Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Hi, I'm A Free Agent

I don't know what it will take for the New York Islanders to convince John Tavares to stay in Brooklyn or where ever they're going to play in the future, but it has been pretty clear for a long time that he's a special player with incredible talents. From his days in junior hockey to his time in the NHL, there are moments when John Tavares simply takes over a game and shows us his phenomenal talent. Tonight, Tavares had one of those moments against the Philadelphia Flyers, and you have to feel for Sean Couturier who will live in infamy for the next few weeks as this highlight makes the rounds.

Sean Couturier always seems to be a mention when it comes to nominees for the Selke Trophy. I'm quite certain John Tavares' entire 15-second sequence will eliminate him from contention this season. Take a look.
Wow. That was impressive. Outstanding, in fact. Yes, Couturier gets his stick on the puck at the very beginning, but the next time he sees it is when Brian Elliott is fishing it out of his net. The determination in which Tavares shows in shaking off Couturier's checking was downright incredible!

John Tavares is the headline player for the 2018 free agent class as it stands. The Islanders have been unable to sign him to this point, and I have a feeling there could be as many as fifteen teams who are waiting for July 1 in the hopes of luring Tavares away from the Islanders. While the Toronto media have laid out numerous scenarios where Tavares could move home to southern Ontario, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out for the superstar.

For now, let's just marvel at how good John Tavares is. Oh, and just to rub a little salt in the wound, that Islanders goal by Bailey on the setup from Tavares? That was the game-winner.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Honesty: A New Policy

I've never really considered Ken Hitchcock to be one to throw caution to the wind. His teams play a fairly tried-and-tested defensive system, he relies upon his star players to make plays, and he seems to employ thought before speaking. In other words, Ken Hitchcock is like a lot of his NHL coaching brethren. However, it was a refreshing blast of honesty today when Ken Hitchcock spoke to Marc Antoine Godin, the managing editor and senior writer at The Athletic Montreal. As we know, teams are notoriously vague when it comes to injuries to any player, but it seems Ken Hitchcock wants none of that scene.

Godin posted the following exchange that he had with Hitchcock on Twitter today, and it surprised many.
For years, we've been told that NHL teams won't disclose injuries due to players targeting said injuries to try and keep a player from being on his game, but Hitchcock said that no player does that. In the past, there may have been a handful of guys who would specifically try to disrupt a star player from playing his game by targeting an injury, but Hitchcock is now telling us that era has sailed past.

The fact that he wants to avoid the whole "game", as he calls it, with reporters about injuries is refreshing. Having dealt with this fact at the university level, I can understand coaches not wanting to see a player re-injure him or herself or aggravate a minor injury, but the level of secrecy that hockey coaches go to in trying to keep injuries a secret is pretty ridiculous.

Most coaches won't relent when it comes to their disclosure of injuries. It's one of those things that just won't change until everyone starts doing it, but no one will ever want to be the first coach to come out and declare that his star player has an MCL sprain and will be gone six to eight weeks. It will remain as a "lower-body injury" that will keep said player out of the lineup "for a few weeks". That's just how it is, and while I appreciate Ken Hitchcock's candor and honesty, I can't see anyone else buying into this idea.

Honesty may be the best policy, but the NHL coaching fraternity will never buy into that.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 20 November 2017

How About A Little Respect?

The above screenshot is taken from this article linked from The Ice Garden, a blog that stated in its very first post that "[o]ur mission, plain and simple, is to tell the stories of all the women in hockey". While The Ice Garden has the occasional piece that stands out, I'm not really concerned with the majority of the coverage found on the blog. Hey, it's a blog, so there will be hits and misses when it comes to article quality. However, I do have a serious issue with the article linked above for one major reason.

As you may be aware, I am a staunch supporter and advocate of the Canadian university women's game. I think these student-athletes are some of the most dedicated players on the planet when it comes to upholding high GPAs to go along with being elite hockey players, so perhaps you can excuse me when I get excited about some of the news and highlights that come out of U SPORTS women's hockey. But what I will not stand for are writers who get a big stage like The Ice Garden and yet can't show these student-athletes something as basic as respect for the athlete.

Take a good, long look at the image to the left. The team in white is UBC, a team found in Canada West. They are a team that Lethbridge's Alicia Anderson would normally see four times over the course of a Canada West regular season. Again, take a good look at that image. Click on it to blow it up because I want you to really take a look at the team in the navy-and-yellow jerseys. Do you see the multiple instances of the letter "Q" on their jerseys and the goalie's mask? I'm not sure where one would find a "Q" in "Lethbridge" or "Pronghorns", but that isn't Lethbridge and that's not Alicia Anderson.

