With the Memorial Cup in accessible London, Ontario, Hockey Prospectus has been out in force in the early going with Editor in Chief Timo Seppa taking in the first two matches and your author attending games two and three while planning to return for the final next Sunday. Hockey Prospectus wunderkind Matt Pfeffer is also in attendance although for far different and potentially far more groundbreaking reasons.
The atmosphere in London, a city of over 300,000 souls, has been electric, with hockey, both from the junior level and beyond, taking the forefront. The city has taken ownership of the tournament and their custodianship has been well earned.
As discussed in an article last week, the Guelph Storm followed the host London Knights by booking their berth to the Cup by virtue of running the table in the OHL playoffs, winning 16 postseason games against only four losses. In the days leading up to the final, the WHL berth was awarded to the Edmonton Oil Kings, who took down the favored Portland Winterhawks in a back-and-forth final round, while the QMJHL spot went to the Val d’Or Foreurs, who upset both the second and the first seeds in succession, knocking off the defending Memorial Cup champion Halifax Mooseheads in the semi-finals and then taking down the top seed Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the Q finals. Both series lasted the full seven games and the Val d’Or goaltender, Maple Leafs’ prospect Antoine Bibeau, was awarded with the playoff MVP trophy as a result of his efforts.
Game 1 – Val d’or (1) vs London (0)
*Notes from this game supplied by Timo Seppa
The hometown Knights were the superior team, a fact clearly reflected in the shot counter, as they nearly doubled that of the Foreurs, finishing with a 51-28 edge. Other shot attempts not being publically tracked, those numbers are damning taken subjectively. A more objective spectator, such as Timo, would note that the shot clock was at least mildly misleading. While London had no compunction in directing the rubber at Antoine Bibeau in the Val d’Or crease, as they generated fewer strong scoring chances than should be expected from the raw shot totals. Bibeau was very good, but a near gaffe, where he was caught staring at the action on the large overhead screen almost resulted in an embarrassing goal for London, as the netminder recovered at the last moment to block a bouncing puck that was sent in from the neutral zone. While the concentration lapse may be telling, it should also be noted that the Centre Air Creebec, the home arena of the Foreurs, now in its 65th year of existence, has no center ice screen.
The game’s only goal was scored late in the first period by Val d’Or’s amazing sniper, Anthony Mantha, a first round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2013. Not the prettiest goal, he crashed the net after coming up the right wing and pushed the puck past Flyers prospect Anthony Stolarz in the London net.
Outside of the one goal against, Stolarz was solid in net for London in this game, his first coming off a truncated eight game suspension that has kept him out since the third game of the first round of the OHL playoffs. Also of note among the many Knights who have already been drafted by NHL teams or project to be, former Phoenix first rounder Max Domi showed explosiveness in his movements both with and without the puck, suggesting an even more dynamic player than was apparent to the Phoenix braintrust when they drafted him less than 12 months ago. Another 2013 first rounder with the Knights, Michael McCarron, drafted by Montreal last year, was more notable for his impressive frame than his skills, coughing up the puck on more than one occasion and not showing sufficient speed to recover from his mistakes. Ryan Rupert, one of a pair of twin pests on the Knights and, like Bibeau, a Maple Leafs prospect, showed his typical high energy, sparkplug game, although it is still uncertain whether he will be able to overcome his small stature. Whatever happens, it certainly will not be for lack of effort. Russian blueliner Nikita Zadorov, yet another 2013 first rounder, belonging to the Buffalo Sabres, for whom he played a few games earlier this year, did not play to his A-game, displaying unsure stickhandling and a surprising lack of physicality. Chris Tierney, a Sharks prospect, and Josh Anderson, property of the Blue Jackets both had below average games as well, with a number of poor reads/decisions that negated potential chances for the Knights. Finally, a 2015 draft eligible prospect of note, Mitchell Marner, showed some offensive skills, including plus puckhandling and skating, but avoided the heavy areas of the ice and sometimes passed when the better play would have been to shoot, possibly as a sign of deference to older teammates.
In spite of the victory, there was little to note from Val d”or’s players of interest outside of the aforementioned Bibeau and Mantha, although third time eligible forward Louick Marcotte showed some initiative during one possession when he attempted to carry the puck past the entire London team and first time eligible Nicolas Aubé-Kubel showed good patience and vision, and could become a good power play weapon at a higher level. The skills are evident, but he will have to tone-down some of his high-risk ways before moving onwards. Anthony Richard, an undersized skill forward who will not be eligible until 2015 had a rough game and was culpable on the skewed shot counter with repeated missed coverage on defense.