Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

  • PORTLAND, Ore. — Goaltender Jordon Cooke and the Kelowna Rockets were 5:10 away from stealing Game 3 of the WHL’s Western Conference final against the Portland Winterhawks.

    But after Cooke delivered a scintillating performance for 57 minutes Tuesday, the bounces suddenly went against him late as Portland scored twice in the last three minutes of regulation to force overtime, then won on a Taylor Leier shot that caromed in off a jersey 10 minutes into the extra period.

    Portland captured a 4-3 decision, and now leads the series 2-1, and the Rockets are left wondering how they can combat a Winterhawks onslaught that brought 65 shots on goal in 70 minutes.

    Cooke, an overager in his fourth WHL season, cobbled together several weeks worth of highlight-reel saves in a single night, but unfortunately became the sidenote to the Winterhawks’ series-shifting comeback when all was said and done.

    “Jordon was great, if we would have won that game it would’ve been a steal,” said Kelowna coach Ryan Huska. “He played really well and kept us in for as long as he could. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to hold them off toward the end of the third period.”

    Ryan Olsen’s goal put the Rockets up 3-1 with 5:10 left in the third, and some fans in the crowd of 9,259 at the Moda Center started to head for the exits. It turned out to be a bad choice.

    “When it got to 3-1 most teams would let it get the wind out of their sails,” said Portland’s Brendan Leipsic, who scored the game-tying goal with 1:18 remaining in regulation. “We knew we were going to get our chances and we waited it out.

    “We’ve been in this position before with a goalie getting hot on us, but we’re a veteran team and we stuck with it.”

    Despite turning in what Portland goalie Corbin Boes called “one of the best performances I’ve ever seen,” Cooke couldn’t hide his disappointment in the aftermath.

    “It’s unfortunate, when you’re up 3-1 against them and you eventually lose in overtime,” said Cooke. “It’s deflating and it sucks.”

    Oliver Bjorkstrand’s second goal of the game came on the power play with 2:59 left in the third and the net empty for a six-on-four situation. His weak nudge toward the net hit a body and squeezed through Cooke’s pads.

    On the winner, Leier wheeled around from about 45 feet out and fired a blind shot through traffic. The puck hit Rockets defenceman Colten Marin in the sleeve and fluttered into the net. A video review was needed to confirm that it hadn’t hit a high stick of a Winterhawk in front, and a delirious celebration resumed after a short break.

    “I like how our players handled it when we got down 3-1,” said Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston. “We knew we were getting our chances, and once the first one fell the crowd was so into the game it was a big boost. I almost thought we were going to win in regulation there.”

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  • No. 1 star: Marek Langhamer, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)

    This was the goaltending equivalent of German volume training, you might say. Langhamer, who thrives on being peppered with pucks, flat-out stole a Game 3 win from the Edmonton Oil Kings by stopping 43-of-44 shots in Medicine Hat's must-have 2-1 victory. The Phoenix Coyotes-drafted goalie was beaten in the sixth minute by Ottawa Senators first-round pick Curtis Lazar. St. Louis Blues prospect Tommy Vannelli got the goal back 71 seconds later and Langhamer came through with 18 first-period saves to preserve a tie after 20 minutes.

    Langhamer continued to bunker down in the second, buying time for the Tigers to go ahead with 2:28 left in the frame on a tally credited to Chad Labelle. After that, the Tigers went to work stymieing the potent Oil Kings as much as possible, with Dylan Bredo doing yeoman's work neutralizing both Lazar and Henrik Samuelsson's line. Langhamer came through with 14 more saves in the final period, upping his playoff save percentage to a gaudy .939.

