd star, it just does not tell the story. Good or bad Pulock was out there on the ice when plays were happening whether it was 3 goals his team scored or 3 that Calgary scored. If the stats show that Pulock played 30 minutes then I would not be shocked as it seemed like he never left the ice.

Against the Calgary team that has won 9 straight games, a 5-4 loss when missing 3-4 regulars is a "moral" win. But when the loss extends your winless streak to 8 games and your lead over the teams in 8th and 9th place is just 2 points then the "moral" doesn't help.

Honorable Mention

Ryan Graves (NYR 2013 4th) must have stolen the sticks from Anthony Duclair and Adam Tambellini as he scored his 5th goal of the season as his Val-d Or Foreurs won their 7th straight game with a 3-0 shutout of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Graves has been playing some solid 2 way hockey as of late and the Foreurs are benefiting from it. The 1-0-1 on 3 shots and +1 went along with 2 hits and the Foreurs stopping all 4 power plays they faced. Besides improving to 5-13-18 which are all career bests, Graves and his teammates jumped into 5th place in the QMJHL while cutting Telus West Division leaders the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada's lead to just 6 points with 10 games left.

The Rest of the Prospects

Loic Leduc (NYI 2012 4th) may not have scored but it was his Rimouski Oceanic who defeated the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada 4-1 that helped Grave's Foreurs. The Oceanic like the Foreurs won their 7th straight as they moved into 4th place in the QMJHL and cut Telus East Division leaders the Baie-Comeau Drakkar's lead to just 5 points also with 10 games remaining. Leduc may not have scored but he is still hitting as he added 2 more to his season totals.

Kyle Burroughs (NYI 2013 7th) and his Regina Pats are also winning as they extended their unbeaten streak to 7 games after defeating the Victoria Royals 3-2. Burroughs had a primary assist on Regina's first goal for his 31st helper and 37th overall point but Burroughs also took a holding call in the 3rd period that hurt his team. Regina was up 3-0 when Burroughs took his minor and Victoria scored on the power play to get back into the game.

Regina took advantage of both Swift Current and Brandon losing to increase their lead in the WHL's East Division to 6 and 8 points with 11 games remaining.

Adam Tambellini (NYR 2013 3rd) scored what proved to be a very important goal to help his Calgary Hitmen defeat the Brandon Wheat Kings 5-4. With Calgary up 3-2 after Brandon had scored, Tambellini scored his 14th goal to increase the lead to 4-2 as Brandon would score a shorthanded goal to once again cut the Calgary lead to one.

Tambellini's goal improves him to 14-14-28 in the 21 games since joining the Hitmen. The Hitmen win their 9th straight game to keep pace with the Edmonton Oil Kings for the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Duclair (NYR 2013 3rd) was scoreless as his Quebec Remparts were shutout 3-0 by the Victoriaville Tigre. The loss comes at a bad time as Quebec who is 5-4-0-1 in their last 10 games are watching everyone else around them is on winning streaks so the Remparts fall out of 4th place and into 6th in the QMJHL. They better be careful because 7th place Gatineau is just 1 point behind them too.

Cristoval Nieves (NYR 2012 2nd) scored just his 2nd goal of the season but his 10th ranked Michigan Wolverines let a 3-1 first period lead turn into a 5-4 overtime loss to the lowly Penn State Nitany Lions. No excuse for this loss as Michigan with blunder after blunder (horrible turnover at the blueline led to 2 on 1 rush which produced overtime game winner) rose up and smacked Michigan.

I actuallly like Nieves in this game as he showed more aggressive play looking to make thing happen. Nieves was moved back to 3rd line center but what is so frustrating about Nieves as you can't see anything mechanically wrong with his game other than an inability to get the puck on net. Nieves needs to go on the attack, to use his skating skills and speed which are above average to generate offense for himself and his line mates.

Steven Fogarty's (NYR 2011 3rd) Notre Dame Fighting Irish shutout Doyle Somerby's (NYI 2012 5th) Boston University Terriers 2-0 in Hockey East action. Sorry this game was really the battle of struggling teams and it showed so I watched Michigan/Penn State instead. Fogarty was scoreless on 2 shots as the 2nd line center as he like Nieve's play is just no longer acceptable at this point of the season.

Fogarty is 2nd line center and you can't have just 3-4-7 after 25 games played. Yes I know Fogarty was injured earlier this season missing 6 weeks but this is crunch time so politeness is no longer needed. Time to show why you deserve an NHL contract.

Somerby of course did not score and when you are a 6'5 freshman who is a 3rd pair player then you get a pass in your first season.

Victor Crus Rydberg (NYI 2013 5th) was scoreless as his Plymouth Whalers edged the Sarnia Sting 3-2 for their 2nd straight win. The Whalers are holding on to the last playoff spot in the OHL's Western Conference 5 points better than the Kitchener Rangers.

Eamon McAdams (NYI 2013 3rd) was "DNP" by Penn State in their win over Michigan. Adam Pelech (NYI 2012 3rd) and Troy Donnay (NYR 2013 UFA) got the night off when someone drilling holes for the goal net pegs drilled too far and broke pipes which flooded the ice. The Erie Otter's game with the Sudbury Wolves was postponed until Monday.

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