The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/23/14 at 11:39 PM ET
The Val-d'Or Foreurs tried to pull a rabbit out of the hat for the umpteenth time on Friday night, and if you continue to go to that kind of well, you eventually run out of rabbits.
The Foreurs allowed the Edmonton Oil Kings to rally from a 1-0 deficit to take a 3-1 lead halfway through the game, and between a preponderance of penalties, Anthony Mantha not quite being able to dent the back of the net despite a boatload of power play, late-game and OT chances (he played for the game's last 2-and-a-half minutes, assisting on the game-tying goal, and played 2+-minute shifts in OT) and just a very evident lack of physical and mental energy on the Foreurs' part...
The Oil Kings were able to prove that "chasing hockey is losing hockey," prevailing and advancing to Sunday's Memorial Cup final vs. Guelph via a 4-3 TRIPLE overtime decision.
In terms of watching the Red Wings' prospect wearing #8:
Mantha ends up at a somewhat undeserved -1 as he was working very hard to help his defensemen on two delayed penalties, but he found himself out-manned in each situation (that, and he stick-swats at pucks and opponents' sticks instead of gaining body position far too regularly). At the other end of the ice, Mantha had a middling first and a so-so second, but he was absolutely dominant in the 3rd period, getting scoring chance after scoring chance on the power play and hopping over the boards to play the last three-or-so minutes of the period, working his tail off to get open for teammates, backchecking when they weren't able or willing to do so, and allowing the fact that he can glide for so much of the time out there to reserve energy for decisive moments.
Mantha needed that energy in overtime, because he and his linemates skated TWO-MINUTE shifts, with Mantha playing more of a give-and-go, if not a flip-it-out-and-chase-it game as fatigue caught up with his stick strength. His hit on Henrik Samuelsson was superb, as were his subtle passes to his teammates, and he blocked a shot with his groin as well
Because the Foreurs are a top-heavy team, he was particularly heavily-checked at even strength--by a team that plays Calgary Flames-style trap hockey--and he struggled at times, but when the game was on the line, he assuaged for his mistakes and displayed the kind of form the Wings hope he can sustain over the course of entire games.
Therein lies the rub, again. Over the course of a short tournament, Mantha faced on and off-ice spotlights like he's rarely, if ever, had to deal with the in the QMJHL, dealing with pressure to perform and the presence of Canadian Hockey League's best checking forwards shadowing him on every shift, and he struggled with the learning curve, but that's kind of the point in Mantha's case.
The Wings never would have been able to snag an NHL-ready prospect 20th overall, and they've found someone who can be lackadaisical in terms of tying up his opponents' sticks on the PK, someone who glides far too often when the puck isn't on his stick (he's faster with the puck on his stick than he is without it) instead of skating hard up and down the ice every shift (though that's partially due to the fact that Foreurs coach Mario Durocher leaves his players on the ice for a minute to 90 seconds instead of an NHL-level 30-45 seconds, and again, Mantha played even longer shifts in OT), there are times that he doesn't disguise his attempts to get open at the right faceoff dot at all, and instead of wiring one-timers at the net, he's very easily neutralized...
But the promise and substance of his game when he's engaged and able to battle through his opponents are remarkable, and his work ethic and determination, especially as someone who was very evidently mentally and physically gassed coming into the tournament--he's been playing hockey at an incredibly high level since September, starting with the Wings' prospect tournament and main camp, moving on to the QMJHL season, taking three weeks to play at the World Juniors, returning to the Q and then taking part in a third of a season's worth of playoff hockey.
With Mantha's line checked into submission so very regularly, the Foreurs' secondary scorers (and they don't have many) had to step up, and they did, they did enough to get Val-d'Or back into a game the Foreurs had no business tying late, and big #8 helped pave their path to the net. He's not going to score at a goal-a-game pace at the pro level, so Mantha has to learn how to "support his scoring support," too, and during this tournament, that's what Mantha did during regulation, especially on the set-up for Guillaume Gelinas' game-tying goal, when Mantha shoveled the faceoff back to his teammate in short order, giving his team 3 overtimes' worth of life.
In overtime, he did his best to help his team win the game in literal and figurative front-line roles, firing rocket and not-so-speedy shots at the net, hitting people, blocking shots and playing those two-minute shifts...
But it wasn't Mantha who decided the game, nor was he on the ice as the Foreurs surrendered possession and allowed Cody Corbett to wind up from the blueline and Curtis Lazar to tip the puck past Antoine Bibeau.
Regrettably, Mantha and Val-d'Or's season ended a game short of the Memorial Cup final, but sometimes your biggest disappointments can build the foundation for greater glories.
Now Mantha will go back to Val-d'Or, pack up for the summer, bid farewell to his teammates and prepare to embark upon his professional hockey career.
I have to get up at 7:45 AM for World Championship action, so I'll flesh this out as I am able. Right now, I'm exhausted as well due to little sleep over the past month, and I need six hours' worth before preparing for Saturday--that, and the Edmonton press probably won't file their stories till 2 or 3 AM EDT anyway, so staying up to cover everything would literally involve staying up all night.
Mantha's touranment ends with 1 goal and 2 assists in 3 games, but he was better than the numbers indicate, and on Friday, he was at least nearly dominant. In this kind of touranment, it's all about mastering a learning curve, and while his team didn't come out on top, Mantha's hopefully emerged with learned lessons galore.
Here's hoping that Tyler Bertuzzi can feel somewhat similarly while hoisting the Memorial Cup over his head on Sunday. For the next two days, it's "Go Storm City."
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.