Friday, September 19, 2008

The GBU: Queen's hockey vs. RMC

Breaking down the men's hockey team's shootout win over the Royal Military College Paladins in Friday night's Lou Jeffries memorial exhibition game... (abbreviated because I have to get up rather bloody early tomorrow today to journey to the Centre of the Universe and cover the football game against U of T, which will be live-blogged here as mentioned previously)...

The score: Queen's 3, RMC 3 (Queen's wins 3-2 in a shootout)

How I saw it: In person, which meant a bus trip out to Gananoque with the team and sitting around the arena for a couple hours beforehand. It was a great game, though, and worth the time invested.

The Good:

-Queen's physical play: You could tell right from the start that the Gaels weren't taking this one lightly, appropriate considering that it was against hated rivals RMC. Defencemen Francis Horvath and Marcus Halcro in particular established a physical presence from the opening puck drop with some big hits.

-Pat Doyle: The firebrand we knew and loved from last year is back, but with an expanded offensive role and greater discipline. A frequent criticism of Doyle last year was that he'd sometimes lose his cool and take bad penalties. In this game, he brought his usual physical edge and intimidated the hell out of plenty of cadets, but chipped in offensively with a huge late goal to tie the game with only one minute left and avoided taking bad penalties. He could be a key component for this year's Gaels.

-Blake Pronk: Pronk was effective all game, but his biggest contribution came in the shootout, where he beat RMC goaltender Matt Beirnes five-hole on the final shot to seal the Gaels' victory.

-Scott Kenway: I interviewed Kenway earlier this summer ["New recruits present new hope", myself, Queen's Journal], as head coach Brett Gibson selected him as one of his top recruits. He lived up to the hype against RMC, performing well all game and scoring Queen's first goal.

-Mike Bushby's diving slide: Bushby made a key defensive play in the third, diving across Queen's goal crease to block a shot that beat netminder Brady Morrison. Without that stop, this doesn't go to overtime.

-Alyn McCauley: The former NHL player looked right at home on the Queen's bench as an assistant coach, and both Doyle and Gibson said he's been a great addition to the team. He has a lot of experience and ideas to offer, and I think he'll be a good fit.

-Flashback Friday: The Gaels took to the ice in their white and red uniforms with the old Golden Gaels logo because the new ones just came in and weren't ready for game wear. However unintentional this was, it seemed like a decent way to let people who still have a connection to the "Golden" to see it again. I'm sure the new uniforms will be great, but retro uniforms have worked for the Blue Jays and Argos among others. An occasional return to the past might alleviate some of the concerns and anger about the name switch.

The Bad:

-Some of Brady Morrison's play: Morrison, who the Gaels will need to step up in net this year to make up for Ryan Gibb's absence, actually had a pretty decent game overall. However, there were two bad moments that saw him wind up here. His puck-handling was strong all game, except for one example where he fired the puck right at a RMC forward and almost gave up a goal. He also got beat short side from a bad angle on one goal, which really shouldn't happen. His other stellar saves redeemed his night's performance, but those two plays had to go here.

-Paul Bradley: Bradley was a force all game for RMC, and scored the crucial third goal that made it look like they might win.

The Ugly:

-The mispronunciation : If you believe the pre-game introductions, Queen's has a new Director of Athletics and Recreation. The announcer unintentionally introduced Leslie Dal Cin as Leslie Dal Chin, and didn't give her position either, preferring to talk about the local MP. Not the most professional job.

-The brawl: There were several scrums all night, with the most significant coming right at the end of the overtime period when several players got into a fight. I'm all for fighting in hockey, but given the overly severe penalties it usually results in at the CIS level, it's probably not worth the risk. A brawl right before the shootout is an especially bad idea: what if your best shooters get kicked out of the game? Perhaps not the best discipline.

The Reaction:

Brett Gibson, head coach:

-On the rivalry with RMC and how it made this more than your standard exhibition game:
"I said before the game I'd play them in a street hockey game and expect to win."

-On what still needs work: "A lot of things. The three mistakes we made led to goals."

-On his recruiting class: "My first-year players are very, very skilled players. It's my first year in my time at Queen's that I can say that."

-On the increased expectations last year's division title brings:
"We've got a target on our backs."

-On what McCauley brings to the program:
"It's the credentials. Al's known as a very, very intellectual guy. He thinks the game at a level most people don't and passes that on to the players."

Alyn McCauley, assistant coach:

-On the level of play in CIS hockey:

"I've been very impressed with the skill level and the speed. I've been pleasantly surprised: it's a very high level of hockey and I was unaware of that."

-On if it was tough to go from the NHL level to the CIS level:

"It hasn't been as big of an adjustment as I would have thought. I was just unaware of what level these guys were going to be at. ... If you'd asked me after my first practice, I would have said yes. If you'd asked me after my second practice, I would have said no. ... Of course, there's still going to be a learning curve and a comfort curve as the season goes on."

-On what it's like to be behind the bench, and back in the world of hockey:
"I'm [standing] a little bit farther back than I used to be [as a player], but I'm in my comfort zone just being there."

-On if he enjoyed being back in Gananoque:
"Very much so. Tonight, I had my family and friends, my son and daughter and my wife in the stands, along with all of my Gananoque connections."

Blake Pronk, forward:

-On the importance of the win:
"The first game, to come back from behind when half the team's new, that's important. ... It was a good way to start the season."

-On how the late equalizer wasn't unexpected:
"We were pressing the whole period."

-On Gibson's instructions before he took the crucial shot in the shootout:
"I went on the ice, and Gibby said, 'Be a hero, Pronk'." [Ed note: If coaching's that easy, I want to get into it! Apparently, Gibson knows who can be heroes, though.]

Pat Doyle:

-On how it was nice to get an early win over RMC:
"We don't play them until Christmas, so it was nice to send a message."

-On how the game changed in the third:
"In the third, we had a couple of power plays and got the momentum back."

-On what was going through his head when he scored the tying goal on a 20-foot wrist shot with exactly one minute left:
"David Chubb made a great pass, and that's what I dream about, having the puck on my stick in the slot."

-On Morrison:
"Morrison is one of the best goalies in the OUA. We lost the best goalie in the OUA in Ryan Gibb, and Brady will step up to fill his spot."

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