The Battle of Ontario’s prospects ended in triumph for the Senators in an action-packed, end-to-end tilt featuring 12 goals split 7-5.
The night started brightly for the Maple Leafs following Phil Oreskovic’s bout with Geoff Waugh three seconds after puck drop that was seemingly a spill-over of bad blood from last AHL season and/or an arrangement made in warm up. Off an early face-off in the Sens’ zone, Darryl Boyce drew the puck back to 5th overall pick Luke Schenn who fanned on his point-shot only to have it land on Dale Mitchell’s stick and promptly shelved by the Windsor Spitfire with a no-look snap shot. Boyce, skating alongside Mitchell and Stefano Giliati for most of the night, donned the “C” for the Leafs’ rookies and was the team’s top offensive performer (DiDomenico a close second). Not enough can be said about the Summerside native who owns an almost Mike Fisher-like package of completeness and consistency. Boyce didn’t show any ill-effects of the season-ending shoulder separation as he emphatically threw his weight around with regularity. Boyce will play a prominent role with the Marlies again this year and is likely the first-to-call in the depth chart.
Shortly after Mitchell’s marker, defenseman Korbinian Holzer of the DEL (Germany) had his point-shot tipped by St. John’s Sea Dogs center Chris DiDomenico to make it 2-0 early on in the proceedings. DiDomenico also caught the eye tonight. More gritty and tenacious than I imagined, DiDo provided an energetic presence and gave Sens defenders fits along the end boards. A bit under-sized for a center, but he plays a smart, two-way game and has the capacity to surprise.
Holzer (4th round pick in ’06) kicked off an unremitting stream of penalties with a holding infraction mid way through the first period. The Senators capitalized quickly after a passing sequence led to a goal by Jesse Winchester. Ottawa iced an impressive array of talent headlined by the likes of Ilya Zubov (deserving of MVP honours tonight), Winchester, Alexandre Nikulin and Jim O'Brien.
Slovakian defender Juraj Mikus’ nightmarish give-away at the blue-line allowed Ilya Zubov to walk in alone on invitee goaltender Michael Ouzas and tie the game at two’s. The pairing of Slovakian defender Juraj Mikus and Marlie blue-liner Phil Oreskovic was regularly undressed one-on-one. A lack of foot-speed and positional sense left me underwhelmed with Mikus of Dukla Trancin.
The Senators gained the lead after Jim O’Brien tipped home a point-shot shortly after the onset of period two. Holzer’s second costly penalty of the night led to Winchester’s second goal of the night off of Mattias Karlsson’s rebound. Karlsson would then increase the gap between the two sides with a soft wrist-shot from the point that never should’ve beat Ouzas.
Kyle Rogers drew one back late in the second after a deft move opened space for the Niagara U student to finish with aplomb. Rogers possesses a unique package of size and close-in skill and, while a long-term project, is one to keep your eye on.
Oreskovic was left exposed after an undressing from Benoit Doucet who restored the three goal cushion at 6-3.
During a 5-on-3 advantage late in the third, Schenn slide the puck across to Niagara defenseman Josh Day (invitee), who released a cannon from the point to narrow the gap to 6-4 with a minute left on the score clock. With Ouzas pulled, Day would spoil his effort shortly thereafter, mishandling the puck at the blue-line and allowing the Sens forward a free shot at the yawning cage.
Schenn would record his third helper of the night after defenseman Juha Uotila (signed on Sep.4), an offensive defenseman out of Finland, fired home the Leafs’ fifth from the point but it was all academic at that point. Uotila was a pleasant surprise to me and it will be interesting to see how he fares with the Marlies or Royals next season.
On to the hot button topic… Luke Schenn. Downright impressive. Schenn showed poise, composure and strength way beyond his years. He was immovable by pursuing fore-checkers and mostly unbeatable one-on-one. He identifies danger, eliminates it, and supplies a reliable outlet pass. On the offensive, his vision is understated and is an aspect of his game that is going to continue to materialize.
It was one game, but most in the know would agree that Schenn is ready physically and mentally. It’s just a question as to whether or not it’s practical to usher him into a crowded Leafs’ blue-line. I don’t think Schenn needs to be cosseted and we can trust that he’ll be in good hands under Ron Wilson. However, in what has been dubbed a re-building year, it just makes more sense for Schenn to log monster minutes with Kelowna, hopefully gain further playoff experience and captain Team Canada at the WJC. In a year’s time, Schenn will unquestionably be ready and Fletcher will have had an opportunity to open a top four spot in the Leafs’ blue-line to properly accommodate his arrival.
Mikhail Stefanovich. There was the occasional flash of skill from the rangy Belorussian but he was mostly a background figure. His work rate and consistency must improve if he’s to realize his untapped potential.
*Invitee Jadran Beljo, formerly of the London Knights, left the game midway through the second with a shoulder injury.
*Eric Wellwood is much faster, bigger and more industrious than Kyle but does not have the innate talent of his older sibling. If you fused the two together you would have one hell of a hockey player. Wellwood scored last night against Pittsburgh in a 5-2 defeat but didn’t accomplish much tonight.
*Joel Champagne, Leafs’ 5th round pick, appears to have all the tools but is a long-term project.
*Joe Cooper, signed by the Leafs on September 4th, offers an energetic, physical presence.
*As bad as Mikus was defensively, he showed good vision offensively.
*Dan Rudisuela didn’t dress; neither did summer signing Scott Langdon.
*Mitch O’Keefe started between the posts for Ottawa but Kevin Desfosses took over after the second period.
*Shameless Name-Drop: John Ferguson Jr. attended this afternoon’s Florida-Pittsburgh game. We exchanged pleasantries – if any reader knows what he’s up to, please let me know – I didn’t have the nerve to ask him.