Monday, January 31, 2011

Little Caesars: 2011 JWHL Challenge Cup Champions

2011 JWHL Challenge Cup Champions Little Caesars

After playing their semifinals early in the morning, Warner School (Warner, AB) and Little Caesars (Detroit, MI) met in the championship game of the 2011 JWHL Challenge Cup.

It was a fiercely fought and heavily-penalized game (each team had nine power play chances), with a scoreless first period that looked more like a goaltending clinic for Warner goalie Jade Walsh. Little Caesars outshot Warner School in the first period by a 10-5 margin. The statistic wasn't surprising just by watching the gameplay -- Little Caesars controlled the puck through the majority of the period, and they never let up the pressure.

Warner School scored first, a goal that the Little Caesars contested, as it looked like it may have come during a delayed penalty call. Samantha Sutherland was credited with the goal, her fifth of the tournament, capping off a great individual tournament effort for her.

After feeling they were wronged on the good goal call, the Little Caesars struck back quickly, taking advantage of a power play to tie it up. After an initial shot rang off the crossbar, Maryanne Menefee picked up the rebound and ripped it past Walsh to make the score 1-1.

The third period remained tied until Casey Dockus had a breakaway chance, and while falling as she tried to shrug off a defender, she managed to get a shot off. The puck slid into the net, and Dockus crashed hard into the boards. As her teammates surrounded her to congratulate her for the goal, she remained on the ice, and took a few moments to get up. Based on how she was moving after the game during the on-ice ceremony, it looked as though she injured her arm/shoulder in the collision.

Warner School went to the power play in the last minute of the game, and Warner threw everything they could on goaltender Taylor Fairchild, but nothing got through. Little Caesars won the championship 2-1.

After the game, the ecstatic Little Caesars team were presented with medals and the championship banner to display in the rafters of their home arena in Michigan.

The tournament was a great experience that all the girls really seemed to enjoy. A lot of talented hockey was displayed, and it was great watching athletes that will be playing hockey in college (I saw scouts from Yale, Minnesota, and more), and maybe even in the Olympics someday.

And more than a few players non-native to the area left with a plethora of Capitals gear picked up at the team pro shop.

Three stars of the Championship game:

3rd - Maryanne Menefee (one goal)
2nd - Jade Walsh (30 saves)
1st - Casey Dockus (game-winning goal, one assist)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Game Recap: Colorado Select v. Edge School

Brittney Brooks makes a save

In the first grueling day of round robin competition, each team played in two games. Imagine that you just got off the ice from a full game two hours ago. Guess what? Now you have to play again, and play just as hard.

At 6:30 this evening, that's what the Edge School had to do after a tie earlier in the afternoon with Belle Tire. But yet they didn't seem to have lost any of their steam despite having finished the game at 4:00. They came out with a lot of firepower and didn't let up against the Colorado Select, ending up with a 6-2 win over the Select.

The Edge School dominated the first period, scoring four goals in the first period alone. Colorado goaltender Brittney Brooks was excellent, but didn't have much help from her defense, especially against the explosive Edge School offense.

Colorado's defense picked it up in the second period, and the period was dominated by a defensive battle between the two teams. It was the only period in which the Select outshot the Edge School (11-9). It seemed the Select were about to turn it around -- they did, but not quite enough. Alexandra Karlis and Shara Jasper scored for the Select in the third period, but the Edge School scored two more late in the game to eliminate any inkling of a Select comeback.

It might not be obvious from the score, but Colorado goaltender Brittney Brooks was fantastic. I chose to watch this game because I wanted to see more of her. And she didn't disappoint. Again she showed her athleticism, making yet another save in the splits, but it was a toe save in the third period that put my jaw on the floor.  

The initial stop was routine, but an Edge School player was waiting on the other side of the net for the rebound. Brooks quickly flung out her right leg to seal the hole in the corner of the net. Were she in the NHL, it would have been a highlight-reel save.

Soon after, she was able to stop a flurry of shots from the crease and ended up lying on top of the puck to get a whistle. Her play even moreso reminded me of Varlamov during that particular save, as there have been a couple times this season where the puck has ended up under his back. In addition to the several snappy glove saves Brooks made, I remain impressed by her talents.

I'll be attending several games tomorrow, look out for those recaps!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

JWHL All Stars Show Their Star Quality

Walking into Kettler this evening, I didn't quite know what to expect. My experience with women's hockey starts and ends with my high school girls' hockey team. We were terrible; since there were only three high school girls' teams in the area including us, we were regularly beaten by embarrassing margins by boys in peewee leagues.

But once warmups began for the JWHL All-Star Game, I knew that this was on a whole different level.

Simply said, these girls are good.

The teams were divided into Team White and Team Dark. One team wore their individual team's white jerseys, and the other team wore their team's alternate jerseys (which were red, black, green, dark blue, depending on the team). The game was just two periods long for the sake of scheduling, with a very short intermission between the two periods.

