Monday, March 28, 2016

Mavericks Report: Regular Season Champions

The record-breaking season for the Missouri Mavericks gained another notch, as they claimed the Brabham Cup as the regular season champions. It happened on a Wednesday match-up with the Evansville IceMen, as they won 2-1 to become the regular season champions of the ECHL. With little to play for until the playoffs roll around, it could be forgiven if the Mavericks let off the pedal in their weekend tilt with the Allen Americans. That's what happened on Saturday, as they lost 4-1. However, they regained their composure and handed the Americans a 3-1 defeat on Sunday.

The Mavericks are home this week, as they look to finish the season with momentum, as they take on Quad City on Wednesday before a back-to-back with Allen on Friday and Saturday.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

WHL Playoffs: Western Conference Preview

The WHL Playoffs begin tonight, with the Western Conference teams starting tomorrow. Prior to the season, it was thought that Kelowna would be a favorite to repeat as champions. Now, Victoria is in the driver's seat as the Scotty Munro Champions while Kelowna is struggling with injuries. Meanwhile, Seattle is finally starting to live up to their billing, as they took home the U.S. Division title, but the race to be the Western Conference representative in the WHL Finals appears to be wide open.

Victoria Royals vs. Spokane Chiefs

Don't let Victoria's defense fool you, they can also score. However, it does begin with the goaltending, as the duo of Coleman Vollrath and Griffen Outhouse man the nets ably. Their offense is balanced, as three players scored over 80 points while rookie Matthew Phillips contributed 76 points. Everything begins with MVP candidate Joe Hicketts, as he has been everything for the Royals. The Chiefs needed the last weekend to clinch a spot in the playoffs, and while there is talent in Kailer Yamamoto, asking them to contend this season is a bit much.

Prediction: Royals in 5

Kelowna Rockets vs. Kamloops Blazers

The Rockets looked like they were going to lock up the top spot in the Western Conference, but then injuries to Nick Merkley and Jackson Whistle derailed those chances. They still have Tyson Baillie, but seeing as there's almost a 30 point gap between him and the next highest scorer, it will be imperative that the Rockets get a team effort, particularly since Michael Herringer is untested in the playoffs. Kamloops doesn't score as much as Kelowna, but they got strong goaltending from Connor Ingram, and they've played their best hockey lately. An upset is not out of the cards here.

Prediction: Blazers in 7

Seattle Thunderbirds vs. Prince George Cougars

The Thunderbirds are led by Matt Barzal and Ryan Gropp, but are also getting contributions from players like Ethan Bear and Donovan Nelus. However, it was the mid-season pickup of Landon Bow from Swift Current that put the Thunderbirds over the top on the way to the U.S. Division title. If Seattle hopes to win a league title, this year is their best shot yet. The Cougars are led by Chase Witala, and along with players like Tate Olson and Jesse Gabrielle, the Cougars will need to pick up their offensive output, as their defense has been at its best in recent history.

Prediction: Thunderbirds in 6

Everett Silvertips vs. Portland Winterhawks

The Silvertips are riding Carter Hart's goaltending into the playoffs, but with a goal differential of just +10, it will be imperative that their offense shows up because if it doesn't, it's possible that they will be wasting Hart's efforts. In Portland, it's been a time of transition, as they struggled to get to the playoffs this season. They haven't been able to replace the scoring of recent seasons adequately, and they give up goals in bunches. However, it is the playoffs, and the Winterhawks have surprised before (see: last season) when their backs have been against the wall.

Prediction: Winterhawks in 7

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

WHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference Preview

The WHL playoffs are set to begin tomorrow, and in earnest, it began with a tie-breaker game yesterday that saw the Edmonton Oil Kings defeat the Medicine Hat Tigers 6-4. There's no rest for the Oil Kings, however, as they're in the opening game with the Brandon Wheat Kings tomorrow. With that out of the way, here is the Eastern Conference preview.

Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Edmonton Oil Kings

The Wheat Kings had their struggles during the season, at one point, were behind Lethbridge for top spot in the Conference. However, they've been playing their best hockey lately, and certainly, leading the league in offense will help. Ivan Provorov leads the way defensively while Nolan Patrick and Jayce Hawryluk are offensive stalwarts. Jordan Papirny is good, but not great, something that the Wheaties can live with. The Oil Kings almost blew it in the final weekend, as they couldn't get the critical point to outright claim the last playoff spot. However, they were able to get here thanks to beating Medicine Hat in the tie-breaker game. These are not the Oil Kings of old, as they still have trouble replacing their offense, with Brett Pollock leading the way at a rather paltry 78 points, and goaltending averages over 3.00 GAA total.

