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Team-first approach winning games in Lethbridge

by Brad Holland / NHL.com

Lethbridge Hurricanes Captain Ben Wright was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets with their fourth pick in 2006.

Very quietly, the Lethbridge Hurricanes have put together one of the most impressive winning streaks in the young 2007-08 CHL season.

Impressive because they have earned a point in fourteen consecutive games, and quietly because they have yet to be named to a CHL Mosaik Mastercard Top-10 poll the entire season.

Judging from their success, perhaps quiet is just the way they like it.

The Hurricanes have not lost in regulation since a 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Regina Pats on Oct. 17. That’s a full two months of 2007 without tasting regulation defeat. For those of us scoring from home, they’ve earned 27 of the last 28 possible points – to the tune of a remarkable .964 winning percentage. That’s fourteen games of not being beaten by a bad bounce, a tough call, or even a hot goaltender.

Even with a dominant team, that’s pretty hard to do. However, from the early get-go, the Hurricanes didn’t seem like a team that could roll out that sort of a streak.

They played mediocre hockey through their first 11 games, playing to a very humble 4-6-1-0 record. And what’s worse, they were being left in the dust by last years’ WHL Champion, the Medicine Hat Tigers, and a very strong Calgary Hitmen squad. Early on, it appeared as if the Central Division of the Eastern Conference would turn into a two-horse race.

Things, however, are not always as they appear.

Very slowly, the team started to roll. After a dismal 0-3-1-0 stretch in early October, with two key losses against divisional opponent the Tigers, the Hurricanes edged out a 4-3 win versus the Brandon Wheat Kings. They turned their win into a winning streak when they were able to sneak out a 3-2 shootout win over the Moose Jaw Warriors the following evening. Then, after a 4-0 shutout of the Hitmen on October 25, the team never looked back.

What has been most impressive for the Hurricanes is that they aren’t relying on one player, one line, or even a set of key guys. Players are stepping up, from the third-line checkers to the top players, and in all positions on the team.

The two Hurricanes goaltenders, Michael Maniago and rookie Juha Metsola, have just about split time over the streak, with edge in starts going to Maniago. Maniago is 8-0-0-1, with six of the eight victories coming on the road, during which he has posted a stellar .943 save percentage and miniscule 1.88 goals against average. Metsola too has been good, with a 1.80 GAA and a .910 save percentage during his own five-game winning streak.

On defense, the team has been just as balanced. Three players sit in the top-20 in scoring, with Team Captain Ben Wright (CBJ - 2006) and veteran Jesse Craige leading the way with 10 points apiece over the past 14 games while rookie Luca Sbisa, the #9-ranked player on the CSS WHL list, has a goal and eight assists. Sbisa, Craige and Wright currently sit with 19, 17, and 16 points, respectively, on the year.

Hurricanes forward Zach Boychuk is the 6-ranked skater on the Central Scouting Preliminary rankings for the WHL.

Up front, The Hurricanes only have three scorers in the top 50 for the WHL, but each of them has been good for goals in key situations. Not one has been dominant but each - Mitch Fadden with 18 points, Zach Boychuk with 17 points, and Dwight King with 9 points – has been good in stretches. Boychuk is a top skater for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, and came in at #6 on the CSS preliminary rankings for the WHL. Fadden was taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 4th round, 107 overall in the 2007 NHL Draft.

The lone blemish on their fourteen-game streak was a 4-3 shootout loss to the expansion Edmonton Oil Kings. Although, to be fair to the Hurricanes, it was their fourth game in six nights.

Now, however, the Hurricanes aren’t sneaking up on anyone. They sit third in the overall WHL standings and two points ahead of the Hitmen for the Central Division Lead. Their leading scorer, Mitch Fadden, is six points off the pace set by Mark Santorelli of the Chilliwak Bruins. They have a bulls-eye on their backs, and a new measure of respect from around the league.

The secret is out – if you aren’t prepared, this team is going to jump all over you.

