GDB 13.0: IT’S A TRAP!
At this point what else is there to say? The #CaneTrain just keeps on rolling. 8 consecutive victories. 8 wins in a row. An 8 game winning streak. No matter how you type it, or say it, it’s mindboggling. The franchise’s fan base was expecting some improvement this season, but not of this magnitude. This is the Hurricanes longest winning streak since the 2007-08 season when that version of the Canes also won 8 in a row. The Hurricanes have played well enough to garner an honourable mention in the latest CHL BMO Top Ten list. The team couldn’t have scripted a better start to the season if it had been written by Steven Brill himself (obscure reference to the writer of Mighty Ducks – “Did you really quack at the principal?”) Is this pace sustainable? Certainly not, but it has been an amazing ride so far. One that I am sure we are all glad to have witnessed and after the last few seasons of loyal fandom, it’s a start that Caniacs likely deserve.
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Game 13 is where things could awry for the Canes if they’re not careful. The matchup versus the Kamloops Blazers has all the makings of a trap game. The Canes are coming in hot while lighting up the scoreboard, the Blazers are currently sitting in the cellar of the Western Conference, and the Canes have a matchup with the powerhouse Kelowna Rockets on Saturday. It would be very easy for the Hurricanes to overlook the Blazers and focus on the subsequent game against the Rockets. It’s a mistake that many a hot team has committed in the past and they usually pay dearly for it. The Hurricanes are preparing to deploy their forces on the forest moon of Endor to take down the shield generator. However, if they look past the Blazers, Lethbridge will find out quickly that they’ve been fed bogus intelligence by the Empire. The next thing you know enemy ships will be coming in quick from sector 47 and the supreme military commander of the Rebel Alliance, Admiral Ackbar, will turn slowly to the camera and yell, “It’s a trap!” In the movies it doesn’t matter because the good guys always win, but this isn’t the movies. It’s major junior hockey and looking past a seemingly weak opponent could leave the Hurricanes looking like Alderaan.
The key to a Hurricanes W in this contest could be another quick start. The Hurricanes have yet to lose this season when scoring the first goal. The team is 9-0 when getting on the board first and 1-2 when they don’t. Special teams will be pivotal for the Hurricanes in this game. If the Hurricanes can stay out of the box and manage to draw a few penalties then the league’s 2nd best power play (29.3%) can go to work against Kamloops’ tenth ranked (81.2%) penalty kill. That should be advantage Canes. The Hurricanes will need to continue to utilize their team speed to gain time in the offensive zone. The team has been quite effective in the cycle game so far, especially the top line, and need to continue getting pucks in deep to generate offence. The Hurricanes will need to focus on this in order to remedy their recent shooting woes. Lethbridge has been outshot by a considerable margin in each of their last 3 games (by 15 vs. EDM, by 10 vs. VIC, and by 12 vs. VAN). As Hurricanes fans know all too well over the past few seasons, it’s difficult to get wins when you get outshot on a nightly basis.
I don’t think too much should be made of Kamloops’ record given their recent play. While the Blazers may currently reside in the basement of the West, they’ve gone 4-2-0-0 in their last six games and are coming off a 6-1 mauling of the Prince George Cougars. The Blazers having been playing a more inspired brand of hockey since the surprise (at least to me) resignation of G.M. Craig Bonner in mid-October. Kamloops early season struggles should be viewed as an aberration by the Hurricanes. The Blazers are a well-coached squad with Don Hay behind the bench (who currently sits second all time for most victories by a head coach in WHL history). This is a disciplined team that plays their systems well. It looks like they are starting to gel as a unit and will likely give the Hurricanes all they can handle on Fridaynight. Up front the Blazers are led by overage forward Gage Quinney, who they acquired from the Kelowna Rockets earlier this season. Since coming over to the Blazers he’s put up 7 points (3g-4a) in 5 games. The Blazers have also seen the return of Deven Sideroff to their lineup following a battle with illness. The 2015 Anaheim Ducks 3rd rounder is important contributor for the Blazers and really helps to round out their forward corps. The back end is anchored by the hulking Ryan Rehill. A 5th round pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2014, this 6’3” 218 lbs monster plays a ton of minutes while providing some offensive punch from the blue line. All in all, I think you can throw the records out the window in this one as we will likely be treated to close affair with multiple lead changes.
Projected Line Up:
In the last game versus Vancouver the Canes returned to employing a more traditional 12 forward and 6 defencemen set. Thus far into the season, when the Hurricanes have made a coaching decision, such as this one, they tend to stick with it for a few games. Therefore, I anticipate that the Canes will ice the same line combos versus the Blazers as were used on Wednesday night. If the Canes do elect to return to 11 F – 7 D setup, then I would guess that Franklin will be the odd man out for the good guys.
Once again I’m guessing that Lethbridge will go with the same D-pairings used in the previous game against the Giants. If the Canes continue to go 12 F and 7 D it becomes difficult to determine when Merezhko will draw back in for the Canes. Darian Skeoch has played in five consecutive games for the Canes now. The coaches value the physicality that he’s been bringing to the rink, so it would be somewhat surprising to see Merezhko take his place on the blue line. Perhaps that means that one of Kennedy or Reagan may get the night off in subsequent nights? Clearly this is all speculation, but it will be very interesting to see what the Hurricanes do when Bellerive, Davis, and Watson return from the U-17 tourney.
I’m going to put an asterisk beside Sittler’s name for this contest. With another back-to-back set on the horizon this should be Sittler’s start; however, I have been unable to determine why Sittler didn’t start the 3rd period versus Victoria. Was he injured? Was he sick? Was it just a coaching decision? This weekend’s contests should go a long way in answering those questions, but with no evidence to go on I’m going to assume everything is fine and that Sittler will patrol the crease against the Blazers on Friday night.
Game Day Prediction: The Hurricanes aren’t taking anything for granted in this young season and come out strong. While it’s a closely contested match the Hurricanes will eventually skate away with 5-4 victory.
Obvious Game Day Prediction: Han fired first, not Greedo.
Not So Obvious Game Day Prediction: Carter Folk will break a pane of glass after delivering a thunderous check on a Blazer forward.
As I was doing some research for this article I came across a series of Sportsnet articles entitled “CHL Poll.” In this series of articles, the network asked various CHL coaches and executives to evaluate their respective leagues for a broad range of categories such as best overall player, best prospect, hardest barn to play in, most likely to win it all etc. The latest segment of this series was called “CHL Coaches Poll: The Best at Everything.” In it the Hurricanes Stuart Skinner was ranked as the second best goalie in the Dub behind Moose Jaw’s Zack Sawchenko. This quite an accolade Skinner. He was ranked ahead of other standout goalies like Portland’s Adin Hill, Everett’s Carter Hart, and Brandon’s Jordan Papirny. It’s quite an accolade for a young man that doesn’t turn 17 until November. Congratulations Stuart!
What do you think? Who are you excited to watch tonight and what will be the outcome. Comment below.
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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.