Defending Champs Start Season Strong

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2022 at 10:12 am

The Adirondack Aces, fresh off their Atkinson Cup win, started the season with an astonishing 17-3-0 record, the league’s best at the quarter pole, but they won’t be able to rest on their laurels. Sawchuk Conference rival Ice Harbor is just a point behind (16-3-1) and West Virginia‘s 15-5-0 record puts them within striking distance too.

The El Dorado Lynx‘s goalie shakeup is paying early dividends in the Plante Conference, as they lead with a 15-5-0 record, but it’s the next two spots — Denver at 13-6-1 and South Side at 10-8-2 — that are perhaps the most surprising, as perennial playoff teams like Salem and Baltimore had tough starts.

No team has scored more after 20 games than the new-look San Jose Hosers, who have managed 109 goals already in the young season. It’s no surprise, then, that Hosers occupy the top three scoring spots: Steven Stamkos (18 goals, 22 assists), Mitch Marner (14 goals, 22 assists), and Nazem Kadri (11 goals, 24 assists). Teammate Charlie McAvoy also leads all defensemen with a whopping 29 points in 20 games.

South Side’s Trevor Zegras leads all rookies so far with 9 goals and 8 assists. Fellow Renegade Connor Hellebuyck already has 3 shutouts — a big reason his team is in the early playoff hunt.


Season Preview: Sawchuk (part 2)

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2022 at 10:48 am

Here’s the fourth and final part of our GWMHL 2022-23 season preview. Check the rest out here: Plante (part 1), Plante (part 2), and Sawchuk (part 1).

Ice Harbor Storm

Last season: 45-30-7 (lost in first round)
Draft picks: D Scott Perunovich (18), F Bobby Brink (40), F Nicholas Abruzzese (62), D Kyle Capobianco (83)
Notable additions: D Caleb Jones
Notable subtractions: F Victor Rask, F Sam Carrick, D Kyle Capobianco, G Jonathan Bernier
Analysis: The Storm had a very good year in a stacked conference, making the playoffs and taking a strong Farmington squad to seven games before being eliminated. They were maybe the league’s most entertaining team, too, scoring the most goals by a comfortable margin while also allowing a ton of goals against. But even if young netminders Carter Hart and Spencer Knight remain enigmas, the team will likely give a lot of starts to Linus Ullmark, and he should be capable of stopping more rubber this year. Management made few offseason changes and seems confident that Ullmark will be the X factor that can take them to the next level. The Storm have an incredibly deep forward group, with plenty of big scorers — Jonathan Huberdeau, Matthew Tkachuk, Alex DeBrincat, and on and on — held together by strong two-way performers like Aleksander Barkov and Mikael Backlund. The team lacks high-end left-handed defensemen and likely too much will be asked of Nick Leddy and Mike Matheson, but that’s nothing new. If the team can get better goaltending, another playoff appearance is likely.
Outlook: Playoffs

Portland WinterHawks

Last season: 33-41-8 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: F Dawson Mercer (8), D JJ Moser (30), F Jonathan Dahlen (52), Jacob Middleton (73)
Notable additions: F Jackson Cates, F Dawson Mercer, F Jonathan Dahlen, D JJ Moser, D Jacob Middleton
Notable subtractions: F Carl Hagelin, F Steven Lorentz, D Robert Hagg, D Michal Kempny, D Brendan Guhle
Analysis: They haven’t made any splashy trades so the WinterHawks have flown under the radar, but while you weren’t paying attention they assembled a mighty intriguing group of forwards to complement its two bonafide stars, Artemi Panarin and Brad Marchand. Jesper Bratt and Andrei Svechnikov are ready for the next level, Nick Suzuki and Pierre-Luc Duboic look good up the middle, and Ryan Hartman may have some untapped offense up his sleeve. Cam Talbot and Vitek Vanecek in goal? Neither is a world-beater, but they should be good enough. Now that the rest of the pieces are in place, though, it shines a light on Portland’s most glaring weakness, one the team has stubbornly resisted addressing: a blueline full of defensively responsible defenders but utterly lacking in offensive-minded puck-movers. Who’s running the powerplay? Justin Schultz? Brenden Dillon? Mario Ferraro? Rookie JJ Moser? Someone’s going to need to step up in a big way or the offense will die every time the puck lands on a defenseman’s stick. Apart from that, this looks like a playoff-calibre team on paper.
Outlook: Bubble

