Thursday, 8 March 2012

Vancouver Giants 1, Tri-City Americans 2 (OT)

I attended the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver on Wednesday March 7 to watch the Giants play the Tri-City Americans. My focus was on two players who belong to the Montréal Canadiens, Brendan Gallagher of the Giants, and Patrick Holland of the Americans, who was acquired from the Calgary Flames' organization in the Mike Cammalleri trade.

The game started on a good note for me and my friend in that while we were lined up at the ticket window, we were approached by a guy who said he had extra tickets and he gave us two for free. After many thank yous, we made our way inside and found that we were five rows up from the ice, behind the goal line in the corner of the zone the Americans would defend twice. Amazing seats, especially at that price, and we were sure to see a lot of Mr. Gallagher on the attack. We had the added bonus of two lovely puck bunnies to our immediate left. Just before puck drop, our ticket genie showed up with his posse, we exchanged hellos, and tried to ply him with beer to give thanks, but he would have none of it.

The game itself was highly entertaining, though low-scoring, and the Americans won 2-1 in overtime, scoring the winning goal during a 4-on-3 man advantage. The action was non-stop, end-to-end, and being so close to the ice added to the spectacle, we could see the kids working hard, and their personality would sometimes shine through. Even had I paid the $20 price for a ticket in this zone, I would have been very satisfied with the value I received, in stark contrast to the Canucks-Blackhawks game I attended last month, for which I paid $125 for a terrible seat, and during which there were long stretches when nothing happened. Were I to relocate to Vancouver or elsewhere, I would certainly consider purchasing Major Junior hockey season tickets, but I'm not sure if I would do so for Canucks or even Canadiens tickets. The price-value equation is stretched to the limit for NHL hockey I believe.

In any case, the two players being scouted impressed this amateur bird-dog. Brendan Gallagher was as advertised, a dervish on the ice, always moving and working hard, dangerous in the offensive zone and effective when killing penalties. He was constantly chatting with his teammates, had a few scoring chances, and took a penalty for digging at the goalie and trying to poke the puck loose a half-second after the whistle had sounded. He had a good shot on goal on a two-on-two break while killing a penalty. Interestingly the defender he tried to beat and ended up using as a screen for his shot on goal was Patrick Holland.

Mr. Holland is not a flashy player who commands the crowd's attention. At the start of the game, I could immediately pick out Brendan Gallagher and point him out, but it took about 5 minutes before I saw Patrick Holland. I had commented that he might be injured and not playing, he was so discreet. When I did spot him and figured out he was wearing #41, I was impressed with what I saw.

I expected him to be a slick playmaking passer, kind of like David Desharnais or Adam Oates, based on the scouting reports and his point tally so far this season (24 G, 79 A), but he seemed very comfortable carrying the puck and shooting at the net. In fact, he manned the point on the first wave of the powerplay, and was effective in that role and when retreating to defend; he looked comfortable skating backwards. Moreso than his center Brendan Shinnimin, he seemed to be the puck carrier for his trio. Mr. Shinnimin did well also, he was a more spectacular player, skating quickly and darting this way and that to shoot pucks at the net. In one instance, he did an almost complete circle around the offensive zone, starting in the slot and wheeling around the net, back to the slot for a good scoring chance.

Mr. Holland was also impressive in that he battled effectively along the boards, not so much by being very physical, but smart against bigger opponents. He would time his efforts and show good mobility and quickness to win the puck and keep the play in the offensive zone. On one occasion, there was some pushing and slashing nonsense after the whistle, and he was confronted with 6'4" David Musil, who gave him a combo facewash-headlock. Patrick didn't back down and kept going into the corners against him (lots of linematching was going on) and more often than not coming out with the puck.

The impressive part of his evening is that he assisted on both goals, which I didn't realize as I left the arena. He quietly played a good game, and was a big reason his team won, along with a good performance by the Americans goalie Ty Rimmer who kept them in the game early on.

So a good night for the Canadiens' prospects, it's good to see the boys playing well and working hard, and another small measure of optimism in this gloomy period.

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