Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Windsor Spitfires Repeat as MasterCard Memorial Cup Champions

Well, I was going to do a gamer on the CHL Memorial Cup final, but it turns out there isn't too much to write about. The Spits channeled Game 1 again, and destroyed the Brandon Wheat Kings 9-1. It started off innocently enough, with a scoreless game for the first 6 minutes of the first period. Wheat Kings goalie De Serres and Spitfires goalie Grubauer were both making sparkling saves. De Serres earned himself a spot on a highlight reel with a dazzling kick-out save on a streaking Eric Wellwood in the first period.

And then Adam Henrique struck. And the Spits didn't stop until the final buzzer sounded. De Serres was excellent all night, but could only do so much without his team supporting him. The Wheat Kings gave the Spits too many chances, and that was definitely reflected in the final score, as well as the shot count (Windsor fired 52 shots on net to Brandon's 28). Henrique scored twice, with Wellwood, Hall, Nemisz, Cantin, Fowler, Kassian, and Mitchell adding markers for Windsor. The lone Wheat Kings goal was scored by Wheaties star Matt Calvert.

Despite the anticlimactic ending to the tournament, the Spitfires were ecstatic after the win, earning their place in history as being one of just eight CHL teams ever to win back-to-back championships. Taylor Hall became the first player ever to be named tournament MVP in consecutive years. The Spitfires organization raved about Hall post-game, expressing why they thought the young star should go #1 in this summer's NHL draft. Spits General Manager Warren Rychel said,
"He's as good as gone, he's sick... Sometimes NHL Central tries to create a story of who's rivaling who, but obviously there's no comparison (between Hall and No. 1 ranked Tyler Seguin). I thought he was the best player in the Canadian Hockey League."
The next season will be a tough one for the Spitfires - many of their best players are either expected to be drafted and play directly into the NHL (like Hall) or will be over the age limit for CHL players. The overagers are Scott Timmins (FLA), Dale Mitchell (TOR), Harry Young (NJD), Greg Nemisz (CGY), Adam Henrique (NJD), Mark Cundari (STL) and Eric Wellwood (PHI). This is the last you've seen of this particular lineup, but coach Bob Boughner is confident that it won't be the last you've seen of the Windsor Spitfires, despite the pressure:
"I know one thing: it's going to be tough to match what we've done here in the last two years."

Three stars:
1. Adam Henrique (2 goals, 1 assist)
2. Scott Timmins (2 assists, +3)
3. Matt Calvert (1 goal)

My star:

photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Again, I agree with the actual first star. Adam Henrique was amazing - creating chances, handling the puck with ease, and definitely being the most effective player on the ice. It certainly doesn't hurt when Taylor Hall is your linemate, but I think that Henrique is definitely a star in his own right. I hope to see him in the NHL next year with the team that drafted him, the New Jersey Devils.

Video highlights are worth a look.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why Does He Do That?: Andrew Gordon

I've decided to start a new feature on my blog, "Why Does He Do That?" - dedicated to hockey players' strange quirks or routines that may leave fans with questions. 

We'll start off with Andrew Gordon of the Hershey Bears. Over the past several games (well, not the past two as he was recently injured) I've noticed that after he hits an opponent, he will often pause and pat the fallen opponent on the head before skating away. Take a look at the video above from the Bears playoff series with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. At around 1:02, Gordon lays a nice hit on Sound Tiger Jesse Joensuu. Joensuu is is knocked to the ice from the force of the hit, while Gordon is able to stay on his skates. As he starts to skate away, he pats the fallen Joensuu on the helmet. Joensuu, clearly ticked off at this gesture, grapples with his stick to try to maybe hook Gordon as he skates off.

I'm friends with Andrew Gordon on Facebook, and he's very active with fan outreach on there. So I asked him what was up with the love pats. He answered my question later that day.

He said he doesn't do it every time, but sometimes he does if an opponent is going to hit him and he ends up taking the opponent down on the hit instead. "Tipping their helmet after you've already embarrassed them just rattles them a little more," he says. He does it to build up rivalries with guys on other teams, so that when he lines up for a faceoff, he knows who is going to play him physical, and thus he's able to see the hits coming in advance.

