KINGSTON, Ont. - It was another nightmare finish for the Kingston Frontenacs on Friday night as Andrew Wilkins scored 54 seconds into overtime to lift the Owen Sound attack over the struggling Frontenacs 2-1 in the Ontario Hockey League.
Kingston (4-9-3-0) held a 1-0 lead late in the third period before Joey Hishon scored for the Attack with less than four minutes remaining to force overtime.
Defenceman Corbin Crawford scored 64 seconds into the third period to give the Frontenacs a 1-0 lead. It held up until Hishon's goal at 16:39 thanks to Kingston's penalty-killing work and the strong goaltending of Marvic Parks, who stopped 37 shots.
The Frontenacs have registered only four wins in their first 16 games and sit last in the OHL standings.
Tyler Beskorowany made 26 saves for Owen Sound (6-5-2-1).
Matt Walilko had a playoff game to remember, recording six goals and five assists. It wasn't exactly a once-in-a-lifetime game since he had a 10-point game earlier this year.
In the dying minutes of his Jr. C playoff game Tuesday night, Matt Walilko of the Midland Flyers had his stick broken in two by a slash. A dastardly deed to be sure, but you can kind of see his opponent’s reasoning. It was the probably same thought process Bobby Clarke had when he broke Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle during the 1972 Summit Series.
“The guy was telling me that my stick was way too hot and he had to break it,” Walilko said. “He just axed the stick right in half and said it had too many points in it. We were laughing about it after the game.”
Considering that stick – along with the 17-year-old using it - was responsible for six goals and five assists in a 12-3 rout over the Huntsville Otters, you can understand why the opponent would rather see that one propping up tomato plants than demolishing his team’s playoff hopes. So when his team hits the ice for Game 6 of their playoff series Friday night, Walilko will be using new lumber, but riding the confidence of a once-in-a-lifetime game.
Or was it? Earlier this season, the Grade 12 high school student registered a 10-point game with five goals and five assists en route to scoring 80 points in 39 games and being named rookie of the year in Ontario's Provincial Junior Hockey League. Walilko is just 17, playing in a league where there are players as old as 22. He was easily the youngest player among the league’s top 10 scorers this season and one of only two teenagers. In what should come as no surprise, Walilko’s night vaulted him into the league’s playoff scoring lead with 10 goals and 20 points in five games. “It makes it look like I’ve been lighting it up every night,” Walilko said, “but I only had nine points in four games before that one.”
Back to the game, Walilko attributed his good fortune to being in the right place at the right time. He said a couple of key players were out with injuries and school commitments, so he knew he would have to step up. One of his linemates had seven points in the game and the other linemate had six. Walilko said that, as was the case in his 10-point night earlier this season, he went into the game knowing he was facing the opponent’s backup goalie.
“You kind of do your research, right?” Walilko said. “You see the backup is starting and you try to put a lot of pucks on net.”
What makes the feat even more impressive is that it gave Walilko’s team a 3-2 series lead with a chance to win it in Game 6. The Flyers had dug themselves into a 2-0 hole in the series, but have stormed back and clearly have some momentum on their side, not to mention a confident young man leading the attack.
Which begs the question: What is a young man this good doing playing this far down the junior hockey ladder? Well, Walilko played AAA midget last season in Barrie and rather than play on the third or fourth line for a Jr. B or Jr. A team this season, he thought it would be better for his development if he were a prime time player at a lower level. He has his sights set on earning a scholarship, something he hopes to do in a year or so. Walilko plans to take next season off school and hopes to play next season for the Pembroke Lumber Kings. He plans to write his SATs in the hope of attracting interest from U.S. schools.
Flyers president and GM Gerry Asselin said Walilko is so focused on getting a scholarship that he turned down a chance to practice, and perhaps even play, with the struggling Barrie Colts this season. The Flyers are affiliated with the Colts, who are struggling and in last place this season. Asselin said he recently had a conversation with Colts GM Jason Ford, in which Ford asked him to suggest a couple of players the Colts might have a look at down the stretch. Asselin said when he approached Walilko, he was flatly turned down.
“He’s a smart kid,” Asselin said. “He has his head screwed on right.”
A student at a Catholic high school in Barrie, Walilko said he can’t take all the credit for his success. His personal motto comes from the Bible passage Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“I’ve put it on every stick I’ve bought since I was a young kid,” Walilko said. “I grew up in a religious family and every time I’m on the ice and having a tough time, I’ll just look down at that and kind of re-motivate myself. It kind of applies to me in everything I do, not just hockey.”
Walilko will be looking to continue making a big contribution in the playoffs, but is another double-digit performance in the future?
“I don’t know if any of my backup sticks have that many points in them, but I’ll try.”
