Friday, August 28, 2009

One part game, one part pep rally, all fun.

So I thought it was a bit early for hockey yet... and I guess I was wrong about that.

We managed to, yes, SELL OUT, the Saddledome for what was billed as a scrimmage. In August. There was a bizarre red-headed guy running up and down the aisles throwing free towels at the fans. And a mascot. I had no idea Hockey Canada had a mascot.

Nonetheless, from our third-row seats in the corner, we had a great view of both teams last night, most particularly of Luongo making some incredible stops early on in the game. The goaltending all night long one was pretty spectacular - of the five goalies at the camp, Cam Ward was the only one I didn't manage to get a good look at. Luongo and Steve Mason in particular impressed. Mason might be the young guy, but he's got ice water for veins. Not much fazed him.

The scrimmage itself was low-scoring and low-hitting (of course). While on paper, I'd figured Team White ought to take it handily, Team Red did a great job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone - their forwards (particularly Jordan Staal and Doan) were more effective at both ends, and their defensemen were just working together that much better. For Team Red, Brent Burns, Jay Bouwmeester, Shea Weber, and Duncan Keith were simply solid. Mike Green wasn't as much - I'm really curious now has to how well he'll play without Ovechkin around.

In terms of our guys, Regehr was a bit meh - though he got better as the night went, and Phaneuf frankly looked out of place. He's not nimble, and remains ridiculously easy to draw out of position. Barring injuries, I'm not convinced there's a spot on the team for him on the basis of what I saw last night - besides four vets (Regehr, Pronger, Niedermayer, and Bouwmeester) I'd consider locks, there's easily four other players his age (Seabrook, Keith, Weber, Burns) who are ahead of him depth-wise, and the remaining players are at least comparable. Phaneuf will have to have a terrific fall in order to be seriously considered for the team. And Jay Bouwmeester was simply solid. I'm excited to have him play for us this year.

Forwards - I can't believe how deep this camp was for centremen. What an embarrassment of riches! That said, the flashiest moves I saw all night were the sledge-hockey players in the 2nd intermission. Heatley (no love from the locals) and St. Louis had some nice breaks, but I'm not convinced offensive flash alone will get them on the roster.

The guys who were the most noticeable in the scrimmage were the grinders. Cleary showed some offensive flash in addition to his usual play, as did Perry. Milan Lucic is obviously struggling to make an impression - but he'll have to play a lot smarter to stand a chance. Smyth and Doan both played the way you expect them to for Team Canada.

All in all, you can't possibly envy the decisions they'll have to make in announcing a roster. But for one night - having all of these guys on the ice? Pure magic.