Note by Joe Fortunato: This is a great write up by The Blue Seats. Enjoy guys.
Today Team USA's White squad faced team Finland in a scrimmage that would in part determine the roster of the USA U-20 squad. I was lucky enough to have a left over credit on Fasthockey, and I wasn't very busy today so I figured I would take some notes and give a few scouting reports for our new prospects, JT Miller and Shane McColgan. Today, they skated on a line with Rocco Grimaldi, the ultra talented diminutive forward with a big chip on his shoulder. Unfortunately, I can't say that the line was USA's most effective, but they definitely displayed a decent amount of skill and hockey sense, most notably on the transition. I have to say, the line of Charlie Coyle, Kenny Agostino, and Brian Ferlin dominated the scoreboard. But, we are here to discuss the Ranger prospects.
The first period started off with team USA on top. Unfortunately, JT Miller lost the first faceoff he took, and got chased out of the circle for the next. After that, Grimaldi took about every faceoff for Miller, which isn't exactly what I was hoping to see. Team USA was dominating the physical game, and kept the puck deep for the most part. It translated into a goal scored by Agostino, from Charlie Coyle. After this, team USA took the foot off the gas. The first mistake that was made on team USA's part was an uncharacteristic delay of game penalty by highly touted prospect Justin Faulk, his only visible mistake of the game. This lead to a Finn PP goal scored by Miikka Salomaki
The JT McRocco line really didn't click at first, and JT made a pretty glaring turnover in the neutral zone in the first 5 minutes that lead to a scoring chance. That was one of the few mistakes he made the entire game. At first the transition just was not working, but opportunities started opening up for the line. They strung together a couple of strong shifts, and I started to see why Grimaldi was so revered as a hockey prospect. He has an uncanny ability to find teammates and find open ice. I also started to see the upside in Shane McColgan. I heard great things about his motor and skating ability, all of which appear to be true. He was always the first one in on the forecheck and to loose pucks. He also made one fantastic pass that stands out in my memory that lead to an odd man rush that Grimaldi couldn't finish.They did not get as much ice time as I expected them to in the first period, but that is probably because they were generally underwhelming in the first period, but so was the majority of team USA.
With a decent amount of time left in the first, Teemu Pulkinnen scored on a power play blast that went right by team USA goalie Gibson's glove hand. That kid can really shoot it. USA behind 2-1. Team USA takes another penalty before the end of the period, and things aren't looking very good. It was obvious the team came out flat, and it was up to Rangers assistant coach Mike Sullivan (otherwise known as Mr. Personality) to make sure the team doesn't come out the same way they did in the first.
Whatever he said worked.
After killing the final 45 seconds of the Finnish powerplay, Sully sends out the JT McRocco line to inject a little energy. Although Miller makes two turnovers in the neutral zone in his first shift of the second, the line draws a penalty and sends team USA on their first powerplay of the game. This is when the line really started to step it up.
Sully kept the line out there for the first minute and a half of the powerplay. Although they didn't convert, they kept the puck in the zone for the majority of the powerplay, with a little help from Justin Faulk, and 16 year old phenom defenseman Seth Jones. Shortly after changing, Charlie Coyle feeds Justin Holl with a beautiful pass who burns the twine with 2 seconds left in the powerplay. Coyle gets his second assist of the game, while making the two point men in Faulk and Jones look like wizards. Those two are extremely talented with the puck on their stick. They walk the line as good as anyone I have seen.They made shaking off defenders at the blue line look easy.
Unfortunately for team USA, shortly after the powerplay goal, 16th overall draft pick Joel Armia (who we are all very familiar with, I'm sure) makes a slick pass to Pulkinnen who buries his second goal of the game, another rocket. This is the last shred of offense team Finland was able to generate.
Shortly after, the JT McRocco line puts together a fantastic shift pushing the Finn defense on their heels and tires them out. They get off the ice for a line swap before the Finns were able to change, and Brian Ferlin was able to take advantage of the tired defense making it 3-3.
At this point team USA started to dominate puck possession time, and the defense wasn't giving the Finns any room. USA's defense as a whole was fantastic in the ladder half of the second period. Lights out. The Finnish forecheckers couldn't separate the puck from their sticks. To specify, Forbort, Jones, and Faulk were all dynamite with the puck in all zones.
Everything was going the right way for team USA, and they made a goalie change (not because of Gibson's play, but because it appeared they wanted to give each goalie half the game). John Gibson was replaced Andy Iles, who stopped every shot he was faced with, including two fantastic glove saves. At this point, the JT McRocco line was not relinquishing the puck. In the final 5 minutes of the period, JT Miller makes a fantastic pass from the defensive zone to spring Seth Jones and McColgan on a 2 on 1. Jones gets the pass across, but McColgan was robbed by the Finnish Goaltender. It was an absolute gem of a pass. The funny thing is though, the play started on a faceoff that JT would have taken, if Grimaldi wasn't taking all of his faceoffs. Grimaldi won the face off right to JT's stick who saucer passed it right on the tape of Jones' stick.
Shortly after, Jones repays the favor and makes a great neutral zone pass to Miller that springs an odd man rush, who just misses scoring. If I haven't said enough about Seth Jones, he saves a goal stick checking a Finnish forward during a massive scrum in front of USA's net while Iles was down and out before his D partner clears it out of danger. He was seriously impressive, despite the fact he was youngest player on the team.
Grimaldi finally gets on the board with an amazing deflection off a Mayfield shot from the point. Shortly after, while leaving the penalty box for an coincidental minor, Faulk slips behind the defense and takes a beautiful feed from Charlie Coyle and has all day to bury a hard wrist shot on the breakaway. That was Coyle's third and final assist. He put together a hell of a game.
Miller and McColgan really elevated their play in the second period, but didn't have any points to show for it.
In the third period, it seemed like Finland kind of just rolled over. The JT McRocco line got the first shift of the period and didn't let the Finns touch the puck. McColgan almost gets a primary assist on a crosscrease to Rocco Grimaldi, but he either missed the net, or the goalie got a piece of it. The Finns forecheck was dead, and USA's dmen had all day to make outlet passes. USA dman Brian Cooper threw a massive hipcheck sending a Finn player head over heals. It was definitely up there as one of the best hipchecks I have ever witnessed, which is saying a lot. Rob Blake-esque. On the same shift, JT Miller makes a great defensive play and skates it end to end to generate a scoring chance. He showcased his impressive speed and stick work, throwing in a toe drag before a hard wrist shot that again, just misses.
The JT McRocco line got a lot more ice time than in the first and second period, and they really got their transition game going. They were cutting through the neutral zone effortlessly with impressive tic tack toe passes. Grimaldi and McColgan would get JT the puck in the Neutral zone and let him power over the blue line before drop passing it back to them to set up the cycle. That line is incredibly dangerous once set up. Grimaldi is as shifty as they come, and he isn't afraid to go to the dirty areas, and take a beating once he gets there.
Team US takes another penalty, and JT gets his first PK time. Again, he goes end to end and almost converts short handed. Again, I will mention that the US defense has been lights out the whole third and the ladder half of the second. They killed the penalty effortlessly, and changed lines with the exception of Miller, who stayed on the ice and got another shift with his regular line. This was the third JT McRocco shift in a row where they had the puck in the offensive zone for virtually the whole shift. It went like that for the remainder of the game.
Although McColgan and JT Miller didn't get any points to show for it, they both had strong games. JT displayed great two way ability, and showcased his underrated playmaking skillset. I am happy with their games, but it would have been nice to see JT finish one of his scoring chances.
Thanks for reading, I plan on documenting the CT Whale games this season for the first time.