Sunday, March 3, 2013

Do you want to face them in the playoffs?

Ryan Strome (OHL Images)
It was an interesting Saturday evening for those New York Ranger and New York Islanders who saw action as every game does in fact count at this time of the year. It was a night not about who was a star but about do you want to face this team in the playoffs?

Ryan Strome (NYI 2011 1st)
was the closest anyone came to being a star on Saturday night as his Niagara IceDogs handed the Belleville Bulls a 5-4 overtime loss on their ice. Heart attack hockey this was especially in the 3rd period and overtime.

Still for Strome and his IceDogs who have had just 3 wins in their last 10 games, they will take a win no matter how it comes. Strome had 2 assists on the night for IceDogs but he also took 3 minors of which 2 gave the Bulls power play opportunities.

This was one crazy game as both teams managed 1 goal each in the game's first 40 minutes but in the 3rd, it got interesting. Belleville took a 2-1 lead just 1:34 into the period and then extended it to 3-1 with a goal at 9:45.

Niagara started their comeback while shorthanded as Strome and Brett Ritchie worked a 2 on 1 with Ritchie finishing to make it 3-2 with 3:40 left in regulation. 44 seconds later it was Jesse Graham's (NYI 2012 6th) turn to play setup man as he fed Carter Verhaeghe who tied the game at 3-3 at the 17:04 mark.

Strome would help Niagara grab a 4-3 lead as he set up Steven Shipley for a goal at 19:09 but Belleville would tie the game with 5 seconds left in regulation. It looked like the game was heading to the shootout when Niagara scored with just 4 seconds left in the overtime to ruin the Bull's evening.

Strome extends his scoring streak to 9 games with his 2 assists (3-11-14) as he is now 31-55-86 for the season (6th in the OHL). Graham's helper improved his totals to 3-29-32 as he has an outside shot at equaling his 41 points of last season with 6 games left.

Anders Lee (NYI 2009 6th) scored his team leading 18th goal while Robbie Russo (NYI 2011 4th) would chip in his 16th assist as 12th ranked Notre Dame sent their seniors out winners as the Irish defeated Bowling Green 4-1. The win coupled with Western Michigan's loss to Michigan State gave Notre Dame 2nd place in the final CCHA regular season standings.

Anders Lee took just 1 shot on the evening and he made it count as he scored Notre Dame's 3rd goal of the game at 3:05 of the 3rd period. Lee was also 14-6 on his faceoffs as he is Notre Dame's leading scorer with a 18-16-34.

Robbie Russo set up Notre Dame's 1st goal of the game when he found Mario Lucia in front of the net to give Notre Dame a 1-0 lead at 5:31 of the first period. Russo is 5-18-21 on the season for the sophomore defender.

Steven Fogarty (NYR 2011 3rd) was scoreless on 1 shot and was 2-3 on his faceoffs. Notre Dame now gets to sit back as they have a bye in the 1st round of the CCHA playoffs and will have the home ice advanatage in the 2nd round.

Here are the video highlights courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics

Want to know which team that Notre Dame (and the others who have a bye) might not want to be facing in the 2nd round of the CCHA playoffs? If you said Cristoval "Boo" Nieves (NYR 2012 2nd) and his Michigan Wolverines then it would be a good guess.

Michigan played Ferris State to a 1-1 overtime tie and then went on to win the shootout round 1-0 to earn the extra point that gave them 7th place in the CCHA final standings. Nieves didn't score and while he missed on his shootout attempt he went 9-6 on his faceoffs.

Hockey playoffs in the NCAA are interesting to say the least as Michigan by jumping up from 9th place to 7th gets home ice in a best of 3 series against Northern Michigan next week. The funny thing now is that while everyone knows that Michigan needs to win the CCHA tournament to make the NCAA Tournament for a 23rd straight year; you are not hearing people saying it is impossible.

The pressure is off Michigan as it is on everyone who has to play them. And what about Cristoval Nieves? Nobody expected the freshman to wind up playing like he has. With Michigan's playoff seeding on the line, Red Berenson is sending Nieves out to take the shootout attempt.

Want to bet the Ranger scouting staff is patting themselves on the back?

Here is something that teams in the WHL might want to think about as since Portland whipped the Spokane Chiefs 8-3 on President's Day that the Chiefs have run off 5 straight wins including a 3-2 win over the Victoria Royals on Saturday evening.

Brenden Kichton (NYI 2011 5th) was scoreless but the Chiefs swept the 2 game "series" from the Royals basically knocking the Royals out of contention for 4th place in the WHL's Western Conference standings. The race for 4th place is most likely going to come down to a "home and home" series that Spokane has on the 15th and 16th against their rivals the Tri-City Americans.

Brady Skjei (NYR 2012 1st) got to watch his 2nd ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers beat up on 11th ranked Denver 5-1 from the press box. Skjei was a healthy scratch as Minnesota coach Don Lucia was not happy with how his team played against Denver on Friday evening.

Of course this is going to set off another round of "Skjei is a bust" articles that sadly will be wrong but let them say what they wish because Ranger fans have to have a player they dislike. Tomorrow they will be angry at someone else.

Scott Mayfield (NYI 2011 2nd) scored Denver's only goal of the game; a power play goal at 3:34 of the 1st which was the only highlight for Denver. For Mayfield it was his 3rd goal of the season and the way the game went, maybe he should not have scored it.

It was an interesting turn of events as Friday's win/loss might be the best thing for Minnesota who with the win are tied for 2nd in the WCHA with 2 games left to play. There will be some interesting scoreboard watching next week as despite the loss even Denver who sits in 7th after the loss could jump up the standings if things break right for them.

Cody Rosen (NYI 2010 7th) was the backup goalie to end his regular season career at Clarkson as they lost to Union 4-0. Clarkson will play Brown next week in the opening round of the ECAC playoffs but it is doubtful that Rosen will see anything more than mop up duty.

Adam Pelech (NYI 2012 3rd) served the last game of his 5 game suspension as his Erie Otters broke a 6 game losing streak with a thrilling come from behind win against the Windsor Spitfires 5-4. This might not make me any friends in Erie but while there are the seeds for a brighter future in place; I think the biggest change for next season has to start in the GM's office.

I have watched Erie since Mitch Gaulton was a Ranger draft pick in 2008 and think that maybe it is time for Sherrie Bassin to turn the reins of the GM's office to someone else. Bassin waited way too long to replace Robbie Ftorek and for Kris Knoblauch to turn things around, Bassin needs to step back and let Knoblauch become the face and voice of the Otters.

The players are being called out in public by the GM is not the right way to go when a coach is trying to install his program. Yes there needs to be accountability for how the team plays but that accountability also has to include the GM as well.

If you want to make changes to the roster then just make them but remember this; you were the person who brought them in. At some point even an owner or managing partner needs to be held accountable for his own actions.

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