Around the WHL – Kyle Beach, the top-ranked prospect for the WHL in the CSS rankings, is showing the scouts they made the right decision putting him at the top of the list. A physical force who has soft hands to boot – evidenced by his Mike Legg-esque lacrosse-style goal earlier this season – has been climbing the WHL scoring charts since the beginning of the year and now sits second in the league scoring race with 19 goals and 19 assists for 38 points in only 25 games. What makes Beach such an interesting prospect, however, is his approach to the game – the young forward already boasts 95 penalty minutes this season, a total unmatched by any other skater in the WHL’s top 100 scorers. Scouts worry about his temperament and discipline, but it’s hard not to love a guy who is just as dangerous with his gloves on as he is with them off. … Led by two potential blue-chip NHL defensemen, Tyler Myers and Luke Schenn, the Kelowna Rockets have remained undefeated in regulation over their past 11 games, gaining ground on every team in the league save the Hurricanes, who are proving somewhat tough to catch. Propelled by their streak, the Rockets now trail only last season’s Memorial Cup champion, the Vancouver Giants, in the B.C. Division of the Western Conference. They currently sit seven points behind the Giants, though they do have two games in hand. … Boston Pizza Player of the Week honors this week went to Drayson Bowman of the Spokane Chiefs. Bowman scored six goals and added two assists as his Chiefs swept the week of games, going 3-0. … Riding the hot streak of Beach, who has a four game goal-scoring streak (he has six), the Everett Silvertips have put together a 3-0-0-1 record over those four games. On Wednesday they dropped a shootout to the Chilliwack Bruins (Beach had a goal in the loss), then defeated Kelowna in a shootout (two more goals), the Vancouver Giants by a 2-1 score (game-winner), and completed their week on Sunday getting revenge against the Bruins (two goals, plus the game-winner).

OHL -- Look out John Tavares.

Although he hasn’t had a problem holding off the rest of the league, Tavares is facing some pressure from within his own locker room. Tavares, who scored 72 goals last season in only 68 games, establishing a new record for 16-year-olds (previously held by Wayne Gretzky), has 23 in 23 games this season.

But it hasn’t been enough.

Linemate Brett MacLean, a 2007 second-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, is doing his best to pressure Tavares for the goal-scoring crown, with 26 goals in only 19 games (MacLean missed the first four games of the season due to a suspension stemming back to last spring’s playoffs).

And he’s been getting better as the season progresses. MacLean is riding an astounding nine-game goal and point streak, to the tune of in almost-unheard-of 19 goals and seven assists for 26 points during that stretch. The last goaltender to hold MacLean off the score sheet was Sault Ste. Marie netminder Kyle Gajewski on Oct. 28. The Generals eventually won the game, though, 3-2.

MacLean sits first in OHL goal scoring, but is tied with Kitchener Rangers forward Justin Azevedo for second in points, seven points behind Tavares.

During MacLean’s goal streak, Oshawa has amassed a 5-3-0-1 record.

Around the OHL -- Though he was off to a relatively slow start, with only two goals and two assists for four points in his first six games, it only was a matter of time before Steven Stamkos found his game. After those first six games, Stamkos has been held off of the score sheet only three times, and has amassed 20 goals and 37 points in just 18 games, good for a 2.06 points-per-game clip. He especially has been dangerous in his last five games, with at least two points in each of the five, scoring seven goals and adding five assists for 12 points. Earlier in the week, Stamkos was rewarded for his early play with the top-prospect honors in the OHL CSS preliminary rankings for 2008. … The West Division of the Western Conference is perhaps the hottest division in the entire CHL at the moment. Four of its five teams boast at least a two-game winning streak, and not one of the clubs sits below .500. The Saginaw Spirit currently sit at 9-9 for 21 points in 21 games, while the Sarnia Sting (28), Plymouth Whalers (28), Windsor Spitfires (34) and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (34) all boast winning percentages of at least .600 or better. … Tomi Karhunen, goaltender for the Sarnia Sting, won all three of his starts during the past week, defeating the Peterborough Petes, Kingston Frontenacs and Ottawa 67’s, all on the road. Karhunen, a native of Joensuu, Finland and the seventh-ranked goaltender in the preliminary OHL rankings from CSS, has been beaten only once in his past nine starts, and boasts an 8-1 record with a 2.44 goals-against average, .925 save percentage and two shutouts over those nine games.