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  • The psychology of 3-0 series deficits is the topic du jour. Erie began the long climb back thanks in large part to Toronto Maple Leafs signing Connor Brown's line coming alive. An An international border and a few hundred clicks away, Captain Teal himself, Barclay Goodrow, buried a pair in front of a sellout crowd to North Bay as the Battalion put Oshawa in the most perilous of positions. On with the post-game questions:

    Western final

    Erie 5 Guelph 2, ENG (Storm lead 3-1 and host Game 5 on Friday) — How much impact did Brown (2G-1A, +2) have on the Otters? Tangibly, the captain came through with a go-ahead goal in the first, then carried deep into the Guelph zone to set up a point shot that Dane Fox redirected in to open a 4-2 lead after one. (No one scored again until Erie's empty-netter.) It was an inspirational effort from the OHL's leading scorer.

    "He's a guy who steps it up and takes the bull by the horns," Otters goalie Devin Williams said of Brown. "Even when we're down a goal, he kicks it into another level, the next gear. It's really easy to feed off a guy who does that and rally behind him. Credit him for getting the ball rolling."

    The Otters also had a players-only meeting before the game. That means the shakeup in their routine worked, since they won.

    "It was just talking about having our backs up against the wall," added Williams, who stopped 26-of-28 shots after being pulled after barely two periods' work in Guelph's 7-1 romp on Monday. We have nothing to lose here. It was a good meeting that we had. It rallied us tonight."

    Guelph scored in the first 90 seconds for the second game in succession, which might have sucked it into a false sense of security. The Storm were not sharp, with goalie Justin Nichols getting lifted after three goals on 11 shots and Erie's frontline attackers getting way too much space in the neutral zone.

    "Erie didn't have 106 points for no reason," Guelph coach Scott Walker said. "We knew they weren't going to roll over and they didn't. We had 30 per cent of our players playing and 70 per cent didn't."

    Can the Otters replicate that effort Friday in Guelph, where they are 0-5? Erie is eminently capable, but there might not be the same 'at least save face on home ice' imperative when the clubs reconvene at the Sleeman Centre for a Sportsnet Friday Night Hockey tilt. That said, their game had a certain jauntiness, particularly in how the Otters calmly built a lead, with Connor McDavid getting two primary assists to help open an early lead.

    "They kind of reminded me of what I've seen most of the season," Otters coach Kris Knoblauch said of the McDavid-Fox-Brown line, which combined for five points. "I just thought they drove the net, they didn't play on the perimeter. They made good decisions.

    "We just have to play hockey," Knoblauch said. "Maybe we were complicating things too much and maybe that was my fault. Players may have been putting too much pressure on themselves because we were playing such a good team. Tonight it was 'nothing to lose' and we just played hard. We have expect Guelph to have a much better game tonight because sometimes when you're up 3-0, you take shortcuts. I know I've had teams do that in those situations."

    McDavid deftly poked a puck loose to set up Dylan Strome on the first Otters goal, which put some wind into the trailers' sail.

    Ultimately, the Storm can take 'comfortability' in knowing they're unbeaten at home vs. Erie. Guelph not only has not had two losses in a row since October, but also has scored at least four goals all but once when it's coming off a loss. Provided it can re-discover its focus in the defensive zone, it should be fine on Friday.

    In Round 2, Guelph responded to a desultory Game 2 loss to win twice on London Knights' ice. In the first round vs. Plymouth, it put seven pucks behind OHL goalie of the year Alex Nedeljkovic after losing Game 3 of the series.

    "If at the beginning of the year someone said you'd be up 3-1 coming home in the Western Conference final, you'd take that," Toronto Maple Leafs-signed Storm captain Matt Finn said. "We'd have loved to have swept the series, but it was going to take a lot to sweep and I don't think we played to that level tonight.

    Eastern final

    North Bay 5 Oshawa 3, ENG (Battalion lead 3-0 and host Game 4 on Wednesday) — Are the Gens too far down to recover? You know the cliché that begins with, "if it wasn't for bad luck." The irony of sniper extraordinaire Michael Dal Colle (2G, -1) having a multi-goal night was that he did despite being snakebit. The Generals hit two crossbars and one post during a first-period power play.

