Made my first ever visit to the Leduc Recreation Centre -- nice arena, horrible music -- last night to take in the game between two sets of professional hopefuls wearing the sweaters of the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers. Arrived 15 minutes before game time only to be ushered into overflow parking. Entering at the south end zone I could see the joint was pretty much filled already, so my buddy and I simply grabbed the nearest bleacher seats, four rows up and looking over the goal judge's shoulder. Oilers attacked our end for two periods so player identification was easy for just one period.
The sweaters looked familiar but the numbers on their backs less so -- every "Canuck" skater was somewhere between #47 and #75 -- revealing the certain truth that most of what would be on display was training camp fodder. So it is, every year. What was different for me was that this was two such teams, whereas in the past I've always been able to calibrate the Oiler hopefuls against the consistent, and consistently good, measuring stick that is the Alberta Golden Bears. It's to the point that I'm 100% certain that I will enjoy tonight's game more than last night's, and learn more in the process.
Last night's affair was disorganized and scrambly on both sides of the puck, so it was a different sort of a test. I was very tired after a challenging day preceded by a short night, so had trouble really focusing and tracking on individuals in my usual fashion. Nonetheless, in the minutes I have left before donning my "neutral" Team Canada red and heading out to Clare Drake, I'll post (after the jump) a few brief vignettes of Oiler Wannabes for those interested in "seen hims" good and bad. Sorry Canuck fans, I was having enough trouble tracking our own guys to pay much notice to yours, other than to note the very disappointing absence of Cody Hodgson to a back problem. What I can tell you is that as a team, the Who Are These Guys? didn't impress, especially in their own zone.
#14 Jordan Eberle: I found him both underwhelming and impressive, often both at once. Displayed a goal-scorer's feel for where the soft spots on the ice are, complemented by a real low panic point when he got possession in the danger area. Granted, some of those holes were of the glaring variety so I won't read too much into the results (2 G 1 A), but the skillset is duly noted for future reference. Nice inside move and wrist shot high glove for the first goal, then a nifty backhand deke after finding both himself and the puck alone on the doorstep. Also whiffed what seemed a sure goal on a beauty cross-ice pass by Cornet.
#23 Philippe Cornet: This guy impressed me in the Bears game last year and impressed me again last night. A goal and two helpers, dangerous all night. Excellent vision.
#29 Johan Motin: Very impressive debut in Oiler blue. What can I say, he just looks like a pro. Despite a couple of semi-blunders, the mobile defender gave the appearance of being the calm, reliable Steady Eddy type.
#48 Alex Plante: Set the tone early when he provided the finishing touches to a four man pile-up, which was started by Kytnar with a booming shoulder check in the corner. A Canucklehead-in-training came in and nailed Kytnar from behind in retaliation, so Plante came in to take him down and out, and rightly so. He played a solid game in my view, good with the puck for a big man. Will never set the league on fire with his offence, but doesn't have Hands By Strudwick either.
#50 Bryan Pitton -- After 25 uneventful minutes (1 GA) his night was ruined late in his 30+ minute stint when he let in two questionable goals. The first happened on a very long defensive zone sequence that was twice extended by Pitton's inability to deal with a loose puck near the crease, one a rebound. The shot that subsequently beat him was no hell either, and the 3-3 goal was a muffin. 3 goals on 11 or 12 shots, I forgot to check the shot clock when he came out. I've seen this guy a few times now and have never been impressed, sorry to say.
#52 Kurtis Mucha -- Who he? Took over for Pitton and stopped the other 18 or was it 19 shots without incident. Nothing earth-shaking, but solid enough.
#53 Cameron Abney: Late in the first I saw Abney line up on the hashmarks right in front of me and decided to watch nothing but him for the whole shift, so I could file a detailed report to his biggest fan PJO. So the Wannabes win the draw, Abney busts for the front of the net, the point shot comes through, and Abney bangs in the rebound. Took 4 or 5 seconds max. So what can I say, PJO? The man is a born sniper.
#59 Brett Breitkreuz: Former Oil King was on the forecheck the whole night. Dogged worker.
#64 Milan Kytnar: Expected to see him line up with his Saskatoon linemates Hulak and Gallimore, but instead he was the centrepiece of the team's big line with Eberle and Cornet. Wore an A and looked v-e-r-y comfortable in the role. There is just a whole lot to like about this guy's game, especially but not exclusively his game without the puck. Strong in all three zones, played a smart, physical game.
And with that off I go to Clare Drake. More on that later.