Sunday, September 18, 2005

He Shots, He Scores!!

Hockey is officially back in business. The first preseason game was played on Friday evening, and the Toronto Maple Leafs just finished the first period of their first game in over two years. I'm listening to the play-by-play on mojo 640. The Toronto Maple Leafs are currently ahead perennial division rivals, the Ottawa Senators, 2-0. The two players I expect to have breakout seasons, Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky have both scored. Nik Antropov scored a goal, assisted by Sundin and McCabe. Ponikarovsky scored a shorthanded goal on a two-on-one with Antropov with 14 seconds remaining in the first period.

From what I've heard following message boards, like the Hockey's Future boards, Nik Antropov has been possibly the most impressive player in Leafs camp. Jeff O'Neill has been impressing everybody with his play in camp. There are several young players that have been impressive. Carlo Colaiacovo is expected to make the team as the number six defenseman. Alexander Steen has been rooming with Mats Sundin, and there is an outside chance he could play on Sundin's line this season. On defense, Staffan Kronwall, has impressed, and is competing for a spot on the team with Wade Belak, Brad Brown, and Bryan Marchment. Other players competing for a spot on the team are fan-favourite Steve Thomas, youngster Brad Leeb, along with goalies Mikael Tellqvist and J.S. Aubin, competing for the backup spot.

Personally, I'm hoping the Leafs make a commitment towards developing their youth. They've done a great job sticking with Antropov, who is still only 23, Ponikarovsky, Kaberle, and Matthew Stajan. I'm hoping that Kronwall cracks the lineup, and Steen plays on one of the top three forward lines. I also hope that they sign Thomas, who has played his heart out in training camp.

I really hope the league sticks with the planned crackdown on interference and clutch and grab hockey. For the first few weeks of preseason, there is going to be some complaining, from both fans and players. In the Carolina/Florida game, Florida managed to receive 17 penalty calls, but somehow came away with a 5-4 overtime win. Carolina managed to score only two powerplay goals, going 2-for-16. Florida was 1-for-7 on the powerplay. I'm sure a game with 24 penalties called must have been frustrating for the fans.

The league has to stick with it, though. Give them a few weeks, and the players will figure it out. The clutch-and-grabbing will stop, and decade-long reign of New Jersey Devils-inspired trap hockey will come to an end. This is an exciting time for the NHL, and it's time to officially do away with the trap.