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Oiler Wannabes vs. Golden Bears series: conclusion


The hockey series lives on, of course, and long may it continue! But it's time to wrap up this five-part series of Copper & Blue articles on this great Edmonton hockey tradition. It's admittedly a somewhat odd collection in which two sections got filed under "prospects" and two under "history", with an unexpected sidetrack into "opinion".

I have seen 75% of these games over the years, 16.5 out of 22 to be precise, and never miss it without compelling reason. It's great for the PROspect-o-phile and it's a terrific showcase of Edmonton's living dynasty and best amateur team.

We end as we began, with a trip back to games past. Only the perspective of years proves the relevance of the (hockey) series through the number of future NHLers who play in this game every single year. Make the jump for a few first (and second) looks at those singled out during the 2003-05 games.  

2003: Golden Bears 2, Wannabes 0
    As always, it was a pretty decent game, played at a rapid pace (2 hours 20 minutes) with lots of skating and hitting. It followed the trend in recent years of men vs. boys, team vs. individuals, with predictable results: a third straight convincing win, and second consecutive shutout, by the Bears. This evens the series at 8 wins apiece, proving that in the longer term this has been an ideal match-up. But the collective score of 13-2 over the past three years suggests the Oilers are either not as deep as they once were, or their prospects are getting older and are not being returned for more than a second test against the Bears.
    A scan of the roster revealed Kevin Lowe's growing influence on the Oilers' stockpile, as there were no fewer than six QMJHL grads, the most represented of any one league among the 21 listed players. (WHL 5, US College 3, ECHL 3, Europe 2, OHL only 1.) Of these, as usual, the college grads were the ones who seemed least surprised by the calibre of the opposition.  
    The Wannabes wore Oiler road blues, as apparently the new Toronto Roadrunner sweaters aren't back from the knitters yet. Roadrunners? Yecch. Why not something appropriate like the Toronto Heat Wave? Hogtown Hogs? Centre of the Universe Black Holes? 
    A few players briefly caught my eye but in the first half of the game I concentrated largely on the goalie and by the second half my attention was drawn by the aggressive checking of the Golden Bears, which didn't leave too much room for the hotshots to shoot hot. 
#2 Doug Lynch: Ex- Red Deer Rebel was wearing the captain's C (sp.? should it be captaincy?). The oldest of the Lynch brothers just had the look a defenceman, in command of his skating, positioning, and sharp breakout passes all night. Certainly figures in Oil's long-term -- as in two or three years from now -- plans.  
#10 Brad Winchester: This guy was the trigger to the Hamrlik swap three years ago, as the trade was made when it was Islanders turn to pick and Winchester was still available. (Oilers also got Brewer and Green in the deal.) He looked alright, a left-hand shot playing right wing on a line otherwise featuring two right-hand shots. Winchester fired a couple of bullets (I might as well beat the rush) that were nicely snagged by Bear goalies Clayton Pool and Dustin Schwarz, and was unable to pull the trigger on perhaps his best chance in the third period. 
#14 Marc-Antoine Pouliot: He centred Winchester and the unknown Jean-Francois Plourde on what might be considered the Wannabes' top line. He impressed [my seatmate] somewhat with his defensive positioning, but I can't say he did a whole hell of a lot to keep my attention. On his two most dangerous rushes he lost the puck in traffic which eventually did result in a decent scoring chance but more by deflection than design. If he's the next Jean Ratelle he's got a long way to go. Mind you, he's about 20 years younger than Jean Ratelle ever was.  
#21 Brent Henley -- After watching him try to crush Kevin Marsh's windpipe with the shaft of his stick, I noted his pedigree -- South Carolina of the ECHL -- and scribbled on the program the following guess of his last year's stats: 65 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 378 PiM. So, I just looked it up, and: 54 GP, 2 G, 10 A, 317 PiM. I guess I didn't account for the quality of goaltending in the ECHL, but I got the PiM ratio perfect. And with this goober, that's the important thing. As is one other stat of note: 6'7, 245.    
#22 Zachary [sic!] Stortini: Sudbury Wolves' captain is just turning 18, and showed awareness and hustle if not overwhelming talent. A project. 
#31 Jeff Deslauriers: Ex-goalie that I am, I spent much of his half of the game trying to track the play from Deslauriers' perspective. This guy strikes me as being the real goods, as for the second straight year I was very impressed with him from a technical standpoint. Stylistically he reminds me very much of the young J-S Giguere I saw playing in an Oilers rookies-Flames rookies game at Skyreach a few years back, not surprising since both are from the Francois Allaire Goaltending School. His stance has been developed to just naturally fill the net, which was very apparent when he was at the far end. He keeps his knees maybe a foot off the ice, so that his feet splay to the corners and his shoulders and arms are filling in the space below the crossbar instead of above. He seemed to track the play extremely well so that he was always square to the puck, arms extended at the ready. His primary job from there is to close down the five-hole, block the shot with his crest and control the rebound, all of which he did consistently. He made a number of fine blocker saves including a couple that were such subtle redirections over the bar or into the corner that the shot counter missed them completely. In this respect, he reminded me of another lefthander wearing #31 in Oiler blue. The one shot that beat him was a perfect shot from close range that ripped the roof of the net above his catching glove.  Deslauriers isn't an aggressive puckhandler, but he seems very much in command of his crease. A first-rate prospect, although it might take a couple of years. Hopefully the Oilers don't give up on him the way the Flames did Giguere.      
#34 Troy Bodie: Another right-shooting LW of whom I've never heard, he was impressive in his skating, forechecking and positioning.
    A couple of words about the Bears, who again played a complete game with and without the puck, which they had surrounded all night. There are no fewer than 25 WHL grads listed on the Bears' extended roster, proving that Ed Chynoweth's scholarship program (one year tuition for every year in the Dub) is working the way it should. Many of these guys would have been second- and third-liners in the Dub, but in many cases that was three or four years ago, years of not just age and experience but of excellent coaching. The team continues to feature the rock-solid goaltending tandem of Pool and Schwarz. Beyond that its strength is now its defence led by two all-Canadians. Blair St. Martin, Bears' captain and winner of the Randy Gregg Award for combining studies (medicine) and athletics, was the token Bear at Oilers' camp, and had been released earlier in the day. His more offensive minded partner Jeff Zorn scored the opening goal on a brilliant one-on-one move against the unfortunate Peter Hogan followed by a zinger of wrist shot to the roof. The second goal was also pretty, hard forechecking by Brad Tutschek to cause a turnover creating a 2-on-1, then fooling both the defenceman and Oilers' goalie Joel Martin with a nice feint to the backhand before sending a cross-crease pass to Jonathan Hobson for the tap-in. These guys will probably be on the fourth line, it was just their turn to score the way the Bears often score, by hustle and opportunism.  
    As always, am glad I went. Seeing, near ice level, my first game featuring lots of speed, intensity and hitting is always a great way to start the hockey season.