    Dal Colle later opened the scoring on a breakaway, but the Battalion were buoyed by the break. Goodrow (2G-2A, +2) factored into goals 28 seconds apart late in the first that put North Bay ahead to stay.

    Oshawa's pushback was sporadic, as it mustered only 18 official shots on goal.

    "It's not what we expected," Generals coach D.J. Smith said. "We thought maybe Game 2 would be our best game. Losing that game hurt. We didn't feel too bad coming in here. We would have liked to get tonight. We knew we had to get one here. There are probably some guys who are a little bit shocked, but ultimately we just have to win one hockey game and take care of home ice and get it back here for Game 6.

    "There's battle there for sure. I don't think it ever goes through anyone's head that we're done ... At 3-0, everyone is expecting North Bay to put us away. The chance of coming back, if you can win one, the other team starts to get a little bit nervous and maybe you get a little bit of puck luck going your way."

    In the first round, North Bay was 20 minutes away from being eliminated on home ice in Game 5 vs. the Niagara IceDogs. Since that point, counting the third-period turnaround, it's 10-2 and is one win from going to the OHL final in its first season in the north. Their confidence appears to be contagious.

    "All playoff long, all season long our crowd has been our seventh man," overage wing Ben Thomson said. "A lot of these guys haven't played in front of a crowd like this and I can tell from experience [with the Kitchener Rangers] that it's a boost. Tonight was incredible. We feed off that and we enjoy that.

    "Everyone has banded together," Thomson added. "We just need to force their hand a bit to finish it off."

    In the first round, Oshawa's rival, the Peterborough Petes, beat Kingston to become the fourth OHL team to win a series after falling behind 3-0.

    "No one expected Peterborough to come back against a high-flying Kingston team," Dal Colle said. "As funny as it sounds, we're going to have to look to them for inspiration. It's been done before. We gotta do what we gotta do."

    In 2010, Smith was an assistant coach in Windsor and Thomson was a Kitchener rookie when the Spitfires came back from 3-0 down to beat the Rangers in the third round. The Spitfires, though, were a powerhouse that arguably enjoyed the run of play in each of the first three games. In the present, what's relevant is that the Generals have not been able to contain the overage Goodrow, who has nine points in the series.

    "It's got to be a five-man commitment to defence and you've got to make them play defence. He's a good player who finds way to get open," Smith said of containing Goodrow.

    How could playing back-to-back help out the Troops? As it's been noted a million and one times, the Battalion has adapted from toiling in anonymity amid the suburban sprawl of Brampton to a fishbowl existence up in North Bay, one of the OHL's smallest markets with a population of 55,000.

    Words probably cannot do justice to the brewing euphoria. The city lacked an OHL team for 12 seasons and the old Centennials' final years were mostly marked by mediocrity following their last J. Ross Robertson Cup title in 1994. The current team's run is a generational event. For the players, though, that adulation can be a double-edged sword, the dreaded distraction. Having to go right back to work, it would stand to reason, might work to North Bay's benefit.

    "With leadership like Ben and Barclay Goodrow and Matt MacLeod and Marcus McIvor, their job is to make sure the guys are ready and realize we have a tough job ahead of us," Battalion coach Stan Butler said. "You look at Erie, they played a great game tonight and that series is 3-1 now.

    "What I can do is control my emotions, and pass that on to the team," Butler added. "I can't be concerned about how people feel at Burger World or Average Joe's or Cecil's. I have to worry about our team. Oshawa is a great organization, D.J. Smith was coach of the year for a reason, Scott Laughton was captain of Team Canada and they get [defensive leader] Josh Brown back tomorrow [after the defenceman missed Tuesday's game with a one-game ban for slew-footing]. But we still have to go hard here to get that fourth one.

    "This is a great hockey town. It deserves to have an OHL team and the people in town are showing it day in, day out. I know our players. The reason they want to keep going is because of our seventh man."

    Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

  • Scott Kosmachuk did his best Buzz Killington by scoring 18 seconds after the opening faceoff in Erie. Robby Fabbri scored a hat trick in a Game 3 rout, and the Guelph Storm are poised to sweep the Otters in an OHL Western Conference final most forecast to be a six- or seven-gamer. On with the post-game questions:

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  • Hunter Smith has gone from scoring one OHL goal in two seasons — partial seasons, albeit — to being a one-man cleanup crew around the opposing net for the Oshawa Generals.

    The 18-year-old right wing who is listed at 6-foot-6¼ and 208 pounds and might still be growing offers a combo of can't-be-taught size with a burgeoning nose for net. That has led to Smith's draft stock spiking in the second half of the season with the Generals, peaking with a No. 39 slot in NHL Central Scouting's final North American ranking. The Windsor native had 16 goals and 40 points across 64 regular-season games, and has built off that with three goals and 11 points through 10 Ontario league playoff matches.

    "I attribute all my success to the work last summer," Smith Smith, whose Generals trail North Bay 2-0 in the OHL Eastern Conference final that resumes Tuesday. "I think of late that's helped me not be as tired. Maybe I have more to give ... My first two years, I was a very tall, lanky kid — still am, The coordination started to come along, I started to become a man as I played with men. I think just getting my weight up and being able to skate and compete at the level that OHL guys compete at is what has helped me the most."

    Developing his coordination was a trial for Smith, who grew early but developed a decent set of hands as a catcher on the ball diamond with the Windsor South Canadians program. At age 16, the Windsor Spitfires sent him to the Junior B Lasalle Vipers to get up to speed. Following a trade to Oshawa in 2012, he missed half the year after cutting tendons in his hand. That lost year made it imperative to have a breakthrough this season, in his second year of NHL draft eligibility.

    "Junior B was tough," says Smith, who made the 2013 draft cutoff by only four days. "As a second-rounder you expect to play in your first year. So that was tough. I battled and knew I was going to get my chance the following year. The injury took a toll on where I was at — cut tendons in my hand, missed three months. That was a major setback for me and was crucial in just realizing this year was going to be the last kick at the can to really make an impression on someone. I hope I've done enough."

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  • Combing all corners of the country and the blogosphere for your junior hockey headlines ...

    WHL

    Terry Jones has the week's must-read on Medicine Hat's "broadcasting bus driver" Bob Ridley, who's now matched legendary Edmonton Oilers play-by-player Rod Phillips' 3,542 career games. Ridley: "I'm pretty sure I’ve probably done over 4,000 games now. But I’ve never taken the time to actually add them all up. I’m not ready to add ‘em up yet. It just makes me feel older." (Edmonton Sun)

    Medicine Hat stuck to the plan but trails Edmonton 2-0 nevertheless in the Eastern final. Tigers defenceman Tyler Lewington: "I think that we got a little momentum with this game." (Medicine Hat News, Edmonton Journal)

    Are these Curtis Lazar's final weeks as a junior? Then again, maybe the Ottawa Senators would be unable to keep him next season because of his cap hit. Stop laughing. (Edmonton Sun)

    Why Saskatoon's Nikita Scherbak is a Guy You Should Know. (On The Forecheck)

    Calgary Hitmen grad Kenton Helgesen, who shifted around from defence to forward to help his team, has signed with Anaheim Ducks organization. (Orange County Register)

    The Telus Cup: it's a bigger deal. (Moose Jaw Times-Herald)

    OHL

    Now it's about "if" Oshawa even brings the Eastern Conference final back home for Game 5. That's how well the North Bay is doing with the shutdown game. (durhamregion.com, North Bay Nugget)

    The Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League is Junior A-calibre in several regards already, but making it official is meeting with some opposition. (London Free Press)

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  • The Edmonton Oil Kings have the Medicine Hat Tigers on the ropes after taking the first two games of the WHL Eastern Conference final.

    The Oil Kings blew the Tigers out of the water in the first game of the series. They scored seven goals in the first half of the contest and went on to take the win 8-3.