Now that we know, that little quirk makes a lot more sense. I mostly just found it amusing that our smiley Gordo has a little mean streak in him! RoaRR wishes him a speedy recovery, especially now that the Manchester Monarchs have tied up the conference series. Go Bears!

See any other players doing weird stuff you'd like explained? Make suggestions to me on Twitter for future "Why Does He Do That?" posts.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

CHL Memorial Cup Begins: Time to See the NHL Stars of Tomorrow

Last year was the first year I saw the CHL Memorial Cup on the NHL Network.  And now, it's back, with the first game Friday, with action between the host Brandon Wheat Kings and defending champions Windsor Spitfires.

Now, to set the tone for this game, take a look at the video below.

In the first minute of play, Taylor Hall was nailed face-first into the boards by WJC teammate Travis Hamonic. Hall was down on the ice for about a minute, blood coming from his nose. He was able to get up and head to the bench, where they removed his helmet, revealing a bloody gash on his forehead as well.

So what’s a top draft prospect to do after a potentially game-ending injury?  Well, if your name is Taylor Hall, you go out on your next shift as usual, play the rest of the game, and score two goals in a 9-3 rout of the host Brandon Wheat Kings.

"It’s scary. I don't know how he got up from that, to be honest with you.  He says it's because he's flexible. He's a resilient guy, but that was one of the worst ones I've seen all year. I’m just happy he's okay."
And Hall wasn't even the best on the day (he was named the game's *scoff* measly 3rd star).  Kenny Ryan kicked off the Windsor scoring at just 2:01 into the first period.  The floodgates opened and Windsor scored three more in the next three minutes, with markers from Timmins, Henrique, and Hall.

Around this point, down 4-0 less than 5 minutes into the first, everyone was expecting the #2 Brandon goalie Andrew Hayes to be pulled in favor of #1 Jacob De Serres.  Cameras continued to show De Serres standing expectantly in the bench area, clearly waiting for the signal from Brandon coach Kelly McCrimmon.  But the signal didn't come in the first period.  Taylor Hall scored again on a power play near the end of the first period to make it 5-0.

Jacob De Serres made his first appearance starting the 2nd period, and gave up 3 goals himself in the first 15 minutes of the period (to Henrique, Timmins, and Mitchell).  Brandon finally got on the scoreboard courtesy of Lewadniuk (who said after the game about Windsor, "That team is good.")

The Spits coasted in the third, scoring no goals but allowing two Brandon markers.  Though at that point, no one was really concerned about losing.  Windsor ended up with a score of 9-3 on the first day of the Memorial Cup tournament.

Brandon was of course coming off a 20-day break, after being kicked out of the playoffs by eventual WHL champions the Calgary Hitmen.  Some of the Wheat Kings acknowledged they may have been rusty from the long break.  Travis Hamonic said the blame did not lie with the goaltending, but with the whole team,
"I'm not going to point any fingers.  I think it was a team effort. There [were] 20 guys on the ice today and I think all 20 guys lost us the game."
As to Taylor Hall, sporting stitches on his forehead and nose, he experienced a little stiffness in his neck Saturday, but is none the worse for wear.  Apparently, a chiropractor once told him that he is unusually flexible, which could have prevented him from snapping his neck on the hit.  Coach Bob Boughner doesn't have concerns about the health of his star:
"He can take a pounding and he can also deliver one. I'd like to see him in a few years when he's added 10 pounds and is that much stronger."
We'll see what happens once NHL trainers get their hands on him.  In the meantime, his resilient play, as well as the power of his team, is sure to cause problems for future tournament opponents.  The Spitfires play WHL champions Calgary on Monday.  As both teams are 1-0, the winner will have automatic berth to the Championship game on May 23.

Three stars:
1. Adam Henrique (2 goals, 2 assists)
2. Mark Cundari (2 assists and a +4)
3. Taylor Hall (2 goals)

My star:

 photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Taylor Hall.  

