You know when people say that it’s too early to read into something? Like when that girl tapped you on the shoulder, or your favourite hockey team went 4 - 0 in the preseason, or even when said team started the season 1 - 0 - 1 after the first weekend (okay that first point was a bit of a stretch but it made a point no?)? Sure the Pickering Panthers are just an average team starting the 2013-14 season with a win and a loss, but thanks to the beauty of this job, we get to have some fun. Looking into the Panthers first two games, it became clear that a lot of work was done by Head Coach/GM Mike Galati and owner Steve Tuchner to turn this franchise around. A few things stood out for me in their opening weekend, and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come!
Pickering showed they have a lot of speed in the lineup and will use it on the forecheck and penalty kill. Against Burlington, Pickering was 4 for 4 on the PK, while going 0 for 2 versus Newmarket (that’s still 4 for 6), but the big thing was their speed and pressure on the puck that really caused problems for the opponents. The line combination of Robert Cammalleri, Nicolas Lepone, and Mark Tenuta (all residing from Richmond Hill, ON) showed speed and skill that hasn’t been seen in Pickering in quite some time. Brodie Tutton showed he improved his speed over the summer, and with new line mates in Mike Walker and Riely Devine, Tutton has started 2013-14 on a tear, racking up 4 goals and 2 assists in 2 games.
Size on the Back End
One of the biggest issues for Pickering in the last few seasons has been their size on the back end. Too often Pickering was out played, out hit, and the back end always seemed to get roughed up. This year though, the Panther blue line is dishing out the hits. With no defenseman shorter than 6’ 0”, the starting six have proven to be much improved. Ian Chen looks like a young Thomas Kaberle with his smooth skating and puck moving skills; Tanner Shaw and Kollin Shultz have speed, size, and a powerful point shot; and Robert Power, Jason Abbot, and Matteo Condotta are all big steady D-men that have helped strengthen the Pickering PK. Cory Lauer appears to be the odd man out, which isn’t bad for a team that has struggled to build a solid back line, if these starting 6 are upgrades that’s fine by me, the only question is how long can they keep it up?
There’s something that hasn’t been said around this organization... With the addition of Steven Dombrowsky a few days before the season began, it looked like Pickering was able to solve a big question mark surround the club. If the first two games are any indication, that question mark seems to have been answered. Despite allowing 6 goals against Newmarket (the 7th goal was an empty net), Dombrowsky showed calmness and confidence in the Panthers crease. He is quick on the blocker, and standing at 5’10” helps him with the lower part of the net. There were some moments of miss-communication with his defense, but hey what else do you expect from a guy who just joined the team? His 1 - 0 - 1 record with a 4.01 GAA and .837 SV% isn’t great but it’s not the worst start either.
The Early Lead
This one may be a bit confusing to some, and it may be odd to mention. However I don’t recall the last time Pickering scored the first goal of the game in 2 games in a row (let alone at all!), so I’m including it. Even though they surrendered the next 2 goal to Newmarket, Pickering in both games came out of the gate flying and capitalized on two teams who were caught off guard. Against Burlington, it was Robert Cammalleri at the 3:39 minute mark to open the scoring, while Mark Tenuta scored 7:30 into the opening frame against Newmarket. Coaches always stress getting off to a good start and scoring that first goal, it helps boost the team moral and sets the tone early. Too often in the past, Pickering would surrender the first goal and always seemed to find themselves playing catch up, instead of playing keep-away. It may not make much sense, but this factor after the first two games is a good sign for a young Panther squad looking for positives and something to continue to work on!
Sure it may be early, but with 2 games under their belt Pickering is poised to attack with speed and shut down opponents with size and physical strength. If they can continually get offense from at least the top 2 lines (if not 3), solid goaltending, and good specialty teams, there is no reason why the Panthers can make some noise in the North Division and make my earlier prediction look like a dumb guess.
The Panthers will have the week off before facing Milton on Friday Sept 13 for a tilt with the Icehawks at the Pickering Recreation Centre. This will be Pickering’s 3rd straight of 5 in a row at home to open the season.
Game time is 7:30pm.