|Waterloo Blackhawks head coach P.K. O’Handley will lead Team USA in the World Junior A Challenge in Canada against other International competition.
Waterloo Blackhawks coach P.K. O’Handley will be trading in his USHL team’s colors this week for the red, white and blue of Team USA. He and the American squad currently in Trail, British Columbia, to participate in the World Junior A Challenge, facing teams from Canada, Belarus, Russia and Germany.
For a man who already has international experience of his own, he knows that the next week of games will be among the highlights of his players’ careers.
“I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some international teams,” O’Handley said, “and it’s an experience you never forget. Every player goes away with a sense of not just pride, but renewed pride. You are playing for something that’s more important than the game. It sounds corny, but you’re playing for your country. And it’s something you can always look back on that you did … the friendships and experiences are lifelong memories you get through the greatest game.”
The experience of pulling on your country’s colors is one unmatched in the great game of hockey. Win or lose, the 21 members of Team USA are embarking on an experience they never will forget. But at the same time, winning makes it that much sweeter.
And Team USA looks to be as strong as any team in the tournament.
Of the 21 skaters, 20 are USHL players, and the 21st, Jimmy Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.), skates for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. Four of the skaters: Ben Blood of the Des Moines Buccaneers, Nico Sacchetti of the Omaha Lancers, and Blake Kessel and John Lee of the Waterloo Blackhawks, were selected in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft – Sacchetti by the Dallas Stars at No. 50, Blood by the Ottawa Senators at No. 120, Lee by the Florida Panthers at No. 131 and Kessel by the New York Islanders at No. 166.
Of the remaining skaters, four have been ranked as “A” prospects to watch by NHL Central Scouting, meaning they are rated as potential first- or second-round picks – Indiana Ice defenseman John Carlson, Chicago Steel defenseman Max Nicastro, Green Bay Gamblers forward Jared Festler and Waterloo Blackhawks forward Nick Larson - and six more are ranked as “B” prospects, players slated to go in the high to middle rounds. In addition, both goaltenders, Brady Hjelle of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and Josh Robinson of the Sioux City Musketeers, have been ranked as ‘B’ goaltending prospects.
Part of the challenge of bringing a team into a tournament in this fashion is that the players do not know one another, aren’t used to one another on or off the ice, and must buy in to a team system and philosophy almost literally overnight.
O’Handley sees the issue not as a problem, but as a challenge, one that he and assistant coach Regg Simon are looking forward to undertaking.
“It’s a great challenge,” he said. “It’s is going to be a challenge for Simon and myself to get them on the same page.”
But he also knows that with this particular team, he and his assistants have players that all play similar styles. He believes they will mesh well as a group, and will be comfortable in the system and playing well with one another very quickly.
“The neat thing about the USHL is the up-tempo style that the league has,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of trapping and it’s generally full of teams and players that 'get after it.' And all of our players are USHL guys, other than Hayes, but Hayes plays an up-tempo game as well ... to get them to play and 'get after it' won’t be difficult.”
O’Handley sees the real challenge is that some of his skaters will be playing roles they aren’t normally asked to fill.
“The difficult thing will be to deal with the players, to get them to deal with, ‘I might not be on the (power play), I might not (kill penalties), but I have to accept the role for the good of the team and for the good of USA hockey’,” he said.
On his team, 17 of the 21 skaters either have been drafted or have been targeted by NHL Central Scouting as having NHL potential. With so much talent on the roster, there won’t be enough skill positions to go around. Some players, used to power play and first-line ice time, instead could be killing penalties, blocking shots and checking the opposing team’s top lines.
Accepting those roles will be the key to success for Team USA.
There is no greater example of a skilled player accepting a different sort of role for the good of the team than Joe Thornton during the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. For a player who entered the tournament with a 100-plus point season under his belt and two years of at least 35 goals, you would expect him to play on one of the team’s scoring lines. You would have been wrong.
On this particular team, Thornton played a defensive role with linemates Kris Draper and Shane Doan, centering one of the fiercest checking lines of the tournament. Canada went undefeated in the tournament, thanks in no small part to Thornton's line's efforts, and won the championship.
Like Thornton, who believed in his country enough to swallow his pride, O’Handley believes the red, white and blue sweater will be more than enough to inspire his players to sacrifice.
“It’s difficult, but at the same time it’s simple,” he said, “because they’re wearing their country’s colors. How can you not be excited with everyone watching and believing in you?”
