I caught the Calgary Hitmen show on the road tonight as they visited the Enmax Centrium and the Red Deer Rebels. Red Deer still needs those two points to get into a playoff spot but it wasn’t meant to be against one of the hottest teams in the country. In the first period Red Deer fans got a crash course on why Calgary is on the streak they’re on. The Hitmen scored four in the first as their rush offense was just too much for the Rebels short-staffed defensive unit. Calgary’s success in the first period, and over the last 15-20 games, came from crisp one-pass breakouts leading to odd-man rushes. It was just happening so fast that Red Deer was unable to adjust until too much damage had already been done.
In the second period Red Deer did make adjustments and I thought they played well for the rest of the game. They turned up the forecheck, led by Charles Inglis and Turner Elson, and took away the time and space that was making Calgary’s breakout so successful. They also started to go to what works for them offensively which is setting up in the zone and using their offensively talented defensemen. They scored two in the period and out-shot Calgary 11-5.
The third period played out the same as the second, the Rebels again out-shot their opponents 11-5, but they couldn’t get it past Calgary goalie Chris Driedger. In the end a desperate Red Deer team was forced to pull the goalie and Calgary took advantage with an empty netter to seal the deal.
Before I get into the standouts there is a more pressing issue as far as Red Deer is concerned. After watching both their games this weekend it seems like it’s going to be very tough for them to take that last playoff spot if Brandon has any success at all. They have a real lack of serious offensive threats in their forward lineup at the moment except for Charles Inglis and John Persson. Turner Elson showed signs of life tonight but besides those three the Rebels rely on Matt Dumba and Alex Petrovic to pitch-in big time in the offense. Under normal circumstances this might be an ok situation since they can break-up Dumba and Petrovic so there is always a threat from the blue-line. The problem they faced tonight, and will face for the next few games, is that injuries and lack of depth on the blue-line is causing the team to both rely on their top two d-men too much at both ends of the ice and to play them together to try and spark the offense, leaving a weaker pairing to take on more responsibilities. I’ve seen Matt Dumba play a number of times and tonight was the first time I’ve seen him and Petrovic both fairly tired towards the end of the game. They deserved to be, but it’s not a good sign going down the stretch.
Cody Sylvester. Sylvester had a goal and an assist in the first and was a big part of the Hitmen’s initial burst of offense. Sylvester was great on the rush and handles the puck well at high speed. Zenon Herasymiuk, who has worked out draft projections for www.hockeysense.ca, feels that Sylvester has a chance to be drafted in the late rounds this year. His goal was his 18th of the year putting him at 56 points in 50 games.
Chris Driedger. The Calgary Goalie played well down the stretch as Red Deer really started to fire away in the last two periods. Driedger had well over a .900 save percentage with many of the stops being quality chances on Red Deer power plays.
Charles Inglis. The scoop on Inglis according to Herasymiuk is that “Inglis has a history of off-ice problems. While he’s a solid WHL player, I don’t see him getting drafted.” But that just won’t do. Charles Inglis has been racking up points in the last few games and he plays with a serious edge and just the right amount of crazy. Have you ever heard old guys describe someone as a ‘spark-plug’? Turns out they’re talking about guys like Charles Inglis. He back-checks like someone stole his lunch, he had two goals last game, two assists this game, and he probably had around eight shots tonight. At one point in the game he blocked a shot high on the foot that clearly hurt, but when the puck bounced right back to the defensemen Inglis got ready to block the next one and hollered at the guy, “come on, again!” It’s not just a cliche to say that he plays with passion. I personally think Inglis would be a good energy-line guy at a higher level of hockey.
Elson Turner. As mentioned, Elson needs to continue to help spread some of the offensive output around for the Rebels. Having said that, he really helped give the Rebels a chance tonight as he started to put more pressure on the Calgary defense and help Red Deer get established in the offensive zone. Elson played a gritty game tonight and will have to continue to do so to help his team down the stretch. He’s signed to Calgary and the 19 year old showed tonight that he can play the physical side of the game that the big league requires.
Matt Dumba. In the game as a whole it’s hard to talk about the defense when the team loses five to two. But in the microcosm that is one player’s performance Matt Dumba was as impressive as ever. Though forced to play extensive minutes while reportedly under the weather he did well at both ends of the ice. Offensively he plays a lot like Dwayne Wade. That’s right, the basketball player. Dumba handles the puck on the perimeter and when his man comes out to guard him he has a number of options as he showed tonight. Three or four times he let his defender get close before spinning to the outside and carrying it in to create chances. He also distributes the puck well from the blue-line and this allows him to fake passes and simply blow by his guy. He had a number of good shots and rifled one off the crossbar that would have gotten his team to within a goal.
On the defensive end, Dumba again showed a good stick tonight and as always was very physical. After the game Dumba had to sign a bunch of autographs and although not feeling well and having just lost he was cool with all the people, signing everything from posters to sticks to I-phones and taking pictures with everyone. Just one more piece of his development into becoming a professional hockey player.