Prediction: Wheat Kings in 4

Lethbridge Hurricanes vs. Regina Pats

The Hurricanes are back in the playoffs, and for much of the season, they looked like the team to beat. However, they did tail off a little late in the season, but righted the ship in time to claim the Central Division. Stuart Skinner has been as advertised, as he's held down the fort in goal along with Jayden Sittler while the likes of Brayden Burke, Tyler Wong, and Giorgio Estephan lead the second best offense in the league. The Pats are led by league leading scorer Adam Brooks, whose 120 points were 50 points ahead of the next best scorers on the team. That's kind of disproportionate, but perhaps this is where Sam Steel gets to show what he can do when the lights shine the brightest, as he missed last season's playoffs to injury. Tyler Brown holds the fort in goal for the Pats.

Prediction: Hurricanes in 6

Prince Albert Raiders vs. Moose Jaw Warriors

This is the battle of goaltenders, as Zach Sawchenko and Rylan Parenteau were All-Star selections for the regular season honors, with Sawchenko claiming First All-Star while Parenteau was on the Second All-Star team. Beyond that, the Raiders were led by Reid Gardner while the Warriors were led by MVP nominee Dryden Hunt. This one is too close to call, but the Warriors may have a slight edge if Brayden Point goes off for the Warriors.

Prediction: Warriors in 7

Red Deer Rebels vs. Calgary Hitmen

Another strong defensive match-up, this time, it's Trevor Martin/Rylan Toth for Red Deer and Cody Porter/Nik Amundrud for Calgary. The Rebels will be in the Memorial Cup tournament this year, as they are hosting, but they would love to make a strong showing in the playoffs, and leading the way are Ivan Nikolishin, Adam Helewka, and Haydn Fleury. The Hitmen rely on their strong blue line led by Jake Bean and Travis Sanheim while Radel Fazleev is a good option up front.

Prediction: Rebels in 6

Monday, March 21, 2016

Mavericks Report: Falling at the Wrong Time

There was some good news and some bad news for the Mavericks last week. The bad news: they encountered consecutive losses for the first time this season, as well as losing to their rival Wichita in regulation for the first time. The good: they are the Central Division champions earlier in the week and got back on the winning track before the week ended. You could say the bad was sandwiched in-between the good.

The week began on the right note, as they trounced the Allen Americans on Wednesday 6-3 and claimed the Central Division title. However, the weekend didn't start off kind, as the Tulsa Oilers gave a rude awakening in a 3-2 loss Friday. In back-to-back games with Wichita, they lost the first game 4-2 on Saturday before exacting a little payback Sunday in a 3-2 win. That win pushed the Mavs over the 100-point mark with nine games to go.

The Mavericks return home for a Wednesday tilt with Evansville before heading back to Allen, TX for Saturday and Sunday games with the Americans.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Time to Clinch

It's approaching playoff hockey season for the junior leagues, and in the WHL, the regular season champion, among other things, has been decided. Thanks to a victory over the Kelowna Rockets this week, the Victoria Royals will be taking home their first team hardware in their history as both the Royals and the Chilliwack Bruins as they are the Scotty Munro Trophy winners. Obviously, they also claim the B.C. Division title, as well as the top overall seed in the playoffs. Also claiming the top spot in their respective divisions are the Brandon Wheat Kings in the East Division (also the top spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs) and the Seattle Thunderbirds in the U.S. Division. Lethbridge holds a three point lead over Red Deer as of this writing, but the Rebels also play tonight. After today, the Hurricanes will have a game in hand.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Mavericks Report: Down a Man

The road to the Kelly Cup will not be an easy one for the Missouri Mavericks, as they learned this week that they will be without leading scorer Jesse Root for the remainder of the season. However, the season does not end for the Mavericks, as they continue their quest for the top seed in the ECHL playoffs.

Wednesday, the Mavericks traveled to Allen, TX to take on the Americans. The result was a 4-2 loss. Friday, the Mavericks returned home for a game with the Tulsa Oilers. This time, they were able to add to their lead thanks to a 3-1 win.

This week, the Mavs will hit the road for games on Wednesday with Allen, Friday at Tulsa, and a back-to-back with Wichita on Saturday and Sunday.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Mavericks Report: Next Stop: Playoffs

The Missouri Mavericks are officially heading to the Kelly Cup Playoffs, as they were the first team to clinch a spot over the weekend. Getting there, however, they would have loved a little better entrance.

