GDB 45.0: IT AIN’T EASY
I would like to preface this game day blog by stating how sad I was to hear of the passing of David Bowie late Monday night. I’m generally not one to get emotional when a celebrity and/or artist passes away, but Mr. Bowie was a hero of mine. The term ‘genius’ gets tossed around a lot, but I truly believe that he was a genius. I had the absolute privilege of seeing David Bowie perform on his last tour in 2005 and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. His catalogue has been on repeat in the Sakamoto household since the news was revealed. This one is dedicated to his legacy.
Now let’s get to some hockey.
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At the close of action last night the Lethbridge Hurricanes were 3 points clear of the Kelowna Rockets for first place in the WHL (the Rockets do have a game in hand). That’s right, our Lethbridge Hurricanes are the number one team in the league. We here at Canes Domain, heck all of Canes nation, have talked ad nauseam about how surprising this season has been. Well, the Canes won’t be catching anyone by surprise anymore. This team is for real and the standings after 44 games prove that. The lads now enter match ups as the favoured team on a nightly basis. A new role and new expectations for this franchise. Being number one means that the opposition will be looking to knock you off that perch each and every game. To borrow some lyrics from the aforementioned David Bowie, “It Ain’t Easy” being number one.
Tonight the Prince Albert Raiders roll into the ENMAX Centre for the 3rd meeting of the season between these two clubs. In both previous games the road team emerged victorious in pair of very close contests. The Raiders will be looking to become the first team to beat the Canes twice on home ice this season. Just over a month ago, December 4th to be exact, the Raiders blanked the Canes 2 nil in what was essentially a perfect defensive game for the visitors. The Canes won the return meeting on December 15th in PA 5-4, on the back of a 3 point night by Justin Guiterrez. Much like last night, Lethbridge will be looking to exact some revenge, for the only time they’ve been shut-out all season, while continuing to hold onto top spot in the league.
The Raiders have been the Eastern Conference’s other big story this season. Much like the Canes, PA has belied expectations and are currently battling hard with the pre-season favourite Brandon Wheat Kings for top spot in the East Division. The Raiders bring with them a VERY impressive record of 26-14-1-3 through the first 44 games of 2015/16. PA is 6-3-1-0 in their last ten games coming into tonight. This one should be another tight contest and could prove to be a decisive game regarding playoff positioning come the end of the season.
Raiders forward Reid Gardiner will once again pace the attack for PA. The uber-talented Gardiner currently sits 4th overall in league scoring with 63 points through 44 games. He’s been dynamite so far this season against the Canes, registering 1g and 2a in the previous contests. His linemates, Simon Stransky, and Jordan Tkatch, form one of the most potent trios that the league has to offer. They’ve combined for a 139 points this season despite Stransky missing 10 games. The Raiders’ offensive punch doesn’t end with the forward corps either. Overage blue liner Jesse Lees is putting up some great numbers as well. Lees has 36 points through 44 games, good for 7th in scoring among defenceman. However, he’s got an incredible 16 goals from the back end putting him in first place in that category.
The Raiders will have some new faces in the lineup this time around following a deal they made with the Calgary Hitmen. The Raiders acquired F Layne Bensmiller and D Lock Morrison from Calgary in exchange for F Matteo Gennaro, prospect D Ty Prefontaine and a 2016 6th round Bantam pick. While Bensmiller and Morrison may be new to the Raiders, they are players that Canes know well considering the epic battles with the Hitmen this season. Morrison didn’t factor into the scoring versus Lethbridge in those previous games, but in the December 2nd game both of his minor penalties led to Hurricanes goals. Bensmiller on the other hand has 1g versus the Canes this season and was one of the better players in the Hitmen victory over Lethbridge on December 30th. Whether or not any of that matters is up for discussion as both players now wear Raiders’ colours. In additional roster news, the Raiders will likely be without the services of valuable forward Austin Glover, who is currently listed as out indefinitely with an upper body injury.
The Hurricanes will be looking to build on a superlative effort versus the Blazers last night. Lethbridge dominated the majority of the contest and looked very much like a first place team aside from some defensive lapses in the 2nd. They controlled the play for long stretches and generated chance after chance. Perhaps more importantly when the Blazers looked to be seizing some momentum, via a goal or a power play, the Canes quickly responded and re-asserted control over the hockey game. It meant that the Canes were able to cruise through the 3rd period while resting on a 4 goal lead.
The power play last night was as good as it’s ever been, and I do mean ever, not just this season. The Canes went an astonishing 4 for 5 against what was the league’s best PK. As a result of last night the Blazers slipped behind the T-Birds for top spot with a man short. The Canes scored from the blue paint, from below the goal line, from the point, and on a tip-in to put on a man advantage clinic last night. It was the kind of effort that makes the opponent play the game with hesitation as they don’t want to poke the proverbial dragon, lest it wake up.
Injuries have been the story as of late with multiple players missing time. The Canes will likely be without the services of Ryley Lindgren and Carter Folk again tonight; however, they did welcome Darian Skeoch back to the line-up last night. Import forward Egor Babenko did exit the game part way through the 2nd and did not return, but according to assistant coach Mike Craig he should be good to go tonight versus the Raiders (many thanks to Dick Gibson for providing information on Babenko’s status to us here at Canes Domain). While the loss of Lindgren and Folk is undeniably felt, the Canes coaches and players have done a great job adjusting and the team hasn’t seemed to skip a beat despite 2/3 of the checking line being on the shelf.
I’d go into greater detail about what the Canes need to do win this one, but at this point I don’t think it’s particularly necessary. Lethbridge has established an identity in 2015/16 and it clearly works. To use one of the oldest clichés in the hockey dictionary, they simply need to stick to their game plan and the results should come.
GDP: This one will be a close affair keeping fans on the edges of their seats for much of the night, but the Cane Train will keep rolling with a 5-3 victory over the visiting Raiders.
OGDP: Recent acquisition Colton Kroeker, feeling more comfortable with his new teammates and against a familiar Eastern Division foe, will notch his first goal in a Canes uni.
NSOGDP: Canes goaltender Jayden Sittler will take his mask off part way through the first period to reveal his Bowie super-fandom in the form of Aladdin Sane era face paint. He will then proceed to regale the crowd with a karaoke version of ‘Heroes’ during the 3 star announcements and it will be awesome!
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.
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