Showing posts with label 2011 world jrs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2011 world jrs. Show all posts

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Kassian, Foligno provide pressure as Canada advances

Zack Kassian scored into an empty net on one of seven shots on goal Sunday as Canada moved ahead to the World Junior Championship semifinal with a 4-1 win over Switzerland. Marcus Foligno added two shots on goal for the winners, who will now face the rival United States on Monday as HSBC Arena.

The Sabres prospects skated together throughout the contest, providing a strong forecheck and many offensive plays around the Swiss net. The pair began with Louis Leblanc but later played the bulk of their time with Columbus prospect Ryan Johansen of the Portland Winterhawks.

After Switzerland quickly jumped out to a 1-0 lead, Kassian missed a great opportunity to tie the game on the power play. Kassian would spend the entire powerplay within a ten-foot radius of the Swiss net once the play was established.

Here is a full shift for Kassian, Foligno, and Leblanc midway through the first period with the game tied at a goal apiece. After the teams exchange opportunities, Kassian shows off his crisp wrister as the task winds down.

In the second period with the score still tied, Foligno missed a point blank opportunity when the acrobatic Conz got his body in front of the Foligno shot.

Here is another glimpse of Kassian and Foligno skating together, this time on a second period shift with Johansen. After Foligno helps get the puck deep, Kassian seems to have a hit lined up but instead pulls up safely to avoid any possibility of a penalty.

Early in the third period, Kassian and Foligno again came out with Johansen to keep the pressure on the Swiss. Kassian, maintaining his post in the 10-foot radius, just misses on a wraparound attempt after the puck comes in deep from the blueline.

Later in third period, Kassian misses a couple nice power play opportunities before tossing his busted stick in disgust.

Shortly after, Kassian put the cherry on top with an empty-net goal to give Canada the 4-1 win.

Kassian ready for redemption

We're nearing the start of Canada's World Junior quarterfinal match-up with Switzerland. With a Monday date with Team USA on the line, Canada will be getting a much-needed spark this afternoon in the form of Sabres prospect Zack Kassian, who will be returning from his much publicized two-game suspension after a questionable hit against the Czechs.

Switzerland can move the puck well, so Canada is expected to stick to their plan of engaging the opposition physically and pinning their defenseman deep. In a 60-minute contest, I can't think of a better play than a rested Kassian looking to redeem himself to his teammates.

As reported by TSN's Bob McKenzie, Kassian will line up at center between fellow Sabres hopeful Marcus Foligno and Habs prospect Louis Leblanc. Foligno has been a wrecking ball all tournament on the forecheck, while the speedy Leblanc has slashed his way to five points in four games. The even strength move to center implies that coach Dave Cameron clearly wants Kassian near the paint, especially on the power play where he and Brayden Schenn can create all sorts of down-low pressure on Swiss goaltender, Benjamin Conz.

Conz was excellent for Switzerland in the preliminary round, earning a .912 save percentage including a 40-save performance on New Year's Eve against the USA. The 5'10 netminder works well to see the puck, and will likely have to repeat his 50-save performance of a year ago when the Swiss knocked out Russia to advance to the semis.

At the other end, Canada will be starting Niagara IceDogs ace Mark Visentin in place of shaky Olivier Roy. I joked earlier today that another Roy start this afternoon may force Canadian fans to throw waffles at their televisions, but I'm almost wondering if Conz has enough club in the bag to keep that idea fresh.

Enjoy the games.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Foligno leaves marks as Canada falls

Marcus Foligno did not score but continued to be a major physical force as Canada lost in a shootout to Sweden, 6-5. Team Canada closes the preliminary round with a 3-1 record, and will now have to play a quarterfinal game on Sunday to keep their medal hopes alive.

Foligno, who has two goals, an assist, and a +1 rating in four tourney games, made his presence known early and often as Team Canada skated to a 3-2 lead at the end of the first period.

The hard-hitting checker helped create the first Canadian goal by crashing the crease, allowing Sean Couturier's centering pass deflect off the defender he dragged in.

On his next shift, Foligno would make his presence felt on the forecheck with a hard hit behind the Swedish net.

Later in the period, Foligno again dropped the hammer by delivering what just may be the most solid body check of the tournament thus far.

The teams would trade goals over the next two periods to finish regulation tied 5-5. Sweden kept the pressure on in the overtime before winning the shootout battle with goals on their first three tries.

Foligno looks comfortable playing his blue collar game on HSBC Arena ice. With Zack Kassian returning to the Canadian lineup for Sunday's quarterfinal, look for Canada to return with a chip on their shoulder regardless of opponent.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kassian out 'til medal round

The IIHF has suspended Team Canada forward Zack Kassian one additional game for his match penalty assessed in Tuesday's 7-2 clobbering of the Czech Republic. With the infraction earning an automatic one-game penalty, the supplemental discipline extends Kassian's absence through the rest of the preliminary round. Along the way, the 6'3 bruising scorer will miss Canada's games against Norway (Wednesday) and Sweden (Friday).

