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Hockey Challenge 2014

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Tbirds shutout in home opener, zone entries

I'm running a little short on time today but I wanted to put up some quick thoughts about last night and give everyone the zone entries.

  • Seattle started a bit flat (shocking considering the pomp and circumstance surrounding team intros) and it cost them an early goal. It was a goal that wound up being the game winner for Everett as Silvertips goaltender Carter Hart was fantastic earning the 26 save shutout.
  • While Hart was very good for Everett but I also thought Seattle put way too many shots right into his chest and at the end of the game wound up putting way too many shots wide of the net.
  • Obviously, nobody scored last night for Seattle but this was precisely my concern going into the season. There are going to be nights when the top line doesn't score and you're going to need some other guys to step forward and last night that didn't happen.
  • Taran Kozun played well again and I see no reason why he won't be the guy going forward. Hard to imagine them not keeping him around.
Zone entries. Several disclaimers here. One, we cannot possibly make any conclusions from these numbers. It is one game. This was more for my enjoyment and for fun to see what it looked like within the context of one game. Two, I'm sure I missed things. So don't assume these are 100% accurate, they aren't. Three, tracking these numbers is very subjective. For instance, Jared Hauf and Ethan Bear both took shots from around center ice that resulted in shots on goal. I think I counted the Hauf one as a dump because we had players going towards the zone and I didn't count Bear's because everyone was going for a change. These kind of judgment calls happened all game and it's pretty tough. So what I might consider a carry-in and a dump is not going to be exactly the same as other people.

With all of that out of the way... here you go.

20 Dumps
8 Possessions Gained (40%)
4 Shots (20%)

32 Carry-ins
22 Possessions Gained (68.75%)
10 Shots (31.25%)

Seattle actually carried the puck a lot more than I thought they would. That's a really good sign. They started the game dump heavy and that is when they fell behind and had only 3 or 4 shots. As the carries went up, the shots went up. However, the 31.25% shot percentage on possessions gained is way too low. Gropp, just for example, had 5 carries that only resulted in 1 shot on goal. Seattle has to find a way to get the puck to the net more. As you can see, the way to do that... is NOT to dump the puck in more. As low as I thought the "Carry Shots" were they still outpaced the number of shots on goal gained with dumps.

Barzal, not surprisingly, lead the team in carries with 8. 7 of those resulted in possession and 4 resulted in shots on goal. Pretty good on a night where he can definitely play better.


Starting the Season with a W

Seattle got exactly what they needed with a season opening win last night. It won't go down as the most impressive victory in club history, with Portland missing somewhere around 57 NHL draft picks from their lineup (is that number right?). I also don't think we can make very many assessments about the team after a win over a shorthanded Winterhawks club but it certainly isn't a bad sign. After all, Seattle is also without Justin Hickman and Shea Theodore who are obviously impact players for Seattle. In case you didn't hear the news, Seattle will be without Theodore for a while now as he suffered an elbow injury at Anaheim Ducks camp on Sunday and will be out around 4-6 weeks. He should be back around November.

I had trouble completely analyzing the game because the WHL video feed was still so choppy I thought this was 2002. Maybe my internet is just bad... I don't know.  Here were a few observations that I came up with.

  • One of my biggest concerns going into the season was team defense and that concern was shared by Jon as well. I don't think we can declare this issue dead but the team defense last night was pretty excellent. Seattle had a few bad giveaways early in the game but generally kept things pretty buttoned up after that. Taran Kozun held quite a few shots to prevent rebounds (after a few shaky early moments as well) and did exactly what you would have expected from a 20 year old goaltender.
  • I thought Ethan Bear was particularly solid. What a good hockey player he is at only 17 years old. Even when he made minor mistakes it seemed like he quickly covered them up. The sky is the limit for him and someone is going to get a really good player in the NHL draft this year. He may not have the high upside of a guy like Theodore or Mathew Dumba but I'm going to be very surprised if he doesn't carve out a nice NHL career.
  • Keegan Kolesar nearly won a foot race to a puck with Keoni Texeira when he started the race behind him. We've heard (and seen) that Kolesar's fitness and skating had improved but it was one of those moments where I said to myself "whoa". He also scored earlier in the game on a nice deflection in front of the net. If Seattle is going to prove me wrong and make it to the #4 (or higher) seed for the playoffs, guys like Kolesar will have to play like this on most nights.
  • I liked what I saw from Alex True and Florian Baltram. Baltram even played with the Barzal/Gropp line for a while.
  • Nice to see Seattle mix it up a little bit with Portland. For several years now that has not been Portland's calling card and it seems like whenever Seattle can get Portland to mix it up a little bit the results favor Seattle. When Portland stays out of the scrums, they've generally won. Jared Hauf got things started early with Alex Schoenborn and kept things feisty through the "multiple fight situation" in the 2nd.
  • Ryan Gropp, 1 game, 2 goals. Maybe 35 goals was too conservative. I hope he pots 40.
  • Mathew Barzal, 1 game, 2 assists. Ho Hum.
Everett is not missing nearly as many players as Portland is, so I expect this game to give us a little better indication of where things stand. Preseason games really don't matter very much but Seattle has to be feeling a little bit stung by losing back to back games to Everett to end the preseason.

