In front of the largest crowd the team has attracted this year, the Brampton Battalion skated to a 3-3 tie with Rick Nash and the London Knights. The tie was Brampton’s second in as many afternoons, and extended their unbeaten streak to 4 games.
The game started with great scoring opportunities for both teams. Brad Topping was called on to make a tough stop on a Nash slapper from the faceoff circle at the ten-second mark. On the very next shift, Knights goalie Glen Ridler made a spectacular glove save on Chris Rowan from fifteen feet out.
But as they have been doing more often in recent games, Brampton potted the first goal, as the white-hot Kurt MacSweyn corralled the puck in the slot, turned, and fired a low shot that beat Knights goalie Glen Ridler to the glove side. The goal was MacSweyn’s eighth of the year, and his fifth in the last three games. Of particular note on that goal is that it featured left winger Tyler Harrison’s first OHL point. Harrison saw more ice time today than he has seen in recent contests as he was inserted into MacSweyn’s line for the injured Adam Henrich. Skatin’ Clayton drew the other assist.
The lead was short-lived, however, as London tied the game soon after when Patrick Barbieri took a pass in the slot and fired a low shot that Topping stopped, but allowed a rebound right back to Barbieri who popped the puck between Topping’s legs as he moved to his left.
The Knights took the lead on the power play with Patrick Turcotte in the box for interference (a questionable call, in Sea Bass’ opinion). Knights captain Danny Bois stood in the slot and redirected a shot from Dennis Wideman past Topping for his fourth of the year and third on the power play. Nash drew the other assist. This ended the scoring in the first period, one in which the Battalion outshot the Knights 12-8.
The Troops controlled the action during most of the second period, although their play did not result in a large amount of scoring chances. They did, however, manage to convert one of them in the period, as Aaron Van Leusen grabbed his first goal and point of the year on the power play. Van Leusen, who had missed nine games with an injury and had been repeatedly robbed in the games that he had played, finally broke the drought with a fluke goal. A lazy point shot from Jay Harrison found its way through a crowd and came to Van Leusen, who tipped it up and over a prone Ridler. It definitely wasn’t one of the prettiest goals the Detroit Red Wings prospect has scored during his OHL career, but one that he’d gladly take to get back on the board. Kamil Kreps drew the other assist.
The second period ended with the score tied 2-2, and with Brampton holding on to its slight lead in shots.
The crowd was braced for a spirited third period, as Brampton seemed to have the momentum coming into it. However, it was London that ended up grabbing the lead with about nine minutes left. After Van Leusen cleared the puck to centre ice, Knights defenceman and former Erie Otter Sean Dixon corralled the puck and dished it to former Guelph Storm captain Charlie Stephens, Esquire. In one of his few nice moves of the day, Stephens cut into the middle and dropped the puck back to right winger Corey Perry, who took advantage of a Brampton breakdown and raced alone down the left wing. Perry lofted a shot that beat Topping high to the glove side. Although Perry came down the wing untouched, Topping was perhaps playing a little deep in the crease, and gave Perry a generous angle at which to shoot. Of the three goals the Knights had scored, this was the only one on which Topping had a real chance.
However, as they have shown the mettle to do in recent contests, Brampton fought back to tie the game shortly after. The tying goal came at the end of a shift on which Brampton played its most inspired hockey of the afternoon. What inspired the team’s play on that shift was a thunderous hit laid on Perry by MacSweyn. As Perry tried to gather a loose puck in front of Topping, MacSweyn swooped in and drilled his shoulder into Perry’s chest, and both players went careening through the air. It was the kind of hit that tends to wake up the rest of the team, and this was no exception. After Brampton had cleared their end, they applied frantic pressure to London and Ridler. The pressure finally ended as Corey LeClair slid a pass along the blue line to Paul Flache, whose wrist shot solved Ridler just inside the far post. It was Flache’s third of the year and first at regular-strength. Kreps picked up the other assist, giving him his first multi-point game of his OHL career.
The final eight minutes of the contest featured a few scoring opportunities for both teams, but none that either team could convert. Nash had the crowd on the edge of their seats as he carried the puck over Brampton’s blue line and drilled a slapshot at Topping, who stuck a leg out and directed the puck into the corner. For Brampton fans, the play was all too reminiscent of Nash’s goal that beat Topping to win a game in the dying seconds last season. It was the last of many impressive rushes that Nash went on during the game, but unfortunately for the cheering section that had come to see the Brampton product, none of them resulted in London goals. The two teams went to overtime with the score tied 3-3.
As he seems to like to do, MacSweyn rose to the occasion ten seconds into the extra frame as he stripped a Knights defencemen of the puck and raced in alone on Ridler. MacSweyn moved to his forehand and looked to have successfully deked Ridler, but the newly-acquired goaltender stuck out his right pad and foiled the attempt. The puck lay tantalizingly in the crease for Van Leusen who followed on the play, but he couldn’t get enough on the puck to push it over the goalline. It was Brampton’s only real chance of the extra period. London outshot Brampton 5-1 during the period, but couldn’t beat Topping either. The game ended as a 3-3 tie, giving each team a well-deserved point.
Despite missing their top scorer, the Battalion played a solid offensive game again this afternoon. The team’s lines have been given time to come together as units, and played quite cohesively during the game. MacSweyn once again played an outstanding two-way game, keeping an eye on Nash, killing penalties, scoring the first goal, and providing the spark that led to Brampton’s tying goal.