    It ultimately wasn’t surprising to see Edmonton come out flying in the Friday affair. They came into the match with a full week break following knocking off the Brandon Wheat Kings in five games. Meanwhile, Medicine Hat just wrapped up their seven-game series against the Kootenay Ice on Wednesday night.

    Tigers head coach Shaun Clouston didn’t point to the difference in breaks as an excuse for the Tigers’ poor start to the game, though.

    “I think we weren’t quite ready, and sometimes things just happen,” Clouston told the Medicine Hat News. “They scored on the first two shots. Four on four, we just didn’t manage the puck very well. The first one we turned it over. The second one we backed right in. We had great numbers, and we just backed right in. We were just fighting it all night. Some guys that are usually really good with the puck struggled a little bit.”

    After going down 7-0 in the first 30 minutes, the Tigers actually won the latter half of the contest. It all started with team captain Curtis Valk scoring a pair of goals to shift some momentum back in their favour. But the fact that Medicine Hat only allowed four shots on net in the third period practically ensured the Oil Kings wouldn’t hit double digits on the score board.

    The Tigers put up a much stronger fight in the second match, but they still couldn’t generate enough offense as they fell 3-1 in Bob Ridley’s 3,542 announced game as Medicine Hat’s play-by-play guy.

    Ottawa Senators first-rounder Curtis Lazar came up big for the Oil Kings. He scored the game’s opening goal on the power play in a scrum in front of Tigers goalie Marek Langhamer followed by the game-winner on the penalty kill thanks to a slick lateral pass from Edgars Kulda. The two-goal showing not only earned Lazar the first star honour for the second straight night, but he also tied Michael St. Croix’s team record for most points in the playoffs with his 46th post-season point.

    The 19-year-old had no idea that he had ac­com­plished the im­pres­sive feat.

    “Did I?” he asked. Once the media sur­round­ing him con­firmed it, Laz­ar sim­ply shrugged his shoul­ders and re­sponded with a one-worded “Cool.”

    Laz­ar was clear­ly the best play­er on the ice in Game 2, but that didn’t real­ly mat­ter much to him. What mat­tered most in his hum­ble opin­ion was help­ing his team take a 2-0 ser­ies edge over the Tigers. Tying the fran­chise points re­cord he shares with Mi­chael St. Croix real­ly wasn’t a pri­or­ity for him. (Edmonton Journal)

    Langhamer was clearly the Tigers’ best player. The Phoenix Coyotes prospect held them in the game by stopping 43 of 45 pucks following allowing five of 22 rubber bullets get by him the night before.

    Chad Butcher scored Medicine Hat’s lone goal at the 12:14 mark in the second period on the power play. The snipe gives the 5-foot-9, 162-pound 18-year-old five goals in the second season; he’s only one marker away from matching the his six-goal total from his 62-game regular-season.

    For the most part, Game 2 wasn’t a fast-paced match. There were bursts of offense here and there, but both defences did a good job of keeping their opponents to the outside. The vast majority of the shots were from the perimeter and there wasn’t too much traffic in front of either goaltender. This was more to the Tigers’ benefit than the Oil Kings because Medicine Hat simply can’t match their Alberta rival’s explosiveness and talent in a run-and-gun style.

    Afterthoughts

    It’s too early to write off the Tigers, but it’s hard to imagine the Oil Kings dropping four of five games to a team they never lost to in regulation time in the season.

    The bottom line for the Tigers is they need Langhamer to stand tall in the blue paint as he did in his previous two series. Without strong goaltending, Medicine Hat doesn’t have a chance with a high-powered offense and Tristan Jarry at the other end of the ice. In addition, they need Valk, Trevor Cox and Cole Sanford to bring their A-games. Valk, the team captain, has played well, but Cox and Sanford need to elevate their efforts. They have been perimeter players so far, only notching one assist apiece through two.