I will be attending a rare game without kids tonight so I'm actually going to try to track some entry stats. Don't expect that to be a regular thing (unfortunately) but we'll see what it looks like.


Jon and Tyler Predict The Future, Part 2


I really hope they don’t make a decision on someone like Kozun based on a few exhibition games and a small handful of regular season games. I will ask you, what seems more indicative of his talent level? The .934 he posted in 10 games in January last year? The .928 he posted in 24 games with Seattle? Or a few exhibition games in August/September? I’m hoping the bigger sample size wins out but you never know. In fairness, he did post a .897 in 29 games with Kamloops but he posted a .914 in in 20 games with Kamloops the year before.  

With that being said I think they keep Kozun to stabilize the defensive core, I think they keep Wardley (assuming he doesn't sign a contract) because his skill set is more difficult to replace and I think Hickman stays because he’s your Captain and forms a really good line with Barzal and Gropp when healthy.

You mentioned Coach K’s “system”… I think I’m generally a pretty knowledgeable hockey fan but I admit that I still have so much to learn. One thing I can’t quite figure out is what kind of style of play Coach K is really trying to establish with the players. That’s not to say that I think anything he is doing is wrong, it’s clear that he values hard work, get pucks to the net, etc. Those things are pretty obvious. To me, style goes well beyond the obvious things, it moves into more complex ideas such as, do they want to trap in the neutral zone? Do they want to chip and forecheck in the corners? Do they want to keep and carry the puck into the offensive zone? Do they hang back and take care of defense first or do they play a wide open style?  If you were to ask me to describe the Steve Konowalchuk Thunderbirds, I’m not sure I could describe any kind of calling card. So educate me Jon (I smirked writing that), tell me what the identity (playing style) of the Coach K Thunderbirds is?


Jon and Tyler Predict The Future, Part 1

As we do every year (and every week day) Jon and I started discussing the upcoming season and in this post we let you drop in on the conversation.


Jon, let's kick off our annual prediction post by having me state that I think this team is ripe for disappointment this year. I know that's going to be a bit of an unpopular stance but the team is very young up front and I just don't see enough scoring depth to enable this team to take a really big step forward. The defense and goaltending should be a strong point but I don't think they will lead the league in defense (or be top 5) and that is a recipe for some very uneven performances.  Tell me why I'm wrong (or right)?


You have a very valid argument.  But, I will start out by asking, what would you consider a disappointment?  Is it not winning the WHL? Not making it to the Western conference final, etc? Just about every prognosticator (took me 5 minutes to come up with the correct spelling of that word) out there has Seattle picked for 2nd place in the division, and making into the second round of the conference playoffs.  They say Seattle will be well behind Portland, and far enough ahead of Everett and Tri. So does that mean not obtaining those results is disappointing, I would say yes it would be. 

But if they do obtain those goals, could it still be disappointing? I would say yes to that also.  Last year they won 41 games.  Let's say they win 45 games this season, and have enough points to finish in the top 4 of the conference, but they do it by allowing close to the 249 goals they gave up last season.  To me, that would be a HUGE disappointment for a team people are saying is one of the best defensive teams.  Let's say the same result, except they win a ton of games 2-1, giving up 200 goals, but finish with 200 goals scored, down from the 238 they scored last year.  Is that a disappointment? Well, probably not.

