Where did we leave off last year? Something about a tough season for the Brandon Wheat Kings. Funny, I did not see it that way. What I saw was the exciting possibilities of the next year. Through all the losing, injuries and fan anger, if one looked objectively at the quality of the young players of the Brandon Wheat Kings last year, they would have had the same wait until next year attitude.
Simply put, Brandon’s best players was their young players. I was amazed at how such a young and undersized team competed and never quit in spite of all the obstacles. Furthermore, if the ordinary fan understood even more depth and talent was still not here yet, but a 15 or 16 year old playing Midget or Tier 2 junior somewhere else, they would have been quietly excited like I was.
Here is an overview of that talent I knew was on the way:
Let’s start with those that didn’t even make it to preliminary season roster.
The Portland Winterhawks went from Memorial Cup Champions to WHL lightweights in two seasons, yet looked solid in front of their hometown crowd Friday night. Three seasons after winning the Junior Hockey’s most coveted prize, and many painful losses later, this year’s Winterhawk team may surprise the WHL’s elite teams with a fresh and inspired effort. After losing the team’s tremendous leadership core of Brenden Morrow, Andrew Ference and others to professional hockey, Portland seemed to lose the intensity and commitment required to play their tough 72 game schedule last season. As with all great organizations however, management made the necessary changes in coaching, nurtured their draft picks, and now look close to regaining the form that made them Canadian Hockey League Champions.
The 2000-2001 Winterhawks will be under the youthful reigns of former Hawk defenseman Mike Williamson. Coach Williamson took over for Harold Snepsts towards the end of last season in the midst of various communication problems between Coach Snepsts and the players. Williamson did an excellent job to right the ship and leave players motivated for their summer workouts. In August, GM Ken Hodge and Williamson together selected Troy Mick to be Assistant Coach of the Winterhawks. Coach Mick will provide this year’s Hawks with veteran leadership as well as a winning attitude.
Here’s the quick notes on the game Friday night, September 15th, at Memorial Coliseum between the
Portland Winterhawks and the Tri-City Americans . . .
It’s not a suprise that a former Quebec League goalie is pushing for a spot in the nets for the Pens this year. It is suprprising, however, that his name isn’t Aubin. While JS Aubin is battling team management for a new contract, Sebastian Caron has been making the most of his opportunity to get plenty of game time in early this preseason. After an excellent 30 min, 31 save performance in the preseason opener against the Blue Jackets, Caron followed that up with a solid 18 save performance against the defending Cup champion New Jersey Devils in Wilkes-Barre on Sat. While the Pens are expected to sign a goalie or 2 within the next week or so, that isn’t stopping Caron from doing everything he can to be on that plane to Toyko to start the season with the Pens.
The Pens, however, would like Caron to play a full season for AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before he competes for a job on the NHL roster in 2001-02. But given his performances so far this preseason, they won’t have any problem using him as needed.
Caron, a 3rd round pick in 1999, was the most valuable goaltender in last year’s Memorial Cup tournament, leading his Rimouski Oceanic to the title.
Pens rookies lose to Devils
The Pens rookie squad lost 6-2 to the Devils rookies on Sat in Wilkes-Barre. Dylan Gyori and Alexei Kolkunov scored for the Pens.
Pens make roster moves
The Pens sent the following players back to their respective junior teams.
The 2000-2001 Under-20 teams schedule brought the five national teams to Omsk, Russia, first. The Czech republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia and Sweden participated in the tournament, held in the first week of September. The home Russian fans had to be delighted as the very strong Russian squad captured the victory. The Russian team full of possible NHL stars prepares for the home WJC in December/January and their attitude to this tournament was quite serious. The win came after a strong showing, but the Scandinavian teams (Finland and Sweden) looked in a good shape, too. It’s not easy to say, but the Czechs lost their first three games and only in their last game they swept Slovakia, 5:0. As a result, there was a fourth place. There is only one tournament left before the WJC comes round, so it’s time to change something. The Czechs are the last U-20 world champion and they want to defend this title. But not with the play they showed in Omsk.
The Canadiens’ health problems of a year ago have been the main topic of discussion during training camp. With health should come scoring, and with scoring should come success. But will this hypothetical scoring be enough?
The Canadiens went into the off-season looking to improve on offense. The team averaged only 2.39 goals scored per game last season. Which was actually an improvement from the 98-99 season, when the team averaged only 2.24 goals per game. Then again, scoring was up around the league last season; from 5.3 goals per game in 98-99, to 5.5 goals per game last season.
Jim Campbell and Darryl Shannon, Rejean Houle’s only notable free-agent signing going into the upcoming season, combined for only 5 goals at the NHL level last year. Obviously not the scoring punch Habs’ fans were hoping for.
Based on last year’s numbers, in order for the Canadiens to improve to a respectable 11th place in scoring, they would have to increase their output by nearly a goal every two games. Initially this doesn’t seem like much. But in order for this to happen the Habs would need to add two 20-goal-scorers to last year’s roster. That’s without taking into account the 16 goals that Turner Stevenson and Shayne Corson combined for last season.
Unfortunately, the only way that the team could achieve this “goal”, is if every player on the current roster matched their career-highs in goals scored. Read more»