Friday, the Mavericks were at home to take on their rival Wichita Thunder. Though the Mavericks were able to get the point necessary to make the playoffs, they ultimately fell to the Thunder 3-2 in the shootout. Sunday was far better for the Mavericks, as they would beat the Tulsa Oilers by a 2-1 score, giving the Mavericks a total of 95 points to date, 16 clear of the next best team.

The Mavericks will look to inch closer to the 100 point mark as they travel to Allen, TX to take on the Americans on Wednesday before coming home for a Friday game against Tulsa.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I Watched This Game: The First Dance

Today's edition of "I Watched This Game" brings us to Buffalo and the first opportunity to see the top two picks from last year's draft in head-to-head competition, as the Buffalo Sabres welcomed the Edmonton Oilers into town last night. Many have seen this as Connor McDavid vs. Jack Eichel, but as you will see, there are two different skill sets at varying degrees of season-wear, as McDavid is nearing the 30-game mark thanks to injury that wiped out about three months while Eichel has played the entire season and is showing the toll of going from an NCAA schedule to a professional schedule.


  • Just a little over 20 seconds into the game, and Connor McDavid made the first goal happen, from forcing Zack Bogosian to turn over the puck in his own end to finding a trailing Jordan Eberle, who found McDavid going to the net, where he made Robin Lehner look foolish en route to scoring the first goal of the game.
  • Since coming back from injury, the Oilers coaches had the good sense to put Eberle with McDavid, and it's paid off handsomely. Conversely, I have no idea why Nail Yakupov is on the line with McDavid this game, as he's been okay, at best with McDavid. With other players, he's looked lost. More on this later.
  • Eichel wasn't even on the ice before the first goal, and though he's put up good numbers, it seems that the constant change in linemates this season has limited just how good he can be, and having Evander Kane on one wing doesn't help matters. I could count the chances he missed this game.
  • Speaking of ill-fitting linemates, why is Yakupov floating around the circles in the dying seconds of the period? While McDavid and company are trying to find that second goal, Yakupov is not even trying to go hard to the net. No wonder Oilers fans are upset with Yakupov's play.
  • The Oilers head into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead. It would have been a tied game had Adam Pardy not cleared the puck from goal line. Besides McDavid, Pardy was the best Oiler on the ice this game. 
  • In case you're wondering about the other Oilers newcomers, Adam Cracknell was silent for much of the game while Patrick Maroon was a healthy scratch, presumably due to not having all his equipment ready for the game, a common thing for players traveling coast-to-coast, as Maroon did from Anaheim to Buffalo.
  • As for the game, the first penalty happens, as Iiro Pakarinen will sit for interference.
  • Soon after the penalty ends, Jack Eichel high-sticked, so he sits for two minutes and feels shame.
  • Throughout the game, there were cutaway shots to McDavid's parents, as well as an interview with Dylan Strome, McDavid's former teammate at Erie.
  • By the way, seeing Strome in Arizona next year will be a treat, as he's growing into the leadership role with the Otters this season.
  • Andrej Sekera beats the buzzer with a rebound past Lehner, but hold on, there's a coach's challenge from the Buffalo bench.
  • Replay showed that the Oilers were offside before the initial shot and subsequent put-back by Sekera, so that goal is no good, and the Oilers will have to settle for a 1-0 lead after two periods.
  • Zemgus Girgensons tripped an Oilers player, so he will have two minutes to think about what he did.
  • No matter, as the Sabres kill the penalty.
  • Sam Reinhart made an art gallery quality pass to a charging Cal O'Reilly, who puts one past Cam Talbot to tie things up. Ryan may be out due to injury, but that doesn't mean an O'Reilly can't score when given the chance, as brother Cal showed.
  • We get free hockey this day, as the Sabres and Oilers couldn't solve their problems after 60 minutes of play.
  • The Sabres got caught with too many men on the ice, which Reinhart serves.
  • Eichel went wide on a backhander and the loose puck found its way to McDavid. McDavid showed another facet of his game that people marvel over, as he went end to end and slips one past Lehner to give the Oilers a victory to start their four-game road trip.
Perhaps the first game between McDavid and Eichel didn't live up to the hype, as Eichel did struggle. However, both players did play hard, and while it will take a little time for Eichel to eventually get used to a pro-style schedule, he showed that the parts where he wasn't on the puck were still good. McDavid, on the other hand, played almost exactly to expectations, as hockey sense was a big reason for the first goal while speed with the puck was on display on the game-winner. Both goalies deserved to win, though Lehner did show that he is still a work in progress as a first year starter on the NHL level while Talbot was just beaten on a great give and go from Reinhart to Cal O'Reilly. As for the bad, Yakupov was it. Too many times, he didn't close the deal when the puck went his way, and when it wasn't he just stayed outside the dirty areas, something that is sure to have coach Todd McLellan see red.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Mavericks Report: The Longest Month

The month of February was a very busy time for the Missouri Mavericks, as they played four games a week during the month, and as the calendar turns to March, the load will lighten up a little, though their quest for momentum continues.