If you're clicking on the article, you will now see a picture of Alicia Anderson standing with her back towards you, but that's because the incorrect image of Stephanie Pascal was pointed out to the author of the article. Pascal and her Queen's Golden Gaels met up with UBC in the two teams' opening games of the U SPORTS National Women's Hockey Championship last season, a tournament in which Lethbridge didn't take part. So this leads me to one of three possible outcomes: the author has no clue who Alicia Anderson is, she has no clue what the Lethbridge Pronghorns look like when on the ice, or both. In all three cases, it should have been pretty obvious that the "Q" on the jerseys and Pascal's mask meant this wasn't Anderson or the Pronghorns.

Once you finally got past the fact that you weren't looking at Anderson and began reading about her, there were some striking trends that emerged that were similar to an article about the Regina Cougars that this person wrote a week ago. I called that article out in "The Final Word" of Week Six's edition of The Rundown, so let's review:
It's five paragraphs long, it mentions four players from the Cougars, it doesn't explain any reason why the Cougars are contenders aside from crediting their earning splits with Alberta, UBC, and Saskatchewan as a reason why, and the author thinks the fourth-place team only has weaker teams to play.
Oddly enough, the article posted on Saturday about Anderson has five paragraphs, doesn't explain any reason why Anderson is having the success she is, and somehow leads one to believe that Anderson is the best goaltender in Canada West despite her leading in just two categories, one of which is more reflective of the team than her. Similar to the article written about the Cougars, I have to ask at what point does the rest of the team factor into her success?

Line by line, I feel like this is the writer's first real writing gig. I have a deep appreciation for that, but the fact that she's missing major details or making serious errors in her writing should be caught by any editor with the ability to read. In any case, I was expecting some analysis in this article to explain and justify why "The University of Lethbridge Pronghorns are on pace to more than double their 2016-2017 wins and Anderson is a major part of that". According to the author, the reason for this is because Anderson stops pucks! Amazing, right? A goaltender who stops pucks - who would have thought that?
Anderson has been integral to the Pronghorns’ success this season. Relied upon to stop a large volume of shots, she always keeps her team in games. In the last series against the University of Alberta, Anderson stopped 90 of the 93 shots she saw. As a result the Pronghorns earned four of the six possible points in the series against the higher ranked Pandas. Winning games that they were expected to lose because of exceptional goaltending is the reason Lethbridge currently sits in a playoff position.
Yes, she's been integral. She's the starting netminder and the only goaltender to play for the Pronghorns this season. Thanks, Captain Obvious. And one can spew statistics about stopping 90 of 93 shots, but that didn't cause the Pronghorns to take four of six points off the Pandas.

I'm quite certain that there were some goals scored, some defence played, and, yes, Anderson made saves. Attributing the four-point weekend to one person is a little disrespectful to the other 19 women and the coaching staff of the Pronghorns who played a large part in game-planning for the Pandas. It's not like she stood back there alone and stared down the entire Pandas roster. I'm not sure who this author is speaking for when she wrote "[w]inning games that they were expected to lose", but if you had asked the Pronghorns, they didn't expect to lose. Yes, if there were odds on the game, they would have been in Alberta's favour, but that's why they play the games.
The only goaltender with 10 starts this year, Anderson is the bedrock of the Pronghorns’ team. She has started in every game and has played a Canada West leading 587 minutes of hockey. In that time Anderson has made 378 saves and allowed just 15 goals. She has almost 100 more saves than Calgary’s Kelsey Roberts and has surrendered seven fewer goals than Mount Royal’s Zoe DeBeauville has in her nine starts.
What does her starting every game mean? Do the Pronghorns not have confidence In Jessica Lohues? Is Anderson trying to set some new record? And the idea that she's started every game equates her to being "bedrock" for the team seems like a logical fallacy when you consider that the top-three scorers on the team - Tricia Van Vaerenbergh, Alli Borrow, and Katelyn Breitkreuz - have played every game as well. Do they not count for something?

The statistical comparisons that the author is making are rather nonsensical without context. Anderson has nearly one hundred more saves than Roberts, but Roberts has played two less games. Anderson averages 37.25 saves per game compared to Roberts' 35.20 saves per game. That doesn't seem so outrageous now, does it? And yes, she has surrendered less goals than the starting goalie for the last-place team in the conference, but so has everyone else. In fact, DeBeauville trails all qualified goalies by ten goals in terms of the number surrendered. Who has the next most? Manitoba's Rachel Dyck and Lethbridge's Alicia Anderson.

