Sunday, November 16, 2008

St. Denis Arrives on Magical Weekend

(St. Denis scores an incredible Overtime winner - Photo Randy Emery)

I'm heading off to see the new James Bond movie in a bit, but I just wanted to put a bit of a place holder post in because this weekend was so awesome. I'll have pictures from Randy Emery, audio and potentially some video from this weekend coming over the next day or so.

Here are this weekend's box scores:


The Smokies won two of the more dramatic and exciting games I've seen in the BCHL. They survived a late storm and won with 30 seconds to play against Vernon on Friday. On Saturday, the Smokies went 59 minutes without scoring a goal... only to come up big with a minute to play (who knew Patrick Raley had hands like that?) and win it in overtime. That's exciting hockey. That's the kind of hockey that should have people filling up the Cominco Arena.

While the strong defensive play this weekend was a team effort from the net out, I think many of us will look back on these two games as the time when Travis St. Denis arrived. There will be more ups and downs for this 16 year old as he continues to build his resume, but he's on his way.

I actually think the push started for St. Denis during the Alberni Valley Bulldogs game. Travis opened the scoring for the Smokies in that one on a great individual effort (after a nice pass from Jayson Reardon) and really played very well that whole night. Since that night he's scored in each game and continued to get more minutes and opportunities.

It all culminated with his spectacular overtime winner against the Vees last night. The Trail native stripped the puck from the attackers in the Smokies zone and went coast to coast. He undressed the D and put a terrific shot in past the red hot Sean Bonar for the win. I've heard people around the rink describe it as an Ovechkin-like goal that could've been a HON candidate on TSN.

St. Denis isn't just an offensive and creative player. He's a guy that has been getting by all season long with his sound positional play, he's gook on the PK, he wins face offs and he can take a pounding in stride. This guy is a complete player and he's only going to get better and better. It's going to be a treat to watch for Smokiesfans.

Does St. Denis' emerging play mean he's going to take someone's spot? That's not how I see it. I think all along Coach Ingram expected it would take guys like Travis, Sean Nugent, CJ Legassic and Justin Brown a little while to adjust to the level of play in the BCHL. As they continue to improve it'll only mean the Smokies have more options. On a night when a couple of the usual top six forwards aren't getting anything going, they can count on the younger guys to jump in and fill the void. Like last night, the usual top 6 line-up wasn't getting much going so Coach Ingram was able to mix things up a little. He gave St. Denis a try with Gehon and put Pickering with Nugent and Porterfield. As a result, Pickering's playmaking and hard work in the corners contributed to the very powerful Nugent and Porterfield duo... and those guys created some of the best chances of the third period against Penticton. When more guys are going it gives the coach more opportunities to find units that can work. Change things up a little bit and you can change the momentum.

It easily could have been the Pickering/Nugent/Porterfield line that got the tying goal or the winner. It could've been Justin Brown who was rewarded for his strong recent play with a chance to play with Bulach and Boisvert. It could have been the jump and forecheck of Legassic and Martin who were pestering the Vees all night long. The whole team played well. As all these young forwards get better and more acquainted with the BCHL, the options open up for the Smokies. If this trend keeps up they won't have to rely on two lines to provide their scoring. Mixing things up means that there will be no shifts off for the opposition. The Smokies attack will come in waves.

Hopefully it'll also mean that they can find some kind of group on the PP that's going to put the puck in the net! No PP goals again with a ton of chances this weekend. I will say that they really seemed to be executing a lot more against the Vees, but Sean Bonar was excellent. He was especially effective at getting those low point shots even when they changed directions. Bonar made a lot of tough saves look very easy with his sound position play and anticipation.

Speaking of goaltenders, Marco Raimondo got both starts this weekend (as Paul Barclay was sick) and he was outstanding. Marco has won all three of his starts since he returned from injury. In those games he's given up a total of 5 goals. He looks sharp, fast, athletic and very calm in net. Marco gives a lot of the credit to goaltending guru Pasco Valana. Raimondo has always had exceptional skills and athletic ability, but now Pasco is helping him improve his mindset so that he can be one of the best goaltenders in Canada.

Barclay was the Smokies player of the month for October and now Raimondo has been terrific in his starts since returning from injury. I think only Salmon Arm has two goaltenders who have played at that same level.

I'll have audio with St. Denis, Raimondo, DeKeyser, Raley and Jim Ingram on Overtime over the next couple of days leading into Tuesday night's battle with Merritt. Once they've aired on Mountain FM I'll get them onto the blog. That should be tomorrow night sometime. If you're in our listening area you can listen to our show from 6pm to Midngith tomorrow night on Mountain FM. If not, we'll have the audio here soon enough.

What a weekend!

No comments: