|The Vancouver Giants will be without their top defensive scorer, Jonathan Blum, for the
duration of the World Junior Championships.
One could forgive the Vancouver Giants if they had succumbed to excuses this season.
The Giants lost several key components from their Memorial Cup team last season, including the graduated Kenndal McArdle, Wacey Rabbit and captain Milan Lucic, who won a job with the Boston Bruins out of training camp.
Through some additional roster shuffling at the onset of the season, the Giants are now without four of their top-five scorers from a year ago.
Michal Repik, the fifth member of that group and the team’s leading scorer, was injured Dec. 1.
So, the Giants have plenty of excuses to throw in the towel. Have they? Not on your life! The Giants are undefeated in seven games, have allowed the second-fewest goals in the Westerh Hockey League and boast an overall record of 24-7.
The Giants are proving to be a very determined group, playing a team-first defensive style that allows it to win no matter who is in – or out – of the lineup.
Still, things aren’t getting any easier.
The Giants will be without defenseman and assistant captain Jonathon Blum for the next seven games, as the third-year skater will be competing with Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Pardubice, Czech Republic from Dec. 26 to Jan. 6.
Blum is the WHL-leading defensive scorer, with nine goals and 39 points and sits second on the Giants with a plus-19 rating in 35 games this season.
Whether the Giants are able to hold the fort without Blum could be the final sign as to whether this group is a team that could repeat as Memorial Cup Champions in 2008.
With a depleted lineup, the Giants will be looking for a number of players to step up as they wait for their stars to return to the ice.
Goaltender Tyson Sexsmith, a 2007 San Jose draftee who led the WHL in goals-against (1.79) last season, will have to maintain his customary level of brilliance.
Center James Wright, a top WHL prospect for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has seven points during a five-game points streak and is a big reason for the Giants’ rise. He now has eight goals and 22 points in 34 games this season.
Around the WHL -- Jason Bast, last week’s Boston Pizza Player of the Week, was shut out the first two games of the week but then responded in a big way Saturday night against the Regina Pats, scoring two goals and two assists in a 6-1 victory. Bast now has 11 points in his past six games. … The Brandon Wheat Kings continue to pace the East Division, a point ahead of the Regina Pats, with four games in hand. Forward Matt Calvert (2008), who had his eight-game points streak snapped Saturday night, had two goals and two assists in three games as the Wheat Kings went 2-1 during that stretch. Calvert scored four goals and 12 points during his eight-game streak. … The Moose Jaw Warriors, four points behind the Wheat Kings for the East Division title, made big strides this week, taking three of a possible four points from Regina, and now trail the Pats by only three points with four games in hand. With captain Riley Holzapfel (a 2006 Thrashers pick) and recently acquired defenseman Keaton Ellerby away from the team at the Team Canada Selection Camp in Calgary, the Warriors defeated the Kelowna Rockets 3-2 in a shootout. Then, with Ellerby back, the Warriors lost to Regina in a shootout, 3-2, before handing the Pats their worst loss of the season, a 6-1 shellacking Saturday night. … The Medicine Hat Tigers, last season’s WHL champions, and a team that briefly held the Central Division lead early this season, is showing signs of returning to their early dominance. Led by the superb netminding of Ryan Holfeld, who had won three-consecutive starts before dropping a heartbreaker to Calgary on Sunday, the Tigers have won four of five games and are clawing their way back into the Central Division race. Holfeld allowed only three goals in three games this week, going 2-1 with a shutout and a .959 save percentage. … Center Colin Long has ‘Rocketed’ to the top of the WHL scoring lists, as the talented center from Santa Anna, Calif., has scored eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points in only nine December games. The 5-foot-11, third-year center now sits second in the league with 19 goals and 53 points in 37 games. Long, who was passed over in last season’s NHL Draft, could find more than one team vying for his services come June 2008.
United States Hockey League
Goaltender of the Week went to Loincoln Stars’ netminder David Reekie, this week, despite the fact that Reekie only started one game.
But it was a heck of a start! Not only did the 20-year-old goaltender record his first USHL shutout, but he scored a goal late in the third period.
Reekie, almost 20 years to the day that NHL goaltender Ron Hextall scored into an empty net (Dec. 8, 1987), netted his own improbable goal, unassisted at the 19:44 mark of the third period. It was the first goal scored by a USHL goaltender since the 2003-04 season.
Around the USHL -- RBK Hockey Offensive Player of the Week honors went to Omaha Lancer Barry Almeida for the second time this season. He scored a goal and added four assists and was plaus-6 in two wins. … Matt Bartkowski, CCM Defensive Player of the Week, had a hand in all but one of the Lincoln Stars’ goals this week, scoring a goal and assisting on three others in helping the Stars to a 1-1 record. … The West Division is turning into a two-horse race, as the Omaha Lancers and Sioux City Musketeers have pulled 12 points up on their closest competition, the Sioux Falls Stampede. The Musketeers are currently a point back on the Lancers, but they have three games in hand.
Ontario Hockey League
The Brampton Battalion made a bold move to remain atop the Central Division standings last week, acquiring Cory Emmerton (DET, 2006) from the Kingston Frontenacs for two players and five draft picks.
Emmerton had been in high demand for some time; he was the captain, leading scorer, and most marketable asset on a Frontenacs team tied for a league-low 17 points.