Perhaps the author meant to draw on the fact that Anderson sits with a goals-against average of 1.43 - good for fifth-best in the conference - while giving up just 17 goals on 447 shots in 12 games. Comparably, UBC's Tori Micklash has a 1.49 GAA, surrendering nine goals on 156 shots in her seven games of work. That comparison shows how good Anderson has been while shouldering her immense workload compared to players of the same ability. But just randomly throwing numbers out there for shock effect? It doesn't work when one can easily Google those numbers.
If that wasn’t impressive enough Anderson’s .960 save percentage leads Canada West and her 1.53 GAA is good for fourth among qualified goaltenders. Her 10 games give her the largest sample size, which suggests that this isn’t just her riding a hot streak. Anderson is simply this good in her second year of U Sports hockey.
Her save percentage is among the tops in the conference, and her goals-against average improved against Manitoba to 1.43, but fell to fifth-place. The author stated that Anderson was the best goalie, but then points out she is fifth in GAA. And her "largest sample size" comment seems to indicate that those numbers are good enough to warrant "the best goaltender" title. The only problem is that there's another goaltender who has better stats than Anderson's stats as of today.

Calgary's Kelsey Roberts recorded her third and fourth shutouts of the season over the weekend, leaving her with a 4-5-1 record in ten games, a 1.23 GAA, and a .966 save percentage. Because the sample size is so small, there are bound to be wild swings in statistics based on good weekends and bad weekends which is exactly the opposite of what the author was indicating. Roberts' two shutouts pushed her past the conference's best goaltenders in both GAA and save percentage - the two stats that determine best goalie normally - because the sample size is small. If this was later in the season, Roberts' two shutout would still count, but they wouldn't have the same effect as they did early in this season. That's the effect on small sample size versus larger sample size.

Oh, and if you're going to use the internet to compile these articles, the least you could do is get eligibility correct.
Anderson stands out from her peers not only statistically, but also in the athleticism, intelligence, and determination she displays in net. No other goaltender in the Canada West Conference is asked to do as much for her team as Anderson is. Given her workload, her consistency this season has been nothing short of exceptional.
This should have been the statement with which the author started the article. It's factual in its approach even though every other goalie is asked to stop pucks as well. From here, the author could have used Anderson's athleticism, intelligence, and determination as factors for her incredible stats, and I'd agree that her season has been pretty exceptional. Instead, we got this at the end when most people probably had already closed the article because there was really nothing to keep you on the page other than a few numbers and sensationalistic phrases.

I appreciate people wanting to hone their craft, but the lack of respect in posting the wrong image that didn't feature the athlete in question, the lack of respect shown towards Anderson's teammates and coaches in helping her, the nonsensical statistics, and the overall poor quality of the article in general should be reviewed. These women deserve much, much better than what was shown on The Ice Garden, and I hope this examination is read by the editors and writers there because Alicia Anderson's story needs to be told better. After all, your "mission, plain and simple, is to tell the stories of all the women in hockey". You failed to do that here.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Rundown - Week 7

With a new team in first-place that isn't nationally-ranked in the Top-Ten and three teams following that team who are ranked, I'm beginning to think there's something a little suspect with the Canada West standings. Indeed, there seems to be a significant issue when it comes to the real standings versus how HockeyTech's Canada West page displays them. I'll talk a little bit about this below, but the standings reflect regulation wins which are being recorded incorrectly on the site. In any case, there was some significant movement in the standings this weekend once again, so let's take a look at what happened in Canada West women's hockey on The Rundown!

CALGARY at REGINA: The Cougars, coming off a one-goal weekend against Manitoba, played host to a team that appears to be turning the corner in the Calgary Dinos. Regina had taken four of six points off Mount Royal - the other Cougars - a weekend before, so this series had the potential to see Calgary catch Regina in the standings if the Dinos continued to win the weekend in total points. In knowing this, Regina came out guns a-blazing as they threw 14 shots at Kelsey Roberts in the Dinos' net, but couldn't find a seam on the goaltender as she came up clutch on a few chances. At the other end, Jane Kish had a much quieter opening frame with just four saves, and the two teams carried the scoreless draw into the first intermission.

The second period saw Calgary respond much better as Kish and the Cougars' defence was far busier. She made a couple of saves to keep the Dinos off the board. 200-fet away, Roberts was also equal to the task as she denied all of the Regina opportunities, and got a little help from her defence as well. All told, Calgary outshot Regina 8-7 in the middle frame, but we were still stuck on a stalemate through forty minutes.

