Friday, March 13, 2009

Crunch Time

First Star Carl Hagelin

Carl Hagelin made sure that Max Campbell and his Western Michigan Broncos were not going to pull off an upset on Friday evening against Hagelin's 2nd ranked Michigan Wolverines.

Hagelin who was the Rangers 2007 6th round pick scored the game winning goal along with a second goal and an assist as the Wolverines won game 1 of their best of three CCHA quarterfinal series.

It was as we expected a big game performance from a player who is fast developing a rep for playing better in the bigger of games. Hagelin got his night going with his 2nd shorthanded goal of the season at 19:58 of the first period to give his Wolverines a 3-0 lead.

It was not a highlight reel goal, as Hagelin poked away at the puck before it worked it's way past the Bronco's goalie. It was Hagelin's 2nd shorthanded goal of the season as well as his 4th game winner of the season.

That goal was key as the Bronco's rallied for 2 goals in the 2nd period setting the stage for Hagelin's 3rd period finish. In the 3rd, Hagelin got the secondary assist on linemate Matt Rust's goal which was the backbreaker for the Wolverines and then Hagelin put the nail in the Bronco's night with an empty net goal (his new career high of 13) at 18:58 for the final score of the game.

Hagelin on the year is now at 13-16-29 in 37 games this season but keep an eye on him because we believe the playoffs are his time of the year to show off.

Second Star Derek Stepan

Derek Stepan the Ranger's 2008 2nd round pick made his WCHA playoff debut a happy one as the freshman from Hastings Minnesota had a goal and an assist as his Wisconsin Badgers just blew out Minnesota State 7-1 to take game 1 of their WCHA playoff series.

Stepan who was named the WCHA's Rookie of the Week for his play last weekend got this weekend off to a sold start by scoring his 9th goal of the season just 1:38 of the second period to give Wisconsin a 1-0 that they never gave back. It was a power play goal as Stepan fired a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle that fooled and beat Minnesota State goalie Mike Zacharias.

In the 3rd, Stepan got a secondary assist on teammate Blake Geoffrion's goal which gave the Badgers a 4-0 lead. For Stepan his numbers as a freshman are very solid at 9-23-32 as Stepan is second on the Badgers in scoring.

The Badgers look to end this series on Saturday trying to hope to win a trip to the WCHA's final 5.

Third Star Antoine Lafleur

Every time it seems that we write Antoine Lafleur (2007 2nd) off, he shows up with the kind of performance which drives us nuts. Like backstopping his Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to a 2-1 overtime win of their soon to be first round playoff opponent the Montreal Juniors on the Junior's home ice.

Lafleur stopped 22 of the 23 shots that he faced in earning his first win since January 31st breaking a personal 4 game losing streak. If this was Lafleur's audition to be the starting goalie in the QMJHL playoffs then it was a very strong case.

The Juniors were credited for 12 dangerous scoring chances against the Lafleur who played a steady game in what we felt was his last real chance to lead the Huskies. The problem is that we bet just like us, the Huskies coaching staff is wondering about Lafleur's consistency or lack of.

If there was ever a time for Lafleur to show his best then this is it; play well and help the Huskies win a playoff series or 2 then Lafleur might earn a trip to Hartford on an ATO. Fail now and be the backup for the Huskies in the playoffs and it will be very hard to support Lafleur earning a Ranger's contract.

Let us see what happens on Sunday as if Lafleur gets the start against the Gatineau Olympiques then he has to play like he did on Friday. We hope he does because he is a very good young man and we do want to see him make it.


The Rest of the Prospects

As already mentioned Max Campbell's Western Michigan Broncos lost to Carl Hagelin's Michigan Wolverines 5-2. Campbell struggled with his play being held not only scoreless but without a shot and a -3. Credit Hagelin and his teammates for playing some excellent defense on the Broncos.

Chris Doyle scored his 29th goal of the season as part of a 3 goal first period outburst by the Prince Edward Island Rocket but they could not hold the lead and eventually lost to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles 4-3 in overtime. It was Doyle's 14th power play goal but it was also the last that Doyle really did in this game as he did little else.

Evgeny Grachev only had one assist but he made it count as Grachev set up the game's tying goal as the Brampton Battalion defeated the Barrie Colts 3-2. While Grachev saw his 4 game goal scoring streak stop, he extended his point scoring streak to 5 games and needs just 3 points to reach 80.

Grachev and his teammates now can only sit and wait as the outcome of the Belleville Bulls game against these same Barrie Colts will determine if Sunday's game against Oshawa will be for the first seed in the OHL's Eastern Conference. If the game is meaningless then it will be interesting to see if Grachev plays on Sunday.

Michael Del Zotto and his London Knights already know that they will be facing Mitch Gaulton and his Erie Otters in the first round of the OHL Western Conference playoffs. Del Zotto and company tuned up for the first round by winning their 8th straight game 3-0 over the Saginaw Spirit.

Del Zotto was scoreless but had a +2 to improve to a -5 on the season but a +7 since joining London. Now it is time for Del Zotto to turn up his game and show why he was the Ranger's first round pick in 2008.

Tysen Dowzak's Kelowna Rockets still do not know what their playoff picture looks like as they are in a dogfight with the defending Memorial Cup Champions the Spokane Chiefs for the 3rd seed out of the WHL's Western Conference.

On Friday, Dowzak's Rockets defeated one of their main rivals the Kamloops Blazers in the first half of a home and home 6-4 for their 6th straight win. The Rockets tried to give this game away jumping out to a 5-0 lead and then they stopped playing as they might have been scoreboard watching.

Dowzak was quiet on Friday but if the Rockets want that 3rd seed they will need the big man to step up his game on the blueline.

Danny Hobbs was a healthy scratch as his UMass Minutemen upset 4th ranked Northeastern 2-1 in the first game of their Hockey East playoff series.

(Pictures: Hagelin: Michigan Wolverines, Stepan: Wisconsin Badgers, Lafleur: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies)

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