Emmerton scored 13 goals and 31 points in 24 games with the Frontenacs, and already has a goal and four points in three games with the Battalion. But Emmerton will have to wait to make an impact in an OHL game for some time. He was diagnosed with Mononucleosis while attending Team Canada’s WJC selection camp and sent home.
Losing Emmerton will surely hamper the Battalion, as will losing defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti (NYR, 2006) for just about a month to Team USA for the WJC.
The Battalion will lean harder on center Cody Hodgson, who will likely be a hot commodity at the 2008 NHL draft, and who just recently saw his six-game points streak (seven goals, two assists) snapped. Hodgson now has 22 goals and 47 points in only 34 games in 2007.
Around the OHL -- The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds acquired forward Wayne Simmonds (LAK, 2007) from the Owen Sound Attack. Simmonds, scored twice in his first three games with the Greyhounds, and now has 19 goals and 41 assists in 32 games this season. … Kitchener Rangers forward Nick Spaling, the first forward sent home from Team Canada’s selection camp with mono, will leave big shoes to fill while he is recuperating. The Rangers will also lose wingers Matt Halischuk (NJD, 2007) to Team Canada, Mikkel Boedker (2008) to Team Denmark and defenseman Yannick Weber (MON, 2007) to Team Switzerland. With Halischuk, tied for 13th in OHL scoring, Weber, second in defensive scoring, and Boedker, fourth in OHL rookie scoring, out of the lineup, the Rangers, who host the 2008 Memorial Cup and boast the CHL’s best record at 27-4, will rely on their remaining skaters to step up. Justin Azevedo is the last remaining member of possibly the most dangerous line in the OHL. He will likely lead the group during the course of the next month. The fourth-year skater will look to improve on his scoring totals of 18 goals and 64 points in 33 games, good for third in the OHL scorfing race. Azevedo, who was passed over in his first year of eligibility in the NHL Entry Draft, is a skater who could garner more looks from NHL teams during his second go-round. … Plymouth forward Chris Terry (CAR, 2007) assisted on a goal Saturday night, extending his point-scoring streak to eight games. Terry has scored eight goals and 16 points during the stretch, and now sits fourth in league scoring with 24 goals and 59 points in 32 games. … Jamie Arniel, acquired by the Sarnia Sting early in December, is already paying dividends with his new team. The 2008 draft-eligible skater has two goals and three assists for five points in his first six games as a member of the Sting.
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Losing a player selected in the first round of the NHL Draft will hurt any junior team, especially in the position of goaltending, where a good replacement can be tough to find.
Just don’t tell that to Lewiston MAINEiac goaltender Peter Delmas (2008).
Delmas, the backup to Los Angeles Kings super-prospect Jonathan Bernier was thrown into the fire this week, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at his results. While Bernier was in Calgary competing for a spot on Team Canada’s World Junior Championship team, Delmas held down the fort with an incredible 3-0-0 record, with a 1.67 GAA and a .935 save percentage, in the three games.
Bernier will be gone from the MAINEiacs for the next month as he and his Team Canada teammates attempt to defend their 2005, ’06 and ’07 WJC gold medals, but if Delmas continues to turn in performances like he did this week, the MAINEiacs – who currently sit fourth in the East Division – will be challenging for the division lead by the time Bernier returns.
Lewiston currently trails the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles by four points in the division, though Lewiston holds two games in hand on the leaders. Delmas, eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, boasts a 14-8 record with a 2.72 GAA and a.907 save percentage in his 22 starts this season.
Around the QMJHL -- When Brad Marchand (BOS, 2006) returns from his stint with Team Canada, he’ll be returning to a new city, a new group of teammates, and a brand new race in the QMJHL standings. While Marchand was away with Team Canada, Marchand was acquired by the Halifax Mooseheads as they attempt to shore up for a run at the Memorial Cup Championship. Already boasting the likes of Czech superstar Jakub Voracek (CBJ, 2007), forward Logan MacMillan (ANA, 2007) and super-rookie Tomas Knotek (2008), the Mooseheads are tied for fourth in QMJHL standings, four behind the Gatineau Olympiques, who pace the league just past the midway point of the season. … Cape Breton Screaming Eagle forward Dean Oulette was awarded the TELUS Offensive Player of the Week honors this week, as he scored three goals, fired 15 shots on net and added two assists helping his team to a 2-0 record. With the five-point weekend, the four-year veteran is now tied for fourth in league scoring, with 24 goals and 53 points in only 39 games. … PEI Rockets goaltender Marc-Antoine Gelinas earned the TELUS Defensive Player of the Week honors this week, posting two road victories with a 2.50 GAA and a .955 save percentage. He faced an incredible 110 shots in the two games, stopping 48 Drakkar shots Friday before slamming the door with 57 saves in a 5-4 victory against the Quebec Remparts on Saturday night. … Maxime Tanguay (CHI, 2007), younger brother of Calgary Flames forward Alex Tanguay, scored three goals and five points on the week. His best game came Saturday night, as the fourth-year center scored twice and added an assist in aiding his Rimouski Oceanic to a 5-3 victory against one of the CHL’s top teams, the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
The Junior Report will not run next week because of the CHL's Holiday Break. It will return Jan. 1.