By Bernd Van't Klooster (@Berndthoughts)
Photo By Erin Linn
The Calgary Canucks are back in action and have restarted the rebuild after the longest Christmas break in the AJHL. Calgary was the only team awarded a full 2 weeks off, thanks in large part to the Mac’s Midget AAA tournament which took over the Max Bell Center for the holidays. The Canucks entered the break playing a different style under new head coach Brad Moran, one more with a heavier style of fore-check and strapping down defensively. The opening contests of 2019 didn’t go as planned, dropping games to the Canmore Eagles and Camrose Kodiaks. After a good week, back into routine the Drumheller Dragons made their return to the Ken Bracko Arena, and they packed a punch. The Dragons have one of the more veteran lineups in the AJHL, stacked with heavy hitters and high-end skill up front. For all the Dragons might, the Canucks played them even through 40 minutes, opening the 3rd with a 4-4 game. The Dragons tallied 3 unanswered in the final frame but the Canucks played a good game, converting 3 times on the power play and backed by brilliant saves by Brett Balas. The return match of the home and home went to Drumheller as well, but was by no means a runaway and hide game for the Dragons. There were certainly some good signs to pull from this game, and those lessons converted into another solid outing on Sunday afternoon in Canmore. About ten days after an 8-1 drubbing, the Canucks responded with a hard-fought game away from home. The Canucks had the first lead of the game but would find themselves trailing from the first intermission on. While the Eagles tried to run away with it, the Canucks were pesky and kept the contest tight until a power-play goal late in the 3rd put things out of hand. No results, but the development shown over the past weekend is impressive, to say the least.
Every position seems to be becoming a little more stable, and the forward group seem to be connecting more than I’ve seen all year. From a pure on-ice perspective, I believe Nic Herringer has a big part to play in that. You can tell he has stepped up in a leadership role, he fights for every inch out there. If not contributing on the score sheet, he’s initiating fore-checks or cutting off lanes. I can’t count the number of turnovers he has forced by playing a simple start-stop game in the defensive end, and springing guys out of the zone or being on the reverse end of the spring.
The AJHL/CJHL trade deadline has passed for another year. January 10th marked the last time players can be traded at the Junior A level in Canada, and the Canucks were active. Defencemen Jackson Hogg was traded to the Bonnyville Pontiacs in exchange for Brendan Morrow. Jackson was a solid player for the Canucks and developed quickly. He is a young guy with a lot of potentials and now has a great opportunity to show what he’s got with a powerhouse Pontiacs team. Oh, and he wasn’t bad as a colour commentator either. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Morrow is a hard-working grinding forward, who struggled to break out on a pretty good Pontiacs squad. Morrow will likely get plenty of chances to play in a top 6 position and now could take a step forward. Confidence is key in this league, and if you can find it then you never look back. Hopefully, this is a change for the best for Morrow and the Canucks.
The green and blue hosted the reeling Drayton Valley Thunder on Wednesday night, and will host the defending champion Spruce Grove Saints on Saturday night. No games are easy in he AJHL, but this could be an interesting week, it could give us a better perspective on who the Canucks truly are, or could be. Catch the games at the Ken Bracko Arena at the Max Bell Center, or listen to myself and Lyle with the call on MyHockeyTV.