It would take a Jordan Kulbida penalty in the third period to break the deadlock. As she sat for roughing, the Dinos went to work. Laine Grace's point shot was deflected by Sage Desjardins in front of Kish, but the netminder got enough of the puck to keep the redirection from getting behind her. However, the rebound fell to the stick of Rachel Paul who buried her second goal of the season past Kish at 7:14 to put Calgary up 1-0! That would be all the support Roberts needed on this night as she and the Calgary defence withstood some late pressure during a six-on-four power-play as Regina was denied again and again. When the final horn sounded, the Dinos skated away with the 1-0 victory! Roberts stopped all 35 shots she faced for her third win and league-leading third shutout while Kish suffered the loss in a 17-save effort.

CALGARY at REGINA: One goal in three games. Regina's scoring drought continued as they had dropped the last three games, so they needed to find the back of the net desperately to remain relevant in Canada West. Calgary, with points in all three games of their last games, sat four points back of Regina in the standings and was looking to continue the upward ascent in trying to overtake the Cougars. Saturday's game started the same way as Friday's game with Regina flying early on as they peppered Kelsey Roberts with shots from every angle, but the Dinos netminder was outstanding in the first period in denying all Cougars chances. Jane Kish could have set up a chair in her crease, but she was called upon once in the opening period. Through twenty minutes, Regina led 13-1 in shots, but we went to the second period in a scoreless draw.

The second period saw our first goal. Just as a Jordan Kulbida penalty expired, Delaney Frey wristed a shot at the net that eluded the traffic in front and got by a screened Kish at 6:35 to put the Dinos up 1-0! The Dinos used a couple of early power-play chances to get ahead in shots, but Regina began chipping away. There was a scary moment in the second period when Calgary's Georgina Williams buried a Cougar from behind along the boards, and her night was cut short as she was shown the gate for that indiscretion. Even with the power-play, the Cougars still could not solve Roberts as the Dinos led 1-0 on the scoreboard despite trailing 18-7 in shots through forty minutes.

If one had thought Roberts had seen it all in the previous five periods of work, Regina had other things on their minds. The Cougars came out of the tunnel and gunned another 18 shots at Roberts! They still could not find room past Roberts, and things got even crazier with Jane Kish on the bench for the final 2:59 of the game. Deflections, redirected shots, screened shots, and good looks would all be turned away while Regina had the extra skater on the ice. When the final horn sounded in this one, the Dinos somehow managed a second-straight 1-0 win over the Cougars! Roberts was outstanding in stopping 36 shots for her fourth win and fourth shutout while Kish takes another loss despite only making seven saves on this night.

LETHBRIDGE at MANITOBA: Lethbridge's Alicia Anderson came into this game leading Canada West in saves and save percentage, and there was hope we might see her square off against Canada West's best statistical goalie in Lauren Taraschuk. Unfortunately, Taraschuk was out this weekend with a minor injury, so Rachel Dyck grabbed the reins and was set to do battle with Anderson. Dyck, who struggled early on this season, had begun to round into form recently, so we might yet get a goalie battle in this series!

The first period on Friday was all Manitoba as they tested the conference's busiest goalie time and again. Opportunities were had by the Bisons throughout the period, including a couple of odd-player rushes, but Anderson turned aside all shots she saw in the opening frame. To her credit, Rachel Dyck did the same thing, but she was far less busy as the Bisons outshot the Pronghorns by a 20-3 margin.

The second period seemed to be more of a "how do we solve Anderson" period for the Bisons as they spent more time moving the puck in the offensive zone and less time shooting it at Anderson, but the results remained the same for the fourth-ranked Bisons. Dyck may have had the bst seat in the house for this period as she faced one long shot that she stopped, and the two teams went into the second intermission in a scoreless tie with Manitoba outshooting Lethbridge 26-4.

Both teams had a renewed sense of purpose in the third period. Manitoba had a number of great chances that Anderson turned aside while a late penalty to Manitoba's Alexandra Anderson gave Lethbridge several good lucks that Rachel Dyck turned aside. Alicia Anderson may have made the best save of the night in turning Allison Sexton away on a partial breakaway in which she showed off some incredible lateral movement to blocker away the shot after Sexton deked forehand-backhand. With no goals in the third period, we were due for some free hockey as Manitoba held the edge in shots 33-11.

