Hungry like the Wolves is an ongoing feature on Pass it to Bulis during the lockout, wherein we keep an eye on the Canucks prospects and property currently playing for the Chicago Wolves as it’s the closest thing we’re going to get to Canucks hockey for quite some time.
When the Canucks’ AHL affiliate flies into Abbotsford, it’s always a little odd in the Abbotsford Sports and Recreation Centre as there are essentially two home teams on the ice. Plenty of Canucks fans come out to see the Heat only when the Wolves are in town, while many, if not most, Abbotsford Heat fans are also Canucks fans eager to see the team’s prospects in action. Those that are not Canucks fans get a bit resentful and cheer even more loudly for the Heat, leading to a pretty great atmosphere where a positive action by either side elicits raucous cheers.
The Wolves, coming off a 2-1 victory in overtime against the Peoria Rivermen, were looking to extend their 3-game winning streak to start the season, while the Heat were coming off two victories against Peoria themselves and were hoping to kick off the season with a 3-game winning streak as well.
The building was packed with fans and media, though it came a little over 100 short of capacity. Considering the desperation for Canucks hockey that led to the tickets for the Bieksa’s Buddies charity game selling out in just a couple hours, I was surprised to see empty seats. Tonight’s rematch will hopefully be a different story, though it is also being televised on Sportsnet, which might slightly eat into the attendance numbers.
Those who were not in attendance or watching on AHL Live missed a thriller, particularly in the third period when the two teams combined for three goals in three minutes. The game had a little bit of everything: powerplays, 4-on-4, a fight, goals, massive hits, overtime, and a shootout. It’s almost like AHL hockey is every bit as entertaining as NHL hockey. Almost.
October 19: Wolves 3 – 2 Heat
Hungry like the Notes:
Zack “Yakko, Wakko, and Dot” Kassian was the star of the game, opening the scoring in the second period, taking down Joe Piskula in a third period scrap, and scoring the game-clinching goal in the shootout. Kassian was a force from start to finish, throwing checks, protecting the puck, and using his strong skating ability to create a lot of space, causing his coach Scott Arniel to declare “That is the best game I’ve seen him play.”
The element of Kassian’s game that I was most impressed by, however, was his vision and passing. It’s an element of his game that gets overlooked in favour of his size and physicality, but Kassian is a superb passer, with one give-and-go down low with Andrew Ebbett in the first period standing out as being near-Sedinery. Kassianery just doesn’t have the same ring to it, unfortunately.
Arniel’s noticed Kassian’s skills as well: “He’s really impressed me with his hands… he can do good things with the puck and that’s a little bit of a surprise to me. I thought he was more just a shooter and a banger, but he’s got a complete game.”
Kassian opened the scoring by catching T.J. Brodie (aka. T.J. “Would be playing with the Flames right now if not for the lockout” Brodie) completely flat-footed with a surprising burst of speed through the neutral zone, taking a deft feed from Ebbett, and sneaking a quick wristshot shortside on Heat goaltender Danny Taylor. Thanks to CanucksTV, you can watch the goal in slow-motion. I recommend listening to Mozart’s “Requiem” while watching slow-motion hockey highlights, as it instantly makes the highlights classier and more epic simultaneously.
Kassian’s description of the goal lacks the poetry of Mozart’s “Requiem,” but it has it’s own charm: “I had a lot of speed and Ebby made a great pass. Kinda caught the D flat-footed and went in and had a good shot.” He called Ebbett “Ebby.” That’s adorable.
Also adorable: his description of what led to his fight. “Two people got a little angry and decided to fight.” It was Kassian’s first fight of the season and it makes me wonder if we’ll see that side of him a little more often this year. He fought just once in the AHL in his rookie year and actually said at that time that he wanted to avoid fighting while establishing himself as a more complete player.
Kassian’s shootout goal was all kinds of sick: pneumonia, the flu, chickenpox, West Nile, cat scratch fever, you name it. I recommend going to the end of the highlight package and watching it several times. It’s lovely.
One last note on Kassian: the moment that encouraged me the most about his future on an Alain Vigneault-coached team came in overtime, when he saved a goal with a great backcheck on a backdoor feed, completely wiping out his man. Backchecking is like a throat lozenge to Vigneault: completely irresistible.
The other clear star for the Wolves was Eddie Lack. He had fans chanting his name after a breakaway save on Roman Horak in the third period with the scored tied 2-2. ”It was nice,” he said after the game. “That was the first time, so it was pretty special.” There wasn’t much Lack could do about the two goals that the Heat scored, with both of them coming on the powerplay, but he stopped every shot he faced in the shootout. He still isn’t wearing his awesome new goalie pads, but he’s likely just breaking them in.
Steve Pinizzotto had a great game, using his size effectively and making smart decisions with the puck. His best moment led to the Wolves’ second goal, as he gained the zone with speed (well, as much speed as he’s got), then quickly pulled the puck back and threw on the brakes, creating enough space between himself and his defender to hit Nathan Longpre with a superb cross-ice pass. Longpre got the shot on net, Andrew Gordon took a whack at the rebound, then Longpre finished things off on the backhand.
Arniel liked what he saw from Pinizzotto as well: “Like Kassian, that was Pini’s best game. He’s missed a whole year of hockey, so for him to come out like that… His game has been a little bit rusty, but he’s gotten better and better every day. I’m sure he’s feeling a lot more comfortable in those skates.” The fact that he specified “those skates” has me wondering if Pinizzotto was trying to play in skates that were a size too big his entire career and only just now figured it out.
The Derek Joslin signing went completely unheralded during the offseason, but I was impressed with his game against the Heat. He and Mark Matheson led the Wolves in ice time and he played a simple, effective game, particularly along the boards where he won most of his puck battles. He could be a good depth option for the Canucks, although the more likely candidate would be Kevin Connauton, whose all-around game is impressive to watch. He is going to be very good.
Yann Sauve played in his first game of the season, missing the first three as a healthy scratch. The Wolves are currently carrying eight healthy defenceman, so it’s not too surprising. What was surprising was how confident Sauve seemed: he pinched effectively down the boards, rushed the puck into the offensive zone with aplomb, and added two shots on net. Halfway through the game I had to make sure that he hadn’t been replaced by a Sauve-substitute and that the butter on my bagel wasn’t secretly margarine. Then I double-checked my Mug Root Beer to make sure it hadn’t been replaced by President’s Choice. I got a little paranoid, is what I’m saying.
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