So to answer your question, do I think this team is ripe for disappointment, I say it all depends on what your expectations are going in.  I agree with all the people picking us for a top 4 finish, and getting the goals against down (249 last year, .5 goal per game better, totaling  213), but with the scoring down also (238 last season, down .5 goals a game, totaling 232).  These numbers were almost exactly what Everett had last season, and we know that was good for a tie with us for 2nd in the division.

So what are your expectations that make you think Seattle is ready to disappoint?


Wash, Rinse, Repeat

It is only preseason, or so I keep telling myself that over and over.

Same game, different night.
Well, not quite the same, but the basic formula was the same.

Seattle had a really bad slow start, and it showed.
Seattle got lucky when Elder went off for high sticking a minute and a half after Everett got it's second goal.  I thought for sure they would get a third and basically wrap the game up right there.

It is only preseason, or so I keep telling myself that over and over.

If I have my numbers correct, Everett got it's 3rd shot of the game right after their 2nd goal around the 6:15 mark of the first.  Their 4th shot game at the 19:00 mark of the first.  So they went 13 minutes of playing time between shots.
Seattle just controlled play the entire rest of the period.
The 2nd period was much the same.  Everett had 10 shots, and 7 of them came in a 2 minute window half way through the period.

It is only preseason, or so I keep telling myself that over and over.

Now, here was the difference from Friday night.
Seattle was back to shooting the puck wide of the net, and also afraid to take shots.
More then once, a Seattle player found themselves in the slot with a shot, but instead tried to make a pass.  Or they just plain held the puck too long, and the chance went away.
The 3rd period was also a little from the previous night.  Everett didn't dominate play as much, but instead, they just gave Seattle no chances.  Only 2 shots the entire 3rd period, and those came in the last 5 minutes.

It is only preseason, or so I keep telling myself that over and over.

As the previous night, the lines were changed again.  But Saturday, I actually thought they started to play better then the previous night.

I thought Flodell looked very good, and was beat by very nice deflections on two of the goals, and was left out to dry on the giveaway behind the net.  The only goal I really fault him on was the empty net goal, I mean come on, he was so far out of position sitting on the bench.

As has been pointed out in the write up's by Andy Eide, Nolan Volcan had a great night.
But the one player I thought had the best night and I have not seen it mentioned was Nick Holowko. He hit everything that moved when he had the chance, went very hard after the puck when he was on the ice, and played smart in his own zone.  He got his name on the score sheet with two checking from behind penalties.  One was a good call, the other somewhat questionable to me.

After this post, it is not preseason any longer, so I can't use that line any longer.


Another 4-1 loss to Everett

The first thing I have to remind myself was that this was a preseason game.

A game to try out things, see what works and what doesn't.
And a lot of things did work, and a lot of things didn't work.
So I am going to approach this as if was a regular season game, just for the practice.

I really liked Seattle's first two periods.  Especially the first.  They controlled play, sometimes in dominating fashion.  My only problem with it was that although they did get off 20 shots, I didn't think very many were quality shots.  But I also give Everett some credit there, for bending, but not breaking (for a football term).

One major breakdown in front of the net where Seattle couldn't clear the puck, and it ends up in the net.  On Everett's 2nd goal, the puck pin-balled around, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not, and ended up in the back of the net.  Everett's 3rd goal was from an amazingly tight angle.  I was at that end, and everyone around me thought it deflected off of Smith's stick, but no one in the press is saying it did, so maybe we are wrong (no jokes here please).

The 3rd period was when Seattle really needed to put on the pressure, and instead, it was all Everett. Everett held the puck and controlled the play much the way Seattle did in the 1st.  It took a lot of effort for Seattle to clear the puck, then make a change before the next wave of Tips brought it in.  It looked as though Portland was playing Seattle with nice passes, winning battles, etc.

At the end of the game trailing 4-1, Seattle did get a chance to practice with the extra attacker. Danny Mamaugh was pulled with a minute and a half to go in the game, but Seattle couldn't really get setup to do much.

The highlight of the night for me was watching Jared Hauf drop the gloves with Zane Jones after a scrum in front of the net.  The way Hauf was playing all night, he was looking for this type of play.  He was hitting everything in sight during the game.  And the fight just continued the hitting, as he seemed to use Jones as a bobble head.  Jones did get a couple in to make the fight closer to even, but a clear win for Hauf.