OK, I admit Henley wasn't a future NHLer but I couldn't resist leaving him in. Doug Lynch got all of 2 NHL GP, both with the Oilers, but became a very significant piece of the first Pronger trade. I remain convinced he would have made it were it not for the injuries. The Pouliot and Stortini comments were the first of many, and at this distance both appear to have been bang on the mark.

2004: Golden Bears 8, Wannabes 2

    My mother always warned me that eventually one hockey season would run into the next, but this is ridiculous. Last night [my friend] and I watched the end of the hockey season -- if not Hockey As We Know It -- which was *immediately* followed by our attending the annual Bears-Wannabes shindig which traditionally begins the season. Very bizarre. 

    Both had familiar outcomes. Once again, Canada rules the roost in international senior hockey. The men's team has an impressive run of four major titles in the past two and a half years, and are now the "holders" of all three majors. I think the only other team that could ever say that was the Soviet Union for the few months between the 1984 Olympics and the 1984 Canada Cup.

    We watched [the World Cup post-game] for awhile and then headed down to Clare Drake for the Bears-Wannabes mismatch. I said if we take our time they take the turnstiles away at the 10:00 mark of the second, and we showed up at exactly the right moment... there was a whistle right away, 10:23 to go in the second, and when the lady on the gate tried to stop us her supervisor said it's OK for us to walk right in.  :) 

