Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday Brice Goal Rush Review

Through participating or reviewing the chat log from the weekend or reading my recaps I'd imagine everybody is aware that I think the Seawolves weekend was marred by ineffective backchecking and not enough shot blocking.  Here's the thing that occurs to me that I didn't mention; balancing the attack with defending is not a simple thing.  
If forwards spend all their time defending then they aren't going to create many scoring chances.  Fewer scoring chances means fewer goals and well ... that obviously leads to fewer victories.  On the flip side, if forwards focus too much on scoring then the backend is left to two defensemen and the goalie.  Not a good thing either.  

I have to think that there are two ways to improve the backchecking.  The first is simply to encourage and/or demand that forwards be quicker off the mark to get into defensive positions.  They cannot wait until the other team begins a transition rather they must learn to anticipate it and respond quickly.  Sometimes it's just a step that is the difference.  

Secondly, the staff has to ensure that the systems they have in place are conducive to an efficient backchecking effort.  I somewhat harped in the offseason that the Seawolves should be neutral/high zone trapping whenever possible.  I really haven't focused too much to analyze the defensive scheme though.  In any case, whether it's a trapping scheme or something else that is needed, I sure hope they do it this coming weekend.  Like I said before, they're going up against a pretty talented group of forwards that can bury the puck when they get chances this coming weekend.  The best way to counter that is to limit their chances.

Starting at the back end I thought the play of both Rob Gunderson and Chris Kamal was solid over the weekend.  Both guys got somewhat "lit up" but in both games the responsibility for those goals was solidly on the defensive effort from what I saw.  Blame either or both for perhaps one soft goal but no more than that.

I like Gunderson's athletic ability and quickness.  I like Kamal's stick handling skills.  I believe they'll both settle in well and find their grooves.  There is nothing in their play though to indicate that one or the other will become the #1 anytime soon.  Each of them needs to grow into the position a little bit.  It's important in the WCHA to challenge shooters by stepping out a bit and cutting off angles.  The biggest thing that allows a goaltender to do that is confidence.  I think that only comes with time and success.  Which is another reason I'd like to see more effective backchecking.  The team's play in front of the goaltender is a key to help them build the confidence they need to perform against some of these future NHL'rs.

I'm pretty pleased with the blueline crew.  While there was the occasional mistake here and there and/or the odd lazy pass overall I thought the guys were pretty tight.  Now one by one ...

Brad Gorham has some quality skills on the blueline.  His positioning is always smart, he's got great poke check skills which tells you his hand/eye coordination is excellent.  His skating doesn't lack and his judgements are mostly good.  I sensed from his play on Friday though that he was pushing a bit to make something happen.  While that's a good thing mostly it can lead to some negative things.  I expect Brad will relax a little bit this weekend and let the play come to him.  If he does that he'll get more offensive chances which I think he really wants.

Luka Vidmar has matured nicely since last season but he is still prone to the occasional lapse in neutral ice.  I think sometimes he assumes a delicate or soft touch on the puck is going to get the job done to advance the puck but then the opponent surprises with a better effort than he anticipated.  Luka can correct these couple of turnovers a game just by being as forceful in that area of the ice as he is in his own zone.  Back in his own zone Luka has been solid.  I've liked his play along the boards so far in particular.  In the offensive zone I've always liked the way he sees and tries to find openings to get the puck to the net.  His patience will pay off in that regard I'm sure.

Scott Warner impresses me.  He is no giant and hasn't made any big marks in a physical sense but he's clearly an intelligent defensemen.  His stickhandling, vision and skating are all quality.  His first passes are solid and when he carries he can be a force to make something happen offensively.  I've only seen him play 4 times but already I'm sure he'll be an impact player for the Seawolves.  I think he's just going to get better with time.

Curtis Leinweber is a stud.  There I said it.  I didn't want to get to overly rah rah here but the guy can flat out make shit happen.  He joins the rush faster than any defensive player.  He is ultra responsible in his own end.  And even though he doesn't have great size, like Scott Warner he is playing big.  Curtis is very dynamic with the puck and particularly dangerous when he carries it up.  This past weekend he contributed offensively and did an effective job on the defensive end.  I can't help but think as the season goes on that we'll see more production than the 2 goals he has already scored.

