Thursday, December 31, 2009

What a Way to End 2009

If you watched the Terrific Trio of Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and Ryan Bourque play against Canada and thought they played well; guess what they did but they were topped by the efforts of their fellow prospects.

This New Year's Eve effort was perhaps the best overall effort from a group of Ranger prospects in years. Every single prospect who played on this evening put on a performance worthy of being named our first star of the night.

We start with Scott Stajcer (2009 5th) as he did what nobody has done in 22 games and that is defeat the Barrie Colts. Stajcer and his Owen Sound Attack beat the Barrie Colts 6-4 ending the Colts 22 game winning streak.

Stajcer put on an outstanding performance stopping 49 out of the 53 shots he faced from the Colts. In the 3rd period alone, Stajcer faced 21 shots as the Attack after facing 32 shots in the first 2 periods.

The Colts had not lost since October and nobody thought Owen Sound was going to be the team to end what was the 2nd longest winning streak in OHL history. Stajcer put on the performance of the season to win his 3rd straight start even if his personal stats took a bit of a beating.

Stajcer improved his season to 14-14-2-1, 3.48 goals against and a 0.907 save percentage.

Mitch Gaulton (2008 6th) is someone who has been hearing that if he wants a contract from the Rangers then he badly needs to kick his offensive game in gear. And that is exactly what the Erie Otter defenseman did against the Niagara Ice Dogs with a 1 goal and 2 assist effort.

If you love offense then this game was exactly what you would love as the Otters came back from down 4-2 to win 8-7 in a game that was pure pond hockey at it's best. Gaulton scored his 4th goal of the season and added his 15th and 16th assists.

The bad news is that Gaulton was a -3 in this game as his points came at even strength but so did 6 of the Ice Dog goals. But for one night defense did not matter as to see that Gaulton still can bring the offensive game is what we wanted to see.

Now we need to see it on the consistent basis we know he can do so he can earn that professional contract.

Then there is our New Year's Birthday boy Sam Klassen (UFA 2009) who turns 21 on Jan 1. For a birthday present Sam gave his Saskatoon Blades their second straight win on their US road trip.

Klassen set up Darian Dziurzynski's second goal of the game at 10:34 of the 2nd period then helped make that goal stand up as the Blades defeated the Everett Silvertips 2-1.

For Klassen it was his 18th assist and 21st point of the season which passes what Klassen all of last season.

When the Rangers used their 6th round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft on Daniel Maggio; the thought was that the 6'3 200 lb defender was going to be a defensive specialist who could also fight. Not to mention having one Jeff Beukeboom as his coach and mentor.

What nobody was expecting was Maggio to put up 9 goals (tied for 2nd among OHL defensemen) but his 9th goal of the season was not enough to prevent his Sudbury Wolves from losing 4-3 in overtime to the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds.

Maggio came one assist short of earning a Gordie Howe Hat Trick as he took on Michael Quesnele at 3:42 of the first period. Quesnele got the last laugh as he was the one who scored the game winner.

Still Maggio has been improving as the season has gone on and might turn the 6th round pick the Rangers used on him into a nice bonus.

Then we get to the Ranger's prospects playing at the World Under-20 championships.

Roman Horak (2009 5th) and his Czech Republic team are finding themselves in a place they are not used to being which is the World Under-20 relegation round. Horak and Co are facing a fight to keep the Czech team from being demoted to the lower level after losing to Russia 5-2.

Horak has played as well as can be expected for the Czechs as this year's entry has to be one of the weakest from the Czech in years. Horak had an assist for his second point of the WJC and hopefully with nothing to lose that the Czech's will use him the way we are used to seeing him.

Now if you watched the USA take on Canada then you got to watch a dandy of a game. For a change a very hyped game actually surpassed expectations even though the USA lost to Canada in the shootout 5-4 and now have to fight their way back to the gold medal game.

For Ranger fans they have to be happy with the performance of Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and Ryan Bourque as they showed they belonged at this level with the Canadians. The trio actually stood out during the various periods showing their strengths and even their weaknesses.

Ryan Bourque (2009 3rd) overall was the better of the 3 as he stood out in both the first period as well as the overtime period. Bourque's experience in international competitions showed as he stood out on the USA penalty kill teaming with Stepan at times to shut down Canada's power play.

Bourque did have one mistake which led to a Canadian goal in the second period when he and his linemates got caught up ice. That was on Canada's second goal and while it was not directly Bourque's fault; he has to take some blame for the mixup that led to Jordan Eberle's goal.

Chris Kreider (2009 1st) clearly was nervous in the first period as he was very unsure about what he should be doing. He took a hooking penalty that was a bad one but once he started to get comfortable then he played well.

Kreider in the 2nd period used his speed to his advantage even forcing Canada to pull him down on a breakaway for a penalty shot. While Kreider did not make that shot what it did do was give him some more confidence as he played the rest of the game with a bit more jump.

Derek Stepan (2008 2nd) saved his best play for the 3rd period as his breakout pass to Danny Kristo was a thing of beauty. Stepan was not as good on his faceoffs as we would like to see but his intensity on the forecheck and strength on the penalty kill was outstanding.

Stepan got better as the game went on and we have to admit we were a bit puzzled as to why Stepan was not one of the 3 USA skaters on the shoot out. Stepan took 5 shots for his part and we really liked how Stepan mixed it up with the Canadians.

We have to say that despite the loss the trio proved they belong in the big game and if the USA can get back to the gold medal game then we think they have a good a chance at beating Canada.

(Stajcer and Maggio courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images, Klassen courtesy of the Saskatoon Blades)

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