The Wild have a potential Vezina winner, coach of the year and a workhorse top defenseman, but come the post-season, opponent’s should most fear Minnesota’s depth.
Devan Dubnyk is well on his way to winning the Vezina Trophy and given the Wild have matched their win total from the past season in 25 fewer games, Bruce Boudreau is going to be in the conversation for the Jack Adams Award. He could very well take home the hardware by the time the season ends, too. There’s also going to be talk about Mikko Koivu for the Selke Trophy and Ryan Suter, as always, is going to be part of Norris Trophy discussions.
But with all the solo performances that have made this season an impressive one for the Wild, there’s more to this Minnesota club that the standout performances of single players. Rather, the best thing the Wild have going is their incredible depth, and as the playoffs inch nearer and Minnesota gears up for what looks like it could be a deep run, the way the Wild have been able to win should be striking fear into the hearts of opponents.
As of Friday, the Wild currently have the fourth-highest scoring offense in the league, but that’s a bit of a head scratcher given not a single player has hit the 20-goal plateau. Compare Minnesota’s lineup to that of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals — the top three offenses in the league, respectively — and you don’t exactly walk away thinking the Wild belong in the conversation. The Penguins boast Crosby and Malkin, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller are leading the way for the Rangers and the Capitals are always lethal with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. On paper, one would likely take all three offenses ahead of Minnesota’s, especially given the Wild’s current top scorer, Mikael Granlund, had maxed out at 44 points before this season.
It’s been that kind of year in Minnesota, however, with just about everyone on the team stepping up under Boudreau. Matter of fact, no team boasts a more spread out offense than the Wild, who have 10 different players to have scored at least 10 goals. That list includes Koivu, Granlund, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Chris Stewart, Eric Staal, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville and Jason Zucker. The Capitals high-powered offense is the only other group in the league that has as many 10-goal scorers, but the Wild have two more players, Suter and Jared Spurgeon, sitting at eight goals and on pace to hit double digits this season.
One of the things that’s evident is that Bourdeau has found a way to get the most out of players who are right in that prime stage of their development. There’s no better example than Granlund, whose 16-goal, 51-point performance thus far has already seen him set dual career highs. He’s not the only one on pace to reach new heights, however. Coyle’s 44 points are a new career-best, while Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matthew Dumba, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker are all on their way to setting new bests.
And while Granlund is the best example of a guy flourishing under Boudreau, no player is quite as indicative of the way the Wild’s depth has been clicking like Zucker. The 2015-16 season was a frustrating one for Zucker and Wild fans. After coming off a 20-goal campaign in 2014-15, the belief was Minnesota had a goal-scoring star in the making. All the facets of his game were present, but none more than his ability to absolutely burn up the ice when he hit his top speed. And while he’s seen his ice time take a dip under Boudreau — he’s playing roughly a shift or two less per game — Zucker is having the season of his life while playing bottom-six minutes.
Through 57 games, he has 16 goals and 38 points, but only a single point of his has come on the power play and not a single point of his has been scored shorthanded. Instead, he’s been a stud for the Wild at 5-on-5, so much so that he’s in the same league as Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. That sounds bizarre, but it’s true.
Zucker’s managed 14 goals and 37 points while playing five-a-side this season, and the other 500-plus minute players who rank in the top five in scoring are McDavid, Crosby, Brent Burns and Mark Scheifele. That’s a select bunch as all four rank in the top six in league scoring. More impressive yet is that Crosby is the only one of those four others to have a higher points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 than Zucker’s 2.86. Of course, no one is about to say Zucker’s in the same overall league as Crosby or McDavid, but when it comes to even strength play this season, the Wild winger is sure producing like it.
The brilliant thing about a player like Zucker playing that way is that he’s exactly the type of weapon a team that has designs on going deep into the post-season needs. Every post-season run has its unsung heroes, and they’re generally players who score a clutch overtime goal or get moved up the lineup in hopes of generating some offense. With the way Zucker has played, chances are he could be exactly that type of player for Minnesota in the playoffs, and if it’s not him, Niederreiter, Haula, Pominville and Stewart have all been proving they can give that added punch.
The post-season can be as much about rolling four lines and getting some mismatches along the way as it is about high-end skill. Given that’s the case, there isn’t a team more well equipped to make an opponent’s bottom six and depth defensemen pay quite as much as the Wild. So, while Dubnyk, Koivu and Suter could be in line for end-of-year award recognition, it’s the depth, led by players such as Zucker, that stands to carry Minnesota towards the real prize they’re chasing.
In the war to secure talent, agents are going after kids before they even hit their teens. Is it time to curb the chase?
