GDB 11.0: WALLY WORLD
“Hey, hey, easy kids. Everybody in the car. Boat leaves in two minutes…or perhaps you don’t want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away.”
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Do you remember when Chevy Chase was hilarious? The memory is hazy I admit, but it’s there. If the question makes little or no sense to you then I apologize for dating myself. Allow me to provide some context just in case it is needed. This sublime quote (one that I personally like to use at the onset of a good roadie with my buddies) helps to set up the epic cross-country journey that the Griswold family embarks on in the iconic comedy film Vacation. Chevy Chase stars as the father of this average family as they set out on epic cross country drive to Wally World. However, the journey is fraught with comedic misfortune. Think getting shot at by bartenders, eccentric in-laws, vicious dogs, and desert crossings on foot. But as the old adage goes, “that which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” The road trip serves as a crucible to make the Griswold family closer and stronger as a unit.
The same is often said of extended road trips in junior hockey. It’s a major junior rite of passage to spend countless hours grinding out kilometres on a bus, night after night in these northern winters. But much like the Griswold’s experience in Vacation, these junior hockey roadies are supposed to bring teams together. It is said that they help teams to develop character while learning how to deal with success and adversity as a cohesive unit. The Hurricanes have that opportunity in front of them as they continue their longest road trip of this young season in Victoria. Picking up wins in the heart of enemy territory will be the Hurricanes’ “Wally World” on this epic road trip through the BC Division. (Spoiler alert ahead!) Yes, I understand that Wally World was closed in the movie but ignoring that point strengthens my metaphor. It’s going to be fascinating to reflect back on this road trip in its entirety in the coming days.
Game number 11 will see the Hurricanes match up against the Victoria Royals at the Save On Foods Memorial Centre. Victoria is currently sitting in 2nd place in both the BC Division and Western Conference. The Royals are coming off of a hard fought 3-0 victory against the Spokane Chiefs which saw backup netminder Griffen Outhouse earn his first career shutout in his first career start. The win halted a streak of 4 consecutive defeats for the Royals and pushed their record to 8-5-0-0 through 13 games. While the Royals may have had a hard time racking up W’s lately, they’ve continued to be a tough team to play. The team’s 5 losses are by a total of 8 goals (which includes 2 empty netters).
The Royals play a well-structured, tight checking style of hockey that relies on scoring by committee to earn wins. The Royals are led by standout defenceman Joe Hicketts, who was a member of the gold medal-winning team at this year’s IIHF World Juniors. Hicketts may be small in stature but he’s a stalwart on the back end as he eats valuable minutes. Last year’s second highest scoring defenceman in the WHL (12g – 52a in 62 games ) currently sits 15th overall in total assists with 11 helpers in 13 games. Upfront, Victoria sees balanced scoring from their top couple of lines. The lion’s share of the scoring is provided by a veteran group of forwards led by players such as Jack Walker, Tyler Soy, and former 1st overall Bantam draftee Alex Forsberg. The Hurricanes will also need to be wary of Russian import Vladimir Bobylev who has potted 5 goals in this young season. The Royals lean heavily on overage tender Coleman Vollrath who is amongst the WHL’s best. Thus far, he sports a 7-5-0-0 record in 12 starts with a 1.98 GAA and .930 save percentage. Vollrath has been a rock in the Royals’ net and solving him will be key to a Hurricanes victory.
The Hurricanes are coming off a 4-3 come from behind victory against the Edmonton Oil Kings at Rexall Place on Saturday. The Hurricanes jumped out to an early 1-0 lead after 20 minutes, but the road side was severely outplayed in the second stanza, being outshot 21-4. After 40 minutes the Canes trailed 3-1. The third period saw a reinvigorated Canes squad come storming back to secure a 6thconsecutive victory over Edmonton by a final score of 4-3. The name of the game for Lethbridge was secondary scoring as the team was paced by excellent efforts from Egor Babenko and overage D-man Arvin Atwal. For all the gritty details check out GDB 10.0 Wrap Up: Keep the Car Running here on Canes Domain.
This contest between the Hurricanes and Royals should be a tightly-checked affair with both teams jockeying to secure momentum and scoring chances. The Royals will likely attempt to use their size to try and manage the pace of the game by clogging up passing lanes and maintaining control over the neutral zone. The Royals don’t put up a ton of shots (29.2/game) nor do they give up a lot (28.3/game). The Royals, much like Dave Lowry coached teams of the past, try to play a defensive brand of hockey that capitalizes on opponents’ mistakes to secure results.