Wes McLeod looks like a fairly confident player on the ice.  I think the old saying was "I like the cut of his jib".  Well I honestly don't know what a jib is but I like Wes'.  He has a presence on the ice that reminds me of someone like Sergei Fetisov.  He looks like a steadying force.  He can obviously skate well and always has his head up.  Looks to me that he always reads the play well and doesn't play outside himself.  As the season progresses I'd hope to see him work his way onto the power play.  I think he's got a heavy shot and so learning to get that off first time could really be a huge benefit.

I'm positively thrilled with Quinn Sproule's play so far.  While I hoped and expect that Wes McLeod would come here and earn lots of playing time, I just didn't know about Quinn.  But he's delighted and surprised me with his both his skills and maturity.  Quinn is quick as can be jumping into the rush and so far this season he's made an impact going forward helping to create scoring chances in each and every game.  He saw regualr power play shifts this past weekend and I think he performed well.  How can he do anything other than get better over time.  I haven't focused on his game on the defensive end.

I was glad to see Andrew Pickering get his feet a little wet this weekend.  He didn't get many shifts at all on defense and I honestly didn't notice him too much but at lest he got a little taste even if it wasn't at forward.  Hopefully for him that translates to working hard in practice and earning more opportunities to play.  He'll get them no doubt as Coach Shyiak has a history here of giving young players a fair shake.

Now onto the forwards (in no particular order) ...

Tommy Grant didn't have his best weekend ever.  He's really strong on transition as we saw on the break where he assisted on Nick Haddad's goal.  He's quite quick for his size and I guess that's the benefit of having long legs.  But to be honest, I thought he was one of the forwards that was less than effective in his own end during 5 on 5 play.  Don't get me wrong.  I think he's an excellent penalty killer.  But maybe he needs to find that balance between being a guy that the team looks to for scoring and a guy that does the defensive work in his own zone.  A game or two doesn't define a player though so I'm sure Tommy will come back strong.

Sean Wiles missed the 2nd and 3rd period Saturday night with what was described as some sort of shoulder injury.  He's obviously been a dangerous scoring threat in the first 3 1/3 games so losing him for any time will be a bad thing.  I haven't inquired nor has the school made any sort of announcement with regard to the extent of his injury so for now it's a wait and see situation.  We'll know by gametime Friday I guess.

I'm pleased so far this season with Mitch Bruijsten's production.  He's looked more dangerous around the net and in helping to create scoring chances so it's nice to see that he's developed in that regard.  He can definitely bang in the corners and his size gives him a nice advantage.  I've been watching closely to see if his first step is improved from last year and so far I'll say that I think it has.  His strength as a player is mostly visible in the offensive end.  He'll need to continue to work hard on the defensive side of the puck as the season goes along but so far so good.

Matt Bailey seems to be pretty much exactly what I hoped he'd be.  He's got excellent speed, great sense and can finish.  Again, I don't have a lot to say about the defensive side of his game after just four outings.  He does have the highest +/- rating on the team though.  So there's that.  I really liked how johnny on the spot he was in the attacking end this past weekend.  I noticed him stripping pucks and winning battles along the boards more than a few times.  He's smart and I don't think it will be long before we should stop referring to him as a rookie.  I don't want to jinx the guy but I really believe he can reach double digits in goals this season.

Brett Cameron is another player that will lose the rookie moniker before long.  Again this weekend I saw him get shots away that came as a complete surprise.  That sort of good release is all about talent and not teaching.  I liked his tenacity this weekend.  I expect more good things to come as the season progresses.

Jordan Kwas has turned out to be a great late find.  I'm completely impressed with him.  Good on the coaches for offering him in June or July or whatever it was.  I'm going to use a comparison that some may not like as it's a bit early but it's crossed my mind more than a couple of times that he looks a bit like Dean Larson out there.  I doubt that in this day and age Jordan will come close to the 200 points that Lars put up during his career but maybe just maybe over four years he'll put up Kevin Clark type numbers?  Maybe that's a big expectation but Jordan does have many of the same types of skills.  He's a great puck handler at speed and really has a nose for playmaking.

Craig Parkinson has looked great so far this season.  For some reason the junior year seems to be tough on certain players and I think Craig struggled a bit last season.  But whatever it was, he's shaken it off and looks to start becoming more of a scoring threat again.  He is so important to the team during crucial faceoffs and while that is an important asset the team will benefit from his improved production.  

Nick Haddad had a really solid weekend playing in his hometown.  I really thought Tommy Grant would take the shot on the breakaway with Nick but was thrilled to see Grant put it back on Nick's stick for the goal.  He continues to be an important and effective penalty killer who seems to always get at least one opportunity a game to be that guy that owns the puck deep in the other teams end during a kill.  Hats off for that.  Nick is a pretty responsible player in 5 on 5 play in his own zone but I believe he can be better in that role in the same vain as I referenced that in Grant's case.

