Friday, March 8, 2013

The behind the scenes star

Jesse Graham (OHL Images)
It was the OHL in action on Thursday evening as 3 New York Islander and 1 New York Islander prospects saw action with all of them winding up with wins. The difference in tonight's games was the plays made by the secondary or "role" players

The Niagara IceDogs were heading south for most of the last month but after tonight's 4-3 shootout win, they could be looking up in the standings with 4 games remaining on their regular season schedule. In the case of the IceDogs; every game is going to count.

The IceDogs were hosting the Mississauga Steelheads with the IceDogs trying to hold off the Steelheads for the 6th seed in the OHL's Eastern Conference standings. Entering the game the IceDogs held a 7 point lead but the Steelheads held a game in hand.

Mississauga drew first blood scoring an even strength goal at 11:17 of the 1st period but Niagara would tie the game at 18:04 of the period. Jesse Graham (NYI 2012 6th) would earn the 2nd secondary assist on the play but he was far from finished.

The teams would remain tied until the first minute of the 3rd period when Mississauga would take the lead at 2-1. Mississauga would make it a 3-1 game on a goal at 4:10 and it was not looking good for the IceDogs.

Ryan Strome (NYI 2011 1st) would help get the comeback started when Strome would take a feed from Carter Verhaeghe and then find a wide open Brett Ritchie who scored to make it a 3-2 game on a power play goal at 11:54. Strome would earn the game's first star also was not done but the guy who would make the key plays down the stretch was Graham.

With under 5 minutes to go; Graham would keep the puck in the offensive zone then as the puck was cycled back to him; Graham would fire the puck towards the net where Strome would deflect it in to tie the game at 3-3. It was Strome's 33rd goal of the season but if not for Graham who gets the primary assist then this play doesn't happen.

Strome and Graham helped Niagara tie the game and the game wound up first in overtime then a shootout. Mississauga would shoot first and they scored on their 1st attempt but Strome shooting first would miss on his attempt.

Both teams would miss on their 2nd attempt and Mississauga would miss on their 3rd attempt leaving Niagara needing to score to extend the shootout. It would be Graham once again making the big play as he made his shootout attempt to give Niagara another life where they would cash it in as Mississauga would miss on their 4th attempt while Niagara didn't and capped the comeback for the win.

Strome was 1-1-2 on the night and as already mentioned the 1st star as he extended his scoring streak to 12 games (5-15-20) and overall to 33-59-92 (5th in the OHL). Graham on the other hand made the big plays down the stretch that gave Niagara their chance to win the game.

Graham had the 2 assists to continue his strong play down the stretch to improve to 4-32-36. Not bad for a player who was just 2-13-15 on December 31st. Now Niagara with 4 games left has a shot at moving as high as 4th but that is a long shot.

The IceDogs have 2 games with the Barrie Colts along with 1 each against the 2 teams they are chasing in the standings; Brampton (2 games in hand) and Sudbury. They trail both Brampton and Sudbury by 3 points but with 30 wins have that in their favor.

Speaking of the Barrie Colts, they were in action against the Sudbury Wolves looking to clinch the OHL's Central Division championship but remain in the hunt for the Eastern Conference championship as well. Unlike the IceDogs, the Colts had a much easier time against the Wolves jumping out on 3 first period goals on their way to a 5-1 win which was their 4th straight win.

Mitchell Theoret (NYI 2011 7th) scored his 25th goal of the season as he scored a shorthanded goal at 14:19 of the 1st period to give Barrie their 3-0 lead. For Theoret it was his 1st shorthanded goal of the season as he improved to 25-31-56 on the season.

While Barrie clinched the Central Division title, they trail the Belleville Bulls by 1 point in the hunt for the OHL's Eastern Conference Championship. Belleville holds a game in hand on the Colts but the 2 teams will meet on Saturday in Barrie.

Then there are Peter Ceresnak (NYR 2011 6th) and his Peterborough Petes who at one time were 16 points out of the 8th playoff spot in the OHL's Eastern Conference. After Thursday evening's 4-1 win over the Kingston Frontenacs; the Petes are just 2 points behind the Frontenacs for that playoff spot.

Ceresnak didn't score in the win but what is standing out for him has been the plus/minus. Ceresnak who was a -20 on January 31st has cut that down to a -12 having been a +8 over the last 12 games.

The Petes though despite the win have played 2 more games than Kingston so they need some help as the 2 teams will face each other 1 more time. Give Ceresnak some credit for working his way back into the Pete rotation.

Is it enough to earn a look by the Rangers once the Pete's season is over? Most likely not but when it comes to the Rangers never say never.

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