Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Quick Hits: Dumping Dump-ins

Mike Johnston looks incredulous, probably because someone suggested playing more chip-and-chase.
I hate chip-and-chase hockey. I think I've made enough of a stink about that on Twitter for it to be obvious, so it killed me to hear John Tortorella praising Zack Kassian for "dumping the puck in well" after his 4-assist game against the Sabres. I also tend to think that this perception of "safe" hockey plagues Canada at lower levels. In particular, the CHL.

I mean, Frederik Gauthier had a spot specifically designed for him on this past year's World Junior team, while Max Domi, Connor Brown, Scott Kosmachuk, Michael Dal Colle, Andreas Athanasiou, Brendan Leipsic, Sam Bennett, Jaedon Descheneau, and Anthony Duclair were hardly considered at all. Brown was the OHL's player of the year. Athanasiou and Kosmachuk were the top non-overage goal scorers in the OHL with 49 each. Duclair was one of only two QMJHLers to crack 50 goals. Domi, Bennett, Dal Colle, Leipsic, and Descheneau all generated nearly twice as much offence as Gauthier. Canada has talent to burn at the U20 level, and we continually burn it in the name of conservative, grind-it-out hockey.

It's a breath of fresh air then when a guy like Kyle Dubas comes on TSN radio and says something like this:
“There’s nothing more that makes me or our staff cringe than when we’re watching players in Bantam or at the Minor Midget level and the parents are yelling and the coaches are yelling to get the puck off the glass or to dump it in and chase when they’re on the attack. I think for the most part we cringe because we know we’re probably going to have to correct those things to try to reset or rewire a player after a playing style like that was ingrained in them for 10 years, and it’s difficult.I think every single player that plays the game, deep down and innately wants to have the puck on their stick. Myself and Sheldon told them that we weren’t going to be mad at our players if they tried to make a play and turned the puck over. That’s what every player in hockey wants to do, if they know that they have the grace of the staff.If the staff can show them success from the NHL or our seasons of controlling shots and creating chances they’re generally more receptive. We look at it as our job to develop them for the NHL and if they can’t process and make a play with the puck their chances for success are probably limited.”
That's via Hope Smoke by way of this Justin Bourne article.

The Soo Greyhounds, as Bourne notes, are a really good team. You know who's also a really good team? The Portland Winterhawks. Cam Charron noted here that they kinda blitzed the Edmonton Oil Kings in games 1 and 2, and the Oil Kings have made a thing of being un-blitzable this season. Cam counted the scoring chances at 20-4 at even strength in Portland's favour before score effects presumably kicked in, which is as sound a thrashing you'll see in hockey.

I saw the Winterhawks live on four different occasions this season, and the one thing that stood out to me was that they never ever seemed to chip and chase. With a top-6 forward group designed to eviscerate opponents with skill and speed, "safe" hockey doesn't really make sense anyways. I kept an unofficial count of zone entries when the Hawks played the Giants in the their final game of the 1st round, and was blown away by how rarely the Hawks even attempted the chip-and-chase. I believe of ~60 attempted entries, Portland attempted just one unforced dump-in. It was pretty amazing to watch, actually.

Winterhawks fan Megan (@butyoucarlotta on Twitter) tracked Winterhawks zone entries for game 1 of the WHL final, and here's what she found:

Even against the WHL's best defensive team that employs a 6'4 monster like Griffin Reinhart, Portland seems to have moved to carrying the puck in almost exclusively. While probably not directly related to exclusively carrying the puck in (adding Mat Dumba helps too), Portland has won 41 games and has just three losses in their past 44 games. They're crushing the WHL like they're playing NHL 14 on rookie difficulty.

So there you have two CHL teams - two really freaking good CHL teams - that have began to erase dump-and-chase hockey from their repertoire. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come soon, and maybe, just maybe, Hockey Canada will take note and stop screwing up the un-screw-uppable task of building a good U20 team from the best pool of U20 players in the world.

Also, Mike Johnston for Canucks coach.

***
One more thing: I was going through my Twitter archive today and found these. Ray Ferraro is the greatest and I wish he 1) still did radio in Vancouver, and 2) along with Botchford, had the primetime afternoon slot on the TEAM 1040. Maybe I'd start listening again:

The best "sound, defensive hockey" really is "blow their fucking doors off."

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