    By then the score was 6-2 Bears and both teams were changing goalies. Just as well we didn't see Drouin-Deslauriers' half of the game, he obviously got bombed. From then on it was play out the string, and watch the young bucks grow increasingly frustrated and take increasingly stupid penalties down the stretch. Plus ça change... 
    Brad Woywitka looked pretty good, Doug Lynch pretty decent also, Robbie Schremp had his moments, and this guy Mike Bishai looks like a player. Kyle Brodziak looks more like a project than a projected starter, but he's young.
    Most interesting prospect to me was a little guy named Martin St.Pierre. This guy is 5'9, 185 pounds, the identical listed size as his near-namesake, Martin St.Louis. St.Pierre is an undrafted, still-unsigned walk-on who last year finished third in OHL scoring with 45 goals and 65 assists for 110 points. MacT said he "speaks the language of hockey" and it sure looked that way to me: alert, heady player, aggressive on the counter attack, good penalty-killer, was the most dangerous 'Be and threw the night's biggest hit. Undrafted? You would think that the recent accomplishments of St.Louis -- Hart Trophy, Ross Trophy, Stanley Cup champion, World Cup champion -- would be fresh enough on the minds of these scouts that the entire NHL wouldn't collectively miss a guy like this. He's too small? Unbelievable. c’est la même chose.
Obviously this was the .5 game referred to above. Sorry, not much there for prospectophiles; did I mention we were celebrating the World Cup win? I've continued to follow St.Pierre's career with interest; he's gotten a cup of big league coffee in each of the four post-lockout seasons, and has exceeded a point-per-game at every minor league stop except Edmonton. (That would be the Roadrunners, 2004-05) Still only 26, he may yet turn out to be a player.
2005: Golden Bears 5, Wannabes 4 (OT)
      This was my 15th Bears-'Bes game, and from a sheer entertainment standpoint perhaps the best. A terrific tilt, lots of skating and hitting and just enough animosity to keep it interesting. The Wannabes actually controlled play for the most part, fighting back from three one-goal deficits to take a 4-3 lead deep into the third, but Bears scored a late powerplay goal by University Cup hero Ben Thomson to tie it and then got the winner by Brian Ballman early in OT. As usual the Bears showed more of a team game, but of their current five-game winning streak I would say they were lucky to win this one.
#2 Matt Greene -- Huge (6'3", 223) blueliner cut an imposing figure out there, but really didn't do a hell of a lot to impress. Never did see his reputed big shot. Played somewhat physical, got burned in the corners a few times, took the bad penalty with 1:30 left that quickly led to the tying goal. 
#5 Dan Syvret -- Looked OK but not great, puck seemed to be bouncing on him, but was mobile and aware and moved the puck (when it wasn't bouncing) sharply out of his own end. Made a great two-line (sic) pass to Yellow Horn for a breakaway. He's a team player, and this wasn't really a team, so not necessarily a fair trial. 
#10 Jean-Francois Jacques -- Huge (6'4", 217) winger took a period or so to get into the game, than took no prisoners. By far the biggest physical force out there. Two assists to boot.
#14 Zach [sic!] Stortini -- Huge (6'3", 216) winger scored a nice goal by getting position and planting his big butt at the edge of the crease to bang in a sharp pass from Stastny. Decent prospect. 
#15 -- Colton Yellow Horn -- Tiny (5'7", 182) sparkplug led Lethbridge Hurricanes in scoring last year and was among WHL leaders all year. Not enough to get him drafted -- after all, what can a little man do in a big man's game? -- but enough to get an invite to Oilers camp. A most pleasant surprise. Had a memorable battle with Bears' captain and resident behemoth Gavin McLeod (6'5", 220) in which Yellow Horn outhustled and outpositioned the much larger man to win a 50/50 puck on the side hash marks, make a good pass, then get off on a line change. 'Bes wound up scoring on the ensuing offensive-zone possession (Stortini). Not sure if Yellow Horn was awarded an official assist, but then again, I'm not sure that I didn't win the 50/50 draw either. PA system in that building is the worst I've ever (not) heard. 
#19 Tim Sestito -- WHO? Never 'eard of 'im. Showed an impressive amount of try, forced me to keep noticing him.
#20 Troy Bodie -- Huge (6'4", 213) winger looked, uh, competent at this level. Got a couple of assists, but hardly dominated. Definitely a project.
#26 Yan Stastny -- Wore the famous #26 and the "C" to boot. Got an assist, made a nice diving defensive play to thwart a near-breakaway, and made the night's best one-on-one move when he completely undressed a Bear defender with nary a herk nor a jerk. Smooooth. Left the game early in the third. 
#27 Marc-Antoine Pouliot -- I tried to isolate on him a few times but he did little to keep my attention. Oilers' brass were happy with him though. He did unleash a great one-timer top shelf to put the 'Bes in front midway through the third.
#34 Rob Schremp -- By far the best player on the ice, either team. Scored a brace of goals, both on wicked slapshots from the high slot. Handled the puck beautifully and made any number of sharp passes to Plumber Bob. Not just in the offensive zone, either, although that was where he did his best work, esp. on the PP. A wicked hit too that looked suspiciously like an elbow from my seat in the end zone, but not to Mr. Stripes who was five feet away. Ruined his night's work with a dreadful shift in OT, playing the entire 1:16 (oops), losing possession in the offensive zone by excessive dipsy-doodling, coming back to regain possession in his own end but giving it away again, this time resulting in the winner. It was comical to see him hanging his head as he waited on the bench to be introduced as the game's first star, putting a new spin on what Paul Coffey called the "skate of shame". Crowd didn't seem to mind, and gave him a big hand. Real potential here. 
#35 Devan Dubnyk -- In a departure from tradition  went the whole 61 minutes. Huge (6'5", 194) wingspan, covered a lot of net, good on bang-bang plays but frankly lousy control of the area around the edges of his crease and the sides of the net. At least three goals, including the winner, went right through him. Needs years of polish. 

The number of NHL opportunities subsequently given the skaters marked "huge" compared to the one designated "tiny" is telling.  Interesting also to track the progress of the Class of '03 from the game two Septembers previous. The "still vanilla" report on Pouliot two years along the career curve remains true to this day; it's an effort to track the guy, in my eyes he just disappears out there and always has. Stortini OTOH was already starting to grab my attention, as was JFJ.

That's it that's all ... thanks for reading!