Sunday, September 30, 2012

Frkwatch Game One: A Rivalry Renewed

This is a semi-frequent piece that I will run as much as I can attend Detroit Red Wings' prospect Martin Frk's QMJHL games. The views and opinions are those of myself and ONLY myself. I can't claim objectivity; my sole purpose is to report what I see myself.

Warmup skate, Sept. 29th 2012. Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.

The Halifax Mooseheads have been touted as one of the country's most interesting teams to watch this season. With Nathan MacKinnon leading the charge on offense, not to mention his status as the potential first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Moose could be the Q's President Cup Champions come spring and may just challenge for the Memorial Cup. If you have an itch to dive into the mind of MacKinnon, here's his Twitter. For that matter, you can follow Martin Frk on Twitter right here.

Thus far, the Mooseheads have started strong, posting a 3-1 record in 4 games and registering fifth among CHL teams in the BMO CHL Mastercard Top 10 Rankings. On the downside, the Moose were spanked 6-1 in front of 9,223 fans Friday night at the Metro Center by the Gatineau Olympiques. It was quite a crowd killer for the home opener. Thankfully, the Moose were forced to go right back to work the following night against the provincial rival Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, my hometown team, and a relatively easy opponent to beat up on after a bitter pill swallowing the night before. It should have been an "easier" game, but it wasn't. Red Wings' prospect Martin Frk was in the lineup, and thankfully there were no shenanigans on the same level as the exhibition game that took place in September.

Despite the efforts of Halifax's potent offense, goaltender Phillipe Trudeau of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles kept the game close. He registered 36 saves, good for the first star of the game, but the Mooseheads prevailed 3-2 in a shootout. Zachary Fucale had 20 saves for Halifax, with Luca Ciampini and Brent Andrews scoring. Bronson Beaton and Michael Clark scored for Cape Breton. All goals were scored in the first period.

Martin Frk's stat line for the night is not quite indicative of his performance or his impact on the ice. Frk assisted on Ciampini's goal, the opening goal of the game, was even in +/- for the night, had three shots, and picked up two penalty minutes for an elbowing minor in the second period. Unfortunately, my seats for this game were in Section 32 (which is as far away as the number suggests), so any photos I captured are not quality images. The long term plan is to snap some pictures with a high quality digital camera. Apologies in advance for the image quality.

Frk...playing in his own end? Photo courtesy of PG Marsh

In terms of his play in the offensive zone, I compare Frk to a shark. This guy has a keen sense of where to be in the offensive zone, and can turn a simple offensive zone rush into a dynamic opportunity. When he smells blood in the water, so to speak, he consistently finding in the right places for a scoring chance, and can make some tape to tape passes when he runs out of space himself. There was only one shot on goal on the evening that seriously threatened Trudeau in the Cape Breton net. Overall, he was a playmaker for his line on Saturday night, which should be good to hear for Red Wings' fans and management because it's already well known that he has a good shot.

Defensively speaking...Frk has a long way to go before he will be compared to two-way Red Wings like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. In most of the shifts I witnessed, Frk was the last Moosehead player to leave the offensive zone and he rarely placed himself in the thick of a defensive effort. That isn't surprising given that his primary function is to be a potent shooter on offense, but the above photo was one of the few times Frk drifted away from the blueline toward his own net.

To be fair to Frk, and many people will argue this, the best defense is a good offense. He did pick off a couple of passes or attempts to clear centre ice by the Eagles, which was impressive. The Moosehead attack threw their weight at Trudeau all game long, but couldn't solve him after the first period.

The Moose on the attack. Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.

Unfortunately, the game wasn't all about Frk's offensive rushes and attempted playmaking. Once again I found myself scratching my head over his choices when he attempted contact with opposing players. There were two non-related hits that were not penalty worthy, but were either from behind or the side and one while the player was on their knees attempting to get back up. His penalty was a blatant elbow to the face of an Eagles. The elbowing penalty (at 7:39 of the second period) didn't result in a power play goal for the Eagles, but it wasn't a particularly disciplined play. In a way, he made up for it when fresh out of the penalty box he helped to initiate a play in the offensive zone.