As previously mentioned, IIHF rules do not forgive high hits, especially those from the blindside. Debate continues over where the primary contact was made, but regardless the ruling implies that there was a hit to the head and neck area.

There's a new poll to the right that that I'd like folks to vote on. It's pretty simple.

If there is anyone who has mixed emotions about 2010 ending, it's Zack Kassian. It's hard to enjoy a Memorial Cup win, your first NHL contract, and Team Canada achievement amidst a 20-game OHL suspension, an assault arrest, and poor World Junior pub. Either way, I know a gaggle of Sabres fans ready for him to don a blue and gold sweater.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Foligno opens door, Kassian helps shut it as Canada debuts with win

Marcus Foligno scored his team's first goal and Zack Kassina later added an assist as Canada opened the 2011 World Junior Championship with a 6-3 win over Russia.

Foligno and Kassian were the starting wings for Canada, with Kings prospect Brayden Schenn between them. The pair later moved to spend all but two even strength shifts with Columbus prospect Ryan Johansen the rest of the way. Both received quality power play time in the win with Kassian positioned in front of the net on the #1 unit and Foligno setting screens on the second line.

Skating on that #2 PP unit late in the first period, Foligno drifted off the boards to the front of the net and buried a rebound to tie the game 1-1.

Here is the goal and interview that followed at the first intermission.

With Canada jumping to a 3-2 lead late int he second, Kassian was whistled for slashing and watched from the box as Russia struck back to tied the game.

Kassian and Foligno each made a mark in the third period. First Kassian, who earlier was a presence in front of the net on what proved to be the game winning goal, helped give Canada the 5-3 lead when he took executed a a deft saucer pass to Brayden Schenn in front of the Russian net.

With Canada gaining late momentum, Foligno yardsaled a Russian player with a hard hit on the forecheck.

Big win for Canada and nice first game for the Sabres properties....

Kassian, Foligno ready to go with future expectations

Sabres fans are licking their chops at the prospects of watching Team Canada's Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno skate on HSBC Arena ice over the next twelve days as the IIHF conducts the 2011 World Junior Championship. After all, the object of their NHL rooting interest has a 6.5% of making the playoffs so it makes sense to look for future hope.

And just like that, more Sabres fans care about what I do. I'm getting more emails and texts about Kassian. Co-workers are asking questions about the two playing on the same line. My Blackberry and mouth need a massage.

To summarize the conversations, we've all witnessed how playing in the World Junior Championship elevates a player's game to more dominating level. What a player immediately does with the experience, at least with the Sabres anyways, goes a long way in projecting their effectiveness as a professional.

Last season, Luke Adam scored 25 goals and 27 assists in 32 QMJHL games (1.63 ppg) before playing for Team Canada. The big forward returned to pot 24 goals in his final 24 games with Cape Breton, and carried that pace into 2010-11 with an AHL Rookie of the Month honor in his first as a pro.

Prior to skating alongside Tyler Myers at the 2009 tourney, Tyler Ennis averaged 1.16 points-per-game (31GP 15-21-36) with Medicine Hat (WHL) before ripping off 28 goals and 21 assists in his final 30 games (1.63 PPG) to cap his second consecutive 85-point season. Ennis went on the impress the following year, earning AHL Rookie of the Year and a firm spot on the big club.

Do I even need to mention Myers? He didn't become the Calder winning monster that he is until after the 2009 tournament.

So what does this all mean for Kassian and Foligno? Given the make-up of the two players, it's fair to expect the spike to continue.

Kassian has himself been a monster this season in Windsor with 15-33-48 in just 25 games. It's going to be hard for him to maintain his 1.92 ppg pace, but if he can keep it steady with 1.75 over the final 30 games, he'll be the first Sabres prospect to hit the 100-point mark since London's Dylan Hunter did it in 2004-05 and 2005-06. Combine the Ennis and Adam trend with how physically dominant he is against 17-18-19's, and it seems that Kassian hits the target barring injury or suspension, and could blow past it if he gets traded to a top contender.

As far as Foligno is concerned, it's all gravy from here. The 6'3 leader has already posted a career-high in goals with 15 in his first 28 games, and is likely to use the experience to prove that he can beat the D on the forecheck and a cause trouble in front of the opposing net. Foligno works hard, and any exposure to faster, stronger players makes him work harder. Hard work equals production, so I'm setting the final 2010-11 target at 33 goals and 75 points for a weak Sudbury squad.

