So, as some of you may have noticed, Mike Feeney has been the only one to fire up a blog entry so far. But, in honour of the Huskies’ win in Peace River last night, I thought I would officially join the blogosphere this afternoon.
What has inspired this entry is the Huskies win over the Navs last night. Early on in the season, I feel the game was one of the most exciting performances from the Huskies to date. No, I don’t mean the game was exciting. Any of you who saw or heard the game will agree, if anything, it was downright boring. But that’s what makes it exciting for the Huskies. On Saturday night, they earned, in the words of hockey-guru Jesse Disher, a ‘dirty, greasy, road win’. And that’s precisely what any team needs to be able to do to have success. More to the point, last night was exactly the kind of game the team needs to be able to play to compete with the Wolverines.
And make no mistake. For the Huskies, the road ahead leads through Whitecourt. If the team wants to win the league, it needs to be able to beat Whitecourt. If the boys have any hopes of playing at provincials in Peace River, they need to be able to beat the Wolverines. And assuming WCT finishes first overall, they need to be able to beat them in Whitecourt.
Sure, there are a couple of possible escape routes. Maybe the Navigators and Wolverines face off in the semi-finals. Maybe Peace beats WCT, and suddenly just by playing in the finals you advance to provincials. Maybe another team rises from the shadows and takes out the defending champs. But, those don’t seem likely outcomes. Not that you can bank on. If you want to win, you have to be able to beat the best – which at this point is Whitecourt.
Now, the Huskies gave the Wolverines a real test last weekend. For about 20 minutes. And then the wheels fell off, and WCT pulled away. If they can play a full 60 minutes, there’s no reason to think they can’t prevail. That means a full game of mistake free hockey – just the kind of game they played on Saturday in Peace. They didn’t try to outscore the Navs on Saturday, they just outplayed them. The 4 goals included 1) a breakaway on a bad line change, 2) a lucky shot that most people seem to agree never actually went in, 3) a powerplay goal, and 4) an empty netter. Not the kind of game story you might expect from this club, but the kind that makes for a winning team. On Saturday, the pups played a complete game, they seldom gave the puck away in their own zone, they allowed very few scoring chances, and they protected their goaltender.
Admittedly, the Navs are still a little disorganized as a team. They have had huge turnover, and aren’t as good as they will be later on. They are also lacking scoring punch, meaning the Huskies may have gotten away with any mistakes they did make. Perhaps I’m giving too much credit to FSJ. Well, maybe. But, the Huskies also have the ability to rise to the occasion when facing tough opponents (or maybe the curse of taking weaker teams too lightly).
The Navigators will only get better as the season progresses, but so will the Huskies. FSJ has a lot of talent this year, and judging by their late season form last year, will only get better as they buy into BK’s systems.
Adding the likes of Brennan Billey gives the pups more depth, and when you consider a top six forwards that include Cody Kalb, Dylan A., Pappin, Norris, Sidhu, and Billey, the Huskies have no reason to be intimidated by any team in the league. A supporting cast of Cody Hildebrand, Cam MacKinnon, Brighton Campbell, and more, means the pups could even see some pretty good players sitting in the stands. Their defence is getting better (teamwise) and the big bodies of Ryan Stickel and Darcy Bell will only get more comfortable, and I hope, more punishing to opposing forwards. So, my point is, if they can play like they did in Peace on Saturday, and also have the high-end talent to put the puck in the net when they need to, then watch out for the Huskies.
So, play 60 minutes, play team defence, don’t make mistakes. What, you may ask, have I learned here that I couldn’t have learned by skipping the Huskies game and memorizing a book of great sports clichés?
Fine then – allow me to suggest what I see as the five keys for the Huskies to succeed. Feel free to print this page, cut them out, and re-arrange them into the order you see fit. Please use recycled paper.
5) Goaltending. It’s at the bottom of the list, because the goaltending has been good so far. Not great, but good. If you have good team defence, good should be enough. The problem is, Whitecourt has Ryan Demharter who can steal a game that didn’t need stealing. So, when the pups take on WCT, one of GM or TG is going to have to play as well as Demharter to even things out.
4) The breakout. The pups have gotten in trouble too many times this year with D-men trying to skate the puck out. Even the ever-responsible Linden A. has given the puck away deep several times. This means allowing scoring chances that just can’t be allowed.
More importantly, when the D-men are skating the puck out of their zone, even if they do it well, you are taking away arguably the Huskies’ greatest weapon, which is their speed. Why make guys like Norris wait for the puck to be skated up ice? Fire it up to them, and let them work their magic. If the pups can’t generate a quick transition game, their offensive firepower gets wasted.
3) The powerplay. When you get in tight games, against evenly matched opponents, you simply have to take advantage on special teams. The Huskies did it last night in Peace, and won because of it. They didn’t do it in Whitecourt last weekend, and suffered the consequences. You can throw the PK in here to, but the PK has been outstanding already, so we’ll just focus on the PP. That means getting shots through from the point, and that means getting set up as quickly as possible. In this league, you will get chances on the PP. And the fact is, even a powerplay goal-a-game pace probably won’t cut it.
2) Payden. Big number 27 has to be on the ice, and at his best, for this team to beat WCT. Don’t get me wrong, Cody Kalb may well be the MVP. CK puts up points like Johan Gutenberg prints newspapers. If he’s in the lineup, he’ll generate points. But Payden is the guy that can turn a game upside down, for better or for worse. His speed strikes fear into opponents, and makes things happen. Which brings us back to the breakout. See above.
Wongstedt is the captain, he eats a lot of minutes, and is the catalyst in both ends of the ice. He also plays a physical game, and gets banged up. Goaltenders always need protecting, and guys like Cody K need to be healthy. You notice Dylan the most when he’s not in the lineup, because suddenly you just have the puck less. But to me, Wongstedt is this team’s Brett Favre. To let him get injured or kicked out a game simply can’t happen.
1) Play 60 minutes. What can I say? I’ve already given out too many pearls. Ending with a cliché is just too tempting to resist. But I bet BK would agree.
OK – while I’m turning this new leaf, I should mention a couple of other pieces of business.
Some of you may have noticed that we have starting podcasting all of our broadcasts. With limited Success. Our apologies for that. We’re working on it. It’s not easy when the guy who holds all the keys leaves the country. We’ll get there.
Also, any of you hungry for more hockey should definitely check out the Midget Tracker-Flyers. These kids went 3-0 this weekend, and looked VERY good. The top line (Dylan Houle, Daylan Pederson, and Logan Daneluk if I’m not mistaken) was terrifying this weekend. They don’t play on home ice again until November 13th. But they are well worth the price of admission…
Thanks for reading.