San Jose Hosers

Last season: 36-38-8 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: D Thomas Harley (33), F Adam Beckman (55), D Artemi Kniazev (60), F Riley Damiani (76)
Notable additions: F Nazem Kadri, F Jeff Skinner, F Mats Zuccarello, F Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Notable subtractions: F Kevin Labanc, F Janne Kuokkanen, F Chris Tierney, F Tyler Bozak, D Gustav Lindstrom, G Laurent Brossoit, G Jaroslav Halak
Analysis: After looking playoff-ready for a couple of seasons but underperforming when it counts, the Hosers finally broke through, squeezing into the final berth in an expanded playoff field. They made it 7 games against Vancouver before being sent home, but it was a positive first step and enough motivation for management to take a big offseason swing for the fences: a monster trade that saw the Hosers part ways with two first rounders to acquire veteran forwards Nazem Kadri, Mats Zuccarello, and Jeff Skinner. All three will be key to the Hosers’ fortunes in the absence of Jack Eichel, who’s expected to miss more than half the season to injury. Along with Mitch Marner, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and Gabriel Landeskog, they form a wonderful core up front. The defense, led by Charlie McAvoy and Cam Fowler, is certainly deep enough for the postseason too. But the biggest factor, the one that would make anything less than a playoff berth a supreme disappointment, is goalie Igor Shesterkin, now unquestionably the team’s starter and clearly capable of putting the team on his back. The pieces are in place now. Failure is not an option. If this San Jose team had a longer playoff pedigree, they might even be considered Atkinson Cup contenders.
Outlook: Playoffs

Vancouver Night Train

Last season: 53-23-6 (lost in third round)
Draft picks: F Lukas Reichel (20), D Philip Broberg (34), F Samuel Fagemo (53), G Justus Annunen (64), F Egor Sokolov (85)
Notable additions: F Andreas Athanasiou, D Philip Broberg, G Spencer Martin
Notable subtractions: F Ryan Poehling, F Luke Kunin, F Kyle Palmieri, F Klim Kostin, D Shea Weber, G Michael Hutchinson
Analysis: The Night Train got career seasons from Connor Brown (with a mind-boggling 70 goals) and Mark Stone (whose 80 assists topped the league), who formed a dominant first line with Elias Lindholm and led the team to a 53-win season. It was still only good enough for third in the highly competitive Sawchuk, but Vancouver also had a strong postseason, bouncing San Jose and West Virginia before falling to Adirondack in a tight game 7 in the conference final. Now, a major correction is looming. Stone is hurt. Brown will inevitably fall back to earth. Even if Lindholm and Mat Barzal can maintain a high level of play, and Jordan Kyrou and Andrew Mangiapane pick up some offensive slack, there’s no replacement for that Stone/Brown magic, no more hotshot rookies in the pipeline, and the team just isn’t as deep as it was last season. That said, the defense — featuring by Thomas Chabot, Shea Theodore, two-way Mackenzie Weegar, and defensive specialist Adam Pelech — stacks up well against the rest of the conference, even with the retirement of career Night Train Shea Weber, and Tristan Jarry has the ability to turn in a strong season under the right circumstances. But in the Sawchuk meat grinder, that’s probably not enough unless a couple of teams fall on their faces.
Outlook: Bubble

West Virginia River Rats

Last season: 54-23-5 (lost in second round)
Draft picks: F Gabriel Fortier (72), F Jake Leschyshyn (86)
Notable additions: F Jonathan Toews, F Sean Couturier, D Morgan Rielly, D Ryan Ellis, G Cayden Primeau
Notable subtractions: F Jason Spezza, F Travis Zajac, F Gabriel Vilardi, F Alexandre Texier, F Jansen Harkins, D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, G Brian Elliott
Analysis: The River Rats seemed destined for a finals appearance after a great regular season but couldn’t make it past Vancouver in the second round. They responded by loading up their stacked roster even more, and on paper they’re clearly one of the league’s best teams. Jonathan Toews, acquired from Delta, isn’t the force he once was, but he’ll be a boon to the Rats’ bottom six, and the surprise pickup of Morgan Rielly late in the offseason gives them an offensive weapon on a blueline that already boasted Dougie Hamilton and Jakob Chychrun, allowing workhorse Jaccob Slavin to forcus on defense. Pavel Francouz has returned from injury to back up Juuse Saros, and that’s a big improvement over Brian Elliott. But this team lives or dies on the strength of its forwards, and what a group that is: Leon Draisaitl, Jake Guentzel, Sebastian Aho, the ageless Joe Pavelski, Patrik Laine, Brock Nelson, Nikolaj Ehlers… and now Jack Hughes poised to take a big step forward? Look out. This is the kind of roster that should strike fear in the heart of any opponent, even fellow contenders.
Outlook: Contender

Season Preview: Sawchuk (part 1)

In Uncategorized on November 9, 2022 at 12:05 pm

The third of our four-part series previewing the 2022-23 GWMHL season turns to the Sawchuk Conference, home of the defending champs — and another of contenders for the throne.

