dimanche 30 décembre 2012

Rangers at Christmas; High Note before the Break

The Gloucester Rangers are in year two of their rebuild after making their way to the CCHL semi-finals two years ago. This year, expectations were for better results than last year and by looking at the standings now, they certainly have been better with 11 wins already after only 13 last year. But the way this improvement has played out has certainly been a surprise.

The year started with a bang as Gloucester beat Smiths Falls at the Showcase – one of Smiths Falls’ few losses all year. The team looked poised to strike as Alexandre Boivin, the newly minted captain and Corey Durocher, back after a few years in the ‘O’, had great chemistry. Chad Millett laid a crushing hit and it seemed like the team was on track from the get-go.

And over the next few weeks, the team put on strong performances over a long homestand and was comfortably seated in the 8th playoff seat. They improved the team with a trade with Kemptville where they picked up Matt Rosebrook and Stevie Ray Adams. There were essentially four point-per-game players at that point. Durocher’s brief tryout with Peoria of the AHL gave other players the chance to step up such as Patrick White.

The Rangers cast of young players, stepping into the places of Michael McMurtry and Mathieu White, really showed why the team had faith in them. Pat White, a protect from the year before, has been fantastic deserving all the praise he can get and winning a rookie of the month honour to date. Colton Keuhl, drafted a year before he was eligible to play, has been a rock on defense standing beside Daniel Baslyk and forms half of a solid shutdown duo.

In nets, Gunner Rivers certainly expected to get the bulk of the work, but the solid play of Guanmarco DeMeis and later Dylan Brind’Amour meant that he wasn’t able to get as many minutes as he likely wanted. Still, he very rightly was named to the Central Canada Cup Prospects Game.

After the impressive homestand, the Rangers started to slip. Andrew Rossy, powerplay wizard for the Rangers, was injured for an extensive period of time. Millett was also injured. Corey Durocher wasn’t playing up to his potential though that has certainly changed as of late. But a few shake ups happened as well.

Alexandre Boivin, after being named to the Central Canada Cup roster for the Yzerman Division, headed to the Quebec Remparts after being courted for a month. In his place, Matt Rosebrook was a very appropriate choice as his replacement for the all-star festivities.

A new crop of players have risen to the occasion and are providing leadership for the Rangers, helping them win both games during the Holiday Showcase: Melanson, Topf, Ouimet and Giberson.

Winning brings stability. Though the Rangers remain outside of the playoffs for now, they have been doing the right things as of late. Their work ethic means that they should be able to build on the Showcase performances and make some noise in the second half to return to the success they had earlier this year.

jeudi 27 décembre 2012

Grads at Christmas : Putting the Pieces Together

The 2012-2013 CCHL season hasn’t gone as expected for the Cumberland Grads who sit at the bottom of the Yzerman division with 25 points. The Christmas break gives time to review the season so far and determine where they should go during the second half of the season.

The end of last season saw many players finish their Junior A careers for the usual reasons such as age (Bamford, Wild), college (Lough) and the OHL (Beckstead, Walsh). To bolster their lineup, Cumberland was aggressive during the off-season as they held numerous draft picks and made a huge deal with Pembroke to pick up more offense in exchange for Drouin and Harper. The CIH Academy was the favourite source of Grads draftees starting with the 3rd overall pick Martin Lavallée and including Sean Naish and Devan Tremblay. In general, the early stages of the draft seemed to address more pressing concerns for the Grads.

The optimism also came from the high number of players from out of town who made the opening day roster from as far as Labrador (Lavallée) and Utah (David Higgs). This strategy brought the Grads into fairly new territory for a team that usually likes to pick its players from closer to home. When the puck dropped at the start of season showcase, the Grads turned some heads as they almost took the opening game from the Carleton Place Canadians in what would soon become a theme for the year – they end up on the losing side of a tight game.

Yet there were still pieces that needed to come together. Within a few weeks, Silas Neeposh had left the squad for the ‘Q’ leaving the defensive core without much experience. Chris King and Connor Currie had yet to arrive from the Pembroke trade. Injuries to Trevor Packard, Philippe Paquette and Justin Pelock slowed down the team that had rough spells throughout the fall.

However, recent weeks have showed big improvements for the Grads. For one thing, the team has been much better disciplined than last year. It has led to better use of powerplay time and less work shorthanded. A trade with Nepean before the trade freeze gave Andrew DeBrincat to the Grads and he now has 10 points, including three on the powerplay, since joining the team. Mark Golberg’s return from injury has allowed him to prosper and score a bunch of GWGs. That has, in turn, given more openings to the shifty Matt Allan. David Bennett, named with Golberg to the Central Canada Cup’s Prospect Game, has also showed that his physical dominance is accompanied by some offensive skills.

While the Grads weren’t great at the Holiday Showcase, they do finally have their best lineups put together. At the centre of it all are veterans Nick Martin and Eric Clitsome. Martin, who almost didn’t make it back for a final year, eclipsed his previous season point high back in October showing that his excellent penalty killing is only one facet of his game. He’s recently been named captain after Rodier went to Nepean. Clitsome, playing at point-a-game clip, deserves the type of respect that sees him at the Central Canada Cup and should land him a college ride. Finally, Travis Douglas deserves a mention for the progress he’s made – his three goal outburst against Kanata should become more regular in the next few months. With the pieces together, the Grads should see better results in the second half.