This weekend someone in the chat room (i'm sorry I don't remember who) called Jade Portwood a work horse.  It's a very apt description.  Jade does a little bit of everything and he does it all at a pretty high level.  He isn't a dynamic playmaker but instead can help a scoring opportunity develop with his hard charging and grinding play.  If there is a more consistent player on the Seawolves team his name escapes me.  Like Nick Haddad, Jade is an important penalty killer.  His experience gives him a leg up on others in that role.  He doesn't stop moving his feet which is a great example for other players to follow.

Alex Gellert has had a decent opening four games and has contributed to scoring chances but so far hasn't gotten on the board with any goals.  He will.  He's been strong on both ends of the ice and doing relatively well taking draws.  As a veteran now the team needs Alex to do lots of things well which includes being responsible in the defensive end.  I've got no specific bones to pick with Alex's play thus far other than to hope that along with the rest of the veteran players he always remembers how important backchecking is to the team's chances for success.

In Mark Pustin's 3 appearances this season I see lots of good potential for another quality playmaker to develop over time.  So far this season I don't think Mark has been matched up on a line with the types of players that would benefit from his natural style and it seems that he's been filling a role that isn't necessarily suited to his strengths.  He's a quick skater with good hands that sees the ice well.  As time goes along I think we'll see him develop and when he finds chemistry with a goal scoring type of forward he should blossom.  Patience in reaching that time will be important for Mark.  I suspect he'll be rotated in and out of the lineup somewhat regularly.

Daniel Naslund has some pretty sweet hands.  His size and strength are big assets along the boards and perhaps even moreso in front of the net.  But the quickness with which play changes in this league continues to be an issue for Daniel.  His first steps just aren't that strong.  In order to stay in the lineup, I think Daniel is going to have to either find some way to offset that deficiency or suddenly find the jump necessary to become more competitive in a skating sense.  At this point in his career here he can sometimes be a liability when the opponent transitions.  On the flip side I think he could really be a valuable asset on the power play.  When he gets the puck on his stick he is a potentially dangerous player.

Tyler Currier has seen action in just two games this season (one night each weekend).  I really like the energy he brings to the ice and think that he boosts the enthusiasm and level of effort we see from the shift that comes after he's been on the ice.  Tyler isn't shy about hitting anyone and makes his presence known to the opposition goalie.  If the Seawolves had a true "energy" line then Tyler would skate every night because he fits that description.

A guy that also would be a go for a true "energy" line on the Seawolves is Chris Crowell.  He's probably the best hitting forward on the squad even though he made just his first appearance this weekend.  I'm totally guessing that his maturity is a big asset in practice and in the locker room but I do so based on his junior career and what he's done on the ice last year.  I'm betting that he's hugely patient and will make the most of every chance he gets to play.

We haven't seen two players so far this season.  Mickey Spencer has been out with a high ankle sprain that hopefully is well on it's way to being healed.  I just learned this weekend that Justin Kirchevel is also injured but I have no word on the nature of that.  It's important to remember that NCAA's schools protect players privacy with regard to injury since U.S. law dictates that health information is private.  So there's nothing a blogger can really do to press that issue and I won't.  I'm happy to receive information about injuries but I won't press anyone for such info.

So that's my early early evaluation (for whatever it's worth) of the individual players so far this season.  I think there's lots of promise for more success than perhaps many of us have anticipated.  We'll see.  That's why they play the games right?

One final note; there'll be no TV coverage of this weekend's games since Duluth is such a small market and apparently nobody there really cares if their team is on TV.  The ONLY option for viewing will be B2 (um .. America One).  So if you want to see the games, it'll be on you to pony up the seven bucks and take what you get.  One word of warning.  The last time I watched B2 games from Duluth there were all too often (once a game is too often for me) fan's heads in front of the cameras.

At minimum I'll be back no later than Thursday with a stunningly accurate and most excellent preview of UMD.

1 comment:

A Seawolves Fanatic said...

D I mentioned Portwood was a work-horse! Kwas defintely has the ability to reach triple digits in points. I really the like the upside this class has. Bailey, Cameron, McElod, Kwas, and Pustin have the opportunity to fill the shoes of Crowder, Lunden, Clark, and Backstrom.

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