One other positive I took out of the game was the power-play.  When Seattle was able to gain control, I thought they moved the puck around well, and did get some good quality scoring chances.  They used the point players well, and for the most part, the passes were stick to stick.

The last positive was that I don't recall Seattle shooting the puck wide very often.  I sometimes joke that Seattle is the best at the league about missing the net, but tonight, it just didn't seem to happen very much.

Now on to the part of the game that just killed me watching (and the part where I have to remind myself that it was only preseason).

The lines were all mixed up, and changed somewhat throughout the night.  Partly because of special teams times, and part just to mix things up, but it just seemed like guys were not working well or getting in a groove with each other.  In reading some of the quotes from Andy Eide's article on the game, Coach wanted to remind Barzal and Gropp that things change, and that " (they) sometimes think it's going to come easy if they're together".  So he had them on two different lines.  Coach followed that quote up with "I liked both their games today".  I did not.  I thought they played well doing what they do, but I didn't think they meshed with their line-mates very well.  Maybe more practice with it, maybe with more time it would work, but I personally didn't think it worked well.  But, I do keep telling myself that a player must be able to play with different people, in different situations, and that it is only preseason.

It will be interesting to see how the team reacts tonight in the final tune up for next weekends games, especially knowing that they play this same Everett team in the home opener.


Some info to fill your week before the big weekend

Here is some interesting reading info to fill up your time until this weekend's preseason games.
I will be at both games, and as usual, will have my thoughts posted, probably on Sunday.
I hope to see a lot of you there Saturday night.

The first thing caught me completely off guard this morning.

It is a story about how the state of Washington is investigating the WHL teams to gain an understanding of the working conditions for the players.  This has gone as far as the attorney general, who is working on a legal opinion.

Second reading is a list of the top 40 NHL draft eligible players according to TSN's Director of Scouting Craig Button .  

The usual 3 are listed, Barzal, Gropp, and Bear.  Interesting to see Gropp lower then Bear, which is usually not the case.

Third reading is a complete joke.

It is the BMO top 10 rankings.  And Seattle gets an honorable mention.

Lastly, if you want to compare WHL teams.

Alan Caldwell has his amazing list of teams and what players they have left in camp.
What the list shows is the average age of each team and their average height and weight.
If you take a look, you might get a little bit scared about Seattle's situation.
Seattle is listed as one of the youngest team, and still have 5 20's.
To get further scared, if you look at the actual spreadsheet he has listed also, you will find that Seattle has the fewest number of games played for forwards.  And it is not close.

But there is a big change since the last couple of years.  Seattle comes in the middle of the pack for height and weight.  In previous years, Seattle was the tallest, and usually near the top of weight.


What I learned this weekend in Everett

Here is a list of what I learned from watching 8 hockey games in one weekend between 6 teams

  • Evan Wardley has one mission right now, and that is hitting everyone that comes near him as hard as he can. Really, really hard. 
  • Jared Hauf is being just like Wardley, and throwing his size around. 
  • Seattle still has an issue at goaltending and which two they will keep.  All three looked good this weekend, with of course Flodell stealing the show with Sunday's performance. 
  • Luke Osterman is a little antagonizer in a big frame. 
  • Nick Holowko showed why he really wants to make this team. 
  • The same can be said for Lane Pederson. 
  • Shea Theodore is averaging 2 points per game.  That puts him on pace for 144 on the season.
  • Alexander True left the team, but TRUE to his word, he came back. 
  • Man can Florian Baltram skate well
    • On the rosters they handed out, Baltram was listed as being from Vienna AUS.  I had to idea we had a player from Australia. 
  • Taran Kozun only got to suit up in one game.  I guess being 20 and taking up a valuable game sheet roster spot if dressing has its advantages. 
  • Giving up 10 powerplays in one game is not good. 
    • Only allowing 1 goal in the 10 is not bad. 
  • A note to Seattle shooters, the idea is to put the black puck in the net when you shoot, not wide, not over the top, but inside the net. 
  • EVERY Seattle player was either even or plus on the +/- side of the scoresheet. 
Some non Seattle observations