Every theory has an anomaly, so it's worth mentioning how Clarke MacArthur earned his 2005 World Junior look by amassing 14-27-41 in 30 games with Medicine Hat, but failed to vault his offense upon return with a still-respectable 33 points in his final 28 games. What's funny is that MacArthur's 'starting' trend has continued in the NHL, with nearly half of his 53 career goals coming in October and November...

If we've learned anything, it's that making Team Canada is great but what you do after matters most.

And one last thing - exhibition action saw Kassian and Foligno skate on a line with 2011 draft stud Sean Couturier. With the Sabres sinking and Derek Roy out for the balance of the year, Sabres fans may want to keep an eye on the prize. A prime-time offensive talent, Couturier is currently numero uno on my draft board.

The fun beings with Canada-Russia today (Sunday). Enjoy the games. GO USA!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pre-tourney cruise continues for Sabres duo

With the World Junior Championship looming, let's cruise through some of the press hits on Sabres prospects Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno. The towering 2009 picks, who each have a goal through two exhibition contests, are currently skating together Canada's top line centered by talented 2011 draft stud Sean Couturier of the QMJHL's Drummondville Voltigeurs.

The Canadian Press reports on Foligno's recent upswing and the opportunity to win gold in Buffalo.

Foligno understands some time developing in the American Hockey League is likely in his future, as is plenty of more work in the weight room. The strength of NHLers really made an impression on him during camp with the Sabres.

"In the OHL you go into a corner, take the body on a guy, to protect the puck you stick out your butt and they can't reach around you," said Foligno. "When you get into the NHL, I kind of took it for granted, I went into a corner with a smaller defenceman and he pushed me around and took the puck out, so I was like, 'OK, I've got to take another view of how I'm going to control the puck and get stronger.'"

The one thing for certain with Foligno is that his effort won't be questioned.

Earlier in the week, NHL Network caught up with Foligno after Canada's exhibition win over Switzerland. He briefly describes his role as a physical forechecker.

In an TSN interview, Foligno addresses Canada's two-way depth and goal scoring ability.

With Foligno getting some well-earned media attention, Zack Kassian is also seeing his name featured in a positive light after a trying 2009-10. A recent Calgary Herald piece details the "controlled aggression" he has used to make him one of the more dangerous scorers in junior hockey.

Kassian was one of the best players on the ice during Canada's pre-tournament exhibition game against Sweden on Tuesday night.

He used his size, strength and deceptive speed to charge the net early in the second period, drawing a holding penalty on the play to give Canada a two-man advantage.

He scored moments later.

"I think he's learned to be the prototypical 'pro' winger," said Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast.

"He's got soft hands, he can score. He goes to the net, he can fight and he's got all the ingredients that every NHL team is looking for in a winger."

Another good Kassian quote was served by the Windsor Star's Jim Parker on the topic of playing for the enemy in front of Sabres fans.

"Buffalo fans can watch me play and get a feel for how I play," said Kassian, who isn't sure if his physical style will make him a villain. "I don't know. I'll let them decide. There's a lot of big guys here that are physical."

Kassian feels the Canadians will gel as a team and be ready for the task of repaying the Americans for their win on Canadian soil a year ago.

"I think there's solid chemistry," Kassian said. "It's a great task for Canada. You're in the U.S. and they'll be ramped up."

So Sabres fans - what are you expecting?

Will Kassian's disciplined ways continue in an emotionally charged environment?

Can Foligno's grit lead to a big goal for Canada?

Who wins the tournament?

Enjoy the games...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New pals Kassian, Foligno World Junior bound

Congratulations to Sabres prospects Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno for being named to Canada’s 2011 National Junior Team. The right wing combo will wear the maple leaf sweater starting December 26 when the World Junior Championship kick-off at HSBC Arena.

Acquired via the 2009 draft, both 6’3 forwards have been carving up the Ontario Hockey League this season. Kassian, who leads the Windsor Spitfires with 15 goals and 48 points, is currently ranked fifth in OHL scoring and is on pace to be the first Sabres prospect to eclipse the 100-point mark since Dylan Hunter did it in 2004-05 and 2005-06 with the London Knights.

Foligno has blossomed this season as captain of the Sudbury Wolves, potting a career-best 15 goals and team-leading 33 points. Inside of that is a league-leading four short-handed marks. He was the star of the camp scrimmages with three goals, an assist, and a collection of solid hits that left a few players sore. Speculation was that Foligno could lend a hand in the dirty areas of the ice, and it seems that the Hockey Canada brass took notice.

At the 2009 draft, then-Sudbury coach (and former Sabres captain) Mike Foligno said that the Sabres drafted the two toughest kids in the “O”. Canada was expected to bring the beef in hopes of reclaiming the gold from the United States, and they got plenty of it with these two Sabres hopefuls.

One of the best parts of the story is that Kassian and Foligno have become good friends since entering the organization together. The comaraderie only gets deeper as the two work together over the next month to achieve what should be their first of many common goals. The new pals join Luke Adam, Tyler Ennis, and Tyler Myers as recent Sabres prospects to skate for the Canadian National Junior Team.