It's unbelievable that he was able to escape that hit without any serious injury and then score two goals to end up a +2 for the night.  This kid is really battling back for that #1 draft pick spot.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Focus on Prospects: Stefan Della Rovere

photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Position: LW
Shoots: Left
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 200 lbs
Birthdate: 1990-02-25
Hometown: Maple, Ontario

For anyone who watched the 2010 World Junior Championships, Stefan Della Rovere ("Delly" to fans) is not an unfamiliar name. Famously losing the Gold Medal to American hero John Carlson, Della Rovere wore an "A" for that Canadian team and had three goals and three assists in Team Canada's six games. 2010 was not his first WJC - he also played in 2009, notching one goal and one assist - oh, and a disconcerting 26 PIMs in just six games.
In fact, Della Rovere's lack of discipline is really the only thing that coaches and scouts have found wrong with his game. He's been perceived as a "pest" and even "dirty." He's not one to shy away from a fight, but his propensity for taking dumb penalties has thankfully waned a bit as he matures. In his first full season with the Barrie Colts (his current club in the OHL), he led the team in PIMs with 171. He promised to cut down on the questionable penalties after the 2009 WJC in order to make the 2010 roster. This season, he has gained a little more discipline and spent 125 minutes in the penalty box. However, the "pest" role can be a useful one for the Capitals, as Jason Chimera showed us during the postseason series with Montreal, so long as Della Rovere can keep it under control, continue to improve on his discipline and not turn out to become a goon.

The best part about the "pest" status is that Della Rovere can also score goals. In his 2008-09 Barrie regular season, he scored 27 goals. This season was his first after being drafted in the 7th round (204th overall) by the Capitals, and made the late pick a standout prospect. He was subsequently signed to a three-year entry-level contract with the Capitals in April 2009. After his season with the Barrie Colts ended in 2009, Della Rovere played two games with the South Carolina Stingrays (the Capitals' ECHL affiliate) and recorded one assist.

He returned to the Barrie Colts for the 2009-10 season, now wearing the "C" for his club, and racking up 18 goals and 23 assists in the regular season. He's continued to build on his reputation as a grinder; Corey Masisak has compared him to Matt Bradley for his willingness to sacrifice his body to make the tough hits. For this, he has earned his teammates' respect. A Canadian junior hockey news site interviewed several of Della Rovere's teammates and his coach after his 2010 WJC selection. Teammate Ryan Strome said he deserves the letter on his jersey - in Barrie and at the WJC:
"He's probably the most appreciated player on our team... He puts the team ahead of himself. That's why he's where he is."
Teammate Kyle Clifford added:
"He's definitely a heart and soul guy... When you need inspiration, you go to him. Just being around him, it's hard not to be inspired."
The Barrie Colts are currently fighting the Windsor Spitfires for the OHL Championship. Windsor leads the series 3-0, with Game 4 on Tuesday. Whoever wins will compete against hosts the Brandon Wheat Kings, as well as the WHL and QMJHL champions for the CHL Memorial Cup. Whatever the outcome, at 20 years old, this should be Della Rovere's last OHL season. Next year, he's likely to join South Carolina, or, depending on what the coaches see in this summer's development camp (he missed most of last year's camp with a shoulder injury), even the Hershey Bears. Hockey's Future rating system puts him as a probable third-liner, but also as the #12 prospect for the Capitals. Barrie coach Marty Williamson agrees:
"He's not going to be the leading scorer on a team, or lead the league in scoring, but he's a hard-working guy who finds a way to get the job done... He always finds a way."

UPDATE 5/11/10: I somehow missed this news the day of, but according to the Barrie Colts (who lost Game 4 to the Windsor Spitfires and thus were knocked out of the playoffs), Della Rovere has been called up to Hershey as of May 6. I've been unable to confirm if he has yet joined the team, but he is expected to be on the Black Aces practice squad and will likely not see game action in this Hershey postseason.

Thanks to Nate Ewell, he has confirmed to me that Delly has joined the Black Aces practice squad in Hershey.