The four-on-four period saw a few shots taken as both teams looked to try and set up a game-winning goal, but neither side would find the back of the net. The three-on-three period saw some incredible skating as the teams went up and down the ice, but we'd find no goals there either. Having outshot Lethbridge 39-15, Manitoba would shoot first in the shootout. Allison Sexton would be stopped while Lethbridge's Delaney Duchek found Rachel Dyck's pad. Jordy Zacharias, Manitoba's hottest shooter as of late, was up next.

Alli Borrow would be stopped by Dyck, Alanna Sharman's chance to win the game was denied by Anderson, and that set up Brett Campbell who needed a goal to keep this going.

The Manitoba Bisons prevailed in a wildly entertaining game! Dyck records the win while earning a 15-save shutout while Anderson takes the shootout loss despite pitching a 39-save shutout.

LETHBRIDGE at MANITOBA: Fourteen-and-a-half hours later, the puck dropped on Game Two of the weekend series between Lethbridge and Manitoba. Alicia Anderson would earn her twelfth-consecutive start while Rachel Dyck took to the blue paint 200-feet away. And just like Friday, the Bisons were all over the Pronghorns early. One thing that really benefits Anderson from what was seen is the collapsing defence that Lethbridge plays. There were a lot of blocked shots or redirected shots that took a lot of the bite off the Manitoba shots, allowing Anderson to make easier saves than perhaps shows on the stats sheet. Regardless of this fact, we'd actually see a goal scored in the first period!

Despite having a serious deficit in shots, the Pronghorns would get on the board late in the first period. Katelyn Breitkreuz skated the puck out of her zone on the right side and flipped a high crossing pass that saw Tracia Van Vaerenbergh corral the puck in full stride on the left side just inside the Bisons blue line on a partial breakaway. She cut in on Dyck and wired a beautiful shot high on the glove side just inside the far post on Dyck, and the Pronghorns jumped ahead 1-0 at 18:09 with the weekend's first goal in regulation time! Despite being outshot 11-2 in the period, Lethbridge's second shot was the only one that counted through the first twenty minutes!

Throughout the radio broadcast on the weekend, we had mentioned repeatedly that to be Anderson the Bisons would need to move the puck quickly and effectively so she couldn't get set in her crease when a shot finally was taken. The Bisons would finally figure this out in the second period after four-and-a-half periods of having Anderson stonewall them.

With Krya Greig in the penalty box, the Bisons set up the power-play in the Pronghorns zone, and moved the puck effectively from the right to left, shifting the passive box and keeping Anderson moving. Jordy Zacharias passed the puck to Alex Anderson at the top of the umbrella who turned and found Alanna Sharman on the right side. As the box moved, though, Zacharias snuck into the slot into the middle of the box where Sharman fired a hard pass to her. Zacharias redirected the puck high over Anderson's left shoulder before she could set, and the Bisons finally broke through Alicia Anderson's goaltending at 6:32 to make it 1-1!

This seemed to spark the Bisons as they actually trailed in shots in this period before the power-play, but neither Rachel Dyck nor Alicia Anderson would allow a puck to get by them in the remaining 13 minutes, and these two teams would go into the second intermission tied at 1-1 with the Bisons leading 19-7 in shots.

Would we see more free hockey in this one? It seemed that way as Alicia Anderson made a number of key saves in the third period, stopping Alanna Sharman on two occasions when it seemed like she had done enough to score. Instead, it would be Sharman who setup the game-winning goal late in the third period. With three Pronghorns defending against Sharman and Courtlyn Oswald, this opened up the slot area for Zacharias once more.

Zacharias' goal with 4:10 remaining put the Bisons up 2-1. From that point on, the Pronghorns went with six attackers as they looked to push this game into extra time. Dyck made a couple of great saves late in the game, and the Bisons did some excellent work getting the puck down the ice into the Pronghorns end while holding control to run out the clock as the Bisons prevailed 2-1! Dyck earned the win with 11 saves while Anderson stopped 28 shots in the loss.

I'll have more about Anderson in "The Final Word" down below, but make no mistake in that I believe she should be in the conversation for U SPORTS Player of the Year.

UBC at MOUNT ROYAL: Mount Royal needed some points, but their challenge on this weekend would be formidable as UBC visited. UBC looked like the better team early on in this game as they controlled the puck for the majority of the first ten minutes until they finally solved Zoe DeBeauville. Cassandra Vilgrain found just enough room inside the post on a wraparound attempt to squeeze the puck by DeBeauville, and the Thunderbirds went up 1-0 at 10:46. The dominance by the T-Birds continued as DeBeauville robbed Kathleen Cahoon moments later, but, despite the dominance of the UBC, they would get no more past DeBeauville in the first period as they went to the dressing room leading 1-0 on the scoreboard and 7-3 in shots.