Buffalo’s first pick this past June, Mark Pysyk of the Edmonton Oil Kings, showed off his skating and intelligence in the three selection camp contests but was released from the squad as part of Wednesday’s final cuts. The Oil Kings captain returns to the WHL with a goal, 13 assists, and a +8 rating through 24 games. Fellow Western Leaguer Brayden McNabb of the Kootenay Ice was among Tuesday’s first wave of cuts.

For more on the story, please rewind a bit to read my thoughts before the camp roster was announced. At the time, Foligno was considered a longshot to make the team. My how things change in a few short weeks.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

McNabb goes back to Kootenay

Brayden McNabb was returned to the Kootenay Ice Tuesday morning as Team Canada trimmed their National Team Selection Camp roster by nine players. The 6'4 defenseman, who spent the majority of the action paired with OHLers Ryan Ellis and Ryan Murphy, registered one assist in two intrasquad games. The Ice captain returns to the WHL with four goals, 23 points, and a +14 rating in 21 games this season.

Canada's boasts a strong fleet of defensemen, and their recent emphasis on mobile puck movers could explain why he was sent home while younger, less experienced blueliners like 2010 first-rounder Mark Pysyk remain with the team.

Marcus Foligno, the star of Sunday night's contest, and Zack Kassian remain among the forward hopefuls.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Kassian lights lamp as Canadian cutdown nears

Windsor Spitfires forward Zack Kassian scored an even strength goal Monday as Team White toppled Team Red 7-5 in the final intrasquad scrimmage at Canada's National Junior Selection Camp. The 6'3 Kassian, again skating on a line with Michael Bournival (MTL) and Sean Couturier ('11), finished a play started by Spits teammate Ryan Ellis to tie to game 2-2 at :51 of the second period.

Red's Marcus Foligno posted a primary assist in the first period to give him two goals and an assist in the two camp contests, while 2009 third-rounder Brayden McNabb earned an assist on a first period power play for Team White. McNabb, the 6'4 captain of the WHL's Kootenay Ice, was tabbed for the exhibition shootout at the end of the game but was stopped by Coyotes prodspect Mark Visentin.

Edmonton Oil Kings captain Mark Pysyk skated for Red, earning a hooking minor early in the third period that was killed off.

Selection camp action closes Tuesday when Canada ices a roster against a team comprised of CIS players.

It's going to be difficult keeping Sudbury captain Foligno off the National Junior Team roster. An underdog entering camp, the 6'3 grinder has used his body in all three zones while executing quite well offensively on a line with Riley Sheahan (DET) and Curtis Hamilton (EDM). Canadian coach Dave Cameron called Foligno "the biggest surprise of camp" heading into Monday's game.

Along with Foligno, Kassian has maintained an inside track heading into final cutdown. One of the biggest players in camp, the Spits top point-getter is expected to be a physical scoring line leader when the tournament begins on the 26th. Wearing the maple leaf sweater would complete a nice turnaround for the 2009 first-rounder after failing to receive a selection camp invite a year ago.

The Sabres two camp rearguards, Pysyk and McNabb, remain in a pool of players fighting for what appears to be the #6 and #7 spots behind incumbents Ryan Ellis (NSH), Jared Cowen (OTT), Calvin de Haan (NYI), and first-rounders Erik Gudbranson (FLA) and Dylan Olsen (CHI). I like McNabb's blend of size, experience, and two-way competence as deciding factors if smaller players like Tyson Barrie (COL) and 17-year olds Ryan Murphy and Ryan Murray can't jump up and take a job, but there are no guarantees.

With the slick skating Pysyk looking more like a no-brainer for 2012 consideration when the tourney hits his home turf of Edmonton/Calgary, I'm looking at McNabb versus 6'4 Simon Despres (PIT) for at least one of those bottom spots. Both could be plenty effective in a limited role, and could provide a more physical dimension than Jesse Blacker (TOR), an experienced OHLer who was a +46 two seasons ago as a member of the Memorial Cup winning Spitfires.

We'll see what happens.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sabres 'Fab Four' makes Canadian Selection Camp roster

Congrats to OHL forwards Zack Kassian (WSR) and Marcus Foligno (SBY), and WHL defensemen Brayden McNabb (KTN) and Mark Pysyk (EDM) for being named to Hockey Canada's U20 Selection Camp roster.

The quartet will leave their teams late next week to skate at Team Canada's Selection Camp being held December 12-15 at the MasterCard Centre in Toronto. The 2011 World Junior Championships will be held in Buffalo beginning December 26.

Please read my post from yesterday detailing why I felt each player was deserving of an invite.

More details to come, but this should be taken as great news to Sabres fans.