The week began on the road with a match against the Indy Fuel on Tuesday, and like many of the weeks this season, the Mavericks were able to start it off right, as they took the game 5-3. Wednesday, they traveled to Fort Wayne for a two-game series with the Komets, and that also ended up with a positive result, as they took the game 4-3. However, Friday was a different story, as the Mavericks were able to get one point in the standings, but couldn't close the deal in overtime, as the Komets scored for a 4-3 result in their favor. Sunday, the Mavericks returned home for a game against Rapid City, and thanks to Steven Summerhays, the Mavericks closed out the week with a 3-0 shutout victory.

The Mavericks have two games this weekend with rivals Wichita on Friday and Tulsa on Sunday.

Trade Dud-Line

If you had Mikkel Boedker as the big name that would be moved on the Trade Deadline day, then step on up and claim your prize of absolutely nothing. The NHL Trade Deadline came and went, and the biggest names all moved before the actual deadline, with Dion Phaneuf in Ottawa, Andrew Ladd in Chicago (again), and Eric Staal playing with his other brother Marc on Broadway. Saying that, there were teams that immensely helped themselves one way or another while others failed to help themselves. First, the four teams that benefited the most:

FLORIDA PANTHERS: Clearly all in this year, they picked up Jiri Hudler, Teddy Purcell, and Jakub Kindl, effectively picking up two rental players that can play wing and shore up a weak spot with Jonathan Huberdeau injured, as well as a defender that adds depth, as well as a guard against Willie Mitchell being out with a concussion. They also moved Brandon Pirri, as they were dealing from a position of strength.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: Andrew Ladd was the big pick-up, and it only cost them Marko Dano and a first round pick in this year's draft. It's not a bad deal, as Ladd returns to a team he's familiar with while the Blackhawks didn't have to give up a player from their roster (Dano was in the AHL) and the Blackhawks have done fairly well developing prospects. Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann were decent pick-ups, as well, as at worst, they will fill the bottom two lines, and although they did give up Phillipp Danault, Mark McNeill remains. Christian Ehrhoff is a nice reclamation project that should fit in with what Chicago wants to do.

CALGARY FLAMES: Traded both Jiri Hudler and Kris Russell, but got back a player with NHL experience in Jyrki Jokipakka, as well as a good prospect in Brett Pollock, plus three draft picks. The Flames may be out of the playoff picture this year, but they did well to shore up their prospect pool.

EDMONTON OILERS: They traded Teddy Purcell and Anders Nilsson for draft picks, and they showed that they were heading in the right direction by picking up Adam Cracknell and Adam Pardy off waivers on the deadline day, as well as trading for Patrick Maroon.The players they got signal that the team is doing its best to address their long-standing problem of lack of grit and size. Oh, and they found someone to take Justin Schultz off their hands.

Now, the four teams that did little to satiate their fan base:

VANCOUVER CANUCKS: Apart from essentially a minor-league trade involving Markus Granlund and Hunter Shinkaruk and a trade for the rights to Phillip Larsen, you have to think the lack of movement, namely the inability to move either Dan Hamhuis or Radim Vrbata, is sending a lot of Canucks fans over the ledge. I'm willing to wait out the season, but this off-season will definitely be a referendum on whether or not fans will be in a forgiving mood if the Canucks fail to make that "earth-shaking" move.

BOSTON BRUINS: They didn't trade Loui Eriksson, which isn't a bad move, but if he doesn't sign with them after the season, that assessment can change. They gave up far too much for John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak.

DALLAS STARS: While getting Kris Russell was good, the bounty they had to give away to get him would have been better served getting Dan Hamhuis. Also, getting a third or fourth liner would have been nice.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: All the wheeling and dealing of years past have caught up to the Penguins, as they were unable to do anything more than trade free-agent bust Sergei Plotnikov and pick up three minor-league players from Arizona.