USHL -- The 500-win club finally has another member.

Sioux City Musketeers coach Dave Siciliano, with a 6-5 shootout win over the Lincoln Stars on Friday, Nov. 16, emerged victorious for the 500th time in his career behind a USHL bench. The only other coach to accomplish this feat in the history of the league was another former Sioux City coach, Bob Ferguson.

Omaha Lancers coach Mike Hastings is third on the list, and undoubtedly Siciliano and Ferguson won’t have much time to await the third member of the club. Hastings, whose team has rushed to a 12-3 record in 15 games this season, won both of his games on the weekend and now sits with 498 career wins.

Siciliano and Hastings both are within striking distance of Ferguson, the USHL’s all-time leader with 517 wins.

Around the USHL -- The Indiana Ice and Sioux City Musketeers are enjoying the home cooking this season, as each is undefeated on home ice. The Musketeers have won all six of their home dates while the Ice have won eight straight at home. … Ice forward John Kemp scored once and added six assists over the weekend, as he and his teammates ran their season-high winning streak to seven games. Kemp has a point in each of the seven games, with two goals and 13 assists, and trails only teammate Paul Carey for the overall USHL scoring lead. Carey also had a big weekend for the Ice, scoring four goals and adding an assist for five points in three games. … Omaha Lancers goaltender Drew Palmisano earned two victories over the past week, both at Chicago and both coming in impressive fashion. Palmisano stopped 34 of 35 shots on Friday night to earn the victory in a shootout, and followed with 35 saves on 37 shots to earn a 3-2 victory the next evening. On the week, Palmisano went 2-0 with a 1.50 GAA and a .958 save percentage, to increase his league-leading totals to a 1.78 GAA and .938 save percentage in his 10 starts. On the year, he is 8-2 with one shutout.

QMJHL -- In the CSS rankings of all QMJHL NHL Draft-eligible players, Quebec Remparts forward Mikhail Stefanovich stands above the rest.

Stefanovich, a 6-foot-2, 203-pound forward from Belarus, was taken with the 54th overall selection in the 2007 CHL import draft. He has 13 goals and 28 points through 26 games thus far in his rookie season. He trails only fellow import skater Tomas Knotek in the league rookie scoring race. Knotek was listed as the No. 22 skater available in the QMJHL by CSS in its preliminary rankings.

Knotek has 11 goals and 32 points in 26 games for the Halifax Mooseheads this season, four more thank Stefanovich.

Around the QMJHL --TELUS Offensive Player of the Week, Saint John Sea Dogs forward Alexander Picard-Hooper, scored once and added nine assists in three road games over the past week, and played a part in all but five of his team’s goals. Since joining the Sea Dogs from Baie-Comeau in September, the over-age forward has recorded 26 points in the 22 games. … Jakub Voracek, taken by the Columbus Blue Jackets with the seventh overall pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, found the back of the net five times over the past week, almost doubling his goal total from the rest of the season. He added three assists to his league-leading total of 32, and now sits second in overall league scoring with 11 goals and 43 points in only 20 games. He trails Gatineau forward and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Claude Giroux by only one point, despite having played in four fewer games. … Defensive Player of the Week honors went to Halifax Mooseheads defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk. Bodnarchuk scored once and added five assists while skating to a plus-3 rating. … On the backs of hot streaks by Voracek and Bodnarchuk, Halifax has won its last eight games, is undefeated in its past 10, and sits atop the league standings with 42 points in 26 games. The Mooseheads have scored a league-best 121 goals.

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