    Lazar takes the cake, but Henrik Samuelsson deserves his due, too. The Coyotes first-round pick, who has two goals and 12 points in 11 playoff games, has anchored the Oil Kings’ second line with a physical presence and a hunger for the puck.

    Edmonton’s third line, meanwhile, of Mads Eller, Riley Kieser and Luke Bertolucci has done an excellent job of creating energy and wearing the Tigers down physically. Not to mention, they combined for one goal and three apples in the first game.

    NHL draft watch: Oil Kings 17-year-old Dysin Mayo, who’s ranked 82nd among North American skaters by NHL CSS, has stood out on the blueline for his speed and quick shot. In addition, the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder, who scored one goal in Game 1, has looked composed on the power play beside Colorado Avalanche prospect Cody Corbett…. Brett Pollock, who’s ranked 34th by CSS, sniped a big goal in the first contest, but he’s had a fairly quiet couple of games… Aaron Irving, who’s ranked 90th by CSS, hasn’t drawn too much attention to himself. That’s good in many ways, though, because he hasn’t made any big mistakes on Edmonton’s back end.

    The Oil Kings and Tigers square off in Game 3 on Tuesday in Medicine Hat.

    Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen

  • KELOWNA — First-period leads seem to be the kiss of death in the WHL’s Western Conference final. On Friday, Portland led 3-0 before Kelowna rallied for a 5-4 Game 1 win.

    In Game 2, the Rockets jumped out to a 2-0 lead through one period on two power-play goals, but the Winterhawks took control from there, earning a 5-3 victory to even the series as the teams head south of the border for Games 3 and 4.

    Portland only got 26 shots on Rockets goalie Jordon Cooke in Game 1, but threw 53 shots his way in Game 2, including 24 in a decisive second period in which the Hawks scored four times.

    “They were the better hockey club tonight,” said Kelowna coach Ryan Huska. “They were skating and they made us defend a lot.

    “When you get into the situation and stand around against a good team, they’ll do that to you.”

    The three-goal lead the Hawks built in Game 1 was a bit of a mirage, as they weren’t completely sharp from the start. Turnovers mounted, and the Rockets eventually made Portland pay for its sloppiness.

    Game 2 provided a dramatic shift in the Hawks’ fortunes, especially for defenceman Derrick Pouliot, who was on the ice for four of Kelowna’s five goals in Game 1 but turned things around with three assists on Saturday.

    “We were playing our game tonight, when we weren’t right on it last night,” Portland coach Mike Johnston said. “When we’re on, our puck movement is really crisp and really sharp.

    “When we’re not on, we’re sloppy with the puck. We’re trying to make plays, and if we’re off we look sloppy and don’t create as much. We were snapping it around pretty good tonight.”

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  • Erie took the first seven shots, then Guelph commenced to score seven goals to maintain its eerie mastery of the Otters on home ice. Meantime, Oshawa allowed an opponent to hit half-a-hundred on the shot counter — say shot clock, and it's fine — for the first time all year as North Bay was full value for the effort in its Game 1 road win in the Eastern final. On with the post-game questions:

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  • No. 1 star: Scott Kosmachuk, Guelph Storm (OHL)

    Kosmachuk (2G-2A, +3), Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder Kerby Rychel (2G-1A, +3) and Minnesota Wild signing Zack Mitchell (2G-1A, +3, including an unassisted shorty) each had a double during the 7-2 blowout of Erie that opened a 2-0 lead in the OHL semifinal. The former was given first-star honours at the Sleeman Centre. Kosmachuk, a Winnipeg Jets signing, manoeuvred into the slot to snap in the opening goal 9:33 into the contest, then made a slick entry past to set up Rychel for the 2-0 goal three minutes later.

    Erie made a half-push to pare Guelph's edge to 4-2 late in the second. Kosmachuk promptly finished off a give-and-go with Tyler Bertuzzi to reopen a three-goal lead, then broke away 2-on-1 to set up Mitchell's second of the night early in the third.

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