Around the USHL -- The PK O'Handley-coached Waterloo Blackhawks knocked off the leaders of each division this weekend with a pair of one-goal victories. Goaltender Matt DiGirolamo earned both victories, along with the Stauber’s Goalcrease Goaltender of the Week honors, with a stellar line of 2-0-0, a 1.44 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. DiGirolamo and the Blackhawks defeated Cedar Rapids 3-2 in a shootout Friday, and then followed that up with a 2-1 defeat of the Omaha Lancers on Saturday night. … The Indiana Ice swept a weekend series for the second time this season, defeating the visiting Lincoln Stars by scores of 5-1 and 8-4 on Friday and Saturday night, respectively. USHL Junior Select team member John Carlson will take a hot hand into this week’s World Junior A Challenge as the high-scoring defenseman scored twice and had four points combined in the two wins. Teammate and USHL league-leading scorer Paul Carey (Boston College, 2008) also had a big weekend for the Ice, scoring three times and assisting on three others for six points in the two games. Carey, the Colorado Avalanche’s fifth-round pick in 2007, sits atop the USHL scoring race with 11 goals and 16 points, and has recorded at least one point in each of his team’s nine games this season. … The Sioux City Musketeers began the season 2-2 and then started rolling. With two wins over the Green Bay Gamblers this past weekend, the Musketeers have now run their winning streak to five games. Over that span, the Musketeers have outscored their opponents by a 28-12 margin. Forwards Steve Quailer, with three goals and 10 points in the five games, and Justin Brossman, with three goals and nine points over the same span, have led the team offensively. Goaltenders Josh Robinson and Steve Thompson have split the winning streak: Robinson has pitched a 3-0 record, stopping 74 of 79 shots for a .937 save percentage, while Thompson has a 2-0 mark, stopping 91 of 98 shots for a .929 save percentage. The two goaltenders also split a shutout on Nov. 3 against Green Bay, with Robinson starting the game and stopping the first nine shots he faced in almost a period and a half before turning the remainder of the game over to Thompson, who stopped the final 24 shots to seal the shutout. … Also recording shutouts this past weekend were Omaha Lancer Drew Palmisano (Michigan State, 2008), with a 14-save shutout over the Chicago Steel on Friday, and Tri-City Storm goaltender Aaron Rock, who posted a 27-save shutout over Des Moines on Saturday night.
Ontario Hockey League
Kitchener Rangers GM/Coach Peter DeBoer joined a very exclusive club this week.
DeBoer, in his 12th season behind the bench, became the fifth member of the 500-win club after a 4-3 overtime win Friday, Nov. 2, over the Erie Otters.
The 39-year-old DeBoer joins Brian Kilrea, Bert Templeton, Larry Mavety and Dick Todd as the only coaches to amass 500 wins in the OHL. He completed the milestone quicker than any other name on the list.
In addition, with a win on Sunday afternoon over the Brampton Battalion, DeBoer’s Rangers have won nine straight games and boast the league’s top record at 15-2, good for a league-best 30 points.
The Rangers will host the 2008 Memorial Cup this spring; not ones to back into the tournament, they own a 12-point lead over the London Knights in the Midwest Division and lead the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds by three points in the overall league standings.
Around the OHL -- Oshawa Generals forward Brett MacLean scored four goals, including a natural hat trick in the third period, in a 6-2 win over the Brampton Battalion Friday night, and then followed that up with a hat trick at Kingston on Sunday afternoon. MacLean is tied for fifth in league scoring with 16 goals and 30 points in only 13 games. … During their nine-game win streak, two members of the Kitchener Rangers have recorded at least one point in all nine games. Forward Justin Azevedo has 11 goals and 32 points during a 14-game point streak, while fellow forward Matt Halischuk has four goals and 16 points during a nine-game point streak. … OHL leading scorer John Tavares scored once and had four assists for five points in a 9-5 win over the Kingston Frontenacs on Sunday. It was the sixth consecutive game Tavares recorded at least one point, during which his Oshawa Generals have a record of 4-2. It’s the second time this season Tavares has had a five-point game. He last recorded the feat, with three goals and two assists, against the Frontenacs on Oct. 14. … After getting shut out at home by Jeremy Smith and the Plymouth Whalers on Thursday night, the Niagara IceDogs exploded offensively, scoring 10 goals in Mississauga against the St. Michael’s Majors and then returning home to shut out the Peterborough Petes, 7-0. Several IceDogs had big weeks as a result. … Last season, Niagara IceDog Drew Schiestel had six goals and 21 points in 66 games, his second full season in the OHL, and was selected in the second round by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft this summer. He began his 2007-08 season a little off his pace from a year ago. In his first 11 games, he had only two goals and was a minus-3. In his 12th game, however, he scored and added two assists as his IceDogs defeated the Brampton Battalion, 5-2. Including that game, Schiestel now has two goals and 10 points in his past eight games, including back-to-back three-assist games this past weekend, in wins over Mississauga and Peterborough. He now has four goals and eight assists on the season for 12 points. … IceDogs forward Stefan Legein, a 2007 second-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, scored five goals in three games over the past week and assisted on two others. … Rounding out the players who had big weeks for the IceDogs, goaltender Andrew Loverock won two of his three starts over the week, highlighted by a 35-save shutout against the Petes on Sunday afternoon. … Despite a 5-11-1 record, the Owen Sound Attack have shown marked improvement in their play over the past two weeks. The Attack, with wins at Saginaw and Windsor last Friday and Saturday, respectively, and a two-game home sweep of the Erie Otters on Oct. 26 and 27, have won four consecutive games. … After a 12-0-1 start to the season, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds were on the losing end of four consecutive games. They rebounded Saturday night, however, with a 3-0 shutout of the Ottawa 67’s. Goaltender Kyle Gajewski made 24 saves, and three different Greyhounds scored for their first win since Oct. 21.
