Saturday, May 4, 2013

A view from the top

Michael St. Croix, Griffin Reinhart (Edmonton Oil Kings)
I kind of owe Graham Kendricks the Director of Media and Public Relations a bigger thank you than I realize as I got to sit upstairs in the auxiliary press box for game 1 of the WHL Finals between the Portland Winterhawks and the Edmonton Oil Kings. The auxiliary press box for the Rose Garden is located at top of the arena but it has been so long since I had sat up there that I had forgotten why I liked sitting up there.

Sitting up in the rafters allows you to see the game unfold a bit slower than normal. You can see more of the ice so you can see what players (or in this case Michael St. Croix) do when they don't have the puck but more on St. Croix in a bit.

Game 1 went to the Edmonton Oil Kings 4-1 but before the Oil King fans start lighting their victory cigars, they might want to realize that this was more of Portland giving away a game than it was what Edmonton did to earn the win. This is not saying Portland played badly but rather Portland played too focused and it cost them this game.

This might sound strange but Portland dominated this game until they scored their first goal at the 3 minute mark of the 3rd period. They had the edge in play at both ends of the ice but despite all the advantages, Portland shot itself in the foot repeatedly.

In the first period Portland did everything right except put the puck behind Edmonton goalie Laurent Brossoit. Call this the bad part of having a week off to rest and practice as Portland tried to play way too perfectly whether it was on their shots or finishing their checks.

Portland came out firing at Brossoit recording 8-9 shots on him before Edmonton even had a chance to attack the Portland defensive zone. But when Edmonton did attack, their first shot on Portland's Mac Carruth was saved but the rebound came right to Dylan Wruck who backhanded it over Carruth's shoulder just 2:03 into the game.

Portland would hold Edmonton to 4 more shots in the period but while Portland was getting 16 shots off, they weren't getting any traffic in front of Brossoit. If a goalie can see the shot then he is going to make the save as it is not anything fancy just reality.

Portland was playing a solid game making sure they were responsible in their coverages and they were playing a physical game finishing their checks. The second period was the same story as Edmonton added to their lead to make it 2-0 even though they were being outplayed.

In the 3rd period Portland finally got on the scoreboard as Chase De Leo fired a shot on Brossoit that Taylor Leier deflected right between Brossoit's legs to cut the lead to 2-1 at the 3:00 mark. Pretty sure that Portland coach Travis Green is going to wonder why the Winterhawks stopped doing all the right things as on the very next shift after the goal, Edmonton got their 2 goal lead back at 3:47.

That goal finished off Portland and Edmonton added 1 more for the 4-1 final and a 1-0 series lead. Michael St. Croix was scoreless but he had chances for himself and 2 setups that IF he too was not trying to make the perfect play would have converted.

As I mentioned sitting up in the top of the arena gives you a chance to see more. St. Croix played 20 shifts with no points and just 2 shots but with Edmonton only having one power play I didn't get to see more of him there. Things to like about St. Croix when he doesn't have the puck is that he keeps his stick and body in a good position to receive a pass and take a shot.

St.Croix keeps moving his feet in the offensive zone and doesn't just stand in one spot expecting you to give him the puck there. St. Croix makes it hard for defensive players to cover him because he moves around constantly always watching where the puck is.

Yes St. Croix needs to put on more muscle and yes St. Croix is never going to win the Selke for best defensive forward but he will add to the Ranger power play mainly because he always moves. Game 2 is Saturday night in Portland and no I don't believe Edmonton is going to sweep the series.

One thing about a series like this is you never know who you will see but running into Don Maloney was a bit of a surprise until one remembers that the Coyotes missed the playoffs this year. Got a bit of a chuckle when the Winterhawks introduced some of the visitors in the audience including the fathers of 2 Winterhawks who weren't playing.

Pierre Turgeon still looks like he can lace up some skates and play. Sean Burke had this look like he didn't want to be shown (he works for the Coyotes and was sitting with Maloney).

In the QMJHL, the Halifax Moosehead won their 13th straight playoff game shutting out Samuel Noreau and his Baie-Comeau Drakkar 4-0. The Drakkar kept Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin from doing any real damage but it was the Moosehead's goalie Zachary Fucale who stole the show.

Noreau was scoreless on 2 shots and a -1 with a cross checking minor and an unsportsmanlike conduct misconduct for his night. Game 2 is Saturday night in Halifax.

In the OHL, the upset of the night came when New York Islander prospect Mitchell Theoret and his Barrie Colts defeated the London Knights 4-2 in game one of their series. The Colts found ways to keep London off balanced and stole this win from the Knights.

Theoret had a secondary assist on Barrie's 1st goal of the game for Theoret's 15th point of the playoffs (10-5-15). Game 2 in this series will be Sunday in London.

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