There is a boy playing minor hockey in Toronto you haven’t heard about yet but probably will before too long. Then again, he could be out of hockey in three years or become a marginal player in junior or college hockey. We have chosen to not publish his name. But he’s very, very good. He’s attending an elite hockey academy in Toronto and is thriving a year above his age bracket for one of the top Triple-A organizations in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. He’s big and he’s skilled and he has lots of promise.
He’s also just 12 years old. And his family has been getting calls from player agents. The same agents who represent multimillionaires playing in the NHL have been contacting the parents of a 12-year-old kid. And he’s not the only one. Players, particularly in Canada’s biggest city, have become accustomed to being contacted by agents during their bantam years, (ages 13 and 14) and some of them already have representatives.
“He’s the one people think is ‘The Next One,’” said Anton Thun, a longtime player agent of M-Five Sports, of the player in question. “People think he might be the next Connor McDavid or John Tavares. Numerous agencies have spoken with the family and, quite honestly, we have spoken with the family. We’ve gotten information into his hands to let him know we exist. We’re not going to let other agencies come into our backyard and take the best player.”
Said another agent who requested anonymity, “It’s brutal and it’s getting out of hand. I don’t want to do it, but if I don’t, I’m going to be out of business. Now it’s not about who wins the battle, but who gets there first.”
Whether the NHL Players’ Association, which certifies and regulates player agents, is prepared to do something about it remains to be seen. Setting age restrictions was a hot topic at the NHLPA’s meeting with agents in the summer, and the union has since sent out a missive to agents to determine whether it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. And as the self-appointed pseudo-governing body for agents, it appears the NHLPA is the only institution that can save the agents from themselves on this one.
“The matter of the age restriction regarding recruiting is something that is somewhat on hold while the Hockey Summit discussions regarding draft age, development are ongoing,” said an NHLPA spokesman in an email, referring to the Hockey SENSE meetings that took place this summer, the second of which spent a good chunk of time focused on youth hockey.
As a group, the agents want to have age limits put on them when it comes to contacting prospects. For one, it levels the playing field for everyone. And it also means they can spend their time doing more productive things than chasing bantam players around cold local arenas. And lastly, the agents want this for the same reason Pat LaFontaine and his group are looking into a 19-year-old draft. The longer they give players to develop, the less chance there is for a mistake to be made by everyone involved.
“Back in the 1980s, we recruited 18-year-old kids,” Thun said, “but now I’m being asked to go watch a hockey game where there’s a 13- or 14-year-old kid.”
The only problem is that if one or two rogue agents chase after kids barely in their teens, everyone is forced to do it or risk missing out on the best players. It’s pretty much the same principle that guides the salary cap in the NHL. There’s no age limit on when U.S. college teams can recruit players, and there have been examples of kids barely in their teens committing to programs – albeit making commitments that are not binding when it comes to choosing between major junior hockey and the NCAA. The WHL has a bantam draft, and there is always talk the OHL might follow suit. So young kids are being expected to make monumental decisions, including whether they need an agent or family advisor.
But like so many other things it does well when it comes to dealing with young players, Sweden appears to have come up with a great way of dealing with this problem. There are about 50 agents/recruiters in Sweden, and they have an agreement with the Swedish players’ association that they cannot approach or be approached by any player prior to Jan. 1 of the year he turns 16. That coincides with the first time they have an opportunity to be selected for a national team. Every fall, the country holds its annual TV Puck tournament featuring the best 15-and-under players. That’s basically the first time elite players are identified, and by January, they can make contact with an agent. Agents who directly or indirectly contact players prior to the set date are first warned, then fined, then risk having their licenses revoked.
And the agents are also working with the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation to try to put sanctions in place that penalize players whose (often overaggressive) parents reach out to agents or sign an agreement with one.
“If I get a call from a parent looking for an agent, the first thing I ask, ‘So, you don’t have an agent?’ ”said longtime Sweden-based agent Claes Elefalk of CAA. “The second question is, ‘How old is he?’ And if it’s before Jan. 1 of the year he turns 16, I have to say, ‘Oh, we have a rule that means I need to hang up the phone immediately and you can only call me back the first of January.’ I’m not allowed to even speak for five minutes or send an email or anything. I must say it has been working really well in Sweden.”
Winterhawks center Cody Glass is doing a good job of proving people wrong as he develops into an offensive star in the WHL.
How do you like them apples? Excuse the backwards reference, but Harvard won its first Beanpot title in 24 years Monday night, running over Boston University 6-3 in the classic NCAA showdown. The Crimson are an older bunch, but still had a good dose of NHL talent in their ranks. Elsewhere in the prospect world, the Five Nations tourney in Sweden wrapped up, with Team USA taking first. This was a big win for the National Team Development Program, which had struggled for most of the season beforehand (part of that may have been the high bar set by previous editions led by Clayton Keller, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel). For a look at some of the players involved in those contests and around the hockey world, let’s dive in to this week’s list.
