Friday, May 22, 2009

The Gauntlet Begins

The thing that makes the Memorial Cup so different than other championships is the path you have to walk in order to win it. Win the round robin and all you need to do is win one more game but to earn that second spot is a different story.

Thursday night the Rimouski Oceanic faced off with the Windsor Spitfires for the right to play for the right to play in the Memorial Cup finals. They call this the playoff game but for Windsor it was their second playoff game as they had to defeat Kelowna just to get this chance at Rimouski.

Quite the mouthful but that is why the Memorial Cup is so special, the margin for error after the round robin is simply not there. There is no "next game" if you lose as the host Rimouski is finding out after giving away a 2 goal lead to lose to Windsor 6-4.

This "Gauntlet" is special and makes a great story as a team like Windsor has to beat the very same teams that already beat them in the round robin to make it back for the right to play the only team they beat in the round robin. If you are not dizzy by now then the smelling salts are at the concession stands.

Windsor is showing now why most people figured they would be the pre-Cup final favorite as they showed their offensive attack as well as the physical dominance that won them an OHL championship. Fueled by Toronto Maple Leaf prospect Dale Mitchell's natural hat trick, the Spitfires came back to earn this win and continue what could turn out to be history in the making.

In checking the record books, we could not find the last time when a team won the tiebreaker and then went on to win the Memorial Cup. We looked back to 1972 and if someone out there can show us when this happened we would love to know.

Next Up for Windsor will be QMJHL Champion the Drummondville Voltigeurs who already hold a 3-2 overtime win over the Spitfires on Friday evening. The winner of that game gets the Sunday afternoon game against what will be a very well rested Kelowna Rockets.

From a Ranger standpoint, we have to say that coming into this Cup that we had just a couple of looks at Jordan Caron of the Rimouski Oceanic. As very biased fans of the WHL, we had Carter Ashton at the top of our draft card for the Rangers but Caron is giving us enough to make us wonder why not?

The positives: size (6'2) natural sniper (36 reg, 6 PO, 2 MC), shot (4 of them that are lethal), skating, sneaky good on defense but the final test was how Caron has stood up to the very physical players of both Windsor and Kelowna and given just as much as he has taken.

Our question mark about Caron was his willingness to get his uniform dirty and he answered it by going into traffic against some of the toughest players we watched all season. The other question mark is would Sather be willing to pick someone from the QMJHL?

We would not cry if he picks Caron.


It is an annual part of the NHL season where fans of NHL teams not playing in the playoffs highlight their team's draft failures in the first or second round. Ranger fans are no different but each time we read one of these draft "reviews" the words of Ranger Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark ring so true.

Clark told us that "everyone remembers your (draft) failures not your successes" and he is dead spot on. Clark has every right to say this because he has a long and proven track record of drafting players who went on to careers while he worked for the Islanders.

We can have this old and tired argument about who were busts as draft picks but the real test is finding the late round gems like a Henrik Lundqvist (2000 205th) or Dubinsky (2004 60th) or Callahan (2004 127th).

I see fans calling the Ranger scouts are worthless among other choice words but here is what we would kill to see some of these namecallers do. Walk in the shoes of a scout at any level and see if you can do their job.

I know and understand exactly what these guys go though as it is an insane lifestyle has. E. J. McGuirre the director of the NHL's Central Scouting once told me during a phone call that he was on the road trying to squeeze in a dozen games to cover prospects. I asked him if that was a month's worth and he said no just a 10 day stretch.

I know how crazy it is having to drive 8 hours to catch a game because the places where prospects play are not always in the New Yorks or Los Angeles. They are in places like Medicine Hat or Prince George where flying in is not always an option during the winter.

I gladly invite any of you to try to make the drive though the Columbia Gorge or Vancouver Island or try to reach Kootenay in December. Heck you can even drive if you like but you also have to get to the game, do your job then drive to the next game and repeat it over and over.

You are asking someone to try to project how an 17,18 or 19 year old is going to grow into an adult based on a limited number of looks. You have to guess if Joe Snuffy is going to grow a couple more inches, add 10-20 lbs, improve his game, not get injured, and mature into an NHL player.

Wonder why most scouting experts say that if you get 1-2 NHL regulars out of an Entry Draft you have a winning draft. That is out of a 7 round draft if you have all your picks.

I look at the current Ranger prospect pool as still growing, there is finally some real talent among both Hartford as well as the prospects in CHL/NCAAs. The dirty word here is to have patience which is something I hate to say that too many Ranger fans lack these days.

If Alexi Cherepanov had not passed away or hard his heart condition then the odds are very good that the Rangers would have 5 straight first round picks who will make it to the NHL.

Lauri Korpikoski (2004), Marc Staal (2005), Bobby Sanguinetti (2006, just a matter of time), Cherepanov (2007) and Michael Del Zotto (ETA 2010-11). So where is the praise for the scouts here?

Not to mention that those same Ranger scouts got players in the second or third round who under different circumstances would have been first rounders like Michael Sauer, Artem Anisimov and Evgeny Grachev.

It is too easy to look back and say we could have, should have or would have but sorry that was mainly under Neil Smith or Don Maloney.

Look forward for a change as the view is much better heading forward than it is in the mirror.

(Caron courtesy of the Rimouski Oceanic)

1 comment:

Nat Loh said...

wag, how the heck does that schedule work? I can't figure how they do the memorial cup. because the Rockets won their first two game they automatically go to the finals? But Drummondville also went 2-1 in their first 3 games and they are forced to play an extra game. is this because Kelowa has the tie breaker? I'm guessing normally teams 2 & 3 play for the right to face the top team after the round robin for the cup but they needed to settle the #3 spot with a tie-breaker? Maybe i'm starting to get it...