Adirondack Aces

Last season: 57-20-5 (won Atkinson Cup)
Draft picks: G Daniil Tarasov (22), D Vladislav Kolyachonok (44), F Alexei Toropchenko (66)
Notable additions: G Casey DeSmith, G Jaroslav Halak
Notable subtractions: F James Neal, F Drew O’Connor, D Sean Walker, D Ethan Bear, G Jaroslav Halak
Analysis: The Aces cruised to first overall with a commanding 57 wins, but their postseason opponents made them work for the championship as Adirondack went to seven games in all three of its series, culminating in a storybook Atkinson Cup just one year after they finished dead last in the league. The rise to dominance came faster than anyone expected, but when you look at the team’s construction it isn’t really that surprising. Patrice Bergeron is still probably the league’s best defensive forward, Semyon Varlamov turned in a very good performance all season long, and then you’ve got the X factor of Kirill Kaprizov, whose 89 points was best of the rookie class. He was a big boost to a potent offense that already featured Johnny Gaudreau, Chris Kreider, and Roope Hintz. This is a lineup with very few weaknesses — forward depth to burn, a defense that will benefit from the emergence of Noah Dobson and Gustav Forsling (now there was a shrewd acquisition!) in the absence of injured Drew Doughty, and Varlamov is joined by Kaapo Kahkonen and Casey DeSmith for a solid trio in goal. A repeat is far from a sure thing, but last year was no fluke. The Aces will contend.
Outlook: Contender

Boston Banshees

Last season: 29-42-11 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: F Matty Beniers (7), Philip Tomasino (21), D Alex Vlasic (47), D Jordan Harris (51), D Alexander Alexeyev (69), F Brayden Tracey (75)
Notable additions: F Jakub Voracek, F Zach Hyman, F Reilly Smith, F Scott Laughton, F Kyle Palmieri, F Erik Haula, F Philip Tomasino, F Alexandre Texier, D Ryan Pulock, D Brian Dumoulin, D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, D Alec Regula, D Alex Vlasic
Notable subtractions: F Brock Boeser, F Sean Couturier, F Filip Chytil, F Charlie Coyle, F Andreas Athanasiou, F Andreas Johnsson, F Danton Heinen, F Julien Gauthier, D Dante Fabbro, D Ryan Ellis, D Logan Stanley, D Nicolas Beaudin, D Alec Martinez, D Niko Mikkola, G Cayden Primeau, G Stuart Skinner, G Matt Murray
Analysis: Ah, the Banshees. Always in the middle of all the offseason action. Last season, Boston embraced a retool and came away with the 7th overall pick. Matty Beniers won’t be ready to join the big club yet, but a dozen or so other new faces, mostly acquired through a flurry of trades, will. That list includes wingers Jakub Voracek, Zach Hyman, and Reilly Smith, who will all be key parts of a lineup that’s now built upon its top three centres, Mika Zibanejad, Robert Thomas, and Tage Thompson, the latter two of whom seem especially poised for a big breakout year. The Banshee’s blueline is as strong as ever, especially with the additions of veterans Ryan Pulock and Brian Dumoulin, and Ilya Sorokin should be able to hold things down in goal. It’s always possible the lineup won’t gel when it counts, but on paper, Boston fans will find their team right back in the playoff mix, with an outside shot of going deep.
Outlook: Playoffs

Clarington Coyotes

Last season: 13-60-9 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: D Moritz Seider (1), F Seth Jarvis (3), F Alexander Holtz (11), F Cole Perfetti (17), G Mads Sogaard (67)
Notable additions: F Filip Chytil, F Denis Gurianov, F Ryan Poehling, F Janne Kuokkanen, F Chris Tierney, D Gustav Lindstrom, G Eric Comrie
Notable subtractions: F Nazem Kadri, F Vladimir Tarasenko, F Jeff Skinner, F Mats Zuccarello, F Scott Laughton, F Tanner Pearson, F Vitaly Abramov, F Tyler Benson, F Mitchell Stephens, F Jake Virtanen, D Sebastian Aho, D Cale Fleury, D Gustav Lindstrom, D Brendan Smith, G Sergei Bobrovsky
Analysis: Next to Denver, the Clarington Coyotes might have had the most daring offseason. They looked at a roster that could actually have had a shot, if a distant one, at a playoff spot, and decided to blow it all up instead. That meant trading away most of a solid top six — Kadri, Tarasenko, Zuccarello, Skinner — and a good starter in Bobrovsky to set the team up for the future with three additional first rounders to go along with the number one pick overall. The huge draft haul that followed included defenseman Moritz Seider and forwards Seth Jarvis, Cole Perfetti, and Alexander Holtz. Seider and Jarvis will join the team right away, and remaining veteran netminded Jacob Markstrom has the ability to steal them a few games, but otherwise Clarington is going to be spending at least another year in the basement as they rely on the offensive wizardry of Jeff Carter and Artturi Lehkonen. It won’t be pretty but it’s probably the best move.
Outlook: Rebuilding