Cody Glass, C – Portland Winterhawks (WHL): Hot tip for anyone facing Glass in the next decade: don’t take him for granted, because he will burn you. With 79 points through 55 games, he’s one of the highest scorers in the WHL and past slights have spurned him on.
“I use motivation as my key,” Glass said. “I got cut from Team Canada (for the summer Ivan Hlinka tourney) so I used that to push through and prove to people that I should have made it. I just keep trying to prove people wrong, starting as an honorable mention (on NHL Central Scouting’s list) and moving up to eighth.”
It’s impossible to ignore the Winnipeg native now and scouts certainly aren’t underestimating him. They love the kid’s combination of playmaking, hockey sense and hands. Still thin, Glass knows he must get stronger – but his 6-foot-2 frame is very projectable.
Portland is in the thick of the wild card race right now thanks to an 8-2 run in the Hawks’ past 10 games. The team lost a lot of veterans to the pros in the summer, but the return of franchise guru Mike Johnston has helped.
“He’s had a huge response coming back from Pittsburgh, especially him being with Crosby and Malkin,” Glass said. “He brought a lot of good skill development. With his system, with the young guys and speed we have, it helps a lot.”
Glass had just 27 points last season, so his ascent has been meteoric. Based on his skills and potential ceiling, I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes the Mark Scheifele of this draft – a player that goes earlier than expected to a team that really covets him. Funny how the new Scheifele could be a Winnipeg kid who only got to see NHL hockey in town recently with the Jets’ return.
“Everyone was pretty ecstatic when they came back,” Glass said. “Getting to see the NHL back in Winnipeg is awesome.”
And it won’t be long before we see Glass in the NHL, making his point…by piling up points.
In the Pipeline
Alex DeBrincat, RW (Chicago): DeBrincat is wrecking all sorts of Erie Otters records lately, but there’s another milestone coming for the small-but-deadly scorer. DeBrincat is well on pace to hit 50 goals and 100 points in all three of his OHL seasons – quite the rare feat.
Ryan Donato, LW (Boston): The prettiest goal of the Beanpot final came from Donato, who used his slick hands and great elusiveness to bury one for the Crimson. The son of Harvard coach Ted Donato has more than a point per game as a sophomore and the Crimson have won six straight.
Ryan Pulock, D (NY Islanders): The AHL player of the week, Pulock registered six points in four wins – all one-goal games – for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The big blueliner with the rocket shot will almost certainly push for a regular NHL spot in Brooklyn next season.
Brandon Gignac, C (New Jersey): Athletic and skilled, Gignac had the only goal in a great showdown with Halifax on the weekend as his Shawinigan Cataractes maintained their perch atop the QMJHL standings. Gignac has also been great on faceoffs, while tallying 49 points in 45 games.
Steve Michalek, G (Minnesota): Since the calendar flipped over to 2017, Michalek has yet to surrender more than two goals in a game, even in contests where his Iowa Wild were considerably outshot. The rookie AHLer now has one of the highest save percentages in the league at .923.
Josh Norris, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL): The whole NTDP blew the doors off the Five Nations, but Norris definitely led the charge with seven points in four games. That was best among all skaters in the tourney and the University of Michigan commit has been stepping it up lately in general. Norris is a smart, consistent center who skates well and plays in all situations.
Erik Brannstrom, D – HV71 (SHL): The best defenseman at the Five Nations, Brannstrom had four points in four games for the Swedes, creating opportunities nearly every period. Though he’s on the small side, Brannstrom is an incredibly skilled and smart puck-moving defenseman.
Filip Chytil, C – PSG Zlin (Cze.): One of the better Czechs at the Five Nations, Chytil is a strong, two-way center who does all the right things on the ice. That included netting three points in four games for the squad. He plays against men back home right now.
Mick Messner, RW – Madison Capitols (USHL): The USHL’s forward of the week, Messner had four points in three games, scoring or assisting on the overtime winner in all three matches. The University of Wisconsin commit is a smart, hard-working player who beats opponents with his quick hands right now but must iron out his short skating stride at the next level.
2018 Draft Star
Filip Zadina, LW – Dynamo Pardubice (Cze.): Due to his late birthday, the 1999-born Zadina won’t be draft eligible until next season, but he’s showing off incredible skill already. A fast, shifty shooter with a high-end motor, Zadina killed it at the Five Nations, leading the Czechs in scoring with five points and the tournament in goals with four in four games.