The Moosehead were able to squeeze a win out of Cape Breton in front of 8,580 fans after a reality check the previous night. Marty Frk had as good a game as any other Moosehead forward, and is slowly gaining momentum lost after a disappointing exhibition game and three mediocre regular season contests. It's no secret that Frk had surgery just before the preseason began on one of his legs. His relatively slow exits from the offensive zone, including a peculiar tendency to stride twice with the same leg before gaining speed, are likely the reason for his zero goals and two assists in four games so far. Full credit to the guy, he's definitely a playmaker on the ice and when he can play without concern of injury, he will be alongside Nathan MacKinnon in the Moosehead offense.

Bonus picture from the nosebleed section. Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.

That concludes the second of many forthcoming Frkwatch entries. I'd love to read some feedback so please feel free to comment here on the blog or follow me on Twitter at @wizofozblog. Thanks for reading and as a Canadian icon used to say, keep your stick on the ice.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Frkwatch: Game Zero

                                                                                      Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.
This is a semi-frequent piece that I will run as much as I can attend Detroit Red Wings' prospect Martin Frk's QMJHL games. The views and opinions are those of myself and ONLY myself. I can't claim objectivity; my sole purpose is to report what I see myself.

After a brief hiatus from blogging about the Detroit Red Wings I am back to bring a brand new feature to The Wizard of Os(good) blog. With the NHL's 2012-2013 season in tentative limbo due to a potential lockout, like many fans, I find myself desperate to find something to fill the void. I have always been a fan of hockey regardless of the league or the country that it's played in, so naturally I begin my search for hockey on a local level. As luck would have it, the Halifax Moosehead, a team located in the beautiful city of Halifax in the province of Nova Scotia, play their regular season home games close to where I live. In an even further delicious twist of fate, the Detroit Red Wings recently drafted a Moosehead forward into their system and signed him to a three year entry level contract. The player in question is the one and only Martin Frk, a player I had...ahem...initially intended on profiling in an attempt to boost interest in Detroit Red Wings prospect. Rather than invest the time into finishing a project like the average level-headed blogger, I decided Part Two of my "Czech Out These Detroit Red Wings Prospects" series, subtitled "Electric Frkaloo," would be scrapped indefinitely and I would endeavor to stretch my interest in Frk over the course of an entire season. Thus, Frkwatch began.

Admittedly gun-shy at the idea of putting a heavy microscope over a very green, very inexperienced professional athlete, I came to terms with the fact that my work here at The Wiz is no going to generate interest outside of the Wings bloggers. My objective isn't to criticize Martin Frk so much as excitedly document his 2012-13 season as he strives to become the next Johan Franzen or Valtteri Filppula. With that said, if I see something I perceive (in my limited knowledge) as a mistake, I'll do my best to shed some light on it. I can't wait to watch this kid grow into a superstar and I'm lucky enough to get to see him grow into a Red Wing right before my very eyes, which is a rare opportunity for a Cape Bretoner living "abroad".

With the genesis of the project put forth, here we go with Game Zero of Frkwatch. The zero, for what it's worth, is because my first report is based on what I saw today at an exhibition game. Hope you enjoy!

September 9th 2012: Exhibition Game vs. Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Result: A very chippy 5-3 loss against provincial rivals. An ejection. A disappointment.

It was a muggy day in Halifax Regional Municipality. As I left my apartment I took note of the threatening skies, hoping the rain would subside until I made it home from the game. I found myself frazzled shortly before leaving my place, noticing the game was not to be played at the home arena of the Halifax Mooseheads, the Metro Centre. I grabbed a cab to the out-of-the-way arena in the north end, the Halifax Forum, and settled in with plenty of time to scan the program for "FRK Martin" in the program. As my luck would have it, number 91 was suiting up for his first preseason game of the season.

Frk was selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in the second round, 49th overall. Touted early in 2011 as a top pick, Frk's concussion last season knocked him back near the bottom of the first round, most likely an early pick in the second. As luck would have it, Detroit snagged him and signed him to a three year entry level deal on July 31st. Frk then had a minor knee surgery in August, and as I mentioned this was his first game back.

                                                                  Frk on the offense. Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.

The game had a lot of unusual elements. To be blunt but respectful, the Halifax Forum is typical of arenas located in more rural areas of Nova Scotia: very few signs of technology, concrete everywhere, limited seating, small enclosed wooden seats, the stench of years of hockey...ahh, the smell of the purest form of the game. If you're from the area or have anything like it, you know the appeal. It's like sitting in a very old church. There's a reverence for the past. None of this was particularly "unusual" for a smaller local arena. The fog on the ice, on the other hand, was bizarre. The way the building is designed, the main doors of the arena open up to a limited sized lobby, and maybe 50 feet after the outside doors is the doorway that leads to the ice. Combine a thousand plus bodies in an early September arena as well as the horrifically humid Halifax air, there was a misty later that seemed to follow the players at times. I've never seen with my own two eyes this effect in an arena, and it added an element of awe (as well as difficulty) to the game.

