Monday, October 18, 2010

Road Trip Reflection.

Through 12 games the Battlefords North Stars sit at 3-7-1-1. They're sixth in the Bauer Conference and are a team still struggling to find an identity. Some nights (like Friday) they're brilliant. Other days their play is riddled with inconsistency and they seemingly find ways to lose instead of win.

This weekend was filled with highs and lows - Lets start with the positives:

- The North Star's power-play has found some life. They scored on the man-advantage in all three games this weekend and looked much more poised in the process. Kieth Grondin in particular had a good weekend on the PP. Grondin has fit in very nicely with both Blake Tatchell and Colin Phaneuf and seems to be fitting in nicely with the North Stars.

- With the exception of yesterday's game, the Stars got lots of secondary scoring. Friday night it was Rob Newton and Tony Oak, and Saturday it was Tim Rollins' time to shine. It's clear that the Stars aren't as offensively potent as they were last year, but to see guys like Rollins, Newton and Oak contributing should leave fans with some optimism.

- Though their results have been mixed, the Star's core of defenceman is solid. Woody Klassen is on pace for a career year while Cody Folstad, Chris Neurauter and Jacob Chiblow have done a nice job in recent games of minimizing their mistakes and providing that veteran stability that was painfully lacking earlier in the season. Zack MacLellan and Brody Luhning are two 18-year-olds that I feel could have lots of success in this league not only this year, but also down the road. The tools are all there, it's just a matter of finding consistency.

- Graham Hildebrand gave his team a chance to win games. That's all you can really ask for at this point.

On the downside, this team has several hurdles that they need to figure out before they can start climbing the standings:

- The Stars surrendered the first goal in each game this weekend. Through the first 12 games of the year, I'd say the Stars have had at least six bad starts. This has to change quickly.

- Right now the North Star's penalty-kill has zero confidence. Heading into yesterday's game, the Notre Dame Hounds had a power-play clicking at only 12.1 percent. They finished three for four on the man-advantage and ultimately it won them the game. The Stars need to do a better job of getting to loose pucks in the goal mouth area, and also they also need to block more shots from the point. I realize that it's not
glamorous, but championship teams are always the ones willing to sacrifice themselves to make plays.

- After the game yesterday Ken Pearson hinted that the Stars need to get tougher and they need to get a little older up front. I agree. It's natural that younger players will take their lumps in this league, but sooner or later the cream rises to the top. The trio of Shayne Morrissey, Tanner Schwab and Tim Rollins definitely had their moments during the first two games, but they definitely struggled yesterday. Kyle Hall, Cody Antos and Rob Newton also showed in spurts that they can bring it at this level, but also struggled to get going yesterday on the big ice surface.

- The struggles for Kyle Birch continue. He allowed three goals on four shots faced in Estevan on Saturday and lasted all of 2:34. Granted he had no help on two of the goals, but even that can't justify a save percentage of .844% and a Goals Against Average of 6.40. It's hard to say how many more chances Kyle is going to get to turn this thing around, especially with Alex Sirard still around, and challenging both Kyle and Graham Hildebrand daily at practice.

----------

Here are some other observations from the weekend:

- The Notre Dame Hounds are easily the best defensive team in the SJHL and they have the stats to back it up. Carson Grolla and James Howden were particularly impressive during yesterday's game. Both skate well and play with an aggressive edge. James Howden reminds me a lot of Austin Krahenbil, a former defenceman for the Melville Millionaires. I think it's save to say that I have a new favorite (non North Star) defenceman in the SJHL and it's Howden.

- Russ Abbott had a great game in net for Notre Dame. The thing I liked the most about Abbott was his aggressiveness. He plays the puck better than any other goalie that I've ever seen at the Junior A level.

- Speaking of great goaltending - Joel Danyluk was on fire Saturday night in Estevan. After a tough first 30 minutes, Danyluk settled in nicely in the second half of the game and was LIGHTS OUT. It's no surprise that he is highly regarded as one of the best netminders in the league.

- Ryan Andersen is a real player for the Estevan Bruins, but then again, we know this already. Andersen was one of the best on the ice Saturday for either team. He's always been a great skater, but this year he looks incredibly confident and his numbers show it. I've always liked Ryan both as a player and a person, and to see him finding success in Estevan is great.

- Justin Waskewitch scored his first two goals of the season Saturday. When Justin wants to, he can be a dominate offensive option in this league. If he gets a chance from in close, he's not going to miss. He's that accurate.

- In closing, I want to share with you an exchange that I had with a player of the Estevan Bruins:

Before the game, I was approached by a Bruin who I was unfamiliar with. The player told me that he was a loyal reader of the blog, and that he wanted to give me his condolences for the loss of my Mom. He then went on to explain how he and his family have had to deal with the loss of a loved one due to cancer. We shook hands, exchanged some pleasantries and then we parted ways. I foolishly did not ask him what his name was. We broadcasters have a tendency to recognize players by their numbers and not faces - And I feel extremely bad that I didn't ask him. I greatly appreciated his kind words, and I want him to know that he left a great impression with me.

If you are reading this, and you'd like to share who you are - Fire me an e-mail at danpnoc@gmail.com.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dan,
What about putting a rookie or two on a forward line with a couple of veteran players?
The best offense is a good defense how often have we heard this. The North Stars are scoring goals but they are also having alot of goals scored on them.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dan it was me who talked to you before the game and I know how hard it is to loose a loved one to cancer my aunt who lived at our house since I was a baby died 5 years ago of cancer she was only 27 years old. We took lots of junior a players into our home and she was a big fan of SJHL hockey. Some of the bruin players were asking why I was talking to you after the game so I am not only sending my condolences from myself and my family but from the entire bruins organization. You do a tremendous job for the SJHL keep up the good work. Joel D

Dan O'Connor said...

Re: Anonymous 1

I actually like the idea of putting a rookie or two on a forward line with some veterans. I wouldn't break up the Tatchell line, but I would be interested to see how Oak would do on a line with Morrissey and Rollins. Oak's size would definitely help free up some more space for Shayne and Tim. Bare in mind though, that everything changes once Brett Miller and Boyd Wakelin return from injury. I think that Wakelin, Oak and Tomac would play very well together.

If Miller returns to the Tatchell line, Grondin's size would certainly be an asset elsewhere - Be it playing alongside Morrissey, Hall, etc.

Re: Anonymous 2

Thanks Joel.

Again, I appreciate your words and know that while I've always held you in high regard for your play on the ice, I can now vouch that you're a class-act off the ice too. Keep up your fine play and I wish you all the best moving forward.

Anonymous said...

Putting a veteran on with a rookie or two should help them. You have to remember they are still learing. Try Morrissey and Miller. You can't just try them on a 10 second shift and expect it to work, you have to give them a chance.

Anonymous said...

I thought Morrisey Schwab and Wakelin had a lot of chemistry at camp! Give them a try once Wakes is back. I definately agree though they need to shake the lines up!

Miss said...

I would like to see a Miller Morrissey Rollins combination. I think Grondin is playing well with Tatchell and Phaneuf so I like to see that line stay together. Not to say Miller wasn't playing well with them, but being out for that long might just mess up the chemistry they have going. Any word on when Wakelin is coming back? I thought that was very sweet that Joel approached Dan and also shared his story with us. Thanks for that Joel. :)