Things seemed to change between periods as whatever was said by head coach Scott Rivett seemed to fire the Cougars up. They were unable to convert an early five-on-three advantage, though, and this fired up the T-Birds again. The Thunderbirds would force a turnover midway through the period as Cahoon stripped a Cougar of the puck and fed Hannah Clayton-Carroll with a beautiful pass that allowed Clayton-Carroll to walk in on DeBeauville all alone. Clayton-Carroll went bar-down on the glove side of DeBeauville, and UBC led 2-0 at the 9:11 mark. Mount Royal would continue to push, leading the period in shots by a 10-8 count, but it would be UBC who would go into the intermission up 2-0.

The Cougars would finally break through against UBC's Amelia Boughn early in the third period. Megan Carver skated into the UBC zone on a two-on-one with Kennedy Bozek, and she decided to keep and shoot. Her initial shot was stopped, but Bozek followed up on the rebound and chipped the puck past Boughn at 1:47 to make it a 2-1 game. Minutes later, the Cougars would find themselves on another extended five-on-three advantage, but Amelia Boughn stood on her head to keep the pouncing Cougars from finding the equalizer. Neither team would find the back of the net through the remaining time as both netminders were extraordinary, but UBC would take this game 2-1 when the final horn sounded. Boughn stopped 21 shots in the victory while DeBeauville made 22 stops in the loss.

UBC at MOUNT ROYAL: The Cougars fell short on Friday, but looked to carry over some of the momentum they had built with a strong third period. Things started well with Mount Royal buzzing around Tory Micklash and the UBC net, but the netminder held them off the scoresheet. UBC would respond with a flurry of activity of their own, and they would capitalize six minutes into the frame. Cassandra Vilgrain fanned on a shot towards Zoe DeBeauville, but she got enough of the puck to push it to an area where Mathea Fischer could corral it, and she fired the puck home to put UBC up 1-0 at 6:03.

The goal seemed to deflate the Cougars as UBC mounted more offence, and their next goal was a beauty. Off a face-off, Logan Boyd pulled the puck back to Madison Patrick who used a head fake to evade a couple of Cougars to open some space for herself. Patrick spotted Hannah Clayton-Carroll cutting to the net down the middle, and her pass was redirected by Clayton-Carroll past DeBeauville at 13:33 to put UBC up 2-0. The period would close with that score and UBC leading in shots by a 10-8 count.

Things got a little aggressive in the second period as UBC took two early penalties, but the Cougars couldn't solve Micklash. UBC's offence came alive again after they killed off the penalties, and they peppered DeBeauville with more shots. They would find a late goal just after a Mount Royal penalty expired as the UBC power-play moved the puck well before firing a shot on DeBeauville. Hannah Clayton-Carroll jammed away at the puck, and it somehow got through DeBeauville for UBC's third goal of the night at 18:14. After forty minutes, UBC led 3-0 and 25-16 in shots.

Sensing that time might be their enemy, Mount Royal came out with renewed enthusiasm in the final period as they found ways to get the puck through to Micklash. The only problem was that Micklash continued to turn those attempts aside. UBC seemed content to sit back and protect the lead while mounting offence where necessary to relieve the pressure that Mount Royal applied. The Cougars were finally able to solve Micklash late when Shawni Rodeback's low shot somehow found its way through a maze of legs and past Micklash at 15:49, but it was too little and too late for the comeback as UBC took the second game by a 3-1 score. Micklash picked up the win in a 22-save performance while DeBeauville suffered the loss despite making 25 saves.

SASKATCHEWAN at ALBERTA: In this weekend's heavyweight tilt, the first-place Huskies traveled to Edmonton to play the first-ranked U SPORTS team in the Alberta Pandas. It's always a tough place to play when one enters Clare Drake Arena, and the Huskies found out first-hand as the Pandas controlled most of the play within the first period. If not for the solid netminding of Jessica Vance, the Pandas could have had two or three goals early on in this one. After a scoreless first period in which Alberta led in shots by a 9-4 margin, the two teams headed to the intermission buoyed by solid goaltending.

The Pandas continued to pour the pressure on and they would finally be rewarded midway through the period when Cayle Dillon finally find a seam to get one through on Jessica Vance.

Dillon's slap shot from the point somehow found room between Vance's wickets at 11:22, and the Pandas had the 1-0 lead. Again, Vance was busy in this period as Alberta outshot Saskatchewan 11-2, and they led 1-0 after two periods of play while holding a 20-6 advantage in shots.