Delta Sturgeon

Last season: 34-42-6 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: F Hendrix Lapierre (23), F JJ Peterka (25), D Braden Schneider (29), F Alex Turcotte (31), F Yegor Chinakhov (32), F Aliaksei Protas (43), F Logan Brown (65), F Joe Snively (74)
Notable additions: F Sam Steel, F Eric Robinson, F Dustin Brown, D Dante Fabbro, D Logan Stanley
Notable subtractions: F Evander Kane, F Taylor Hall, F Zach Hyman, F Jonathan Toews, F Erik Haula, F Liam Foudy, F Tyler Johnson, F Joe Snively, F Blake Comeau, D Ryan Pulock, D Colin Miller, D Erik Gustafsson
Analysis: Following a rough 2021-22 season that saw them miss the playoffs, and looking at an aging and injury-riddled lineup, Delta management said ‘nope’. The Sturgeon purge meant parting ways with Kane, Hall, Hyman, Toews, and Pulock for a heap of second round picks, and they’ll have to hope that they hit a few bullseyes as they try to rebuild the roster while its remaining core — Nathan MacKinnon, Aaron Ekblad, Nikita Kucherov — are still playing good hockey. MacKinnon, especially, is the bedrock on which the team will be built, alongside goalie Jake Oettinger, who cost them their 2022 first but already seems ready to take over from John Gibson. The team still has Colton Parayko and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, too — but after that it’s thin gruel. Delta fans can expect to see a lot of Corey Perry, Yakov Trenin, and Pius Suter in what promises to be a very long year.
Outlook: Rebuilding

Farmington Fighting Saints

Last season: 50-23-9 (lost in second round)
Draft picks: F William Eklund (19), D Ryan Merkley (41), D Robin Salo (63), F Cole Schwindt (84)
Notable additions: D Mark Giordano, D Trevor Van Riemsdyk, G Charlie Lindgren
Notable subtractions: F Cody Eakin, F Henrik Borgstrom, D Niklas Hjalmarsson, D Oscar Klefbom, D Nikolai Knyzhov, D Nikita Zaitsev, G Pekka Rinne
Analysis: The Fighting Saints got eliminated by the eventual champs in the second round, but this is a team with the potential to make an even stronger run this year. The team had a fairly quiet offseason until the acquisition of veteran defenseman Mark Giordano just ahead of the preseason trade freeze, a move that sneakily addressed a big need on the blueline. Up front, the Saints have one of the league’s deepest forward groups, led by Mikko Rantanen, JT Miller, Kevin Fiala, and young Josh Norris, and Giordano joins John Carlson, Devon Toews, and Vince Dunn on an above-average blueline. This team will be able to generate scoring opportunities whichever line or pairing is on the ice — a must for any true GWMHL contender. Where they’re weakest is in goal. Robin Lehner will likely see the most starts, but can Ilya Samsonov hold down the fort as backup? Even if third-stringer Logan Thompson plays well, it’s a long 82 games and the Saints may find themselves having to outscore their flaws. The team is equipped to do exactly that, but for now that’s the only thing keeping this team from being a clear contender.
Outlook: Playoffs

Hamilton Ti-Cats

Last season: 34-38-10 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: F Jake Neighbours (10)
Notable additions: F Taylor Hall, F Andreas Johnsson, F Danton Heinen, G Matt Murray, G Sam Montembeault
Notable subtractions: F Sam Steel, F Jakub Voracek, F Nick Cousins, D PK Subban, G Joonas Korpisalo
Analysis: The Ti-Cats turned heads early in the offseason when they acquired Taylor Hall, then again late in the offseason when they sent longtime winger Jakub Voracek packing — perhaps a lateral move. In any case, what the team lacks in sheer goal-scoring star power it makes up in depth, with the ability to roll four lines that can hurt you, led by Claude Giroux, Bryan Rust, Joel Eriksson Ek, young Cole Caufield, and now Hall. Its blueline was once one of the league’s most feared, and while it isn’t quite the same powerhouse it once was, it has one of the deadliest weapons in the GWMHL in Roman Josi fronting a deep group. James Reimer is the nominal starter and a good one at that, but his main backup, Sam Montembeault, is a lot shakier. Ultimately, as the balance of power in the Sawchuk begins to shift, Hamilton may be the toughest team to pin down. It feels like a playoff team, but can it keep up with possible big risers like San Jose, let alone powerhouses like West Virginia and Adirondack?
Outlook: Bubble

%d bloggers like this: