Sunday, February 3, 2013

Saturday's the night for hockey

Michael St. Croix (Edmonton Oil Kings)
Maybe it was because the calendar changed to February but for whatever reason, the New York Ranger and New York Islander prospects had some pretty solid efforts for the first weekend of the month. With a little more than 6 weeks before both the NCAA and CHL playoffs get underway, now is the time where contracts are earned or lost for prospects.

First Star Michael St. Croix Edmonton Oil Kings

Maybe this star should be given to Edmonton Oil King's coach Derek Laxdal as when Michael St. Croix (NYR 2011 4th) was struggling to score, Laxdal stuck with him and St. Croix is repaying his coach's faith in him. St. Croix was named the game's 1st star as he led his Oil Kings to a 6-0 road win over the Medicine Hat Tigers.

St. Croix kept his hot streak going with a 1-1-2 game extending his scoring streak to 9 games (5-8-13) as the Oil Kings won their 8th straight game. What was a close race for the top spot in the WHL's Eastern Conference is now starting to look like a runaway.

With Edmonton already up 2-0 in the 2nd period, St, Croix set up Henrik Samuelsson for a power play goal at 9:05. It was St. Croix's 31st point on the power play this season (16-15-31) and it helped put the Tigers on the ropes.

Last year when I tagged St. Croix as "The Predator" it was because he had this knack of scoring a goal that turned a game into a rout. It has not shown up much this season but it did on Saturday night as St. Croix scored his 26th goal of the season at 16:07 of the 2nd giving the Oil Kings a 4-0 lead and this one was over.

St. Croix is now 26-36-62 on the season and while he won't reach the 105 points of last year; his goal this year is to win the Memorial Cup. If he is playing like this then Edmonton just might make that goal happen.

Jesse Graham (OHL Images)
Second Star Jesse Graham Niagara IceDogs

For the 2nd straight night Jesse Graham (NYI 2012 6th) had a 2 assist evening helping his Niagara IceDogs to a win. Saturday night it was against the Mississauga Steelheads who were trailing the IceDogs by 4 points in the OHL's Eastern Conference standings.

After a 4-1 win, the lead is now 6 points as Graham earned the game's 2nd star in helping the IceDogs win their 2nd straight game. Graham got the primary assist as he set up Brett Ritchie's 30th goal at 5:28 of the 2nd period giving Niagara a 1-0 lead.

As the 2nd period was winding down, Graham earned the secondary assist on fellow Islander prospect Ryan Strome's 28th goal with this one coming at 19:56 giving Niagara a 2-0 lead. The goal would turn out to be the game winner for Niagara and both goals were power play goals.

For Graham the 2 assist evening improved his numbers to 2-23-25 as Graham now has points in his last 4 games (0-6-6).

Ryan Strome (OHL Images)
Third Star Ryan Strome Niagara IceDogs

Ryan Strome (NYI 2011 1st) also had a repeat performance as he was 1-1-2 in Niagara's 4-1 win over Mississauga. Strome's 28th goal which turned out to be the game winner was Strome's 3rd game winning goal of the season.

Strome also had a secondary assist on Niagara's 4th goal of the game which came at 14:08 of the 3rd period. The points for Strome were his 71st and 72nd (28-44-72) as Niagara is now off until next Friday when they will travel to face these same Mississauga Steelheads.

"Boo" Nieves (
Third Star Cristoval "Boo" Nieves Michigan Wolverines

Cristoval "Boo" Nieves (NYR 2012 2nd) has heard a lot about the player who last wore the number 12 that he is wearing at Michigan but Nieves is doing something that Hagelin didn't do as a freshman. After a 1-1-2 effort helping Michigan defeat Michigan State; Nieves is leading the Wolverines in scoring.

Nieves and his linemate Phil Di Giuseppe were the biggest reasons why Michigan was able to earn their first series sweep of the season after a 5-2 win on Saturday evening. The duo combined to set up Michigan's 1st goal of the game (Nieves with the secondary assist) at 3:08 of the 1st period and Michigan never trailed.