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
A hot goaltender can do wondrous things for the overall confidence of a team. Kevin Maletto is doing just that for the Shawinigan Cataractes.
Despite sitting eighth in the TELUS division of the QMJHL, a division that includes such powerhouses as the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and the Gatineau Olympiques, the Cataractes are showing signs of improvement, highlighted by their recent three-game win streak.
The three-straight wins, including two over teams who currently sit higher than they do in the standings, improved the Cataractes to 9-8-0-2 and only three points out of the fourth overall spot in the division.
Their recent strong play comes on the back of one of the league’s hottest players, Maletto. With three straight wins, all on the road, one shutout, a 1.00 GAA and a .961 save percentage over the last week, Maletto was named the QMJHL Defensive Player of the Week for Oct. 29 to Nov. 4.
Maletto, a three-year QMJHL veteran, has an 8-6 record, a 2.50 GAA and a .903 save percentage in 15 appearances this season.
Around the QMJHL -- The QMJHL Offensive Player of the Week was Acadie-Bathurst Titan forward Mathieu Perreault. Perreault, a sixth-round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2006, had two goals and four assists in only two games – including a two-goal, three-assist performance in an 8-3 victory over the Victoriaville Tigers. Perreault now sits third in league scoring with 30 points in 16 games. … QMJHL veteran turned St. Louis Blues forward David Perron reached a milestone that every hockey-playing kid dreams about this past Thursday, when he scored his first-ever NHL goal. He beat Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin in the first period of an eventual 3-2 shootout loss to the Blackhawks. On the season Perron now has a goal and two assists for three points in six games. … The QMJHL will host the first two games of the 2007 ADT Canada-Russia Challenge with games in Chicoutimi on Nov. 19 and Gatineau Nov. 21. Highlighting Team QMJHL will be Lewiston MAINEiac goaltender Jonathan Bernier (Los Angeles, 2006), fellow MAINEiac defenseman Kevin Marshall (Philadelphia, 2006), Val d’Or forward Brad Marchand (Boston, 2006), Quebec Remparts forward Angelo Esposito (Pittsburgh, 2007), Gatineau Olympiques forward Claude Giroux (Philadelphia, 2006), and Halifax Mooseheads forwards Logan McMillan (Anaheim, 2007) and Ryan Hillier (N.Y. Rangers, 2006).
Western Hockey League
When a player scores four goals in a game, the manner in which they are scored usually isn’t the story.
But when Bud Holloway accomplished that feat this past Saturday, the how became just as important as the how many.
Holloway scored a natural hat trick in the final three minutes of the third period, scoring the game-tying, game-winning, and game-sealing goals in a 2:40 stretch, leading the Thunderbirds to a 6-4 win over the visiting Tri-City Americans.
In addition to the four-goal outburst, Holloway added an assist, just for good measure.
A veteran of parts of five WHL seasons, Holloway has increased his point totals in each of his first four years in the league – with 0, 15, 34, and 65, respectively. He has never scored at a point-per-game clip, but he took a huge step in that direction this past week.
His four goals more than doubled his output on the year, bringing him from three to seven goals, and his six points put him at 15 in 15 games.
Around the WHL -- Prince George Cougars forward Dana Tyrell made a huge leap in the WHL top scorers list this week with six goals and seven points in wins over Vancouver, Kamloops and Red Deer on Monday, Friday, and Saturday nights, respectively. Tyrell, a second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, now sits tied for sixth in league scoring with 12 goals and 25 points in 16 games. … With three straight wins, the Cougars now have a .500 record, leaving them in fourth place in the B.C. Division. In addition, the Cougars are 7-3 over their past 10 games. … The West Division might have looked like a two-horse race up to this point, but nobody seemed to tell the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The Hurricanes, on the back of a 6-0-0-1 run, have crawled back to within three points of the Calgary Hitmen and four points of the Medicine Hat Tigers for the division lead. During the stretch, the Hurricanes have not been easy on their coaches or their fans, with six of the seven results decided by one goal; they went 5-1 in those games. … The WHL’s hottest team, the Spokane Chiefs, have not been defeated in regulation in 11 games, to the tune of a monstrous record of 10-0-0-1. The Chiefs have relied on a balanced attack led by Drayson Bowman and Mitch Wahl. Bowman has recorded six goals and nine assists over the 11 games for 15 points, while Wahl also has recorded 15 points, but with four goals and 11 assists.