Two new Colorado Avalanche prospects still alive in the CHL postseason

By Chau Vo

Chris Bigras - Owen Sound Attack

Photo: Chris Bigras scored a goal and two assists but could not keep the Owen Sound Attack from dropping four straight to Sault Ste. Marie in their five-game first round series (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The season may have ended on a disappointing note for the Colorado Avalanche but the short postseason run was an invaluable experience for some of the Avalanche’s young prospects. Joey Hishon made his long-awaited NHL debut and Brad Malone and Paul Carey got their first glimpse at what the NHL playoffs are all about.

In Canadian major juniors, Spencer Martin, Michael Clarke, Chris Bigras, and Mason Geertsen all got a chance to compete for their respective league’s playoffs. However, only newcomers Cody Corbett and Samuel Henley are still playing hockey in the late spring. Corbett and the Edmonton Oil Kings beat the Portland Winterhawks to win the WHL championship, the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Likewise, Henley and the Val-d’Or Foreurs defeated the Baie-Comeau Drakkar to win the QMJHL Presiden't Cup. The league champions will move on to compete for the CHL’s Memorial Cup.

Luke Moffatt, Ben Storm, Nate Condon, and Will Butcher all made it to their conference playoffs but only Storm, Condon, and Butcher’s teams would make it to the NCAA tournament. Freshman defenseman Butcher and the University of Denver Pioneers were ousted in their first game of the single elimination tournament by the highly favored Boston College Eagles. Storm’s Huskies would make it to the second round before losing to Condon and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers advanced all the way to final round but were on the losing end of an emotional 7-4 loss to Union College.

The Denver Cutthroats, backstopped by Kent Patterson, made it to the finals in the Central Hockey League but fell to the Allen Americans in five games.

NHL

Joey Hishon’s NHL debut did not come with any fanfare. Instead, he was greeted by the jeers and taunts of the Minnesota Wild fans at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The skilled center’s road to the NHL was a long one and not without its bumps but the Stratford, Ontario native could not have been more excited to finally suit up for the team that drafted him 17th overall in 2010.

Hishon appeared in games four, five, and seven for the Avalanche. In games four and five, he was slotted as the fourth line center between wingers Brad Malone and Patrick Bordeleau. In those two games, he saw 14:01 of ice time spread out between 20 shifts. Although he recorded no points, head coach Patrick Roy wanted to infuse some skills into the third line for game 7 and Hishon was promoted to injured center John Mitchell’s old position. For the final game of the season, Hishon was the pivot for Jamie McGinn and Max Talbot. In 4:36 of ice time Hishon registered one assist on McGinn’s first period goal.

OHL

Chris Bigras had one goal and two assists in the Owen Sound Attack’s first round matchup with the Soo Greyhounds. In the first game of the series, Bigras had two assists and a plus two rating to help the Attack win in a 5-4 overtime victory. Unfortunately, that would be the only high point of the series as the Greyhounds quickly took over games two and three and Bigras would be held pointless and finish the series with a plus/minus rating of minus-seven. The Attack fared better in their second home game of the series and managed to quiet down the Greyhounds’ offense but were unable to generate any offense of their own. In the final game, Bigras had the Attack’s lone goal in a 6-1 loss.

WHL

Cody Corbett’s breakout season caught the attention of the Avalanche and earned him an entry-level deal with the NHL club. His 17 goals and 61 points, a single season record during his tenure with the Edmonton Oil Kings, showed that he is more than ready to move on to the professional ranks. Before he packs his bags for Lake Erie, Corbett and the Oil Kings will represent the WHL in the CHL’s Memorial Cup playoffs.

In the opening round, the Oil Kings quickly disposed of the Prince Albert Raiders in four games scoring a total of 18 goals to the Raiders’ nine. Corbett had no points in the first three games but made up for it in the final game where he exploded for two goals and assisted on three others for a total of five points.

Their next opponent, the Brandon Wheat Kings, would prove to be no match for the rolling Oil Kings and lost the series 4-1. Corbett scored at a steady pace throughout the series and had two goals and two assists in those five games.

The Medicine Hat Tigers had just come off of a brutal seven game series with the Kootenay Ice and were fatigued compared to the well rested Oil Kings. The Oil Kings blew out the Tigers in the first game of the series 8-3 with Corbett contributing two goals of his own in that game. The Tigers would win their only game of the series at home and eventually succumbed to the Oil Kings in five games.

As the Eastern Conference champions, the Oil Kings faced off against the Portland Winterhawks, winners of Western Conference. It took seven games, but the Oil Kings came out on top. Corbett finished the WHL playoffs with six goals, seven assists in 21 games.

QMJHL

Similar to Corbett, Samuel Henley’s breakout season earned him an entry-level deal with the Avalanche. Originally drafted by the Lewiston MAINEiacs, Henley is the current captain of the Val-d’Or Foreurs and is a big part of why the Foreurs are favored to win the QMJHL championship.

The third seeded Foreurs swept the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in four games and moved on to face the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the second round. The Voltigeurs put up more of a fight than the Titans did but they too would fall to the Foreurs.

It was the third round against the defending Memorial Cup champion Halifax Mooseheads that the Foreurs would face their first real test. The Foreurs jumped to a quick 2-0 series lead against the Mooseheads in Halifax but the Mooseheads fought back and won the next three games. The Foreurs won game 6 at home to force a winner take all game seven in Halifax. After three periods, the Foreurs emerged victorious in a 3-2 win.

First seeded Baie-Comeau also faced little opposition in their first two rounds but would need seven games to beat the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada to enter the championship round with the Foreurs. Val-d’Or won the series in seven games to earn a spot in London at the Memorial Cup.

Through 24 playoff games, Henley had eight goals and 20 assists for 28 points.

NCAA

On April 12th, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers were set to face the Union College Dutchmen in the highly anticipated NCAA hockey championship game.

Avalanche prospect and Gophers captain, Nate Condon, assisted on Justin Kloos’ goal 2:37 into the first period. After allowing a tying goal and scoring another go-ahead goal, the Gophers would let the Dutchmen score three straight to end the first period with a 4-2 lead. The second period was less eventful but Condon and the Gophers scored a goal to pull within one. That was as close as they would get and when the horn sounded to end the game, it was the Dutchmen who would be the ones celebrating.

Nate Condon ended his final collegiate season with 25 points in 41 games.

Europe

The Avalanche’s lone European prospect Wilhelm Westlund had two goals and five assists in six playoff games for the Farjestad J20 team in the Swedish SuperElit league. He will move up to the parent club next season.

Notes and Signings

Defenseman Cody Corbett and forward Samuel Henley are the newest additions to the Avalanche prospect pool. Both will be expected to start to the 2014-15 season with the Lake Erie Monsters and immediately contribute to the AHL club that was decimated by injuries last year.

Gus Young, Nate Condon, and Luke Moffatt are still without contracts. The graduating seniors will need to be tendered offers otherwise they can enter the market as unrestricted free agents and sign with another NHL club.