It was pretty clear coming up Sarcee Trail AFTER rush hour and being caught in a traffic jam that things might get a little dicey getting to Markin Macphail Arena at COP for the Red/White game. Unbeknownst to us, it would only get worse.
30 minutes of driving inside COP just to get to parking and once in the building, the place was PACKED. Not exactly the greatest news for the "boycott the NHL once they return" crowd. If that game is any indication, and I believe it is, this city is starving for some hockey and it looks to me like they'll come back in droves.
Lucky enough to find some decent standing room to set up camp 2 minutes prior to puck drop, I settled in for my first ever Red/White game, expecting an ultra-competitive, exciting game.
What fans were treated to was anything but - however - it was nice to get out and see some live hockey and it really seemed to get everyone excited for the upcoming tournament. If you can get out and support the hopefuls today at COP, I highly recommend it. Five bucks or a donation to the food bank.
For now, I'll share my thoughts on Calgary Flames prospects Tyler Wotherspoon and Laurent Brossoit, local prospects Ty Rattie, Hunter Shinkaruk and Mathew Dumba and also my thoughts on the team as whole going into today's action.
CALGARY FLAMES HOPEFULS
With Jordan Binnington getting the start for team Red, Brossoit started on the bench, while Wotherspoon started on the ice for team Red, allowing us to get a look at him early, paired with Frank Corrado.
Wotherspoon comes as advertised. He has fairly good size and is pretty well-rounded as a defensive defenseman. At no point did he wow anyone but he was rarely out of position and played a pretty sound game overall. This turned out to be quite the trend as, outside of a select few players, most seemed to be suffering from a case of the jitters and be more concerned about positioning and preventing turnovers than showcasing their talents.
I was surprised Wotherspoon got the invite and I'd also be surprised to see him make the team, but he certainly never hurt his chances with last night's performance.
Brossoit replaced Binnington at roughly the 8:30 mark of the 2nd period and wasn't tested much in that frame. He saw a little more action in the 3rd and held his own. He seemed like the prototypical World Junior Canadian goaltender of late, big body able to cover a lot of the net with decent positioning but what stood out to me were the number of rebounds, and on lazy shots too. The Shinkaruk goal wasn't entirely his fault by any means, but he left a pretty juicy rebound out front for the Med Hat Tiger to pounce on. Lots and lots of rebounds from the young man.
I expect Brossoit to make the team as the 2 or 3 goalie. I wouldn't be that confident if the teams medal hopes were on his shoulders.
CALGARY AND AREA PROSPECTS
Ty Rattie was playing in front of about a dozen family members and another half-dozen members of the St. Louis Blues front office, including Al MacInnes, Tim Taylor and former VP John Davidson.
I really want to chalk it up to nerves with this kid because he wasn't all that impressive. He jumped into high gear on at least one play to create a 2-on-1 but went in a step offside. He set up Daniel Catenacci for an easy tap-in that he fanned on and that was his only real highlight. Bob McKenzie seems to think he has a really good shot at the 2nd RW spot, although being on a line with Boone Jenner, I'd see him battling for the 3rd RW spot. Rattie finished up roofing one blocker side over Brossoit in the shootout to end things on a high note for him.
Bottom line for Rattie to make the team is he needs to score. We haven't seen that out of him. He received a few shifts with Ryan Strome in the third and they weren't able to generate much of anything outside of one long shift in the offensive zone with no shots on goal. He needs to pick it up.
Hunter Shinkaruk was easily the surprise of the night. What an electric player. I've seen him play a number of times at The Arena in the Hat and he was, more often than not, the best player on the ice (and that includes Emerson Etem, last season) but you never know how that will translate on this stage.
He did exactly what you'd expect of a lot of these youngsters, once he got his chance, he rose to the occasion and played with more punch than the other hopefuls. In the third period, he was a one-man scoring chance machine. Besides his goal, he also hit the post and missed short-side on a very tight hole above Brossoit's blocker.
Shinkaruk is going to make it very tough on team management NOT to take him. 13th forward?
Mathew Dumba disappointed. I had very high hopes for him as all you hear coming out of Red Deer is that he has the kind of impact that Dion Phaneuf did when he played there. Well, we never really saw that last night. Not working in his favour, though, was the fact he was paired with Griffin Reinhart, who actually looked out of place anywhere but roughing guys up behind the net.
I was really hoping for Dumba to slide onto the team because the last several years of Team Canada have lacked speed on the back-end but he never did anything last night for me to say he'll make this team for sure.
OTHER NOTES AND COMMENTS
-Best players on the ice, by far, were Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
-Speaking of youngsters like Shinkaruk, how about Nathan MacKinnon? He sure looks like the real deal. Big, fast and great hands. He had a number of chances and created most of the opportunities for himself. At this point, I'd like to see him on the 2nd line with Ryan Strome.
-A couple of guys that I wasn't too familiar with that impressed are Brett Ritchie, Tyler Graovac and Ryan Sproul. Ritchie is big and explosive and would look really nice alongside Boone Jenner on the third line. Graovac was dangerous all night with surprising speed (and, another surprise, Minnesota Wild prospect... sheesh) and Sproul was the most surprising. Hadn't even heard of him but he's another big guy who can skate and he wasn't afraid to get involved in the play.
-In goal, I've heard Malcolm Subban is pretty much cemented as the #1, but he let in two softies (possible screened on the 2nd one). He looked decent otherwise, keeping the game scoreless after a flurry in the 2nd. But, Binnington and Jake Paterson also looked very strong. Neither gave up a goal, but neither was really tested with a quality scoring chance either.
-The defense was disappointing overall. Scott Harrington was a bright spot. He looks like a lock to be the top shutdown guy. Hamilton was Hamilton. Reilly didn't do anything to garner a second look and neither did Ryan Murphy. Adam Pelech and Griffin Reinhart looked like they actually didn't really belong, making me wonder what a guy like Cody Ceci thinks about that. Having said all of this, the game was quite tight and neither side took many chances, so the fact these d-men never stood out, could be a good thing. We'll see how they respond today.
-Up front, Mark Scheifele looks like he could be so good yet he never seems to get involved. Mark McNeil about the same. Jonathan Drouin seems like he may benefit from a talented linemate in Halifax and Sean Monahan was non-existent.
-Tom Wilson and Charles Hudon looked great.
At this point, here's what I would select:
Huberdeau - Nugent-Hopkins - Scheifele (short string on top line)
Hudon - Strome - MacKinnon
Graovac - Jenner - Ritchie
McNeil - Danault - Wilson (not sure who'd centre)
Hamilton - Reilly
Harrington - Sproul
Corrado - Dumba
Subban - Paterson/Brossoit/Binnington (toss-up for 2/3)