Nieves put the icing on the win with his 7th goal of the season which might tell you something about who he was. Nieves was all alone on the right side of the net with a wide open net to shoot at. Nieves missed almost badly hitting the outside of the net but Nieves grabbed his own rebound skated around the back of the net and banked the puck in off a Michigan State player.

Nieves is now 7-14-21 on the season and with Michigan having 6 games remaining before the CCHA playoffs begin; Nieves and company need to make a charge as high as they can for the first round. With the win on Saturday, Michigan sits in 9th place and the way the CCHA playoffs work the 1st 5 teams have a bye in the 1st round.

Teams 6-11 then play a best of 3 at the home of the higher seed with the winners advancing to the next round. Don't bet against Michigan as a team doesn't make 22 straight trips to the NCAAs without some minor miracle.

First stop a weekend series against Notre Dame with Friday's game on CBS Sports Network.

The Rest of the Prospects

Griffin Reinhart (NYI 2012 1st)
may not have scored in Edmonton's 6-0 shutout win over Medicine Hat but he was a big reason why Medicine Hat couldn't score on any of their 5 power plays. Don't be surprised if Reinhart forces his way on the Islander roster next season.

Scott Mayfield (NYI 2011 2nd) didn't score as his 10th ranked Denver Pioneers rallied behind three 3rd period goals to earn a 4-3 win over the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. Mayfield was a +2 for the game and avoided the penalty box after his 3 trips on Friday evening.

Shane McColgan (NYR 2011 5th) was scoreless as his Saskatoon Blades earned their 4th straight win 4-1 over the Swift Current Broncos. The win helped Saskatoon move into 5th place of the WHL's Eastern Conference and for the moment silence those who questioned whether they deserved to host the 2013 Memorial Cup.

The Blades have gone from 8th place to 5th and find themselves just 3 points behind 4th place Red Deer and they hold 3 games in hand on Red Deer.

One of the reasons why I will miss the CCHA when the leagues folds after this season is how they treat the shootout round.

Teams are awarded three points for each win in regulation or overtime, and one point for an overtime tie. Conference games tied after 65 minutes advance to a three-player shootout with the winning team receiving an extra point in the standings (denoted in the SW column)

What a rad idea showing the world how many games a team won via the shootout not to mention by making it 3 points for a regulation/overtime win then teams would no sit back and take their chances in the shootout.

It came into play when 11th ranked Notre Dame faced Ohio State on Saturday evening. The two teams were tied 2-2 after regulation and overtime and in the shootout Notre Dame won that round 1-0 behind Anders Lee's (NYI 2009 6th) goal.

Both teams received a point for being tied after overtime and Notre Dame earned an extra point for winning the shootout round. No "circus" points as those who dislike the NHL's shootout (yes I am one of them).

Anders Lee may not have gotten any credit for his shootout goal but he will take the win. Lee was scoreless on 6 shots while Steven Fogarty (NYR 2011 3rd) was also scoreless but did not take any shots.

Robbie Russo (NYI 2011 4th) picked up a secondary assist on Notre Dame's 2nd goal during regulation breaking a 5 game scoreless streak for him (5-13-18).

Peter Ceresnak (NYR 2011 6th) and his Peterborough Petes got spanked 4-1 by the Plymouth Whalers. The Petes gave up 2 goals in the first minute of the 1st and 2nd period and trailed 4-0 after 2 periods.

Ceresnak was scoreless for the Petes but was a +1.

Samuel Noreau (NYR 2011 5th) had a bit better of a game on Saturday evening but his Baie-Comeau Drakkar dropped a 5-4 shootout decision to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Noreau was a +1 on 3 shots and was credited with a hit but took a minor for tripping.

Brenden Kichton (NYI 2011 5th) and his Spokane Chiefs visited the Portland Winterhawks and the 4-0 loss doesn't describe how outplayed the Chiefs were. How about being out shot 21-1 in the 1st period?

The only reason why the score wasn't any worse was because Portland couldn't score on the power play only going 1 for 6.


Adam Pelech (NYI 2012 3rd) sat out his 4th game of his suspension on Saturday and I misread the schedule so now the suspension is over.

Cody Rosen (NYI 2010 7th) was DNP.

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