Three of the four Challenge Cup participants that were part of the IIHF world women's U18 championship gold medal-winning Team USA were in the All-Star game (the fourth is on a team that has not yet arrived in DC). Despite an attempted comeback by Team Dark in the second period, Team White was victorious over Team Dark 5-4.

Though gold medal-winning goaltender Megan Miller finished up the game for Team White, it was Brittney Brooks, who played the first period, that made an impression to me.

Brooks, playing for the Colorado Select, is 6-4-2 this season with the Select, with a 2.63 GAA and .893 SV%. She reminds me of Semyon Varlamov; she's quick with her lateral movement in the crease, has great reflexes, and benefits from her flexibility (she made one save in the splits during the game). She allowed one goal, early in the game, and faced 13 shots.

In terms of forwards, when I signed up to cover the tournament, I was told about Haley Skarupa, a native of Rockville, MD. One of the scoring leaders in the IIHF Women's World U18 Championships, she is also the Captain of the hometown Washington Pride and has 33 goals this season -- in 18 games. Playing for Team Dark in the All-Star game, Skarupa racked up four assists (assisting on all Team Dark goals) and was awarded third star of the game. She's fast, a very smart skater, and puckhandles like a pro.

One more that deserves a mention is Amanda Pelkey, another member of the gold medal-winning Team USA. She is Jason Chimera-fast, no joke. Imagine Jason Chimera with Alexander Semin's puckhandling and you've got Pelkey. She is fancy on the skates, and is not only fast but incorporates her skillful skating with her keen ability to control the puck on her stick. It's no surprise that with her skill set, she was tied for first in scoring in the IIHF tournament.

After having seen the level of talent these young women have, the tournament should be an exciting one. Be sure to check the schedule and get to some games this weekend.  You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An RoaRR Exclusive

In case you haven't heard, Capitals Youth Hockey asked me to cover the Junior Women's Hockey League (JWHL) Challenge Cup, coming up this weekend. The Challenge Cup has been sponsored by the Washington Capitals and hosted by the hometown Washington Pride for the past several years, and the tournament is held at the Capitals practice facility, Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

The Challenge Cup (essentially the Memorial Cup for women's teams) consists of 16 teams from throughout North America. Four athletes on participating teams were members of the USA Women's U18 team that won gold at the 2011 IIHF World Women's U18 Championship in Stockholm earlier this month.

If you were at the Caps game last night, you may have seen members of the Washington Pride exhibit their skills in a shootout during second intermission. Many of the young women in the tournament will go on to play college hockey, some may become women's pro hockey stars.

The tournament begins with an All-Star Game on Thursday, January 27 at 8pm at Kettler. Games run all weekend, culminating in the Championship game on Monday, January 31 at 1:30pm. The full game schedule is here.

I'd like to thank Caps Youth Hockey for giving me the opportunity to bring you tournament coverage. Please come out to Kettler during the weekend to support these young women!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Capitals Prospect Cody Eakin Involved in Blockbuster WHL Trade

Eakin plays against the United States in the 2011 WJC (photo by Windsor Star)

Particularly after his strong showing in the World Junior Championships, just how much is Cody Eakin worth?

For the WHL's Kootenay Ice, the answer is five players and three draft picks.

More specifically, the Ice lose current forward Christian Magnus, as well as prospects Ryan Bloom, Jarett Zentner, Colby Cave and Steven Myland. The Ice are also surrendering to the Swift Current Broncos three draft picks: a first and second round draft pick in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft and a third round pick in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft. 

As the season ticks down, CHL teams were looking to beef up their rosters before the January 10 trade deadline. With this trade, Kootenay makes themselves a lot stronger in the short run, as Eakin is aging out this season. Conversely, Swift Current is going to be stronger in the long run with the addition of prospects and high draft picks.

But the teams involved made the trade for opposite reasons, since the teams are on opposite ends of the standings spectrum. Kootenay Ice are first in their division, second in the WHL Eastern Conference, and tied for second in the league. The Swift Current Broncos are under .500 so far this season. One team is making the playoffs -- the other, probably not, even with Eakin on their roster.

With the addition of Eakin, Kootenay all but guarantees that playoff spot. He brings leadership and scoring ability, and his current statistics put him at second in points with his new team.

Swift Current had to put aside their desire to keep their star player and captain in order to think about the future of the club. Though they say they of course didn't want to trade Eakin, it was something they had to do to improve their club in seasons to come. "Eakin has been the best player to come to this team since Joe Sakic," Broncos head coach and general manager Mark Lamb said. "It's a trade we didn't want to do, but it's the best thing for our hockey club in the long run."

What does this mean for Eakin himself? The trade of course does not affect his NHL rights -- those still lie with the Washington Capitals. But it means that Eakin is about 99% certain to gain Memorial Cup playoff experience. He already has Calder Cup playoff experience that he can use to help Kootenay in their playoff run. It gives him a chance to develop with players that are more talented than his former teammates, and further build his skills with teammates who are on his level of development.

The trade does mean one bit of bad news for Capitals and Bears fans -- with Eakin on a playoff-contending team, he won't be available for at least some of the Hershey Bears postseason.  

But that's bad news we can bear.