Wednesday, April 9, 2008

And Then there is Just One

While Ranger fans are rejoicing over the Ranger's 4-1 Game One win the news on the prospect side was not very good. Both Ranger prospects who were in action lost and for one, David Skokan his loss ended his QMJHL season.

The wheels finally came off the wagon as the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies blew the Oceanic 6-1 to earn a 4-0 series sweep and rid themselves of a very determined Oceanic squad. The Huskies also know that they faced a much tougher opponent than anyone thought the Oceanic would be.

There is no point in rehashing how the Oceanic lost because it was basically being worn down by the best team in the QMJHL and the Oceanic have no reason to hang their heads. The Huskies broke the game open with 3 goals in the first 4 minutes of the 3rd period.

Nobody expected the Oceanic to force a game 1 overtime or a game 2 double overtime. One goal in either game and this just might have been much different outcome.

Game 3 is where the Oceanic basically had their hearts broken as they fought back from being down 2 goals to force a tie only to see the Huskies steal the win.

By all rights, Skokan and his Rimouski Oceanic were never supposed to get to the QMJHL's second round. The Oceanic were the 7th seed out of the QMJHL's Telus Division and it was an upset of the 2nd best team in the QMJHL, the Baie-Comeau Drakkar that earned them this spot.

Skokan and his mates have nothing at all to be ashamed of as they if anything showed that they have the makings of a very dangerous team for next season when they will be the hosts for the 2009 Memorial Cup.

Skokan ends his first year as a Ranger prospect with some decent numbers; 53 games 19-21-40, -3, 5 Power Play Goals, 4 Game Winning Goals, 2 Shootout Winning Goals and a 51.8% win percentage on his faceoffs. In the playoffs, Skokan in 7 games 0-5-5, -2, and 47.6% on face offs.

We have been saying that we would love to see Skokan brought to Hartford on a ATO but that really would be very selfish of us. Skokan has been playing hockey this season since August and has earned a break.

He is the last remaining Ranger CHL prospect still playing but Ryan Hillier is not going to complain in the least about being lonely. Hillier and his Halifax Mooseheads had a chance to sweep out provincial rival Cape Breton on their home ice but give the Screaming Eagle some credit for putting up a fight.

For the first time in this playoff season, Hillier scored at least a point in a game that the Mooseheads did not win. The Screaming Eagles forced a Game 5 by scoring at 2:06 of the first overtime period to earn a 4-3 win and a trip back to Halifax.

Hillier was back on the Moosehead's second line due to a concussion to his teammate Bryce Swan (who we feel was targeted on some suspect hits by the Screaming Eagles). Swan has been the leading scorer for the Mooseheads with 10 goals in 2 playoff series so his loss will be huge.

Even worse for the Mooseheads is that they had less than 24 hours to rest after playing a grueling triple overtime both teams were right back at it. The Mooseheads scored a late unassisted goal in the first period to take a 1-0 lead into the intermission.

In the second period, Cape Breton first tied and then went ahead 2-1 before Hillier set up P. J. Corsi for a power play goal at 18:01. The Screaming Eagles came right back with a devastating power play goal of their own at 19:57 to retake the lead.

In the third period the Mooseheads rallied for the tie to force overtime which led to the already mentioned win for the Screaming Eagles.

As for Hillier, we said this was another test and we will give him a passing grade for tonight as while on the scoresheet he just had the one assist but again Hillier played with some discipline.

Hillier though is going to start to dislike us as for Game 5 we are going to suggest yet another addition to the tests that Hillier already faces and that is to step up and help replace the scoring the Mooseheads are going to lose with Swan out.

Hillier needs to be a leader now on the ice as well because Swan is most likely finished for this series so Hillier needs to be more focused, more disciplined and get his teammates more involved to help make up the loss of Swan.

Day Off? Prospect Park does not need no day off as while the Rangers and Mooseheads have Thursday off our attention turns to the NCAA Frozen Four with 2007 6th Round Pick Carl Hagelin who plays for the top seeded Michigan Wolverines.

Hagelin is going for a Prospect Park first which is earning a medal at the World Junior Championships (his was silver for Sweden) and a NCAA Championship. For Hagelin, his freshman season with the Wolverines has been an eye opener for us.

We knew next to nothing about the young man from Sodertalje, Sweden but we have enjoyed learning about a very smart dependable player. One does not expect a freshman to play with both poise and maturity but Hagelin has whether it has been to man the penalty kill or be the second line left wing.

If this is going to be your first look at Michigan's number 12 then here is what to expect out of him: We start by his strong fundamentals whether it be his skating (fluid motion little wasted effort), his passing (does not gamble looks for the safe smart play) or his shot selection (no offense but typical European needs to be more selfish and shoot the puck more).

In any case as Hagelin (who is also the first European to play for Michigan since 1994) grows into his body, as he becomes more comfortable with the North American style of play, we believe will become a solid scoring threat. Red Berenson had the right idea shifting Hagelin to wing as Hagelin does not play with enough physical force at this time to handle being a center.

We also want to see Hagelin go into traffic more to take shots and stop trying for the perfect play. We think Hagelin could have had a lot more than 10 goals if he was more selfish.

Michigan faces conference foe Notre Dame in the second half of the Frozen Four which is expected to start at 9:30 EDT/6:30 PDT on ESPN2. This will be the match up of the 4th and 5th best defenses in the NCAA.

If you want to look for weaknesses then for Michigan they tend to take a lot of penalties during the games. We watched them in 9 different games this season and they gave up on the average of 6 power plays against them a game.

Of course that means one of their strengths is the Carl Hagelin led Penalty Kill which was 10th in the NCAA and one of the best offenses in all of college hockey averaging 3.95 goals per game (2nd best in NCAA).

For Notre Dame, their strengths start with the 2nd best penalty kill in the NCAA along with their overall defense. The weakness is that they can be at times offensively challenged with a weak power play and a tendency to give up shorthanded goals (6).

Michigan won both meetings during the regular season and while everyone thinks that Michigan should be an overwhelming favorite, we think this game could be a lot closer than people expect.

(Picture credits: David Skokan/Rimouski, Ryan Hillier/Halifax, Carl Hagelin/Michigan Wolverines)

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