Friday, April 18, 2008

Here Come The Herd

As the Rangers get to enjoy some well earned time off after finishing off the New Jersey Devils, we have to get back to work covering the Ranger prospects.

Actually our work takes on new meaning after what the Ranger rookies Nigel Dawes, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan did during the series with the Devils.

Those prospects made up the first class for us at the Blueshirt Bulletin, the class of the 2004-2005 season and to see them make contributions like those 3 did in the first round of the NHL playoffs helps those who today are chasing the dream know they too have a chance.

Of those prospects who we have covered this season, Bobby Sanguinetti is getting to play for Hartford while they are playing in the AHL playoffs as is Tomas Zaborsky (although he has been a healthy scratch for the playoffs). However our focus is on Ryan Hillier as his Halifax Mooseheads are about to begin the QMJHL semi-finals against the Gatineau Olympiques.

How to best describe the Halifax Mooseheads would be to say that since January, the Mooseheads could be looked upon as the Rangers of the QMJHL. The Mooseheads are very talented, they are very deep having 3 very strong scoring lines.

The problem is though like the Rangers have done all season long, you worry about which team will show up. When the Mooseheads show up ready, willing and determined to work hard they are almost impossible to beat.

When the Mooseheads do not show up wanting to work hard then they suffered some very nasty blowout losses. Even in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs, the Mooseheads gave away 2 games to Victoriaville Tigres playing so poorly that Halifax coach Cam Russell benched several of his players during one of the games.

Gatineau is led by 2006 Flyer 1st round pick right wing Claude Giroux who is also the QMJHL Playoff scoring leader at 9-18-27 along with defenseman Patrik Prokop (1-16-17) and goalie Ryon Mior (8-1, 2.77 GAA, 88.7% Sv Pct). Their road to the QMJHL semi-finals has been basically easy taking out Shawinigan 4-1 and then Quebec also 4-1.

The two teams met twice during the regular season with the Mooseheads winning both games, 4-1 in Halifax and 5-4 in Gatineau. These 2 teams are very close in just about every way, Gatineau had the 3rd best record in the QMJHL while Halifax was 4th.

Halifax is coached by Cam Russell who in his junior career played for Gatineau when the team was located in Hull. This will be the third time that these 2 franchises have faced off in the playoffs with Halifax winning the previous 2 matchups.

For the Mooseheads, if there was ever a time for them to play the kind of hockey this very deep team can play then do it starting with this series. From our point of view Ryan Hillier needs to remember what has worked for him as we have seen the best Hillier can offer (a league leading 3 game winning goals) and his worst (being benched once in each series).

In many ways, Ryan Hillier is the key to this series for Halifax, the Mooseheads do not know how well their leading scorer Bryce Swan will play coming back from a concussion suffered during the Cape Breton series.

For Halifax to win this series and move on to the QMJHL finals, then the Ryan Hillier who played in Game 5 of the Cape Breton series needs to show up every night. We are talking about the Ryan Hillier who has the potential to be a 2nd line player at the NHL level.

Hillier needs to play the focused disciplined game as he did in that Game 5 when he scored the game winning goal and almost singlehandedly won the game for the Mooseheads. Hillier in 11 games so far is 8-7-15 with the already mentioned 3 game winning goals, 3 power play goals. a +9 and 16 good hits.

For Halifax to win this series then Hillier needs to go 4-4-8, 8 stay out of the penalty box but find a way to make Claude Giroux's series a living hell. If Hillier does this then it will be the Mooseheads heading to the QMJHL finals and a chance to head to the Memorial Cup.

We believe in Ryan and so we will say that when the smoke clears Ryan Hillier and the Mooseheads will win this series in 6 games.

You can watch this game live for free on the web via the QMJHL website, simply click on the scoreboard for the Halifax game then follow the link (it will say watch local) and remember this game will begin at 7PM ATLANTIC/6PM EDT/3PM PDT

(Hillier picture courtesy of the Halifax Mooseheads)

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