Aside from the bizarrely comforting quality of the Forum, the game was by far the chippiest, roughest exhibition game I can recall. The Eagles drew a lot of penalties but it was apparent from puck drop that these two teams hate each other. When I participated in Puck Daddy's Game Show Friday back in January Greg Wyshynski and Jeff Marek joked about how Sydney and Glace Bay of Cape Breton were the Springfield and Shelbyville of Canada (pardon the Simpsons reference. To borrow another pop culture reference, think Hatfields and McCoys). In hindsight, I should have corrected them and mentioned the fierce rivalry that exists between Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia. The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and Halifax Mooseheads are a brilliant example of the rivalry. Bitter (but hopefully respectful) rivals, these two teams are constantly fighting for playoff spots and any slight advantage over the other as to who the greater Nova Scotian team is. As an Eagles fan, I never hesitate to point out that two of the thirty starting goaltenders in the NHL are former Eagles. Bonus points for those who correctly guess those two in the comments section without using the internet.

Getting back to Frk, to summarize his first preseason game back, I can only muster one word: disappointing. Yes, the Eagles won 5-3 in a penalty filled affair. That was pretty satisfying for the 2 Eagles fans in attendance. Unfortunately, and I say this through gritted teeth, Frk didn't play up to what I would guess is his usual standard. In a way, however, he made damn sure everyone knew who he was by the end of the game.

The game was mostly slow for Frk: very short shifts and very little need for speed. He demonstrated one burst of speed partway through the game that was impressive, but generally it appeared that his goal was to fine tune before any meaningful games happened. He threw a couple of hits, but I'll get to that. It surprised me that he didn't shoot the puck as much as what a prospect with a potent shot should. He did register a couple of shots, but never wound up anything noteworthy. He did, however, make a beautiful one timed pass  to a wide open Matthew Boudreau late in the second period to bring the Mooseheads to a 4-2 deficit. He made a couple of nice passes, definitely more noteworthy than his shots. I'm interested to see if he will focus his energy on a passing game during the regular season, and not what he demonstrated in the third period, which had everyone talking about him.

With the game 4-3 and the third period half over, Frk was taken down behind the Eagle net. He immediately appealed to the referees for a call, but similar to the other times he attempted earlier in the game, the referee wasn't going to give him one. Frustrated, Frk took matters into his own hands and collided with an Eagle player I can't identify (none of the players had names on the backs of their jerseys). It was difficult to say who initiated contact, whether it was knee on knee, hip on hip, or just two bodies colliding. Shortly after the colission, play was called and the two players chirped one another. Another Eagle stepped in and Frk speared the Eagle in the face, sending him crashing to the ice. Whistles blew and the crowd was feeding off of the post-whistle play, shouting at the referees (turning on Frk seems unlikely as the crowd was VERY critical of the refereeing in the game). Frk was sent off for a two minute minor for spearing and a five minute misconduct. As he made his way to the dressing room, I heard a loud crack as though a hockey stick was cracking the impenetrable concrete of the old arena. It's difficult to say whether Frk was having a "temper tantrum" or was just "unleashing frustration", but I reserve the right to give the kid the benefit of the doubt. It was definitely a frustrating afternoon for Frk and Moose.

Frkwatch: Game Zero was an incredibly interesting experience. The kid had a rough day at the office, to say the least. An assist and a game misconduct are definitely not reflective of what he is capable of and I think it would be unfair to negatively criticize him for the frustration he displayed over being upended nonstop during offensive rushes. I do, however, question his judgement regarding the spear. Even if your team is losing and you're frustrated at the officiating, cracking a player in the face with your stick is crossing a line. I like intensity among players, but it is just an exhibition game. Hopefully an elite player like Frk, who I believe will one day be a great Red Wing, will learn from Sunday's game.

Edit/Update: Here's something Jiri Fischer said about Frk. I agree with the man 100%.

That concludes the first of many forthcoming Frkwatch entries. I'd love to read some feedback so please feel free to comment, tweet me at @wizofozblog, and contact me through the blog. Thanks for reading and as a Canadian icon used to say, keep your stick on the ice.