Saskatchewan must have had the riot act read to them between periods because they looked like a different squad in the third period, but it would be the Pandas using some good passing who doubled their lead early in this frame. Deanna Morin fed twin sister Ashley Morin on the doorstep with an outstanding feed, and Ashley wired a puck inside the far post on Vance at the 4:00 mark to make it 2-0 Alberta. Saskatchewan, though, kept coming at the Pandas, and they would cut the lead to one goal just 29 seconds after the Pandas scored. Danielle Nogier's point shot was kicked aside by Kirsten Chamberlin, but the rebound came to rest on Kori Herner's stick in the slot and she buried the puck behind Chamberlin to make it a 2-1 game.

Alberta would ice the game with just over five minutes to play when Autumn MacDougall showed off some great hands in tight on Vance.

MacDougall's insurance marker at 14:58 would be all the offence that the Pandas needed on this night as they took this game 3-1. Chamberlin was solid in her 16-save win while Vance stopped 23 shots in the loss.

SASKATCHEWAN at ALBERTA: Saskatchewan woke up Saturday morning to find themselves in second-place in Canada West after dropping Friday night's affair. To make matters worse, both Alberta and UBC sat one point back of the Huskies, so this game had a lot riding on it for both teams. Saskatchewan showed early on in this one that they had a different result on their minds on this day, but Kirsten Chamberlin looked sharp as she turned the Huskies away. Midway through the period, the home side would find some breathing room. Autumn MacDougall was in the right place to get a stick on Abby Benning's wrist shot, and her redirection went up and under Jessica Vance's blocker to put the Pandas up 1-0 at 9:31. Despite the setback, the Huskies continued to pressure the Pandas, but they could not find a way to beat Chamberlin in the opening frame. After one period, the Pandas led 1-0 despite being outshot 7-6.

Again, the Huskies came out of the tunnel ready to play, and they would be rewarded for their efforts. Just 21 seconds into the frame, Emily Upgang's wrist shot eluded the blocker of Chamberlin, and the Huskies found themselves on even ground at 1-1. It appeared the Pandas took the lead back moments later, but officials ruled that Amy Boucher had interfered with Jessica Vance on a Kennedy Ganser shot that found the back of the net, and that goal was waved off to keep the game at 1-1. The Huskies really asserted themselves in the second period, finding all sorts of ways to get the puck on net, but Chamberlin was solid in her play as she thwarted wave after wave of Huskies attacks. This would provide the necessary means for the Pandas to respond, and they would as Deanna Morin cut to the net hard and beat Vance on a nice deke.

Morin's goal at 13:06 would put the Pandas up 2-1. Chamberlin would be forced to make a couple of nice saves towards the end of the period, but the Pandas would carry that one-goal lead into the second intermission.

Saskatchewan continued their intense play in the third period as they pressed for an equalizer. Kaitlin Willoughby, Kennedy Harris, and Emily Upgang all had chances, and all were denied by Chamberlin. Much like they did last year, Alberta used that strong goaltending to go the opposite direction and score goals. On a gorgeous three-way passing play, Amy Boucher fed Kennedy Ganser behind the Saskatchewan net who spotted Hannah Olenyk out front and went tape-to-tape. Olenyk snapped a shot past Vance before she could get set, and the Pandas claimed a 3-1 lead at 11:09. From there, Chamberlin stole the show as the freshman netminder withstood the furious attack from the Huskies that included 2:34 with the extra attacker. At the final horn, the Pandas claimed the weekend sweep with their second-straight 3-1 win over the Huskies. Chamberlin was outstanding as she stopped 32 shots for the win while Vance was on the losing end of a 16-save performance.

School Record Points GF GA Streak Next
26 29 22
24 29 19
British Columbia
24 26 18
vs ALB
22 23 19
vs MRU
15 22 27
14 10 15
vs MAN
12 14 17
vs REG
Mount Royal
7 15 31

The Final Word

There's been a lot of talk around my Twitter account about just how good Alicia Anderson has been for the Pronghorns. Little did I realize that there is so much more to how the Pronghorns play this game that perhaps too much credit has been given to Anderson. That's not to say that she hasn't earned the kudos she's received - quite the contrary, in fact. But in watching this Pronghorns team for two straight games give everything they had to the Bisons, this is a team that does a lot of little things right in taking care of their defensive zone.