Despite the breakdown that gave London its third goal the team’s defense pairings played solidly as well. Although they weren’t facing an OHL powerhouse, they were charged with the task of containing one of the league’s best offensive players in Nash. The tandems of Harrison and Erik Schwanz along with Flache and LeClair did their job in that respect. Nash was allowed to carry the puck quite often, but was never really allowed to come near the net with it. Harrison, while he did not earn a star this afternoon, logged a lot of time on the blue line and deserved one. All in all, a satisfactory effort against a team that Brampton will very possibly be jockeying with for playoff position come March.
The game featured the first of two regular season visits that Rick Nash will pay to Brampton in 2001-02. Nash, a Brampton product, is considered by many to be the top OHL prospect in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and has a decent shot at being the first pick overall. Nash played a strong game on Sunday, displaying the impressive (6’3″, 210) size, strength, and long reach that has caught the eye of many NHL scouts. At times he was explosive on Sunday, almost scoring ten seconds into the game, and stealing the puck while short-handed and rocketing down the ice on a breakaway. At other times, it seemed as though he could hold onto the puck for as long as he wanted. He was easily London’s best forward during the game, logging about 28 minutes of ice time, and putting a scare into Brampton fans whenever he touched the puck. However, while Nash was able to control the puck for long stretches, and seemed to be able to get the puck to follow him around, he had a hard time getting to the net on a consistent basis. For one, he was forced to fight through Kurt MacSweyn’s tenacious checking, and if he was able to do that, he had defenceman Jay Harrison to contend with. Trying to put points on the board against two of the OHL’s top defensive players is no easy task for anyone.
One knock on Nash thus far has been his reluctance to use his linemates. That was somewhat evident on Sunday, as it was rare to see Nash pass the puck. However, the fairness of that comment must be called into question, as Nash’s line has not been given a lot of time to come together. On Sunday, he played with Charlie Stephens, who while having a decent level of puck skills, had only played four games with the Knights. Playing on the right wing was rookie Corey Perry, who despite showing flash and nice hands, is nevertheless a rookie and someone that Nash again does not have a lot of experience playing with.
Along with Henrich, Brampton fans were denied the chance to see Mike “Jiffy” Looby in action. Looby was likely the odd man out as Stan Butler gave Ted Perry a chance to play after being scratched for the previous three games. OHL commissioner David Branch has apparently concluded his investigation and decreed that, despite being named Ted, Perry is indeed young enough to play in OHL regular-season games.
With Henrich out, Butler chose not to disrupt the McClement-Rowan-Van Leusen line and replaced him on the MacSweyn-Clayton line with Tyler Harrison. The move paid immediate dividends as Harrison did good work down low and tied up a defenceman on MacSweyn’s opening goal. Skatin’ Clayton continues to develop as an offensive threat this year, as his role has shifted from the primarily defensive one thrust upon him last year. Clayton and MacSweyn also make a formidable penalty-killing duo.
Brent “Big Shoes” Hughes had an off afternoon. Butler pulled him during a power play in the second period after an ill-advised pass to Jay Harrison resulted in a Nash breakaway. The threat was snuffed out, however, as Harrison showed impressive speed to catch Nash and bug him just enough to prevent him from getting his best shot off (Topping made a nice stop and directed the puck into the corner). After the whistle, Butler made Hughes the only change, pulling him in favour of Van Leusen.
The Knights’ roster features Sean McMorrow, one of the league’s most feared enforcers. However, McMorrow’s presence was strictly decorative this afternoon, as he did not see any ice time at all. He did, however, put on an impressive display of shouting as he left the ice after the second period. In a game that did not feature any rough stuff or cheap shots, London coach Lindsay Hofford (of Bramalea Blues fame) wisely chose to keep McMorrow anchored.
Old rival Charlie Stephens was back in Brampton today, now as a member of the Knights. Stephens, perhaps more concerned with protecting the watch he earned in those commercials a few years back, showed little today, except for one nice pass that led to London’s third goal. It seems difficult to be minus-four in four games playing on a line with Rick Nash, but Stephens has been able to make the impossible possible in that respect. For the record, Stephens managed to rack up a minus-seven in only four games in Guelph.
Sunday’s contest was the third consecutive Brampton/London game to go into overtime. Brampton had won the two most recent games, on goals by Raffi Torres (last season) and Jay McClement (in this season’s third game).
As a tie game drew closer to the final buzzer, Butler re-jigged his third and fourth lines accordingly. This meant that Ryan Bowness was able to fulfill a lifelong dream and play on a line with his two nephews, Patrick Turcotte and Brent Hughes.
Travis Parent had assists in two consecutive games last week (against the Spitfires and IceDogs). This proves what Sea Bass has been saying for two years. You cannot stop Travis Parent – you can only hope to contain Travis Parent.
What does Sarge dress up as on Hallowe’en? A hippie?
THE WEEK AHEAD
Don Cherry makes his coaching debut in Brampton on Thursday night as the Mississauga IceDogs look to make themselves 2-for-20 all-time against the Troops. Rumour has it that Cherry is one loss away from firing himself and replacing himself with Ron MacLean.
The Battalion have Friday and Saturday off, and end the weekend by hosting the much-improved Kitchener Rangers, making their first of three visits to the Bunker. The Rangers are coached and managed by two-time OHL Coach of the Year Peter DeBoer, who came over from the Plymouth Whalers during the summer. The Rangers’ lineup features original Troop Brad Woods, playing his overage year in Kitchener. Brampton Centre maintenance workers will start installing higher glass around the ice surface on Friday in preparation for Woods’ visit.