  • Victoria has a lot of players that are under 6 feet tall (shortest was 5'6), but they hustle like crazy and can really skate. 
  • Oliver Bjorkstrand is one damn good player.  If he is not the best pure offensive player in the WHL this season, then whomever is better is a really damn good player. 
  • Everett still has the worst goal judges in the league.
    • Note to the goal judges, the puck must go across that little red line in front of you in order to turn on the flashy light, not wide, not in front, but behind. 
    • Note number two, a shot on net is only counted when the puck would go across said line in note number one, but someone stopped it from crossing. 
  • If you can believe it, the off ice officials in Everett are even worse. 
  • The WHL still doesn't know how to schedule officials.  How does every game of the 9 have 2 officials, except the last game. 
  • Brooklyn Bros. Pizzeria still has amazing pizza, but their service still sucks. 
  • The price of beer at a hockey game is way to high. 
  • Spokane's Tamas Laday is listed at 6'6, and that is tall.  Everyone was going after him to see just how tough that size is. 
  • Don Nachbaur is still the best dressed coach in the WHL. 
  • Wearing your mouthguard is a very important rule now. 
    • Having your mouthguard fall out, and keep playing is ok. 
  • Doing a dry cut on the ice between regulation and OT is......whats the words I am looking for.......STUPID, BORING, MOMENTUM BREAKING, EXCITEMENT DOWNER, and most of all USELESS. 


Blue/White/Camp Thoughts

"Training Camp" wrapped up Monday with the annual Blue/White scrimmage where Team White took down Team Blue 4-2. It's always exciting to see some hockey again but I also think fans and bloggers alike tend to get a little too worked up over a few scrimmage sets. The fact is, these kids are only showing what they have over a very small set of days and I would hate to think that decisions of any large scale magnitude are being made based on a few days over, say, an entire season(s) worth of a players history.

That said... here are a few thoughts I had from watching the Blue/White game and one of the scrimmages.


Thoughts on Schuldhaus and Wolf

If you've followed on twitter or talked to most of the people that have been to the scrimmages and main camp and you bring up the name Brandon Schuldhaus, you get an answer that might go something like "Wow, that kid sure has looked impressive.  I would keep him on my team for sure, possibly even replacing a couple veteran players we have"

But lets look at the options he has for the upcoming, and look at it from his side of things.  I think he has two options (or more, who knows).

Option 1:
Play in Seattle as the #6-7-8 defender, sit half the games, and get some ice time in the others, probably not play on PP or PK, and learn the ropes.

Option 2:
Last season he played for Shattuck Saint Mary's prep academy.  It is arguable one of the top 5 prep schools for hockey in the world.  Its alumni include the likes of Crosby, Toews, Kessel, etc.  Not only is it a great hockey school, it is also a very good educational school.  The team plays roughly 50 games a season, and Schuldhaus would most likely be a #1-2 defender, and play on the PK and PP.

So which would you choose as the player or the players family?

As bad as this sounds being a Seattle fan, I know my choice would be to go back to Shattuck for another year, work hard, get better at all aspects of the game, and come back to Seattle as a 17 year old and look to become a #4-5-6 player that plays every game.  This is why I feel he will not be on the team this season.

If the situation was a little different, and Schuldhaus was looking at going back to Midget and his team played 30 games against lower talent, my answer would be totally different, but it is not.

The next player that seem to be in people's discussion list is Kevin Wolf".  He is the player that most fans think is competing with Schuldhaus for a defensive spot.  So if you tell them that Schuldhaus is not on the team, they say, well then Wolf can be.  He can play half the games, sit out the rest, be ready in case of an injury, and when that happens, become the #6 defender, play a little, and that is all.

So I ask all those fans to look at it from Wolf's side of things and would you be happy with that situation.  I will remind you that is the situation he did as a 16 and 17 year old.  So the answer is of course "No way would I do that again if I was him", which usually leads to silence while they try to figure out where to go next.

So all of a sudden, if you look at the situations from the players side of things, you now have two players that are not playing on the team, and one open spot.

Do I have an answer for who will fill in the spot.  Well, no, not really, but I do have an idea.  This is going to sound really odd and almost counter intuitive.  Everyone knows Seattle is deep of defense, and needs some offense, but why not trade Wolf to a team that is not deep on defensive, needs an 18 year old, and in return, take a younger 16 year old defender that is willing to fit the role of learning this season.

Don't be surprised if you see neither Schuldhaus nor Wolf on the roster this season.

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