The first thing that I noticed is that the Pronghorns play a collapsing passive box and one in that the puck carrier of the opposing team is pressured by one of the forwards while the others drop into a box formation around the slot area. Basically, the Pronghorns take away the most dangerous area of the ice and then try to force turnovers or bad passes by making the puck carrier hurry the play. It's an effective strategy as they keep teams, specifically lethal shooters, to the outside, and this makes Anderson's job easy as she often sees shots from the perimeter as opposed to scoring areas. Stopping shots from the outside makes a goalie's night a lot easier.

If a player does find a seam to get inside the box by either beating the pressuring forward or by sneaking in from the weak side of the box, the players collapse around the front of the net to prevent rebounds from becoming an issue. Too many times this weekend did we see Bisons players head to the net while looking for a rebound only to run into a wall of blue-and-yellow jerseys as Anderson was able to smother any and all rebounds with little trouble. The defence in front of her does a good job in tying up sticks so second chances are few and far between, and this allows Anderson to eliminate rebounds quickly and effectively before any opposing players can get to them. In other words, there aren't a lot of opportunities to bang home a rebound in front of the Lethbridge net thanks to the defence and goaltender.

Beyond that, let's give credit to Anderson for a few reasons. First, she tracks the puck better than any goaltender in Canada West that I've seen to this point. Even while screened, she seems to instinctively know where the puck is at all times, and this is a big reason why she's leading the conference in save percentage. While she may get bumped by players standing on her doorstep, she doesn't get flustered either. Instead, she continues to fight through the screens and tracks the puck extremely well regardless of where it is on the ice. This leads her to being caught out of position less, being able to square to shooters more, and gives her more time to set up for shots and passes. Honestly, her concentration levels are through the roof when it comes to finding the puck on the ice, and that's a large reason why she's able to make so many first saves.

Second, she's incredibly flexible and agile. This is the case for most goalies, but where she shows this off is in the lower half of the net. Whenever Anderson is down, there is nothing that gets past her along the ice. Her pads are parallel to the ice, the paddle of her goal stick takes away the five-hole, and she's tall enough to reach both posts. Adding into this is her incredible lateral movement which might be the best in the conference and maybe in the nation. Anderson covers more ground side to side than most other goalies, and she does it all while being fundamentally sound in her posture and movements. Rarely does she leave the five-hole open when moving side to side, and her blocker and glove are lightning-fast. If I was making an instructional video on goaltender movement, I'd tab Anderson as the star because she's incredibly gifted and efficient in her movements.

It's easy to look at Lethbridge's record and dismiss Anderson as a lone star on a team that's finding its footing in an ultra-competitive conference, but it really needs to be said how good she is and the work her team does to help their star netminder out. Anderson's statistics benefit from this help as she's able to do her job, and because of that the Pronghorns have seen great improvements in their overall standing as they currently sit just two points back of last year's total of 14 points in 28 games. With 16 games to go this season, there's no doubt that Anderson and the Pronghorns will exceed that total and push for a playoff spot in Canada West.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Unlikely Offence

The goalie to the left is Mikhail Berdin of the Sioux Falls Stampeders who play in the USHL. Berdin was a sixth-round selection at 157th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2016 NHL Draft, and the netminder from Ufa, Russia has played the last two seasons in Sioux Falls. His 14-12-3 record last season came with a 2.73 GAA and a .925 save percentage, but he's already upped his stats in his second season as Berdin sits with a 6-3-1 record, a 2.47 GAA, and a .933 save percentage. Tonight, though, he added a new statistic to his totals.

With Sioux Falls leading the Muskegon Lumberjacks 6-4 late in the third period, a puck was dumped in behind Berdin's net where the goaltender came out to play it. And then this happened.
Officially, Berdin scored his first goal at 16:36 of the third period in Sioux Falls 7-4 victory over Muskegon. It was also Berdin's first point of the season this year, and he celebrated like he just celebrated winning the Stanley Cup with the fist-pumps, the bench-long high-fives, and the wave to the crowd. Honestly, it's pretty cool to see a goalie goal, but even better to see a player enjoying himself on the ice. Well done, Mikhail!

What is perhaps the bigger story here is that Muskegon gave up five unanswered goals - including Berdin's goal - and coughed up a three-goal lead in being swept this weekend. With the losses this weekend, Muskegon finds themselves in ninth- and last-place in the USHL Eastern Conference with ten points. Sioux Falls improves to 17 points and sits in third-place in the Western Conference, but every team with the exception of the Fargo Force has games in-hand. In other words, this was a big win to try and keep pace with everyone for the Stampeders!

It's always fun to see goalies celebrating like crazy after scoring a goal. Congratulations to Mikhail Berdin on his first goal of the season in helping Sioux Falls earn the 7-4 win!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!