For the Hurricanes to be successful against the Royals they are going to need secondary scoring like they had in the 3rd period against the Oil Kings. The Canes top unit of Wong-Estephan-Bellerive/Burke is likely to see a lot of the Hicketts defensive pairing throughout the contest. This may mean that scoring chances will be few and far between for the top line. If the Babenko-Guiterrez-Millette line can continue to produce then the Canes have an excellent chance at securing 2 points and pushing their win streak to 7 games. The real question will be seeing how the Canes respond to being on their first extended road trip of the season. The Hurricanes will need to avoid ‘bus legs’ in this one or they might find themselves in an early hole.
Projected Line Up:
(Note: these projections are no longer (necessarily) accurate because Bellerive, Davis, and Watson have left the team for the next couple of weeks to play for Canada at the U17 tournament)
As stated in the previous game day preview here on Canes Domain, the top lines are pretty set for the Kisio coached Hurricanes. Outside of switching up Bellerive and Burke periodically the Canes top 3 lines have remained pretty consistent over the last few contests. The lines continue to gel and produce through the first ten games. I don’t envision any changes for Lethbridge in this department. Kisio has continued to employ an 11 forward set recently and this should be the case again vs. the Royals. I imagine that the Canes coaching staff continues to utilize a revolving door cast of fourth liners in an effort to have somebody differentiate themselves from the group in order to earn a more permanent spot in the lineup. I don’t think anyone has quite made that statement yet, so I envision that White and Davis will draw back into the lineup in place of Vandervlis and Sheen who got the nod in Edmonton. However, it is possible that the Hurricanes will stick with Vandervlis and Sheen if they want more size in the lineup. The nature of an extended trip will translate into lots of opportunity for these young fourth liners to show their stuff and standout.
The Hurricanes back end has become more solidified over the past 4 games. Darian Skeoch has seen the ice in four consecutive games and appears to have earned a spot on the blue line, at least for the time being. Skeoch brings good size and some needed grit to the Hurricanes defensive corps. Considering the style of game that the Royals like to play it’s a good bet that Skeoch will see action in his 5th consecutive game. My gut tells me that Merezhko will get the nod as the seventh defencemen to bring more size to the Hurricanes lineup. The import D man has provided a simplified, stay-at-home defensive game that should benefit the Canes against the Royals. Besides you can’t teach 6’4”, 220 lbs. Watson should slot back in against the Vancouver Giants on Wednesday.
It will be back to back road games for the Hurricanes in games 2 and 3 of this road trip. Therefore, the goalie tandem will keep on, keepin’ on. Jayden Sittler should be back between the pipes for the Hurricanes in the B.C. capital. He will be looking to build on a stellar start to this WHL season which has Sittler at, or near, the top of most statistical categories for WHL goaltenders. Skinner should see the crease against the Giants on Wednesday. Finding enough starts for these 2 outstanding goalies is the very definition of a “good problem” to have.
Game Day Prediction: This will be a tight-checking affair that won’t feature too many scoring chances for either team. The Hurricanes will put this one away late with an empty netter to secure a 3-1 win.
Obvious Game Day Prediction: Both starting goalies play well and are both counted in the game’s three star selections.
Not So Obvious Game Day Prediction: Igor Merezhko will score his first WHL goal by wristing a puck on net through a maze of players. The play-by-play call by Dustin Forbes will become the centre piece for all of Merezhko’s Christmas cards for the upcoming season.
I just wanted to make 2 quick shout outs to finish this post. The first is to WHL bus drivers. As I was writing this post I was reflecting on how difficult it would be to be a bus driver in this league. Imagine driving through the interior of B.C. in the middle of a January night. I’m white-knuckling the keyboard just thinking about it. So here’s a shout out to all of the bus drivers in this league. You are heroes of this game.
The second shout out is to Red Deer Rebels blogger Paul Figler of thefiglerfiles.blogspot.com. Not only does Paul provide some excellent analysis of the WHL, he maintains an extensive collection of statistics that are fascinating and informative. The amount of work needed to maintain those stats is staggering. So here’s a shout out to Paul for all of that amazing work.
What do you think? Who are you excited to watch tonight and what will be the outcome. Comment below.
Don’t forget to check out the sponsor of all this season’s game day articles, Graham Reimer of Dominion Lending here in Lethbridge. I personally know and vouch for the amazing work he does. If you need any advice or help with a mortgage or want to look into getting one, I cannot say enough good things about Graham and the Mortgage Crusher team.
Remember to tell him Canes Domain sent you!
Professional student, prospective teacher. Red Wings/Blue Jays/49ers super-fan. Proud general manager of Team Mono and the Slumlords in a pair of fantasy hockey keeper leagues. Is there anything better than soup and sandwich? Twitter: @jsvsakamoto.